Ten years ago this very day, the first ever SNP government was formally sworn in at the Scottish Parliament.
I can still remember very well how I felt that bright May morning. I was still on cloud nine having won the Glasgow Govan constituency from Labour only a few days before.
But as we formed the new government, I was very aware that – despite the incredible effort by SNP activists the length and breadth of Scotland to win the election – the real hard work was only just beginning.
But how that time has flown by.
The first four years were of course as a minority government, meaning we relied on the support of other parties to pass legislation, and it was frustrating that we couldn’t do everything we wanted.
But in subsequent elections, we’ve continued to win the trust of the people of Scotland – securing the first ever majority government in 2011, and our highest ever share of the constituency vote in the election last year.
Of course, back in 2007 nobody could have predicted the severity of the recession that lay ahead – or the harshness of Tory austerity.
But despite these challenges, I believe that we, as a country, have made real progress.
Households have benefited from policies such as our record high spending on the NHS, free prescriptions, free personal care for the elderly, and free higher education.
Spending on schools has risen by £220 million since 2006-07, while our move to protect free university tuition means students and their families in Scotland save up to £27,000 over the course of a degree compared to the cost of studying in England.
We are seeing record exam passes and positive destinations for our school leavers, meaning that more are going straight into university, training or employment.
And more young people from the most deprived backgrounds are getting to university.
We’ve made huge investments in infrastructure across Scotland, with the road and rail network across central Scotland being completely transformed.
We exceeded our world-leading commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 42 per cent by 2020 – six years early.
We’re fighting for fairer pay, and Scotland has the highest proportion of living wage employees in the UK paid at least the living wage.
And we’ve stood up for Scottish industry – securing a future for Scottish steel, with the transfer of the Dalzell and Clydebridge plants to Liberty Steel, and the last remaining aluminium smelter at Lochaber.
So when I look back over the last few years, I’m hugely proud of what we’ve achieved in the face of often very challenging circumstances.
But not everything has gone smoothly – and there is a lot more to do. I’ve made no bones about the fact that improving education – and addressing head on some of the challenges our schools face – is my top priority.
So even after ten years in government, we have no intention of slowing down – we have even more ambitious plans of investment and reform over the next few years.
But of course, it’s not just about what happens in the Scottish Parliament.
In order to make our economy fit for the 21st century, and to ensure we have well-funded schools and hospitals, we need all levels of government to be working in Scotland’s interests.
And that brings me to the general election in a few weeks’ time.
I get that people might be a bit sick of elections right now, but the vote on June 8th is a hugely important one.
Given how divided Labour are, no one is really in any doubt that the Tories are going to win the election across the UK.
So the important question is this: who will be best at standing up for Scotland’s interests and holding the Tories at Westminster to account?
The need to stand up for Scotland at Westminster has never been greater.
The latest child tax credit cuts that the Tories introduced last month will see another 200,000 children pushed into poverty across the UK this year alone.
The Tories said there isn’t enough money to give financial support to working families on low incomes, but they still managed to find the money to cut taxes for the rich.
The Tories are cutting £3 billion from Scotland’s budget – the money that we spend on our schools and hospitals – and we know they want to cut more.
And then there are the immoral policies such as the Bedroom Tax and the disgraceful Rape Clause, and the shocking rise in food bank usage – which the SNP has campaigned relentlessly against.
As long as the key decisions such as these are taken in the House of Commons, it’s vital that we have strong voices standing up for Scotland at Westminster.
Over the next three weeks, I’ll be campaigning relentlessly to ensure that Scotland has that strong voice, by electing SNP MPs.
I’m proud of the SNP’s record in government over the last ten years. I believe we’ve achieved a great deal for Scotland.
But we will continue working hard to make Scotland the best country it can be.