Nicola Sturgeon urges need for 'experienced leadership' as Tories attack lack of resignations

Nicola Sturgeon has urged the need for “experienced leadership” as the official election period got underway as the Scottish Conservatives are set to counter by highlighting the lack of resignations and sackings linked to the Alex Salmond affair.

All of Scotland’s major political parties have made their first official pitch to voters in the wake of Holyrood entering its pre-election recess period yesterday.

The official campaign is allowed to begin from today.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during First Minister's Questions at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/PA Wire

Ms Sturgeon used the moment today to declare the SNP would run a campaign “overflowing with optimism and hope for a better Scotland”, claiming opposition parties “have made it very clear over these past few weeks that they are not interested in governing or leading”.

“Our campaign will be the polar opposite,” she said.

"It will be about raising up, not tearing down. It will be overflowing with optimism and hope for a better Scotland.

“Over these next six weeks we will set out our plans to protect the NHS, for a National Care Service and to protect and create jobs as we get on with the job of building a better Scotland.

Graffiti in support of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been spray painted onto a wall of a building site in Glasgow's West End. Picture: John Devlin

“That optimism, hope and sense of possibility is founded on a total belief in the abilities and talents of all the people who live here.

“That why I believe Scotland’s recovery should be in Scotland’s hands – not Boris Johnson’s.

“That means the people of Scotland have the right to decide their future in an independence referendum when the Covid crisis is over."

The First Minister added: “Now more than ever is a time for experienced leadership and government as we continue with the most important task we have – keeping Scotland safe.”

Douglas Ross will use the Salmond affair as an example of why an SNP majority must be stopped at the launch of the Scottish Conservative's election campaign.

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross, who will launch his party’s election campaign in Aberdeen today, will instead claim the absence of resignations surrounding the Salmond inquiry shows a “lack of democratic accountability”.

The speech will set out the main points of attack from the Scottish Tories, who are aiming to maintain second place behind the nationalists and hold off any potential resurgence from Scottish Labour under new leader Anas Sarwar.

The Scottish Conservative leader will say: “The SNP have shut down scrutiny, kept crucial evidence secret and shunned any and all accountability throughout the Alex Salmond scandal.

“Nobody has resigned, nobody has been sacked, nobody has been held accountable.

“This lack of democratic accountability has occurred while they still need to rely on the Greens to prop them up. With an SNP majority, the situation doesn’t bear thinking about.

“[Deputy First Minister] John Swinney only asked law officers to release legal advice when opposition parties united and his job was on the line.”

Mr Ross will also criticise the SNP’s “obsession” with another independence referendum during a pandemic and call for unionist voters to “unite” behind his party to stop an SNP majority, which he states would see a second referendum take place.

Polls show the SNP’s chances of a majority are on a knife-edge, with recent surveys suggesting the party will be within a few thousand votes of a majority.

The Scottish Conservatives are polling in second place more often than their main challengers for second, Scottish Labour, but with a reduced return of MSPs following the vote on May 6.

Mr Ross will say: “The Hate Crime Bill would have included even more dangerous threats to free speech if they had a majority. Daily Covid vaccine figures would not have been published if they had a majority. We would not have seen the recent U-turns on business grants or drug rehab beds.

“Places like Aberdeen, the North East and small towns all over Scotland would be left behind because with a majority, the SNP don’t need to listen to them. They can play to their base and forget the rest of Scotland.

“Most damaging of all, with an SNP majority, Scotland’s recovery would be derailed by their obsession with another independence referendum.

“Their indyref2 bill would pass without real challenge and they would proceed with a reckless referendum right away, while we’re still facing a health and economic crisis.

“We need pro-UK voters to unite once again behind the Scottish Conservatives, just as they did in 2016, to stop an SNP majority so we can get 100 per cent of our focus back on rebuilding Scotland.”

Mr Sarwar, the new Labour leader, said the Conservatives were “happy to return to the failed economic model pre-Covid” and urged people to vote for his party for a parliament “focused on recovery”.

He said: “Over the next six weeks and beyond, I will focus on what unites us, not what divides us.

“Working to deliver a national recovery plan will be Scottish Labour’s only priority.”

“It’s only by using both votes for Scottish Labour that people can guarantee we have a parliament focused on recovery.”

Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie echoed similar sentiments to his Labour counterpart, pledging to put the recovery from Covid-19 first.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats will go into this campaign putting the recovery from the pandemic first,” he said.

“That means putting first the creation of jobs, cutting NHS waiting times, boosting mental health services and tackling the climate emergency.”

Mr Rennie added: “Over the past five years, the country has been let down by a tired, divided and incompetent SNP government obsessed with independence and a clumsy and cruel Conservative party.”

On the first day of the campaign, the Scottish Greens have also called for the Scottish Government to double the new Scottish Child Payment from £10 per week per child to £20.

“This would be just the first step of creating a new Scotland that protects human rights and doesn’t allow anyone to fall into dire straits,” the party’s co-leader Patrick Harvie said.

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