The week ahead is the one when the election campaign gets serious. The phoney war is over and the simple choice will start to become clear – in just over a fortnight people across the country will cast their votes to determine which party will form the government at Holyrood and who will be Scotland’s First Minister.
And let’s be clear, that is the decision to be made. This election is not about who should be the opposition – it is about who should govern our country for the next five years. This is not a decision to be taken lightly – not least because this is the first election in which people are electing a government to exercise Scotland’s new tax and welfare powers.
As the SNP’s candidate for First Minister, I am asking for the support of the Scottish people to help build the kind of Scotland we all want to live in – a country that is fair, equal and prosperous, with opportunities for everyone to thrive.
I am immensely proud of what we have achieved in Scotland in the last nine years of SNP government – and indeed since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament – but I am ambitious and determined to do so much more.
The manifesto we publish this week will set out how we aim to achieve that. We will put forward a clear plan for a third term government and I will ask voters to give me a personal mandate as First Minister to get on with the job of implementing it.
Our manifesto will be an ambitious, reforming and transformational plan for Scotland.
The policies we will set out will put the opportunities and life chances of our young people at the very heart of our agenda for the next parliament – from support for every newborn child to a step up for those entering the world of work.
Our manifesto will make improving our economy by tapping into the best of Scotland’s ideas to boost entrepreneurship, grow new businesses and create higher skilled and better paid jobs, a key focus for all of government.
And it will equip Scotland for the future with more training in science and technology, and through the roll out of high-speed broadband across the whole country.
Our manifesto will set out our plans to transform our public services, making them fit for the future. We will not shy away from the challenges our country faces such as meeting the needs of an ageing population, boosting our mental health services, tackling child obesity and killer diseases like cancer – instead we will ensure that our NHS has the resources and the reform it needs now to deliver the service we will all need in the future.
Our proposals will aim to ensure that all of our people have the opportunity to thrive, with better support for parents, greater diversity and fairness in the work place and a social security system built on dignity and respect.
And our plans will put people in the driving seat of Scotland’s future. Our vision for Scotland will not be achieved simply by passing legislation in the Scottish Parliament or making decisions in Edinburgh – it is a vision that will be achieved only by working together with the communities of Scotland, at every level.
Transforming our country and shaping a better future involves giving people greater input to the services they rely on, so our manifesto will set out key ways in which we will put the people of Scotland in the driving seat. In health, in education, and in the delivery of local services, we will deliver a greater say for local communities.
And we will also ensure that Scotland’s future as a nation is firmly in the hands of the people of Scotland.
We believe passionately that independence offers the best future for Scotland. However, we know Scotland will only become independent when a majority of people in Scotland choose that future in a democratic referendum – it will not happen just because the SNP wants it to, or because there is an SNP government.
At the same time if there is a clear demand for a referendum no politician has the right to stand in the way of the people of Scotland to choose their own future.
We believe that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people – or if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.
In the next parliament, we will work hard to persuade a majority of the Scottish people that being an independent country is the best option for our country. We will listen to the concerns of people who voted No in 2014 and seek to address them. The case we make will be relevant to the complex world we live in today.
And that case will reflect the Scotland we will work to achieve in this parliament.
We want to see an energised, empowered and inspired nation in which we all play our part. That is the Scotland I want to see, and that is the Scotland our plan for government can deliver.
This week the choice voters face will become crystal clear.
The choice on May 5th is between parties who have no plan for government, no aspiration to lead Scotland and who openly admit that they are not seeking the responsibility and the privilege that comes with being in office – and the SNP with a clear vision for Scotland, a clear sense of the honour and responsibility of government and a firm belief that the people of Scotland always must be in the driving seat of our nation’s future.
Voters will also go to the polls on May 5th with this personal promise from me – if elected, I will be a First Minister who will always put the people of Scotland first.