First Minister Alex Salmond’s speech at the inaugural Jimmy Reid Foundation annual lecture: “Addressing alienation – the opportunity of independence”

Jimmy Reid Foundation


First Minister Alex Salmond has delivered the inaugural Jimmy Reid Foundation annual lecture, entitled “addressing alienation – the opportunity of independence”

Speaking in the Daily Record prior to the lecture, Alex Salmond discussed the legacy Jimmy Reid left behind.

 “As much as I miss Jimmy personally, what I miss more is the power of his voice speaking out against the attacks on the most vulnerable members of our and that voice is needed now more than ever.  

When Jimmy was elected rector of Glasgow University, he described in his world-famous address the threat of alienation and its corrosive effect. He defined alienation as:

“the cry of men who find themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. It is the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision making. The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their destinies.”  

Forty years on, I’d argue that the biggest threat to human dignity is in a new kind of alienation.

The alienation felt by those who need the help of benefits to survive and find themselves arguably being demonised by some sections of society.”   


The Jimmy Reid Foundation Lecture 

Jimmy was a tireless campaigner for a better society and he would be appalled by some of the brutal effects being felt on our doorstep here in Scotland thanks to the UK government’s process of welfare reform.

Jimmy Reid achieved many things.

He was one of the greatest political figures in Scotland’s history; a tireless campaigner for a better society; a superb orator; and one of our finest journalists and commentators. Most of all, however, he was a good man, and a beloved husband, father and grandfather.

I’m delighted that his widow, Joan, and his daughters – Eileen, Shona and July – are all here this evening.

It is a privilege to speak in his honour this evening – in the same building where, just 2 and a half years ago, many of us attended his memorial service.

I am grateful to the Jimmy Reid Foundation – which of course was established to honour Jimmy’s legacy of radical thinking – for organising this evening’s event.

I have chosen the subject “Addressing alienation” for this evening’s lecture.

The title is a tribute to Jimmy’s superb Glasgow rectorial address on the subject.

My alternative topic was “there will be no bevvying – the case for minimum pricing for alcohol” – but I thought that that might get a smaller audience.

Jimmy’s Glasgow rectorial address was famously described by the New York Times as the greatest speech since the Gettysburg Address.

When I first read it, as a student at St Andrew’s University, I thought that it was the finest Scottish political speech I had heard.

I still think that now.

I announced at Jimmy’s memorial service that I would ensure that the rectorial address was made available to every school in Scotland.

I am delighted that in the audience today there are students from Govan High School who have been learning about Jimmy’s importance to Scottish politics and society. They are among thousands of students who have used the information about Jimmy on the Education Scotland website, including the rectorial address, during the last couple of years.

The Glasgow rectorial address spoke magnificently to the preoccupations of Jimmy’s time.

It still speaks to the concerns of today.

Society is still too permissive while unemployment is tolerated.

Real fulfilment still lies in service to our fellow men and women.

Alienation still needs to be addressed.

This evening, I want to set out what the Scottish Government is already doing to tackle alienation – how we are supporting a fairer society in tough times, and giving people the opportunities they need to live contented and fulfilled lives. And I will also explain why, in order to properly address alienation, we need the full powers of independence.


Jimmy Reid R.I.P.
Jimmy Reid R.I.P.

Welfare reforms

Jimmy defined alienation as:

“the cry of men who find themselves the victims of blind economic forces beyond their control. 

“It is the frustration of ordinary people excluded from the processes of decision making.

“The feeling of despair and hopelessness that pervades people who feel with justification that they have no real say in shaping or determining their destinies.”

All MSPs, MPs and councillors – and millions of people across Scotland – may find themselves thinking of stories they have heard recently from constituents, relatives or friends.

The person reduced to penury by the removal of their Disability Living Allowance.

The working single parent made £30 a week worse off by the reduction in working tax credit.

The sense of despair among the most vulnerable in our society as they bear the costs of an economic whirlwind not of their making.

The testimony of Citizens Advice Scotland to the Scottish Parliament last week, when they announced that were providing suicide awareness training for their counsellors as a result of the stresses caused by welfare cuts.

These are not the intention of cuts to welfare. But they are its consequence. They are the result of policies enacted by a Government which seems to have lost any connection with the people it is supposed to serve. And they are the mistakes of a Government which is failing even in its own terms.

Given that restoring economic growth is the single most important element in budget deficit reduction, and given that weak demand is the main cause of low growth, reducing the income of people with virtually no savings ratio is economically counter productive, as well as morally unjustifiable.

Here in Scotland, we have tried to show that there is a better way of protecting the most vulnerable in our society.

This Parliament has done all that it can to mitigate the consequences of welfare cuts.

We have, jointly with COSLA, agreed to meet the cost of the UK Government’s cut to council tax benefits- protecting more than half a million people on low incomes across Scotland.

We have established a Scottish Welfare Fund – following cuts made by Westminster to the current system of Crisis loans – protecting an additional 100,000 vulnerable Scots.

We announced last week that we would provide more than £5m of support over the next two years for services such as Citizens Advice Scotland – help to meet the growing demand for advice support from people reduced to distress and despair.

But make no mistake – what we are doing at present is mitigation – nothing more

Jimmy Reid always argued that a the worth of a society should be judged:

“not by the affluence of the strong or the greedy, but by how it cared for the most defenceless sections of the community, the very young, the very old, the physically or mentally handicapped.”

He was proud of Scotland’s tradition of compassion, egalitarianism and empathy.

He spoke out whenever that tradition was abandoned and betrayed.

It is being betrayed at present.

The changes announced in the Autumn statement will reduce benefit expenditure in Scotland by a total of £210 million in 2014-15 – a reduction that will affect approximately 700,000 working households.

That’s on top of all of the changes already announced.

Yet just one month earlier, the UK Government announced £350 million more of spending on the next stage of Trident renewal. That money is barely half of one per cent of the £70 billion lifetime total cost of the decision to replace the Trident system.

How can any Government choose to embark on expenditure of £70 billion, to renew Europe’s largest concentration of weapons of mass destruction, while reducing benefits for households across the country? Or while health inequalities and unemployment are such pressing problems?

Social wage

The Scottish Parliament has consistently shown a more progressive sense of priorities.

We have instituted in Scotland what I call a “social wage” as part of the contract between the people of Scotland and their Government.

Under the social wage, we provide, defend and extend certain core universal services, rights and benefits.

These include university tuition, prescriptions, personal care for the elderly, and a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies in the Scottish government and health service.

The last of these, incidentally, doesn’t mean that there is no reduction in numbers, but it does give people – particularly women, who have been the main casualties of the UK Government’s redundancies in the public sector – more security in planning their household budgets.

It is a significant step at a time when our non-health revenue budget is being cut by 14% in real terms over the next two years.

People across Scotland benefit from the social wage – the pensioner who wants the right to travel, and freedom from the fear of not being able to fund their care in infirmity.

The family on £16,000 a year who had to choose between prescribed medicines – until this Government restored a Health Service free at the point of need.

We established in 2007 that there were actually 600,000 people earning below £16,000 a year who were liable to pay prescription charges.

Families needing childcare, who will benefit from a legal commitment that all three and four year olds, and all looked-after two year olds, should receive a minimum of 600 hours of early learning and childcare.

The student who now has the right to an education – enabling them to earn and redeem their obligation to society through a fair taxation system.

Full-time Scottish students at college and universities this year have reached an all time high.

We also have welcomed record numbers of English and of overseas students.

In England, applications for universities have fallen dramatically, with thousands of youngsters being denied their life opportunity as a result of high tuition fees.

Jimmy Reid scored 99% in his 11 plus exam, was streamed for Oxbridge at school, and left school at 14 without a single qualification.

That wasn’t unusual at that time.

He strongly believed that subsequent generations should have better opportunities.

He was a passionate defender of the principle of free university education.

He said in 1997 that the introduction of tuition fees wasn’t:

“political reform, but social vandalism.”

He was right – which is why one of this Government’s first acts was to restore the principle of free university education.

Jimmy’s views on tuition fees were part of his wider support for a universal approach to many social benefits.

He believed that means testing could be dehumanising, that a coherent society has to be inclusive, and that:

“The pursuit of a just, modern society is best served by an expanding social wage that brings security and justice to all.”

The Jimmy Reid Foundation, in a report published last month, assessed and reaffirmed the benefits of universalism, calling its defence:

“probably the single greatest achievement of the Scottish Parliament.”

Universalism, or the social wage, recognises that everyone contributes to society, and so everyone should receive some common services and benefits.

It makes it clear that in Scotland, the public sector will work to provide a secure, stable and inclusive society. And by doing so we will nurture and encourage the talent and ambition of our people.

Scotland will be a place where people want to visit, invest, work and live.

Re-industrialisation of Scotland

All of you who were at Jimmy’s memorial service in this church will remember the outstanding tribute paid by Billy Connolly.

If you look at the video of the service, you’ll see that during my address I was passed a note by David Scott.

The note said:

“Billy has overrun. Make sure you don’t. The crematorium is booked for 4pm.”

I paid close attention to that stricture – politicians are nothing if not adaptable! But I thought that Jimmy would have found it hilarious.

Billy Connelly told a story about going for walks with Jimmy.

Jimmy would point to a tower block and say:

“Behind that window is a guy who could win Formula One.

“And behind that one there’s a winner of the round-the-world yacht race.

“And behind the next one … And none of them will ever get the chance to sit at the wheel of a racing car or in the cockpit of a yacht.”

The rectorial address captured that sense of wasted potential differently, but just as eloquently –

“The untapped resources of the North Sea are as nothing compared to the untapped resources of our people.”

Jimmy was born during the depression.

Some of his earliest memories were of his mother standing at the window waiting for his father, who would be out looking for employment in Govan– she knew that if Jimmy’s dad came home early, it meant that he had been unsuccessful that day, and there would be no extra cash for the family.

Jimmy understood from his youngest days the true cost of unemployment and inequality.

He knew that no Government can or should stand by while people who yearn to work are denied the chance to do so.

Throughout the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in, he expressed that conviction with more eloquence – and to greater effect – than any Scottish political figure before or since.

When I was growing up, only three world events ever really got through to the school students of Linlithgow Academy. Celtic winning the European Cup was one; the moon landings were another; and the work-in at the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders was the third.

The work-in resonated in Linlithgow, and all around the world, for a simple reason.

It spoke to the most fundamental of all human desires and needs – the need to work; the need to contribute, and the need to feel valued for that contribution.

Of all the many, many tributes paid to Jimmy after his death, I sometimes think that the one he would have been proudest of is the one paid by the apprentices, who stood at the gates of the BAe systems yard, as his coffin was brought to the memorial service.

Those apprentices knew that they owed their chance of a career to the stance that he had taken four decades previously.

We owe it to them, and to Jimmy’s memory, to ensure that all young people have similar opportunities.

That’s why this Government has a commitment to deliver 25,000 modern apprenticeships in every year of this Parliament.

This afternoon I met Elise Littlejohn, an engineering apprentice with Selexes; Gavin Buchan, who has just completed a machining apprenticeship at ACE Winches; and Robert Tosh, who won last year’s Modern Apprentice of the year award.

Robert went to Govan High School, and now works at the BAe Systems Yard.

Robert, Gavin and Elise are fantastic examples of the value of modern apprenticeships in providing meaningful opportunities for work and training for our young people.

Skills Development Scotland has just published research showing that 92 % of all people who completed apprenticeships were in work 6 months after completing or leaving their placement.

This important statistic confirms what should be common sense.

That the better equipped people are, the more life chances they have.

The emphasis here is on ensuring that our young people can find positive destinations in employment, education or training.

The most recent figures show that 87% of school leavers are in positive destinations nine months after leaving school –a 2% increase since the year before.

We cannot afford any complacency, but that’s an encouraging sign in tough economic times.

Earlier today in Aberdeen I spoke at a conference for the offshore wind energy and supply chain industry.

I looked back on developments during the last year, including the announcement by Samsung Heavy Industries that it would establish a base for building wind turbines at Methil in Fife. The jackets for Samsung’s turbines will be made by Steel Engineering, based just two miles from here at Westway Dock in Renfrew.

I saw Steel’s expanded new facilities last summer, when I also visited their training academy, which was taking on its first group of 10 apprentices, out of an expected 60 each year.

The 10 apprentices included Nicole Mitchell, their first ever female apprentice welder.

Further down the Clyde, at Hunterston, Scottish Enterprise and Scottish and Southern Electricity are collaborating on an offshore wind turbine test centre.

In Glasgow city centre, a mile or so east of here, Strathclyde University is establishing its £90 million IT-REZ engineering centre, a global research and development hub for renewable energy.

The £50m Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult Innovation Centre will also be based there.

Glasgow is now Europe’s leading research centre for offshore wind energy.

This city – which dominated the marine engineering revolution of the 19th century – is planning the marine energy engineering revolution which will help to power Scotland, and the wider world, in the 21st century.

The benefits of renewable energy are being seen across Scotland. You can see them in Orkney, where the marine energy industry has generated 250 jobs in the last nine years – a number we expect to quadruple by 2020.

You can see them at Global Energy’s Nigg Yard in the Cromarty Firth, where in March I met the first of some 3,000 apprentices and trainees who are expected to go there in the next three years to meet the demand for skilled engineers.

You can see them in Machrihanish in Argyll and Methil in Fife. And supported by agreements which were signed earlier today, we should see also them at the ports of Kishorn, Invergordon and Ardesier in the Highlands.

Over the next decade, the offshore wind industry has the potential to create up to 28,000 jobs and support many thousands more through related industries.

There is the potential, in this generation, to begin the re-industrialisation of Scotland.

To reverse the hollowing out of our manufacturing base which Jimmy Reid fought so hard against, and which has caused such lasting scars and inequalities in communities across Scotland – perhaps especially here in Govan.

But fully seizing this opportunity is not yet possible.

There is a strong consensus in Scotland behind our overall direction on renewable energy.

However, uncertainty is currently being created in some key areas such as Electricity Market Reform, and UK decarbonisation targets, by tensions within the Westminster coalition.

With devolution, we have gone a long way towards making Scotland a world leader in renewable energy. But we don’t even control the Crown Estate Commissioners who manage Scotland’s seabed up to 12 nautical miles.

That paradox highlights some of the limits of the current devolved settlement.

With devolution, we can create a social wage. But we cannot avoid the anti-social consequences of the UK’s austerity measures.

With devolution, we can take steps to mitigate the impact of the UK Government’s welfare reforms. But only with independence can we create a welfare system which makes work pay without reducing people to penury and despair.

With devolution, in many key areas we can only lobby Westminster.

With independence, we can deliver for Scotland.


That contrast is at the heart of how Scotland can address alienation. Reid wrote, three weeks before the devolution referendum in 1997, that:

“I believe that a Scottish Parliament will tackle the poverty in our midst with a zeal that Westminster could never match.”

The Scottish Parliament – and this is the Parliament as a whole, rather than any one party – has already made significant steps to justify Reid’s beliefs.

By and large, we have used our powers for progressive purposes – including personal care, pioneering homelessness legislation, an end to tuition fees, and protecting the National Health Service.

However, I know that Jimmy Reid would find far, far more that still needs to be done.

Health inequalities – differences in life expectancy, for example – are still the shame of Scotland.

One reason why Jimmy joined the Scottish National Party in 2005 – having written, “The Case Against the Scottish National Party” in 1968 – is that he came to believe that only through independence would Scotland be able to fully tackle the poverty in our midst.

In a relatively small nation like Scotland, deprivation and disadvantage are no great distance from any of us.

No community is very far from another.

In a small nation, as in a village society, it is more difficult to walk by on the other side, and more natural to extend a helping hand.

Last Friday we celebrated Burns Night.

Burns’s supreme quality – one which Scotland should be intensely proud of – was his sense of empathy – his ability to identify with other people and other creatures.

On Monday of last week, President Obama was inaugurated at the start of his second term in office.

President Obama has said that although people see the federal deficit as a problem, the empathy deficit is an even bigger problem – that people in the United States need:

“the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us.”

Researchers at the University of Chicago two years ago found that given the choice, rats will free other rats from cages even when there is no reward in it for them.

Jimmy famously said that:

“the rat race is for rats”.

But actually, even rats demonstrate empathy.

Empathy is a quality which is fundamental to any decent society.

That’s why some of the work the Scottish Government and local authorities are supporting to nurture empathy in schools, for example through the Roots of Empathy Programme, is so important and worthwhile.

Empathy is what allows us to associate with each other’s struggles and challenges, to build a sense of solidarity and cohesion. And in Scotland, that sense of empathy will motivate us to take and use the powers we need to change the direction of the country.

Jimmy never saw political structures as an end in themselves. But he was always acutely aware of how they could influence outcomes.

In the Glasgow rectorial address he spoke of how people could be:

“picked up by bureaucratic tweezers and dropped in a filing cabinet”

when the establishment fails to recognise the importance of community life, of a sense of belonging.

Bureaucratic tweezers can exist under any size of Government, of course.

Reid was writing about the dangers of overly large regional government, rather than about Westminster Government. But an independent Scotland is more likely to encourage a sense of belonging, of participation.

Under devolution, we have already gone some of the way towards doing this.

The relative transparency and fairer voting system of the Holyrood Parliament is one example of this; land reform legislation was another.

In the next Parliamentary year, we are proposing to bring forward a Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill.

We have consulted on ideas ranging from an urban community right to buy, to making it easier for communities to take on unused public sector buildings.

There is a hugely important principle behind all of this.

If you believe that the people who live and work in Scotland are best placed to make decisions about its future, then it follows that local communities are best placed to make decisions about their future.

An independent Scotland could go further.

I spoke two weeks ago about the process by which an independent Scotland could create a new constitution – through a convention with membership from all political parties, wider civic Scotland and individuals from across Scotland.

The constitution would enshrine the values that the people hold most dear.

I suggested – and there will be many other voices in this debate – that we might wish to include the right to free education; safeguards on the use of our troops; and a ban on the possession of nuclear weapons.

A constitution which not only guarantees rights but positively asserts values.

A new constitution – and the process which would create it – is just one example of how independence would give us the powers we need to build a fairer and more prosperous Scotland.

Independence ensures that the key decisions about Scotland’s future are made by the people who live and work in Scotland.

Once we have decided to become an independent nation, we have the power to choose what sort of nation we want to be.

I believe that we will choose to become a fairer nation, as well as a more prosperous one; one where we use our natural resources responsibly, to enable our human resources to flourish. And one where we live up to Jimmy Reid’s legacy, by using the powers of an independent nation, to address alienation.


See: Black Triangle’s Response to the English Riots: We let Jimmy Reid speak for us from Glasgow, 1972 – As True Today as Then Posted on August 13, 2011



5 thoughts on “First Minister Alex Salmond’s speech at the inaugural Jimmy Reid Foundation annual lecture: “Addressing alienation – the opportunity of independence”

  1. David Moynagh says:

    Absolutely enthralling. We owe it to ourselves and to our sense of sharedness and compassion to vote YES to independence. Indeed, how could we not after reading this address. An address that gives us reason with passion.

  2. jeffery davies says:

    im afraid scotland same as wales how can you stand alone as both take out more than they put in so how can one stand alone its whot alex wants you to do but then i exspect more people will say no same as wales its only making jobs for more politicians not making jobs for the masses jeff3

    1. PJO says:

      Well Jeffery hopefully most Scots will vote for independance and take the chance to stand on our own two feet, i’ll be voting yes, not because i have a problem with the UK or the rest of the Union but because it may be our only chance to free ourselves from this evil Tory led Westminster coalition government and any future Tory governments.

      If Scotland gets independance, i can’t see there being a Conservative government here for a long time, they’d have a lot of work to do before the Scots would ever believe another word that comes out their lying mouths!

      Chief Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander said each individual would be worse off by £1 per year in an independent Scotland, i’m sure, Jeffery, you’d be willing to pay a pound if it meant you no longer had to dance to Ian Duncan Smiths tune.

  3. JEFFREY says:

    i like the scotts but if they go indy,we will just keep getting tory as most peole live in London it will be hell to get this lot out .. jefflph..

    1. PJO says:

      Jeffrey, i’m glad that you like the Scots as i for one have no problem with England or the English people and i am sure that goes for the majority of Scots as well.

      I have noticed a rise in anti Scottish sentiment on a lot of political programmes lately and i have just wondered why, because we dared to ask for a referendum on independence!

      You i’m sure are well aware of the misery being inflicted on people by this Tory led coalition and how Ian Duncan Smith will not rest until he has personally left the imprint of his jack boots on the face of every disabled, poor & unemployed person in this country.

      I read my blacktriangle emails each day to see what new horrors this government have dreamt up for it’s people, the Bedroom Tax being the next nail in the coffin.

      Maybe the Scots are just thinking, “a yes vote could save us from this Draconian government”, who ever thought there would be a government worse than Thatcher’s!

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