Scottish First Minister's address at the Trinity College, 13/03/2008

The First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, gave a public lecture entitled ‘Scotland’s National Conversation: The Next Steps’ in Trinity College, Dublin, on February 13th 2008. The First Minister spoke about the initiative 'Choosing Scotland's Future' which asks the people of Scotland to take part in a national conversation about the constitutional changes needed to enable Scotland to reach its full potential and take its rightful place in the modern world. The First Minister considered what lessons Scotland can learn from Ireland's rich history and from its transition to a successful independent nation.



Scotland's National Conversation: The Next Steps
Full text of Mr Salmond's speech at the Trinity College


The First Minister spoke about what lessons Scotland can learn from Ireland's rich history and from its transition to a successful independent nation. Photo © Trinity College DublinI am delighted to be here this evening in Trinity College, Dublin. This is my first visit to the Republic of Ireland as Scotland's First Minister and I am sure it is the first of many.

I'm not sure how closely you have followed news across the Irish Sea but last week was a particularly interesting one for Scottish politics. They're all interesting, of course. But this one was a real belter!

With the Scottish Government facing a crucial vote on our first budget, I offered to tender my resignation as First Minister if the budget was not passed.

And had the votes in the Chamber gone differently, my next visit to Ireland would not have been to represent Scotland at the British-Irish Ministerial Council - but to support Scotland in the Six Nations at Croke Park!

In the event, the opposition parties declined my offer - and the first minority administration in the Scottish Parliament succeeded in passing its first Budget.

This was a big step forward for politics in Scotland. And more importantly - with new investment in health and education, more police on our streets, tax cuts for business and new measures on the environment - it was a budget to benefit all the people of Scotland - despite the poorest spending settlement from Westminster since devolution.

And so I am proud to be able today to speak with you about the changes underway in Scottish society. The inspiration and the lessons that we can draw from the great success of Ireland's economy and society. And about the growing debate on Scotland's future.

As a nation, Scotland must look outwards and upwards. We must measure ourselves against those around us - and those who have the ambition to achieve.

"I have come to Dublin to set out our aspirations for Scotland's future - how we will create a Celtic Lion economy to match the Celtic Tiger on this side of the irish Sea"

Scotland looks out to an Arc of Prosperity around us. Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Denmark. All small independent nations. All stable, secure and prosperous.

Of all these nations, no example is more impressive and inspiring than Ireland. And none is more relevant to the decisions that Scotland faces today.

So I have come to Dublin to set out our aspirations for Scotland's future - how we will create a Celtic Lion economy to match the Celtic Tiger on this side of the Irish Sea.

And how, to achieve this ambition, we must fashion a strong and enduring social partnership to match that which you have built here in Ireland.

You have pioneered a Social Partnership model that reaches out beyond government, business and trade unions - to draw in civic institutions, social enterprise, the universities and others.

This partnership has laid the foundations for two decades of unrivalled economic progress in Ireland - by your own standards and by any global standard. And that partnership approach rightly remains the basis for future cooperation and economic success in Ireland.

So my government is doing its utmost to bring together a broad coalition the major institutions in Scottish society, including business, trade unions, the voluntary sector and academia.

We are working to deliver our shared purpose: a rich economy and a rich society in Scotland. And I should say that I am very encouraged by the level of commitment and enthusiasm from all sides.

Let me also say - the partnership that we will forge is not simply about economics. Far from it. These institutions are the cornerstones of Scotland's civic life and define us a society.

It is thanks to our distinctive institutions - Scotland's universities, our churches and our legal system - that we have retained a strong and aspirant nationhood during the three centuries that we have been part of the United Kingdom.

When in August last year, my government published its White Paper: Choosing Scotland's Future, we turned to the words of Charles Stewart Parnell to summarise our essential message.

Parnell's statue stands on O'Connell Street, less than a mile from here. And it is a fitting monument to one of the greatest Irishmen of the nineteenth century - indeed any century.

It was Parnell who, in the words of William Gladstone, "had set the Home Rule argument on its legs".

And to this day, Parnell's words resonate strongly with the movement of Scottish nationalism.

"No man has the right to fix the boundary of a nation. No man has the right to say to his country, 'Thus far shalt thou go and no further.'"

And Parnell continued: "we have never attempted to fix the 'ne plus ultra' to the progress of Ireland's nationhood, and we never shall."

"Our aspirations for our nation are no different from those that inspired generations of Irish people to independence and prosperity that you enjoy today"

The road to Irish independence was long, steep and far from straight. But having made this momentous journey, you would certainly not go back.

Scotland has a different history and a different constitution.

But our aspirations for our nation are no different from those that inspired generations of Irish people to independence and prosperity that you enjoy today.

Tomorrow at the British-Irish Council I will meet with the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, Dr Ian Paisley, Martin McGuinness, Rhodri Morgan and Paul Murphy - and the Chief Ministers of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man.

The last meeting of the Council in Belfast in June last year was a historic occasion, coming just after the resumption of the political institutions of Northern Ireland.

As the first Council I had attended it was especially memorable for me. And what struck me - even among my fellow politicians - was the great commonality between us. The shared ideas and values. Our humour and our cultural understanding, despite our political diversity.

But this should not be a surprise. Our nations grow from the same soil. And indeed from the same name. A Europe emerged from the dark ages, Ireland was known by the Latin name Scotia, and its people were known as the Scotii.

"One cannot consider the history of the island of Ireland without looking at Scotland's influence. And one cannot begin to understand even modern Scottish society without looking at our deep Irish roots"

One cannot consider the history of the island of Ireland without looking at Scotland's influence. And one cannot begin to understand even modern Scottish society without looking at our deep Irish roots.

At close quarters with each other, the similarities are striking. Look abroad and it is almost a mirror image.

Because for the people of two small Atlantic nations, the Scots and the Irish have left broad and unmistakable tracks across much of the world.

And not only are the Scots and Irish welcomed across the globe - the affection and admiration runs deeper. So deep that tens of millions of citizens - in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand - are proud to trace back their ancestry to our two great nations.

Across the world, over 80 million people - more than one in every hundred - lays claim to being Irish. And 45 million regard themselves as Scots.

The 2000 Census in the United States identified 5 million Americans with Scottish roots.

Yet other surveys suggest that some 21 million people in the States claim Scottish ancestry - what a wonderful compliment to Scotland that millions of Americans who are not of Scottish descent nonetheless want to identify with our nation!

"The size and impact of both the Scottish and Irish diasporas is truly astonishing"

The size and impact of both the Scottish and Irish Diasporas is truly astonishing. Take just one aspect - the remarkable number of American Presidents with Irish and Scottish roots.

In March 2001, at the launch of Irish-American Heritage Month, the White House announced that 19 - nearly half - of all U.S. Presidents claimed Irish origin. And many more are Scots-Irish.

Just look at the figures who have laid claim to Scots and/or Irish heritage: George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. (Not to mention the current incumbent. And his predecessor.)

So if we are looking for an indicator of the potential of our people - both here and abroad - I think we have found it.

And furthermore, two of the front runners in the current Presidential race - John McCain and Barack Obama - can both trace their Scottish ancestry back to King William I, who ruled Scotland between 1165 and 1214.

Meanwhile Hillary Rodham Clinton has Scottish, Welsh and English blood - and a not insignificant Irish connection through marriage.

Let me turn to look at Ireland's economic miracle. Here I will keep my remarks brief.

"I don't believe Ireland's success is any kind of miracle"

One, because I don't believe Ireland's success is any kind of 'miracle'. It is entirely explicable.

And two, there is a good chance that several of you here this evening already know a fair bit on the subject.

There is no denying the extraordinary transformation in Ireland's economic and social prospects since the mid-1980s.

As late as 1986, Ireland's GDP per capita was two thirds of the EU average. Today it is around 130 percent of the average of the EU15. And Ireland stands fifth in the United nations Human Development Index.

Granted, economic growth in Ireland may slow over the next year or two; not least because of your exposure to global trade. But the long-term outlook remains strong.

"I am sure that most of Europe's Finance Ministers would give at least one limb to have Ireland's policy problems, rather than their own"

And I am sure that most of Europe's Finance Ministers would give at least one limb - possibly more - to have Ireland's policy problems, rather than their own!

The Scottish story is rather different. Not an account of abject failure. But certainly one of sustained underperformance.

When my government unveiled its economic strategy and its draft Budget in November, we highlighted that Scottish growth over the past thirty years has averaged 1.8 percent per year.

This is markedly slower than the UK's 2.3 percent per year.

It is only half the rate delivered by the small independent nations in the Arc of Prosperity.

And a mere one-third of the 5.4 percent growth rate that Ireland has managed the period.

Scotland's poor growth rate has had real consequences.

First, it has denied opportunities and prosperity to large numbers of our citizens.

Second, it has diminished our international standing.

And third, it has weakened the source of our nation's future strength - our people and our talents.

That is why my Government's economic strategy identifies population growth as a major objective - because it paves the way for continued success.

And with Ireland's population having just exceeded 4 million - for the first time since 1861 - we see that it is indeed possible to create a virtuous cycle between economic and population growth.

I have spoken about the close ties between our two nations and about Ireland's economic transformation.

There are many conclusions that one can draw from your recent history - from the emergence and continued success of the Celtic Tiger.

"I - and much of Scotland - see Ireland's success as the reward for continued hard work"

Ultimately, however, only one question matters for Scotland: are we capable of matching - or even surpassing - Ireland's success?

I put it to you that the answer is a resounding 'yes'.

Because Ireland's success is not simply a one-off; an accident of history and economics that can never be replicated.

I - and much of Scotland - see Ireland's success as the reward for continued hard work. Continued determination and ambition. And of the courage to take the opportunities available to you.

So tonight, as Scotland considers its economic future and its position as a nation, let me outline the main lessons - the main inspirations - that Scotland can draw from the success of Ireland.

I have often heard it said that three is the magic number. That people are naturally receptive to lists of three items. And here in Trinity College, what could be more natural?

But at the risk of trying your memory, if not your patience, I believe that the parallels deserve wider and more detailed examination.

So let me propose ten lessons that Scotland - and other similar nations - must draw from your history. And take to heart in considering our own future.

First, and most important, there are no limits to the success of a nation united by a common purpose.

"Ireland provides an object lesson. It took a frank and profound discussion about the nature of Ireland's past economic underperformance to remedy it"

Ireland provides an object lesson. It took a frank and profound discussion about the nature of Ireland's past economic underperformance - and how best to remedy it. But that debate and its conclusions have been the foundation of your economic success.

Look at the clarity of will and purpose embodied in the 1987 economic plan for Ireland - the plan which created your strong and enduring social partnership.

That Economic Plan begins with these words: "The Government, the ICTU, the FUE, the CII, the CIF, the IFA, Macra na Feirme and the ICOS, conscious of the grave state of our economic and social life, have agreed on this Programme to seek to regenerate our economy and improve the social equity of our society through their combined efforts."

I grant you, for emotional pull it cannot match the original words of the Founding Fathers.

But the intent was strong and clear - and shared by all sides.

And in Scotland - through our Economic Strategy, our new partnership with local government, and through the National Economic Forum - we are seeking to build the same strong and lasting coalition among our institutions. And lay the foundations for the same economic success that you have achieved here.

The second point may surprise some of you - especially coming from Scotland's first nationalist First Minister. But it is a vital point. Political independence of itself does not guarantee success: it is what you do with that independence which matters.

Ireland's development up to the 1970s shows that without the right economic strategy, a relatively poor nation can fall further behind.

"With the right policies, the economic rewards are great for Europe's small independent countries"

But with the right policies - and fully engaged in the global economy - the economic rewards are great for Europe's small independent countries.

Third, and with particular reference to the history of Scotland and Ireland, let us never forget the counterfactual. While only Ireland has recent experience of independence, we can both agree that continued membership of the United Kingdom guarantees underperformance.

And this is not surprising. The UK economy of today is heavily centralised - and policies and resources are focused on its major pole of growth, London.

The UK's political system is simply not able to respond quickly or accurately to the needs of Scotland's businesses. Just as the UK system would fail Ireland, were it still part of the Union.

"My government believes that the Scottish Parliament is best placed to take the major economic decisions affecting the people of Scotland"

That is why my government believes that the Scottish Parliament is best placed to take the major economic decisions affecting the people of Scotland.

Fourth, investment in human capital - the education, skills and potential of our people - is the basic determinant of economic success.

One of the foundations of Ireland's current success was the education and training reforms of the 1960s - paving the way for your dominance today in high-tech sectors such as IT and pharmaceuticals.

Scotland has always placed great emphasis on education - for the development of the individual, society and the economy. And my government is restoring the principle of free education in Scotland.

Free education is a principle that you hold dear in Ireland. And Ireland abolished tuition fees in the 1990s.

But I must tell you that free education is a Scottish invention. It is the invention of which we should be most proud. And it will be the cornerstone of our economic revival.

"A simple point applies as clearly to Scotland as to Ireland: the European Union is and will remain our most significant economic relationship"

Fifth, a simple point which applies as clearly to Scotland as to Ireland. The European Union is and will remain our most significant economic relationship.

As recently as 1960, three quarters of Ireland's exports were to the United Kingdom. Today that figure is less than 20 per cent - marginally behind Ireland's exports to the United States.

So while the UK remains a major trading partner, it should be seen as one among its peers in the European - and indeed the global - economy.

Sixth, in Ireland - as in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden - prosperity depends on openness and the development of comparative advantage.

Ireland exports the greatest share of its output of all the European economies. But you are not complacent. The Irish Industrial Development Agency continues to watch the global economy for emerging technologies and commercial opportunities - and makes sure that government and business take note.

Government and business in Scotland must cooperate just as well if we are to truly succeed in the global economy.

Seventh - a vital lesson, and an expensive one to ignore. An economic windfall must be used wisely.

During the 1980s and particularly during the 1990s, Ireland received a large flow of EU structural funds. Today, as a rich country within the EU, this flow has stopped - or even reversed.

But it is widely accepted that of all Europe's Member States, Ireland made best use of its economic opportunity by investing heavily in education and training. And strengthening the business environment to attract mobile capital.

The UK - or more precisely, Scotland - benefits from a similar economic windfall - in the form of revenues from North Sea oil and gas. Since the late 1970s, these revenues have provided us with a great economic opportunity. Future generations will judge us on how we use it.

I must say to the Westminster Government that time is running out. With good management, there are perhaps thirty to forty years significant hydrocarbons in the North Sea.

The Norwegian government has created its oil fund, which today is worth over 170 billion pounds, to safeguard the future prosperity of its country. The Scottish Government is determined to do the same.

Eighth, a point to remember in pursuit of our ambition. Economic growth creates its own challenges.

Today despite your undoubted economic success, the Irish government is wrestling with the consequences of inflated house prices, strained infrastructure and income inequality.

Fast growth is not a panacea - though vitally, it creates the potential for the whole of society to enjoy prosperity.

"There is a clear lesson for Scotland from Ireland and our neighbours in the Nordic countries: that small, peaceful countries can exercise major global influence"

The Scottish Government seeks to match the enviable growth record of Ireland. And we are prepared to work just as hard as you do to maintain social justice and continue to renew the foundations of economic success.

Ninth, moving away from the economy to the global picture. There is a clear lesson for Scotland from Ireland and our neighbours in the Nordic countries: that small, peaceful countries can exercise major global influence.

And as Ireland shows, this influence is based not on military power and alliances - but on values and ideals.

Consider your former President, Mary Robinson. A daughter of this university who did such great work as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. And today continues to champion development, human rights and the environment.

In Europe, Charlie McCreevy holds one of the Commission's key portfolios - internal market and services.

And an Irishwoman, Catherine Day, is Europe's top civil servant. Having replaced an Irishman, and son of Trinity, David O'Sullivan.

Look at Peter Sutherland, formerly head of the World Trade Organisation. And now - in his time away from the board of BP and Goldman Sachs - United Nations Special Representative on Migration.

And equally if not more influential, two Irish rock stars made good: Bob Geldof and Bono. Both at the forefront of the historic campaign against global poverty - which will improve the lives of many millions.

"In Scotland, we strive to exert a similar positive influence on the global stage. Across the world, Scots have always had a reputation for outstanding public service and philantropy"

In Scotland we aspire to exert a similar positive influence on the global stage. Across the world, Scots have always had a reputation for outstanding public service and philanthropy.

Today, we strive to extend this positive influence. Especially by taking a global lead on climate change and green energy.

And, boosted by the recognition of the international community - through the award of the 2014 Commonwealth Games - we will go on to even greater achievements.

Tenth and finally, let us draw an important lesson about the process of becoming a successful nation state. There is no blueprint for the transition to full independence.

While the steps towards Irish independence were inexorable, the pace of change was not. It took Parliament three attempts to pass the Home Rule Bill, finally succeeding in 1914. Independence followed within a decade.

And still, for more than twenty-five years after the independence, Ireland was a dominion of the Empire.

Is this constitutional incrementalism always the best approach?

Perhaps not. Mary Robinson once - memorably in Glasgow - argued that it was only once Ireland gained its independence, and was able to debate and take full responsibility for its choices, that it could succeed as a nation. And it was only when able to play a role on the wider European stage that Ireland gained real independence.

And looking across Europe, even to nations emerging from Communism such as Slovakia and Estonia, we can see that a rapid transition to independence even from the most unpromising of circumstances can succeed. In fact, it can be a source of great energy and purpose.

So these are the principal lessons that I take from Ireland's development as a nation. These are the ways in which the past - and indeed, the present day - of your great country will help to shape the future of Scotland.

And above all, my government draws the lesson about a unity of purpose among a nation, its people and its institutions, as the basic for economic and social success.

I mentioned in my introduction that in Scotland a major debate is underway on our constitution and on our future ambition.

Of course, we are not alone. In Wales and Northern Ireland we see an increasing desire for constitutional change - of different kinds but of some kind.

In Cardiff, party Plaid Cymru has joined the Government.

In Belfast we see day-by-day the growing strength and value of strong, stable democratic institutions.

And let me pay the warmest tribute to all of my colleagues in Northern Ireland - and in particular the First Minister and Deputy First Minister - for the manner in which they are approaching governance.

Of all of these nations, the debate in Scotland is most advanced. And it is long, long overdue!

And so, in August of last year, within our first 100 days, the Scottish Government outlined the first phase of our National Conversation and published our White Paper on Choosing Scotland's Future.

We believe that Scotland's constitutional future - and future as a nation - is too important for just its politicians.

What was needed was on open discussion on the issues that matter to the people of Scotland - starting first by listening to their views. That is what we are doing.

And with this new and open form of engagement, the terms of political debate have changed for good.

Less than a year ago, the other main parties in Scotland all opposed constitutional change. But today they have concluded that the status quo is no longer an option - although there are still a few 'last ditchers' at Westminster.

But there is a new political consensus in Scotland.

A consensus that, a decade after devolution, we must look at the current settlement and how it serves Scotland's best interests - particularly in relation to economic and fiscal powers.

I am delighted that Scotland's churches, the voluntary sector, our business community, our trade unions and our historic universities are all contributing to the conversation.

And we will ensure that the people of Scotland are directly involved. Ultimately it is our citizens who will decide the form of constitutional change, so we must hear from them about the powers and responsibilities that Scotland needs for its Parliament and Government.

The stakes could not be clearer. And they are higher than many in Scotland realise.

"The story of Ireland is a testament to what the people of Scotland chan achieve"

The rewards to a nation that is willing to face up to its position, set its ambition, and pursue it resolutely - these rewards could scarcely be greater.

The story of Ireland - one of the greatest success stories of the last century, and of this century - is a testament to what the people of Scotland can achieve.

If we are prepared to learn your lessons. If we are prepared to trust ourselves. If we doubt ourselves we cannot succeed. If we trust ourselves we cannot fail.


The Scottish First Minister Mr Alex Salmond
Speech at The Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, February 13th 2008

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