I am delighted to address you this afternoon. The Scottish Parliament is a promise delivered. The Executive is established. The settled will of the Scottish people is now a solid reality, and delivering.
On education, you have provided a nursery place for every 4 year old. You are reducing class sizes in the first three critical years of primary education. You will be supporting 60 new Community Schools to help social inclusion. In this Parliament you will be building or renovating 100 schools.
You have the biggest ever new hospital building programme since the war now underway in Scotland, and challenging targets that will speed treatment and shorten waiting times. You are launching the new Scottish NHS Direct. You are establishing 80 new one stop clinics where patients can get diagnosis and treatment in a day. You are launching a new generation of walk in / walk out hospitals.
You are making progress on social inclusion, on sustainable development You arc working to bring jobs and economic opportunities. You are dealing with crime and working on imaginative law reform.
Already you are legislating on School Standards. On Feudal Law. On public Finance and Accountability. On Standards in Public Life.
These are substantial achievements, in a Parliament not yet one year old, and are real cause for pride.
Nobody is saying this body is perfect. any more than any other parliament is perfect. Nobody is saying mistakes will not be made. They will. Here, as in Westminster, we have to listen. We have to learn. We do listen. We will learn.
This is a new world and we, all of us - politicians and media, have a responsibility to make it work precisely because it is the will of the people.
In years gone by, I can recall coming to Scotland, visit after visit, and being told by the Scottish press that I didn't believe in a Scottish Parliament and therefore would never deliver it.
It is a little disappointing to see the same journalists who displayed such a passion to see the Parliament established now appearing to show an equal passion for knocking it down.
Scepticism is healthy. Cynicism is corrosive.
And there is no cause for it.
The fact is that the Scottish Parliament is innovating, and it is working in partnership with the rest of the UK.
As a parent. like many of you, I am terrified about the threat of drugs. Nearly 300 young people die from drug misuse in Scotland each year. Seizures of heroin grew by 8 times between 1994 and 1998. In 1998 40% of secondary four pupils in Scottish Schools admitted to using illegal drugs.
So creating a Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency was one of the Scottish Executive's first commitments. It will be a key part of the concerted drive against drug misuse. It will help to create a new concept in intelligence-led drugs enforcement. I will be meeting its Director later today when I visit a drugs rehabilitation project.
But drugs traffickers and dealers don't care if they're in Aberdeen or Afghanistan, the UK or the Ukraine. They want only to profit from the misery they inflict on our communities.
That is why we have to tackle them at every level. The DEA is doing that in Scotland, we are doing it at a UK level, and there's already good work going on in Europe. But not enough.
I want the war against drugs to be a much higher priority for the European Union. I've already spoken to the current Presidency, the Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres, and he has agreed that we must have drugs on the agenda at the European Council in Portugal in June.
We will press for early progress towards minimum penalties throughout the European Union for trafficking in the drugs that cause most harm. Dealers must know that they will face severe penalties wherever they are caught.
All European countries have drug problems. Member States must learn from each other. At the European Council at Tampere we agreed important measures on combined police operations and judicial cooperation. We must put this into practice against drugs. The UK is proposing that EU Members should compare their performance against best practice, using the same tough and tested measures. We will offer expert UK input.
Drugs and crime are problems in countries applying to join the EU too. Much of the heroin in the UK comes here through applicant countries. That creates problems for them as well as us. So we will be pressing for closer cooperation on drugs and crime with applicant countries, to help us all work for drug-free societies in an enlarged European Union.
That mcans helping applicant countries to collect data, and working with them to monitor and evaluate anti-drugs programmes. We are not of course setting up new barriers to accession: quite the opposite. We want to help them ensure that there are effective barriers to organised crime throughout a larger
The UK will immediately increase its anti-drugs cooperation and assistance in this area. We are urging other EU countries to do the same.
Action to deal with drugs is an excellent example of where we must work together. Scotland with England. The UK with the EU. The EU with the rest of Europe. Europe with the rest of the world.
So, there are things predominantly Scottish that should be done by Scots in Scotland. There are areas we can learn from each other. And there are things that we can only do with each other.
For example, building a strong defence not just for the UK but to allow us to play a role in the wider world. Whether in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, East Timor, Mozambique, we can be proud of the extraordinary dedication and professionalism of our services in their work around the globe. They are a huge asset to all of us, and the Scottish vital to it. It is no coincidence that when the world wanted a new Secretary-General in NATO thcy turned to Britain and to a Scot, George Robertson. This country's strength in foreign policy - crucial to British influence in the world - depends on all parts of the UK working together.
Or take the environment. It does not respect geographical boundaries. Environment policy is devolved but cooperation across the UK, across Europe and across the world is vital if we are to tackle the problems we face. In January Sarah Boyack and Michael Meacher produced the ambitious UK Air
Quality Strategy. Today Sarah and John Prescott are setting out where we are on the UK Climate Change Programme. There will be a distinctive approach in Scotland but we are united in adopting a joint target for C02 emissions in the UK and in taking the steps to meet the targets we agreed in Kyoto and on this, Scotland has a good story to tell, and the UK has a good story to tell.
Shaping a welfare system that provides security for all in a changing world is another common challenge we are better meeting together.
Perhaps above all, there is the challenge of full employment in the new global economy. A few years back, it was almost taboo to mention full employment. People felt it was beyond reach: therefore irresponsible to discuss it. It was a revolutionary slogan on the left but met with a shaking of the head in conventional wisdom. Today, we can set it as a goal and not be derided. Unemployment in Scotland today is 5.1%. Long-term unemployment has halved. We have far further to go, but no longer is it certain that when unemployment falls, inflation must rise and the economy move into a downturn, which raises unemployment again. For the first time in over 3 decades we have slowed the economy down without recession. We know what works. Economic discipline. The embrace of the new information technology. Vigorous competition. Investment in education and skills. Incentives to work and rnak.ing work pay. Specific measures to tackle social exclusion, which economic demand management alone cannot cure.
Provided we all work together, the UK has a better chance than for a generation, to open up prosperity and opportunity to all. Full employment is no longer an idle dream, an exercise in futility. It is achievable.
Some believe the programme of decentralisation and devolution is wrong. I disagree profoundly. You do not judge these changes in days or months, or even a short space of years. You judge them in the broad sweep of history. There is an historical movement away from centralised government. As democracy matures, so does the desire of the electorate for decisions to he taken closer to them. So does the desire for diversity. When people point to differences in devolved policy and ask me, "isn't this a problem?", my response is that it is devolution. Not an accident. But the intention.
Other people mistakenly say it represents the end of Britain. The truth is quite the opposite. Our identity as Britain is a matter of our values and our interests. It is not about fossilizing institutions and refusing to change them.
Indeed it would be failure to modemise that would lead to the end of Britain. That is why this Government is bringing our constitution up to date. To make sure that it does give effect to our continuing values in fast changing circumstances.
Britain's values and interests are enduring. They have grown up from our history and our shared experience. They reflect the shared experience of countries coning together in common interest to form a diverse but strong union. These values are deep rooted and powerful. They bind together Scotland and the rest of Britain. They are expressed in the partnership which we are forging today between the Scottish Parliament and the United Kingdom Parliament.
So, let us never forget, why we embarked on this great and historic change.
We did it to empower the people of Scotland. To give people here in Scotland more say over their own affairs, while still enjoying the benefits of the United Kingdom.
We did it in order to provide better government, with more scrutiny, of decisions made closer to the people they affect, by the people they affect.
We did it to modernise the partnership that is today's United Kingdom, so that Scotland, along with the other nations that make up our Union, can play its full part.
Above all, we did it to enhance and improve thc daily lives and opportunities of every man, woman and child in Scotland, today and for generations to come.
That has been our purpose, and that remains our purpose.
That is why I stand before you today, deeply conscious of the historical significance of this occasion. Our country is changing. The institutions of the l9th Century will not serve us in the 21st.
Ours is a union that is evolving. We see it in our relations with Europe, We see it in the creation of a Welsh Assembly. We see it in the popular will yearning for devolved government in Northern Ireland. We see it in the strengthening of local identity in the regions of England. And perhaps most of all, we see and feel it here in this Scottish Parliament.
When they locked the doors of the old Scottish Parliament nearly three hundred years ago, they said it was "the end of an auld sang". I am here to celebrate with you the beginning of a new one, and of a new era of partnership within the United Kingdom.