This week the SNP published our Holyrood election manifesto. It is a serious, substantial document, laying out the party’s programme for government for the next five years, in which we aim to effect a transformation in the opportunities available to all our young people.
It is, as the First Minister herself said, the most ambitious manifesto the SNP has ever published.
It pledges a revolution in education and childcare, from the baby boxes which we plan to offer the families of every newborn child right through the provision of schooling at primary and secondary level and on to university, the manifesto outlines how we can narrow the attainment gap and help create equality of opportunity for all.
We will nearly double early years education and childcare provision to 30 hours a week for vulnerable two year-olds and all three and four year-olds by 2021. And we will implement our new National Improvement Framework to drive up standards in schools and close the attainment gap.
That will be backed with three-quarters of a billion pounds over the parliament, with more money allocated directed to head teachers. And we will keep university tuition free.
Meanwhile, we propose taking the frontline NHS budget to a new record high, boosting it by £500 million more than inflation by the end of the parliament, meaning a near £2 billion rise in total.
And our plans to use the parliament’s new tax powers would raise additional money for public services, while at the same time we would use the limited welfare powers coming to Holyrood imaginatively and humanely, providing a welcome antidote to Tory austerity and heartlessness.
On health, education and on much else besides, the SNP has now published a mission statement on how we can keep Scotland moving forward.
But all of that is potentially being put at risk by the suggestion that people should play fast and loose with their votes.
People should have a flutter with their second vote, we are told. Those who back independence should – so goes the line – just take a punt and give that second vote to a party other than the SNP which claims to support independence, thus, supposedly, maximising the pro-independence strength in parliament.
All of that is wrong, misguided and – in some cases – profoundly disingenuous.
If people want an SNP Government to be re-elected, Nicola Sturgeon to win her own mandate as First Minister for the first time and be in a position to take forward and implement this week’s manifesto then the only way – the only way – to be sure of delivering that result is to give both votes to the SNP.
For a start, speaking of Holyrood’s regional list vote as the “second” vote is something of a misnomer. It implies a second choice or preference, or that it is in some way of secondary importance.
That reflects a profound misunderstanding of the Scottish Parliament electoral system, or perhaps in some cases a willful attempt to mislead people as to how that system works.
The regional list vote and its overall result is of crucial importance in determining the overall balance of the parliament.
In the last Holyrood election in 2011, the SNP came close to winning a majority of the popular vote in the constituency contest, winning more than 45 per cent of all votes cast. But while that gave an impressive 53 out of the parliament’s 73 constituency seats, the SNP’s regional list vote was absolutely crucial in delivering a historic majority and pushing the party past the 65 seat winning post. Any splintering of the list vote could well have prevented that majority.
For those who support independence, giving one of your votes to a party other than the SNP is not the smart thing to do. It could actually just help maximise the anti-independence voices in parliament, and it may be the very thing that some Unionists are hoping for.
The contest a week on Thursday is not a game of roulette, or a chance to have a flutter at the races or buy a lotto lucky dip ticket – it is the election which will help determine Scotland’s future for the next five years at a time when we are still faced with an austerity-obsessed Tory Government at Westminster, with a weak Labour opposition and the prospect of being dragged out of Europe against our will.
In such circumstances, what Scotland needs is a re-elected SNP Government in a position to deliver our manifesto. Only giving both votes to the SNP will achieve that.