This election can be a watershed moment as we set about building a better Scotland and a better world

The world we are entering as we look to recover from the Covid pandemic will look different from the one we have left behind

Old certainties and assumptions are being washed away, as we confront the reality of getting our lives, our societies and our world back to something much more like normality.

But it’s worth remembering, even at this time of unprecedented challenge for most of us, that the world has been through convulsions like this before – whether health, economic or political.

Most of us alive today aren’t able to recall those experiences, but the fact that humankind has endured and prospered in the face of those challenges should be a cause for hope.

What was needed before in the face of those previous crises, and what is needed now, is courage, optimism and vision.

When Franklin Roosevelt said, in the depths of the Great Depression, that the American people had “nothing to fear but fear itself” he spoke an essential truth.

He was determined that fear should not, and would not, prevent recovery – and we should heed that lesson. Fear risks holding us back. Vision, hope and optimism can drive us forward.

And it is no surprise that, in recent days as we count down to this Scottish election, political opponents of independence have reverted to the use of fear as their principal weapon.

A litany of stories in recent days appear to have been dredged up from the autumn of 2014, without even recognising that the world has changed.

But those of us who believe in independence should take heart from the fact that Project Fear appears to have been resurrected.

It shows us that the arguments against Scottish self-government have barely moved on in the last seven years, while those in favour get stronger all the time.

The case for independence is as compelling and relevant as it has ever been – but so is the need for those of us who believe in it to make our case passionately, respectfully and persuasively to those of our fellow citizens whose support is there to be won but who are not yet convinced.

That’s why it is essential that we prioritise guiding the country safely through the rest of the pandemic.

These are the most serious of times. And they require serious, experienced leadership. I have spent every day over this past year tackling the pandemic.

And I will continue that laser-like focus on beating Covid for as long as necessary if I am re-elected as First Minister.

We will bring that same laser-like focus to the task of recovery. After the year we have had we have an historic opportunity to do things better.

This can be a watershed moment as we set about building a better Scotland and a better world. With Scotland’s abundant resources and talent, we can look forward with optimism and hope.

But all that will be at risk in the longer term if we leave our future in the hands of Boris Johnson and his band of Brexiteers. They are looking to radically reshape Scotland in their own right-wing image – against the wishes of the people who live here.

Boris Johnson’s right-hand man in Scotland – the Scottish Secretary – has joined a group of Tory Cabinet ministers who say they want a “smaller state”.

And they say they want to force this smaller state not at some point in the future. They say they want it ”as soon as possible.”

A smaller state means cuts – as soon as possible – to public services like the NHS.

So senior Tories at Westminster, right at the very heart of power, do not want to wait for recovery before they make these cuts.

For them, bizarrely, they see cuts – as soon as possible – as part and parcel of what they call a recovery.

But that’s not a recovery for Scotland. This is the return of raw Thatcherism, and a blind faith in free markets, a small state and de-regulation whatever the cost to jobs, the NHS, communities, people and their families.

The Tories have made their choice for Scotland. And they’ve made it against the wishes of the vast majority of people who live here.

Their choice is a hard Brexit that will cost jobs, welfare cuts which hit the poor, cuts to public services, billions to be spent on nuclear weapons, a power grab on the Scottish Parliament – and our NHS left vulnerable to Tory trade deals.

So to ensure that Scotland’s future is in Scotland’s hands – and not those of Boris Johnson – we are offering a choice on Scotland’s future once the Covid crisis has passed.

With the full powers of independence, we will have the tools needed to drive long-term recovery and build that fairer, more prosperous country we know is possible.

Never again will we have to put up with Westminster governments we don’t vote for, taking Scotland in the wrong direction.

We can be part of the EU and the huge European Single Market – which is seven times the size of the UK. We can stop the Tory dismantling of the welfare state, and we can instead work towards a Citizens’ Basic Income to give everyone – not just the better off – financial security.

Independent European countries of Scotland’s size are among the wealthiest, fairest and happiest in the world.

Scotland can be too. So on Thursday I am asking people to make it Both Votes SNP for the experienced leadership needed to keep Scotland safe.

Both Votes SNP for a serious programme for government to kick-start recovery.

And Both Votes SNP for the right to decide Scotland’s future.