It’s hard to believe that it’s now ten years since the SNP first won a national election – how time flies.
Every day I still feel humbled by the faith people have put in me and the SNP to look after their public services.
As we saw in last week’s local elections, voters back parties that work for them – not those who just use elections to further their own partisan agenda.
There’s nothing more important than the responsibility of protecting the NHS, ensuring our children get the best possible education, supporting business to thrive and helping to protect and support our most vulnerable people.
Ten years ago, when people put their faith in the SNP, nobody could have predicted the depths of the recession that lay ahead – nor the harshness of Tory austerity.
But in the face of those challenges, we’ve worked tirelessly to deliver on our pledges to make Scotland stronger, fairer, healthier, greener and smarter.
We’ve expanded childcare for 3 and 4 year olds and vulnerable two year olds – and in this parliament we’re doubling childcare provision to 30 hours a week.
More people in our colleges now leave having completed courses that prepare them for work, and we’ve increased the number of modern apprenticeships to over 26,000 a year.
A record percentage of young people now leave school or college and go into work, training or continued education.
Our communities are safer – with recorded crime falling to a 42-year low, and knife crime alone falling by almost 70 per cent over the last decade.
We’re investing record funding in our NHS, which now has more doctors, nurses and specialists than ever before – helping ensure we have the best performing A&E departments in the UK.
We’re supporting our economy through challenging times with measures like the Small Business Bonus Scheme. 44,000 more people are now in work than before the recession, international exports are up by 41 per cent and more new businesses are created each year.
Our universities have been fully funded to restore free tuition for our students and to become amongst the best in the world for research and innovation – building new industrial bases for life sciences, computer games, financial services and technology around their talented students.
Now, I know that it has not all been smooth sailing – and not everything we wanted to do has been achieved.
That’s why, even after ten years in government, we have no intention of slowing down – as we continue with ambitious plans to make our health service, our schools and our economy fit for the future.
I know exactly what kind of country I want Scotland to be – one which is fair and prosperous, with high quality public services and strong international links.
But I’m also very aware that a Tory government with no opposition at Westminster – wedded to austerity and hell-bent on severing our important economic ties with Europe – will make achieving these objectives so much harder.
And that’s why an SNP vote in the General Election next month – to give Scotland a strong voice and make sure the Tories don’t have a blank cheque – is every bit as important as an SNP vote in the local elections last week.