First Minister Humza Yousaf said the support for independence had never been stronger despite “some of the most difficult weeks and months in our party’s history” as he praised Nicola Sturgeon’s “leadership”.
Yousaf admitted his leadership would “piss some people off” within the SNP as he called for “bold and radical” policies which would allow Scotland to achieve the prosperity of Norway and Austria.
Speaking to the SNP South Scotland Regional Assembly in Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway, Mr Yousaf pledged to pursue “humane migration” and “the climate emergency”.
He said US climate envoy John Kerry “couldn’t have been more enthusiastic” and “couldn’t have lavished more praise on the Scottish Government” during a visit this week and refused to back the Rosebank oilfield.
He praised Sturgeon for her “leadership on the world stage”.
Yousaf said an independent Scotland could aspire to match countries such as Ireland, Norway and Austria.
Yousaf said: “Just look at the countries around us that are around our size, they are healthier and wealthier than the UK, and doing better than the UK for productivity.
“Why not Scotland?
“We have world class universities, world class food and drink, life sciences, agriculture, the abundant resources which other countries would bite our hand off for.”
He admitted there were divisions within SNP but insisted independence “is closer now than it ever has been” with nearly 75,000 SNP members.
Yousaf added: “It’s so important first of all, that even in the face of let’s be frank, some of the most difficult weeks and months in our party’s history, support for independence remains rock solid.”
He called for a “legally binding referendum” and said “humane migration” could help repopulate rural areas of Scotland such as Dumfries and Galloway, and the Borders.
When asked if the Scottish Government supported the development of the Rosebank oilfield, given Mr Kerry’s views on ending burning fossil fuels, Yousaf said the focus should be on renewables.
Yousaf said: “I’m not convinced the development of the Rosebank oilfield should go ahead.
“Unlimited oil and gas extraction is not our future, our future is within the unleashing the potential of renewable technology.”
He added: “My programme for government is probably going to piss off some people.
“The SNP is best when it’s radical and when it’s bold.
“There are people with a vested interest in the status quo.”
He pledged to “eradicate poverty” rather than reduce it.
Yousaf said: “There is incredible wealth, resource, talent within Scotland.
“We would have a far more humane approach to migration than the UK Government.
“For a country which has depopulation issues, there are countries with the average age of 35 who are desperate to come.
“We lost in 2014 on questions on the economy and currency and pensions.”
Yousaf vowed there would be “meaningful dialogue” with COSLA over school strikes, after both GMB Scotland and UNISON balloting for strike action.
The First Minister said devolution had been “undermined by a contemptuous UK Government” and criticised the “Westminster cost-of-living crisis”.
He said “Blue Westminster or Red Westminster” would make no difference, citing Sir Keir Starmer’s stance on policy issues, and describing Anas Sarwar as “like a child” on a recent visit from the Labour Party leader.
Yousaf said: “The body language was like a child looking for permission from their parent.”
He defended the appointment of new SNP chief executive Murray Foote, who stepped down from his previous comms role for misleading the press over membership figures, praising his “transparency and openness”.
Yousaf said: “Independence is now closer than it ever has been.
“It is closer than ever.
“This is a journey that did not begin with you and I.
“It has been going on not for decades but for hundreds of years.
“We may not have begun it but by God we should finish the job.
“The more likely we are to win the referendum, the less likely they are to give it to us.”
He dismissed the prospect of dissent from rebel SNP MSPs over the Bute House Agreement and insisted he would be achieve Scottish independence.
Yousaf said: “We want a legally binding referendum.
“That’s my job to lead the party to independence.”