Voting yes will create a new Scotland

The SNP begin its annual conference in Perth on Thursday after an extraordinary week. The Edinburgh agreement signed on Monday is a watershed moment in Scotland's home rule journey. Paving the way for the most important decision our country will make in 300 years, the agreement ensures that we have a referendum designed and delivered by the Scottish parliament.

The Edinburgh agreement ensures that, not only is the referendum made in Scotland, but that whatever the decision taken by the people of Scotland, it will be respected by all. That respect for process and outcome is vital as we move forward in forging a new partnership among the people of these islands.

My passion has never been to cross some imaginary constitutional finishing line and think the race is won. My aim now, as it always has been, is to deliver a better and fairer society for the people of Scotland. It happens that independence is the way to do this. The Scottish government has an ambitious vision for Scotland as a prosperous and successful European country reflecting Scottish values of fairness and opportunity, promoting equality and social cohesion.

Independence will allow us to create an exciting new Scotland – fit for the 21st century. We will have the power and the responsibility to find our own solutions to the challenges we face, and to engineer fairness, confidence, innovation and prosperity. At the same time, it will mean a partnership of equals with other nations, protecting vital Scottish interests like our fishing industry by having a seat at the top table while playing our part in the global community through organisations such as the European Union and United Nations.

I have always believed that civic nationalism should go together with internationalism. An independent Scotland will embrace the interdependence of the modern world, but we would do so on our own terms. For example, a written constitution for an independent Scotland should explicitly ban nuclear weapons from our country.

Over the next two years, Scotland will be involved in its most important debate of the past 300 years. Donald Dewar once said, when the Scottish parliament reconvened in 1999, that devolution was about more than our politics and our laws. It was in part about "who we are, how we carry ourselves". His words were true of devolution, and will be true of independence. I think they will be particularly true of the debate that will determine our future.

It is right that people should feel passionately about the question of independence. But that passion must extend to a recognition that Scotland's future will best be served by a debate which is thorough, thoughtful and constructive.

Above all, the campaign for a yes vote will stress the need to protect the advances Scotland has made with the limited home rule that devolution has brought. The social contract, which has delivered universal benefits such as free university education and personal care for our elderly, is now threatened by both Labour and the Tories, and only a yes vote to an independent Scotland can properly protect these gains.

Scotland in autumn 2014 must emerge as a united nation: united in recognition of the referendum result; in a shared belief in our potential; and in a hopeful view of our shared future.

Politicians, and media commentators, therefore bear a great responsibility in how we conduct ourselves during this debate. As first minister, I will fulfil mine, continually setting out a positive case for an independent Scotland.

That case is based on a simple but fundamental premise. The people best placed to take decisions about Scotland's future are those who choose to live and work in Scotland. I believe the people of Scotland will be persuaded of that case.

Alex Salmond is the first minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP.

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