Council on Foreign Relations, New York City, New York
It is a pleasure to be able to address you in this prestigious forum and I look forward immensely to a stimulating discussion not just about Scotland and the United Kingdom, but also about the wider international challenges we face.
Can I start by thanking so many friends of Scotland for coming today.
As Scotland's First Minister, I am always humbled by the boundless energy, passion and commitment of so many in the United States towards Scotland.
On a previous lecture tour in the US I was told at the first lecture that there were 9 million Americans claiming Scots decent. By the last lecture, the number had risen to 20 million!
Like any political leader, I would love to believe that that rise was a direct result of my lectures but in truth it spoke more to the vast potential for Scotland if our engagement with the United States is deepened and developed.
For my part, and on behalf of the people of Scotland, that is a pledge I make willingly and with total sincerity.
Some of you will be following closely the move towards ever greater repatriation of power from London. In fact, when it comes to making the case for independence from Britain I always love coming to the United States. Where some in Scotland still struggle to embrace the concept, you in America seemed to grasp the opportunity 230 years ago and even the fiercest British patriot would be hard pushed to say you haven't made a go of things!
But as we consider how far towards the full restoration of an independent Scotland we want to go, and how fast that process should be, those friends of Scotland around the globe may wonder what they can add to our deliberations.
Scotland is a nation which for too long has been trapped in a prism of insularity. What we ask from those in this great country is the kind of considered external perspective only one good friend can give another.
Today I want to achieve three things.
First, I want to give you a sense of the rapid change in Scotland at the present time - not just in terms of a new Government but also in the less tangible, but utterly vital, sense of cultural renewal. The new Scotland is one which is bold, confident, demanding and ambitious.
Secondly, I want to explain the benefits that this transition is bringing - in particularly the ambitious new period for the Scottish economy as we learn important lessons from neighbours both large and small.
Finally, on the subject of small countries, I want also to reflect on the role that these nations can play in bridging the divisions which threaten our common good.
Change in Scotland
So, to borrow from MacBeth, 'Stands Scotland where it did?'
On a superficial level, the answer to that question is that constitutionally little has changed.
Despite the election of the first nationalist Government in our history, Scotland remains a part of the United Kingdom.
That position will not change until a majority of my fellow countrymen and women vote to restore Scottish independence.
But in truth, Scotland is already undergoing the most dramatic transformation of our expectations and is involved in a re-assessment of our future. There is a determination to emerge from many years of economic underperformance and cultural timidity.
Since 1999, Scotland has once again had its own Parliament. Now, however, there is an unstoppable consensus emerging for more powers to pass from Westminster in London to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.
That movement is much bigger than one party or one person. It is about a constitutional dynamic which has been set in motion - and which is completely dictated by the wishes of the Scottish people.
That has consequences for foreign affairs which I will be happy to discuss in our question period but what I ask you to hold on to is that the re-emergence of Scotland is based on a peaceful, inclusive, civic nationalism - one born of tolerance and respect for all faiths, colours and creeds and one which will continue to inspire constitutional evolution based on a positive vision of what our nation can be.
Our nationalism is not one fuelled by negativity but rather is one inspired by hope.
Self-Government is about more than constitutional change - it is about a transformation of expectations and a seismic shift in mentality.
In Scotland, we are not simply trying to build a proud nation, but rather to build a nation of which we can be proud.
The Celtic Lion
The kind of future for Scotland that we seek is one where the Scottish economy is living up to its full potential.
Any conversation about Scotland's economic performance should begin with the acknowledgement that we live in a country with enormous assets - chief among them our people. We have a history and present reality of innovation, examples of educational excellence and individuals and companies succeeding in a competitive global market.
And it is against this backdrop that our trend growth rate is so disappointing. Over the last 25 years, the Scottish economy has grown at 1.8% compared to the UK's own 2.3%. The difference may sound small, but over that period it represents an opportunity cost to the Scottish economy of billions of pounds.
At the close of the 19th century Scotland was the wealthiest country per capita in the world. Scotland had the world's most efficient capital market and buoyed by innovation and entrepreneurialism in financial services was investing around the world and here in the United States.
By the close of the 20th century Scotland had fallen to 20th in the world league tables - still wealthy and with vibrant core industries like financial services, energy and biotechnology. But what has captivated my imagination is this - how do we get back to the top of the league table? How do we get back to number 1?
We have everything it takes for the economy to take off in Scotland. What we require is vision and leadership to enable us to make it happen. Ireland has shown what is possible and there is no reason why we could not match their tiger with our lion.
And here at the Council of Foreign Relations, it is interesting to note that it is by and large the world's small countries that are doing so well in economic terms.
The small countries of the original EU 15 grew at a rate almost 50% higher than the large countries. These small countries benefit from speed in decision making, ability to focus on their core industries and - in the best scenarios - a broad political consensus to encourage sustainable economic growth.
In fact, our nearest three neighbors - Norway, Iceland and Ireland - are respectively the first, second and fourth most prosperous countries in the world according to the UN Human Development Index. And it's worth noting that each of these countries declared their independence in the 20th century - so clearly there is nothing endemic in being part of a larger political union that breeds economic success.
My government is serious about matching the growth of these countries that form an Arc of Prosperity around Scotland. To that end, I have convened a Council of Economic Advisors similar to that in the U.S., comprised of preeminent economic experts in the public and private sectors. This independent body, which recently had its first meeting, reports directly to me, offering unfettered counsel on how to raise Scotland's sustainable growth rate and make Scotland one of the best places in the world to do business.
The cumulative effect of my government's proposed targets and policies is that Scotland will be among the most business-friendly countries in Europe and one of the most competitive in the world.
My message to the rest of the world is simple: Scotland is open for business and flourishing, an independent Scotland will be open for business and an even better place to do business. My hope for Scotland is that we will be honest about where we are and ambitious about where we can go. And, perhaps, as people now talk about the wonder of the Irish Celtic Tiger, within the next generation we can introduce the world to a new marvel - the Scottish Celtic Lion."
Having mentioned the economic success of small countries, I think it is worth reflecting on the international role that small nations can play.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I make no grand claim that Scotland, with a population of approximately 5 million people, will be a world superpower. That is not our destiny.
But what I do see for my country is a chance to contribute in a different way - in the role of mediator, broker and wise counsel.
I look at the foreign policy errors committed in recent times and I know that while the UK government sent Scottish soldiers to Iraq, the vast majority of Scots did not support the invasion. I know too, that most Scots have no desire to have nuclear weaponry in our waters.
But rather than focus on what we do not want, the imperative of leadership is to offer a positive alternative vision.
I want to outline briefly how Scotland can contribute.
Scots are intensely proud of our military tradition. Every Scottish family remembers the sacrifices made in Two World Wars and the conflicts since that time. We also possess Scottish units of world-class expertise and unquestioned courage.
With an independent Scotland, that tradition of contributing to multilateral peace keeping forces and to working with other nations from around the globe under the auspices of the United Nations, will always remain.
But beyond that there is so much more we can do.
Let me ask you to consider the remarkable work done by independent Norway - a country of comparable size and status to Scotland. The Norwegian efforts in terms of mediation - whether those leading to the creation of the Oslo Peace Accord or the brokering of peace in Sri Lanka - are remarkable and show what can be done by small nations which are not perceived as partial or threatening. The Norwegian effort is truly global - their diplomats respected the world over and routinely taking the lead in mediation in places as far away as Sudan, Bosnia and Colombia. That is what international citizenship is all about.
Consider also how Finland has been able to become involved is a wide range of peace initiatives - from Northern Ireland to Kosovo. Again, the developed sense of intelligent and impartial engagement in the world gives those nations an authority and an immensely valuable opportunity to contribute.
When I look at nations like Austria, Sweden, Ireland, Switzerland and Finland - all of whom are actively involved in the Partners for Peace programme - I see examples of how Scotland can offer a valuable service to the troubled world of today.
Let me therefore be clear - an independent Scotland would embrace involvement in Partnership for Peace. Not only is it the constructive stance which Scots would demand of their Government but facing up to our responsibilities in the modern world is about making Scotland an internationally recognised leader in international diplomacy.
Let me also take a moment to reflect on the moral leadership which must always matter in a profoundly unequal world. Foreign policy can never exist in a moral vacuum - our obligations to our fellow man transcend party politics or national self-interest. That is precisely why I see a wealthy, independent Scotland able to take a lead in providing development aid.
I see in that context, the target of an independent Scotland joining small nations like Denmark in donating over the target of 0.7% of GNP to the developing world demanded by the UN.
The message today is simply this - small nations can lead great change.
And in Scotland, great change is underway.