On Thursday, the people of Scotland go to the polls to elect the government for the next five years.
It’s been an immense privilege to serve as MSP for Glasgow Southside and as Scotland’s First Minister, and I hope that the people of Glasgow – and Scotland – allow me to continue after the election.
You may already have made your mind up who you’re going to vote for, or you may indeed already have voted by post.
But if you’re still deciding who to vote for – or even whether it’s worth voting at all – let me give you one final reason to vote SNP on Thursday.
Our health service, our most cherished institution, faces some big challenges over the next few years.
I served as Health Secretary for five and a half years, and I saw first-hand the dedication and hard work of healthcare workers across Scotland.
Scotland’s NHS is receiving record funding – and record numbers of staff are delivering some of the fastest and best care in the UK.
But I’m acutely aware that we need to plan now for the future.
In common with the rest of the western world, we have an ageing population.
Now, it is of course a good thing that we’re all living longer – and we shouldn’t forget that – but it does mean that we need to prepare for increased demand on our health and social care services, with real investment and a clear plan.
However, not every party standing in this election seems prepared to do that.
If you look at what the parties are promising, it’s clear that the SNP are by far the most ambitious for our health service.
The SNP want to build on the record funding the NHS has received in recent years.
Using the additional revenue generated from our progressive tax changes, we’ll increase health resource investment by at least £500m over and above real terms increases by the end of the next parliament – meaning almost £2bn of increased investment.
By contrast, the Tories are only committed to matching the spending increases on health made in England by George Osborne.
Labour haven’t even promised that – they just want to keep the frontline health budget the same in real terms. That means no provision to cope with increased demand.
Overall, Labour’s plans mean our NHS would be shortchanged by at least £800m of funding.
Of course, an ageing population means we need to be ready to deliver more routine procedures like cataract operations and hip and knee replacements.
I’ve met with many older patients and heard first-hand how procedures like these can be totally transformational and given them a completely new lease of life.
Elective treatment at the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank has been a huge success story.
So the SNP will invest £200m to expand the Golden Jubilee and also build a new network of elective treatment centres in Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee, Livingston and Edinburgh.
And we’ll build on reforms we’ve already made. Over the last few years, we’ve integrated health and social care across Scotland – the biggest health reform since the NHS was established. If we’re re-elected, we’ll increase capacity by investing an additional £1.3bn in our health and social care partnerships.
I also want to do more to tackle the big diseases like cancer – so we’ll invest £100m in a new cancer plan, to improve early diagnosis and treatment of cancer – as well as increasing prevention.
And we’ll transform mental health in Scotland by putting in place a new 10-year plan, backed by £150m of additional investment.
Finally, under the SNP, the NHS will always stay true to its founding principles – a publicly-funded service, free at the point of need. I was proud that the SNP scrapped prescription charges five years ago. The Tories are committed to reintroducing them – which would be a hugely backward step.
So as you can see, there are big differences in what the political parties propose for the NHS – so your vote matters.
The SNP are pledging to invest more in the NHS than the other parties. We have a clear vision about how healthcare needs to be delivered in the future – as well as a clear plan to realise that vision. And we have clear commitments to transform mental health and tackle big diseases like cancer.
If you want Scotland to have a government and a First Minister who are absolutely committed to protecting and reforming our precious health service, don’t leave it to chance – please vote SNP on Thursday.