John Swinney MSP brought the 77th SNP Annual Conference to a close with a heartfelt and impassioned speech, declaring that “this is the time to put the wealth of Scotland to work for the people of Scotland.”

He used his conference address to dispel some of the economic myths about Scotland.

First, Scotland might have a deficit but the UK has a higher one.  And while Scotland ran a budget surplus in four out of the last five years, the UK was in deficit.  Scotland, he suggested, contributes more to the UK in tax revenue than “we get back in UK public spending”.  Which means that Scotland is subsidising the rest of the UK.

The conclusion?  “Our country pays its way”.

And he revealed that GDP figures show that with an appropriate geographical share of its offshore resources, Scotland would be the sixth wealthiest country in the world.  That’s ten places ahead of the UK which sits in sixteenth position.

In the main, his speech concentrated on the day job.  He pledged that “our Government will use every one of our limited existing powers to deliver economic growth for Scotland” but warned “our actions are being thwarted by the Con-Dem coalition’s failed policies”.

He called on the UK Government to recognise that its cuts agenda is harming Scotland, demanding they get their “heads out of the sand” and invest in economic recovery.

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth contrasted this with the way in which the “SNP Government is delivering real action for Scotland”, working to create the best conditions for employment, to tackle youth unemployment and investing in communities across Scotland to support jobs and promote growth.

He also focused on the Scottish Government’s ambitious investment in preventative spending – “this Government won’t short change Scotland on its future” – and defended the decision to increase the business rates of large retailers who sell tobacco and alcohol.  He argued that the increase would amount to just 0.1% of retail turnover in Scotland:  “I don’t think it’s too much to ask highly profitable retailers to make a contribution to creating a better future for our people”.

And while most of his colleagues had studiously ignored Labour in their speeches, John Swinney noted that Alistair Darling promised cuts that were toughter and deeper than those of Margaret Thatcher, promising to remind Labour MSPs of this every time they demanded more spending during the budget process.

He also suggested that next May’s local authority elections were “an opportunity to rid Scotland of Labour municipalism”.

Swinney concluded his speech in a highly personal note, recalling that he first came to SNP conference as a teenager, and in the intervening 30 years, he had seen the party grow – and grow.  He acknowledged that at times he wondered and doubted whether the “idea that it is best that the people who choose to live in this country should shape her future” would succeed.

But now, he noted, this “is our chance to fulfil the promise we made to our people.”  He suggested that the party’s task was simple:  “we must go out and persuade and inspire the people of our country that Independence will be right for them” and called on fellow party members to “commit to fulfil our promise to the people of Scotland”.

It was a rousing and fitting end to four days of a conference which kick-started the yes campaign for independence.