I joined this Party when I was just 16 years of age.
To stand before you today, for the first time as your leader, is the proudest moment of my life.
It is a privilege and I thank you for the trust you have placed in me.
These are exciting times in our nation's history.
Know that I am humbled by your faith in me and inspired by your confidence in each other and in the people of this great country of ours.
The morning of September 19 was - of course - a time of heartbreak for all of us.
We all felt the deep disappointment of not achieving our goal.
The prize, the precious prize of independence, of a fairer, more prosperous Scotland, had been within touching distance.
And it slipped through our grasp.
I wish, so much, that we were gathered here today celebrating independence, but that wasn't to be.
Our cause therefore remains un-won.
But, friends, know this - it will be won.
Scotland will become an independent country.
From even the deepest disappointment springs new hope and new opportunity.
And, in the case of our party, 60,000 new members.
Many of our new recruits are here with us today.
Many more are watching at home.
So to all of you from all of us - a very warm welcome to our family.
To anyone watching who is not yet a member of the SNP -
If you - like us - want this country to be the best it can be.
If you want our voice to be heard and our parliament to be stronger, then come and join us.
Take the spirit of the referendum and make it the new spirit of Scotland.
Come and be history-makers, life-changers, deliverers of social justice.
Come and join us.
And, together, we will build an independent future.
The distance we have a travelled as a party is remarkable.
I thank each and every one of you for the part you have played.
But today I want to pay a special tribute to the man who has done more than anyone to make us the force that we are.
That man is Alex Salmond.
When Alex first entered politics, the SNP had a mere handful of MPs. We were on the fringes of Westminster politics.
It was all he could do to get us noticed – though it's fair to say he did it very well.
From the beginning, he was a thorn in the side of the Westminster establishment, speaking up for Scotland and standing up for what was right.
How they must be shaking in their shoes at the very idea of having him back.
Alex played a vital role in securing our Parliament and when he returned as leader of our party, he did so with the single-minded aim of becoming Scotland’s First Minister.
And what an outstanding First Minister he has been.
His leadership of our country has made a real difference to the lives of millions of Scots.
He protected pensioners from sky-high rises in Council Tax.
He has given our small businesses the most competitive tax regime in these islands.
And, in what will be his greatest legacy, he asserted the principle and he restored the reality of free education for all.
Alex Salmond has set the bar high for all those who follow, whether as leader of our party, or First Minister of our country.
He has been a constant support, friend and mentor to me.
As I prepare to succeed him, I know I could not have had a better teacher.
He is a hero of our movement.
And a champion of our nation.
Please join with me in thanking him for everything he has done.
Under Alex's leadership we have achieved so much.
But I'm here to tell you that our best days are still to come.
We meet today as a party that is bigger, stronger, more determined than ever before.
Almost 1 in 50 of the adult population of our country is now a member of our party.
1 in 50. That is truly remarkable.
Our members are drawn from all of the communities that make up this country of ours.
We reflect Scotland in all its glorious diversity.
We are part of the very weave and fabric of our land.
Be in no doubt -
We are Scotland's Party.
And let me make one final observation about our rise in membership.
We have more members today than the UK Liberal Democrats and UKIP combined.
So to include those parties in TV General Election debates while excluding the SNP would be a democratic outrage.
So broadcasters, it's time for you to think again.
And as you do, make no mistake.
In this election, the SNP will be seen and Scotland's voice will be heard.
Our Party is stronger because our country is stronger.
We are a nation energised, informed and confident.
The referendum campaign has revitalised this country and today let us make this pledge.
We will not let Westminster drag us back to business as usual.
The only language Westminster really understands is that of power.
So let them hear this message from all around our country.
Power over Scotland no longer rests in the corridors of Westminster.
In Scotland, today, power rests with the Scottish people - and that is where it will stay.
The first test of that new democratic order is the General Election next May.
Be under no illusion - if we vote for Westminster parties, they will go back to business as usual.
The promise of more powers will evaporate.
The vow will be broken.
It was the power of our votes that forced them to make that vow.
And it is only the power of our votes that will force them to keep it.
So let us harness again the democratic power of the referendum.
The democratic power that has seen the people of this nation become politicised, engaged, opinionated.
The democratic power that is turning opinion polls upside down and sending tremors through the London establishment.
Let us turn those tremors into a shockwave and make Scotland's voice heard like never before.
And this time let us do it - not as Yes voters or as No voters - but as one united country.
Today, I speak to those beyond our party ranks.
To No voters as well as to Yes voters.
To those who want a stronger devolved Scottish Parliament, as well as to those who support independence.
To those who have never before voted SNP in a Westminster election, as well as to those who always do.
I speak to everyone across our land who wants to see the promise of a powerhouse Scottish Parliament delivered.
Let us come together, this time, as one Scotland.
Lend us - Scotland's Party - your support.
Vote SNP and the message we will carry to Westminster on your behalf is this.
Scotland's interests will not be sidelined. Not now, not ever.
We demand real powers for our Parliament.
And Scotland will not settle for anything less.
A vote for the SNP next May will mean that Scotland can't be taken for granted again.
The party that fears that most is Labour - a party that has taken Scotland for granted for far too long.
Labour was once the party of progress.
Now it is just a barrier to progress.
Next May, we've got the chance to clear the Labour roadblock out of the way.
For Scotland's sake, let us grab that opportunity with both hands.
Scotland's patience with Labour - or the 'dinosaurs' as Johann Lamont affectionately calls them - is running out fast and they know it.
They've got no positive case to make, so they will fall back on the same desperate mantra as before.
You've got to vote Labour, they'll say, to keep the Tories out.
That is the biggest con-trick in Scottish politics and we must not fall for it again.
Scotland did vote Labour at the last General Election, but we still ended up with the Tories.
And if the people of England vote Tory again next May, it won't matter how we vote.
A Tory government is what we'll get. Or worse, a Tory/UKIP government.
If that happens, the very last thing Scotland will need are Labour MPs who stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories in the referendum.
What we will need are strong SNPs MPs who will stand up to the Tories,
challenge the despicable politics of Nigel Farage, and fight Scotland's corner.
Of course, perhaps this time Scotland's votes will count.
Now, I admit that I don't put quite as much store in the judgment of the bookies as my predecessor.
But the odds on a hung parliament shorten every day.
Scotland could well hold the balance of power in a Westminster parliament with no overall majority.
If that happens, I promise our country this.
You won't need to have voted Labour to keep the Tories out, because that's what we'll do.
My pledge to Scotland today is simple - the SNP will never, ever, put the Tories into government.
But I ask you to think about this.
Think about how much more we could win for Scotland from a Westminster Labour government if they had to depend on SNP votes.
They'd have to deliver real powers for our parliament.
They'd have to rethink the endless austerity that impoverishes our children.
And, conference, hear me loud and clear when I say this -
They'd have to think again about putting a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons on the River Clyde.
Whatever the outcome of the General Election, we know this.
And we know it for certain.
Scotland only wins when the SNP wins.
The stronger we are, the louder Scotland's voice will be and the greater influence this nation will have.
So let us get out there and win this election for Scotland.
It's not just the SNP winning at Westminster that is good for Scotland.
We know, from the experience of the last seven years, that having an SNP government at Holyrood is good for Scotland too.
I am very proud of what our Scottish government has achieved.
But there is so much more that I still want us to do.
I want us to continue to deliver for the people of our country - all of the people of our country - not just for the rest of this term, but into a third term of office and beyond.
So as your new leader, let me make this clear.
I intend to lead our party to victory in the 2016 Scottish election.
Throughout our history, we have always been the party of constitutional progress for Scotland.
And we always will be.
But I want us to be known as the party of economic and social progress as well.
In the 20th century, that progressive spirit was the province of a radically reforming Labour Party.
Those days are gone.
The referendum put beyond any doubt that, for Labour, the trappings of Westminster power are far more important than the pursuit of a fairer Scotland.
If there had been any doubt at all, the alliance with the Tories in the No campaign removed it once and for all.
Labour has lost its soul.
Linking arms with the Tories will cost Labour dear - this year, next year and for many, many years to come.
The agenda of a fair society underpinned by a strong economy is one that will be the daily business of the party and government I lead.
In two weeks time, I will set out our Programme for Government - the legislation and policies that will shape our priorities until the next election.
At its heart will be radical action on land reform, empowering communities, raising attainment in our schools and tackling some of the deep injustices in our society, like domestic abuse and gender inequality.
Labour may have abandoned social justice.
But in the SNP, the people of Scotland will always know they have a party of true social democracy.
A party they can trust.
Today, I want to look beyond that programme to the priorities that will define our mission to lead Scotland through this and into the next decade.
Let me start by making one thing very clear.
Our success as a nation depends on a strong economy.
That is a simple reality.
My job, as First Minister, will be to champion the interests of Scottish business at home and around the globe.
That is a task I embrace with relish.
Scotland must always be an environment where ideas flourish, businesses locate and jobs are created.
Because then and only then do we have the tools to do what should matter to all of us - and that is to eradicate the poverty that scars the lives of too many of our fellow citizens.
Over the next few weeks, I will set out directly to Scottish business the support they can expect from my government to help them innovate, export, be more competitive and create more jobs.
However, I can announce today that as part of that focus on wealth creation, the cornerstone of our support for the nation's smallest enterprises will continue.
The small business bonus will help almost 100,000 small businesses next year to the tune of £165m.
My pledge today is this: that support will continue - not just for the remainder of this parliament - but if we are re-elected, it will continue for the entire lifetime of the next parliament as well.
The need for a strong economy to support a fairer society is well understood.
But I want our national conversation to recognise, just as clearly, that the reverse is true as well.
A strong economy depends on a having a healthy, happy, well-educated and well-paid population, to provide the workforce and the customers that businesses need to succeed.
Right now, 1 million of our citizens - 220,000 of our children - are living in poverty.
In the 14th richest country in the world, that is quite frankly a scandal.
So let me promise you this.
Tackling poverty and inequality - and improving opportunity for all - will be my personal mission as your First Minister.
But we all know that in 2014 government can't do it alone.
If we are to make a difference, we must all come together - government, communities, trade unions, businesses, the third sector - and we must make it a sustained national endeavour.
Working together, that is the approach that I intend to build.
Of course, as we try to tackle poverty, the dismantling of social security by this Tory/Liberal government is making it worse.
The Tory attacks on the poor and vulnerable are disgraceful and shame on the Liberals for having any part of it.
A decent social security system is a hallmark of a decent society.
But - important though it is - welfare isn't the route out of poverty.
Nor is it how we break the cycle of deprivation.
We will tackle poverty now and in the future with better paid jobs and better life chances for our children.
Those are the objectives I will carry with me into the office of First Minister.
In-work poverty is one of the biggest challenges we face as a nation.
Half of all children in poverty today live in a household where at least one adult works.
Conference, let us be clear -
People who work hard every day should not struggle to feed their children or make ends meet at the end of the week.
Low pay - especially for women - is an issue that needs to be addressed.
I am proud of what the Scottish Government has done so far.
While Westminster allows the minimum wage to fall behind the cost of living, we pay the living wage to all of our staff and to everyone working in the NHS.
That's called putting our money where our mouth is.
But I want us to do more.
And I want us to lead by example.
Right now, some sub-contracted cleaning staff working in Scottish government offices earn below the living wage.
We wanted to put that right.
So I am pleased be able to confirm today that the Scottish Government has struck a deal with its cleaning contractor, Mitie.
That deal will see all 117 staff who are currently paid below the living wage brought up to that level by the end of this year.
And in future, although we cannot mandate it in law, each and every new Scottish Government contract will have payment of the living wage as a central priority.
I intend that Scotland will become a champion of the living wage and set a strong example for others to follow.
Putting more money in people's pockets is the most direct thing we can do to tackle poverty.
That is why we will spend £100m next year mitigating Tory welfare cuts.
But if we are to break the intergenerational cycle of inequality that scars our country, we must lift the life chances of our children.
I am four days away from becoming the First Minister of our country.
Four days away from becoming the first woman to hold that office.
Now, I know Scotland doesn't have the fondest memories of the last woman leader to wield power in these islands.
But where Mrs Thatcher divided society, I want to do the opposite.
I want to unite this country in a national endeavour to give every child - no matter their background - the best opportunity in life.
I grew up in a working class family, went to a state school and, thanks to hard work, great parents and free tuition, became the first person in my family to go to university.
Education - above all else - is what has made it possible for me to stand here today.
Not everyone can be First Minister.
But everyone - regardless of background and circumstance - should have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
For too many of our young people today, that is not the reality.
Stories like mine are still too often the exception.
We must change that and, conference, I am determined that we will.
The work we are doing as a government on early intervention is ground breaking.
Our Early Years' Collaborative, the Family Nurse Partnership - these all make a real difference to the life chances of our children.
And so does quality childcare.
I was struck this week to hear the CBI call for a significant extension of free childcare.
Business leaders recognise its importance, not just to the lives of children, but to the economy too.
In the referendum, we proposed free comprehensive provision for all children from aged 1.
We didn't win the referendum, but I am determined that we will make progress.
With the powers we have now, we will push forward.
We already deliver 16 hours a week of free childcare for all 3 and 4 years old.
From August next year, that entitlement will extend to 27% of 2 year olds as well.
That is more hours of childcare than in any other part of the UK and we should be proud of that.
But so important is good quality, extensive childcare to the school
performance and life chances of young people, that we will go further still.
I pledge today that our 2016 manifesto will set out an ambitious plan to increase childcare provision.
By the end of the next parliament, my commitment is that all 3 and 4 year olds and all eligible 2 years olds will receive, not 16 hours, but 30 hours of free childcare each week.
An extension of childcare on the scale we plan will require, not just revenue investment, but major capital investment in our education estate.
Our flagship infrastructure project in this parliament has been the new Forth Bridge - the Queensferry Crossing.
Incidentally, that vital link for our east coast communities is, under our stewardship, progressing on time and under budget.
I want to make one of our biggest infrastructure projects for the next parliament a different kind of bridge.
I want it to be comprehensive childcare, giving our young people the best start in life and a bridge to a better future.
Education will be a big priority for my government.
But, as a former health secretary, there are few things I hold more dear than the NHS.
In the referendum campaign, we pointed to the financial risks to our NHS that come from privatisation in England.
Make no mistake, these risks remain.
But, conference, hear this -
We will always do everything in our power to protect our public National Health Service.
I am proud that, in our budget last month, we increased funding for the NHS by £80m more than planned.
Money that will make a difference to people in all parts of our country.
But, from my time as health secretary, I am all too aware that those who deliver healthcare each and every day face real challenges.
We owe our doctors, our nurses and all of our healthcare workers a massive debt of gratitude for what they do.
But we owe them more than that.
So, my pledge to our NHS staff and to all of Scotland is this.
As First Minister, the health service will be a daily priority.
It will also be a financial priority.
The revenue budget of our NHS is set to rise in real terms for the remainder of this parliament.
If I am re-elected as First Minister in 2016, I pledge today that it will rise in real terms for each and every year of the next parliament too.
Friends, good government is important for its own sake.
It has been the mark of this administration under the brilliant leadership of Alex Salmond.
For every day that I am privileged to serve as First Minister, it will continue to be so.
Good government is, after all, what we are elected to do.
But it matters for another reason too.
It matters because it builds confidence in Scotland's ability to govern ourselves.
Everything I have experienced since 2007, and everything I witnessed during the referendum campaign, persuades me that good government and progress to an independent Scotland go hand in hand.
The extent of powers we wield in the Scottish Parliament - and how well we use them – determines the confidence that people have in our abilities to succeed as an independent country.
People ask me often if I believe Scotland will become independent.
My answer is simple.
Yes, I do.
Of course, with the UK hurtling head long for the EU exit door, with the Unionist parties watering down their vow of more powers, with deeper austerity cuts and new Trident weapons looming on the horizon, it may be that our opponents bring that day closer than we could ever have imagined on the morning of the 19th September.
But whatever our opponents do, it will always be down to us to persuade our fellow citizens to take the next step forward and grasp the opportunity of independence.
It is how hard we work - in our actions and our arguments - that will determine our success.
So, friends, we need to keep raising our sights and our ambitions.
For all we have achieved to date, we must do better.
As hard as we have worked, we must redouble our efforts.
We must win meaningful new powers and show that we can use them well.
And by our actions and our achievements we will make and we will win the case for independence.
It is beyond contradiction that Scotland is already a revitalised nation because of 15 years of devolution and 7 years of an SNP government that always puts the people first.
We are better too because of the referendum campaign.
Our country is alive, engaged, restless for the next stage of our journey.
1.6 million Yes votes for independence is an achievement our forebears could only dream of.
But it becomes our base camp and from here the summit is in sight.
The challenge is great, but our determination is even greater.
Because the prize is prosperity, equality, opportunity.
The prize is independence.
I am ready to lead us on that journey.
I ask you to come with me and, together, let us make it happen.