The Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP
Scotland is an ancient nation, renowned for the ingenuity and creativity of our people, the breathtaking beauty of our land and the brilliance of our scholars. Our national story has been shaped down the generations by values of compassion, equality, an unrivalled commitment to the empowerment of education, and a passion and curiosity for invention that has helped to shape the world around us. Scots have been at the forefront of the great moral, political and economic debates of our times as humanity has searched for progress in the modern age.
It is in that spirit of progress that you will be asked on 18 September 2014,
'Should Scotland be an independent country?'
The answer we give to that question will determine how we can shape our nation for the future. The year ahead should be a national celebration of who we are and what we could be.
The debate we are engaged in as a nation is about the future of all of us lucky enough to live in this diverse and vibrant country. It is a rare and precious moment in the history of Scotland - a once in a generation opportunity to chart a better way.
At its heart independence is not about this Government or any political party. It is about a fundamental democratic choice for the people of Scotland. It is about the power to choose who we should be governed by and the power to build a country that reflects our priorities as a society and our values as a people.
I believe in independence because I believe it will be better for all of us if decisions about Scotland are taken by the people who care most about Scotland - the people who live and work here. It is my absolute conviction that Scotland's future should be in Scotland's hands.
I also believe that the bonds of family, friendship, history and culture between Scotland and the other parts of the British Isles are precious. England, Wales and Northern Ireland will always be our family, friends and closest neighbours. But with Scotland as an independent country, our relationship will be one of equals. I have no doubt that it will flourish.
I want to be clear about what independence means and why the Scottish Government is asking you to vote Yes.
The vote in September 2014 is about becoming independent from the parliamentary union of 1707 and passing to the Scottish Parliament the powers Westminster has over matters such as taxation, welfare and the economy, and securing for Scotland our own place in the world as an independent country.
Last year, in the Edinburgh Agreement, the Scottish and Westminster Governments agreed to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome of the referendum, whatever it may be, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom. That is an important commitment from both Governments. It will help to ensure a smooth transition of powers from Westminster to Scotland.
That constructive working together will continue after independence.
We will work in partnership with the rest of the UK to share the pound for our mutual benefit, but we will pursue a Scottish tax and economic policy to boost jobs, growth and social justice.
Westminster governments, rejected at the ballot box in Scotland, will no longer be able to inflict the poll tax or the bedroom tax on the most vulnerable people in our society.
We will continue to work in partnership with the rest of the UK in defence alliances to promote peace and security, but we will be able to remove Trident from Scotland's soil and stop paying towards the £100 billion lifetime cost of a new generation of nuclear weapons.
We will work in partnership with the rest of the UK inside the European Union. But we will be able to represent Scotland at the top tables of Europe as a constructive member state and stand up for vital Scottish interests.
Scotland will remain within the Union of the Crowns with Her Majesty The Queen as our head of state, but we will have a modern, written constitution.
And the social ties between Scotland and the rest of the UK will continue and thrive.
That is the independent Scotland we will negotiate following a Yes vote. We will do so in time for Scotland to become independent on 24 March 2016 and be ready for the first elections to an independent Scottish Parliament in the spring of that year.
Of course some would prefer Scotland to become a republic, to leave the EU or NATO, or to have our own currency. After Scotland becomes independent, any political party seeking to make these kinds of changes would first have to win support to do so in an election.
That is the real democratic value of independence - the people of Scotland are in charge. It will no longer be possible for governments to be elected and pursue policies against the wishes of the Scottish people. So other choices can be made, different from those we propose in this guide - but these will be the choices of the Scottish people.
Independence will put the people of Scotland in charge of our own destiny.
No-one is suggesting an independent Scotland would not face challenges. We would be unique if that was not the case.
But we are rich in human talent and natural resources. We are one of the wealthiest nations in the world. With independence, we can build the kind of country we want to be.
People down the decades have wondered if a country blessed with such wealth, talent and resources could and should have done more to realise the potential we know exists for everyone. Those generations could only imagine a better Scotland.
Our generation has the opportunity to stop imagining and wondering and start building the better Scotland we all know is possible.
This is our country. This is Scotland's future. It is time to seize that future with both hands.
Gains from independence - whichever party is elected
- Decisions about Scotland will be taken by the people who care most about Scotland - those who live and work here
- An independent Parliament elected entirely by people in Scotland will replace the current Westminster system. Under that system, elected representatives from Scotland make up just 9 per cent of the 650 members of the House of Commons; the House of Lords is wholly unelected
- Governments will always be formed by parties that win elections in Scotland. It will no longer be possible for key decisions to be made by governments that do not command the support of the Scottish electorate
- A guarantee that tax and social security rates will be set in line with the wishes of the people of Scotland. That will mean an end to the imposition on Scotland of policies like the "bedroom tax"
- Public services can be kept in public hands. The Scottish Parliament has the power to keep the NHS in public hands but it could not stop other services such as the Royal Mail being privatised by Westminster
- An economic policy aimed at economic stability and job security in Scotland will replace an economic policy which disproportionately benefits London and the South East of England
- Access to our own resources - for every one of the last 32 years estimates show Scotland has generated more tax per head than the UK as a whole. With independence, decisions about the level and allocation of public spending will be taken here in Scotland
- An economic policy that can be tailored to take advantage of Scotland's world-class universities and key growth industries like food and drink, life sciences, and tourism
- An independent Scotland can invest our oil wealth for future generations. By value there is estimated to be as much North Sea oil still to come as has already been extracted. Norway has a savings fund worth more than £470 billion
- Our taxes will not be used to pay for nuclear weapons and we can remove Trident from Scotland for good
Gains from independence - if we are the first government of an independent Scotland
- A transformational extension of childcare, giving our children the best start in life, making it easier for parents - especially mothers - to return to work and delivering new job opportunities
- Abolition of the "bedroom tax" which will save 82,500 households in Scotland - including 63,500 households with a disabled adult and 15,500 households with children - an average of £50 per month
- A halt to the rollout of Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payments in Scotland allowing future Scottish governments to develop reforms to our welfare system that meet our needs
- The first steps towards a fairer tax system by ensuring that basic rate tax allowances and tax credits rise at least in line with inflation, and ending of the married couples tax allowance and abolishing the Shares for Rights scheme
- Pensioners' incomes protected with the triple lock so that pensions increase by either inflation, earnings, or 2.5 per cent, whichever is highest
- Simplification of the tax system to reduce compliance costs, streamline reliefs and help to reduce tax avoidance, with a target revenue gain of £250 million a year by the end of the first term
- Return of the Royal Mail to public ownership in Scotland, guaranteeing the quality of service that all parts of our country currently enjoy
- A Fair Work Commission and a guarantee that the minimum wage will rise at least in line with inflation. Over the last five years, this would have improved the earnings of the lowest paid Scots by the equivalent of £675. Continued support for the living wage for central government staff and promotion of it for other sectors of the Scottish economy
- A timetable for reducing the rate of corporation tax by up to three percentage points to counter the gravitational business pull of London
- Examination of further help for small businesses, for example with national insurance costs to encourage them to create more jobs
- Reduction in Air Passenger Duty by 50 per cent, with a view to abolishing it when public finances allow
- Support for energy efficiency and the roll out of green technology from central government budgets to reduce energy bills by around 5 per cent