CAMPAIGNING for this year’s Scottish Parliament election will begin in earnest this week with parties promising to “transform” Scotland.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will lead a New Year debate at Holyrood on Tuesday pledging to “earn the right” to an unprecedented third term in government.
The SNP leader has promised a raft of new policies on health, education, social security and the economy in the run-up to the vote on 5 May.
Also on Tuesday, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale will unveil her party’s first election pledge on housing in a speech to activists in Edinburgh.
Dugdale will say that new powers over tax, borrowing and welfare coming to Holyrood offer a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to change Scottish politics. She will also challenge Sturgeon to move on from the constitutional debate in the wake of 2014’s referendum on independence.
Opinion polls indicate the SNP is currently on course to increase its majority in the Scottish Parliament come polling day.
Sturgeon defended her party’s record in government in an opinion piece published today alongside newspaper adverts setting out a series of New Year’s “resolutions”.
She said: ”Our record in government is a strong one – delivered in tough circumstances – and Scotland is a better place today than it was when we took office.
“So we are proud of our record. But the job is far from finished and we won’t rest on our laurels.
“The plans that we will set out over the next three months will have the potential, over the next five years, to transform Scotland.
“That’s why, when I stand up in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday to lead a New Year debate, I will make clear that our mission over the next four months is to earn the right to an unprecedented third term as Scotland’s government.”
Sturgeon added: “The decision we face, for all its many complexities, and regardless of how each of us voted in the referendum, has this simple choice at its heart.
“Will we choose to keep Scotland moving forward, growing in confidence, and governed by a party that believes, above all else, in our country’s limitless potential?
“Or will we choose to go back to business as usual, with the Westminster parties free to ignore us again, reassured that Scotland won’t upset their Westminster apple-carts?”
Dugdale said: “The election on Thursday 5 May is the most important in the lifetime of our Scottish Parliament.
“The most important because the powers held by our parliament and by our government, and the possibilities for political change in Scotland, are greater than ever.
“Now is the time for our parliament to come of age. In May it will have been nearly a decade of SNP government, yet people are still waiting for change.
“Scottish politics must change to rise to the challenge of these new powers because people can’t keep waiting for change.
“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset and restart Scottish politics; to get on with creating a fairer, more prosperous Scotland.”
She added: “Let me say this to Nicola Sturgeon – on the constitution I will take her at her word.
“She has asked Scotland to trust her and Scotland will expect her to keep her promise. This matters because the opportunities that our new powers open up are too great to be buried under the arguments of the past.”
For their part, the Scottish Conservatives will focus on education, setting out ideas to support school leadership and improve literacy and numeracy in a new paper.
The party will also signal its backing for a Save the Children campaign aimed at ensuring all children are reading well by the age of 11.
A spokesman for party leader Ruth Davidson said: “The Scottish Conservatives will be using the 2016 election campaign to focus on the real issues that matter to Scots. And we know that nothing matters more to them than ensuring the next generation of young people have the same opportunities as their parents and grandparents.
“As Save the Children points out, being able to read well is one of the best routes out of poverty there is. Their campaign to ensure all children are reading well by the age of 11 sends out the right message. We now need a clear strategy from the Scottish Government to show how it can be delivered.
“We will be setting out our ideas this week – providing a real alternative to the SNP and their failure to keep our education system at the top of the international pile.”