These are the most serious of times. And they require serious, experienced leadership to keep Scotland safe.
That is what Scotland will benefit from if people choose to return an SNP government on Thursday – strong, experienced government to guide the country through the pandemic and into recovery.
I have spent every day over the past year tackling the Covid crisis. And I will continue that laser-like focus on guiding the country safely through the rest of the pandemic for as long as I am First Minister.
And when we emerge from the other side of the crisis, as we will, the SNP will be equally committed to building a better Scotland.
We will bring that same laser-like focus to the task of recovery. And that is why I am so passionate that it should be the people of Scotland in the driving seat of that recovery, working with a government committed to bringing about a fairer and more equal society.
After the year we have had, we have a historic opportunity to do things better. We can make this a watershed moment as we set about building a fairer Scotland and a better world. With Scotland’s abundant resources and above all talent we can look forward with optimism and hope.
But all that will be at risk if we leave our future in the hands of Boris Johnson and his band of Brexiteers. The Prime Minister’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”. That means cuts – as soon as possible – to public services like the NHS.
Let me set out the alternative to this dismal Tory vision of renewed austerity.
Firstly, we will apply that laser-like focus on keeping Scotland safe from the pandemic. And we will bring forward a serious programme for government to kick-start recovery.
The SNP will make a transformational investment in the NHS. We will implement a full-scale NHS remobilisation plan to cut waiting times, and a fast-track cancer diagnostic centre in every health board area.
We will abolish dental charges to fully restore the NHS to its founding principle of care delivered free at the point of need.
We will deliver 100,000 more affordable houses over the next decade, providing homes for families and supporting 14,000 jobs a year.
We will invest an additional £500 million to support new, green jobs and reskill people for the jobs of the future.
And we will ensure a just transition to a net-zero country to tackle the climate emergency.
For our young people, we know that in the modern age, you cannot learn or do homework if you don’t have the right electronic device and access to the internet.
So, for every school-child, we will provide a tablet or laptop, and a free internet connection to use it.
And, you cannot learn if you are sitting in class hungry. So, we will extend free breakfasts and lunches to all primary school children all year round.
It was the SNP that abolished university tuition fees and for as long as we are in office we will guarantee to keep education free.
We are also putting in place the Young Person’s Guarantee. This will ensure that every young person aged between 16 and 24 in Scotland has the opportunity to go to university or college, get a place on an apprenticeship, training or work-experience programme, secure a job or participate in a formal volunteering programme. In addition, we will extend free bus travel to everyone under 22 years old.
These are just some of the measures we are putting forward as part of the most ambitious programme for government in the history of devolution.
And to ensure Scotland’s future is in Scotland’s hands – not those of Boris Johnson – we will offer people the right to decide Scotland’s future once the Covid crisis has passed.
With even limited powers over social security we have introduced policies which have been described as a “game-changer” in the fight against child poverty. And with limited powers over income tax we’ve put in place the most progressive tax system in the UK.
With the full powers of independence, Scottish governments of whatever party make-up will have all 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.
Instead Scotland will be an equal partner with our closest friends in the rest of the UK and, as a member of the European Union once again, we can be a bridge between the UK and EU.
The European Single Market is seven times the size of the UK and offers huge economic opportunity for Scotland.
Independent European countries of Scotland’s size are among the wealthiest, fairest and happiest in the world. Scotland can be too.
So it is only fair that when the Covid crisis has passed – and only when it is passed – the people of Scotland should have the right to decide their future.
It will be a choice between putting the people who live here in the driving seat of recovery – or to leave it to Westminster.
So on Thursday I am asking people to make it both votes SNP for the experienced leadership needed to keep the country safe, for a serious programme for government to kick-start recovery, and – when the pandemic crisis has passed – for the right to decide Scotland’s future.
Nicola Sturgeon is First Minister of Scotland and the SNP candidate for Glasgow Southside