Scottish election 2021: Nicola Sturgeon warns 'never has so much been at stake' as Scotland goes to polls

Nicola Sturgeon has today warned “never has so much been at stake” as she makes her final bid to the nation as Scotland goes to the polls.

The First Minister admitted she had made mistakes in her handling of the Covid pandemic, but urged voters to give her another chance by insisting only the SNP had a plan for “serious" government.

Her final plea to the public comes less than 24 hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated his opposition to a second referendum, insisting it was “not the the time”.

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Writing today as people prepare to vote across the country, Ms Sturgeon claimed the pandemic had created "extraordinary challenges", but insisted she had done her best.

The SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon today told voters "never has so much been at stake"

She said: “Democracy is precious and we are fortunate that today those of us lucky to live in Scotland can go to the polls today to decide who should be in government.

“I hope as many people as possible exercise that right – because never has so much been at stake.

“As First Minister I haven’t got everything right over this past desperately difficult year, but I have worked my hardest every day and brought total commitment to the task of keeping Scotland safe.

"Today the people of Scotland will decide whether I or one of my opponents should be making the critical decisions about our path out of the pandemic and into recovery.

“If I am given the privilege of being re-elected as First Minister, my promise to Scotland is to continue to bring all my experience and focus to the over-riding priority of keeping you and your family safe.”

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Worst polling for SNP since October 2019 ahead of election day

The First Minister claimed only her party had a “serious programme” that could build a “better future”.

She promised to finally fix NHS waiting times, a job recovery plan, and a transition to net zero to tackle the climate emergency.

The First Minister also pledged more support for low-incomes families, investment to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap in education, and practical help with the cost of living.

Ms Sturgeon also attacked the Prime Minister, claiming he and his “band of Brexiteers” were taking Scotland in a direction it did not want.

She continued: “Their hard Brexit is costing jobs and will mean a permanent hit to Scotland’s economy.

“Their brutal welfare cuts are creating yet more inequality and their desperation for a US trade deal means our NHS is definitely not safe in their hands.

“That’s why I believe people in Scotland have the right to decide whether to become an independent country – once the Covid crisis has passed.”

Her final pitch to voters comes less than 24 hours after Mr Johnson was challenged on whether he would allow a referendum if people in Scotland voted for pro-independence parties.

Refusing to directly say no, Mr Johnson suggested it was best to “wait and see what actually happens”.

He said: “I think that most people in Scotland, most people around the whole of the UK, feel that this is not the time, as we’re coming forward out of a pandemic together. This is not the time to have a reckless, and I think irresponsible, second referendum.

“We had one only a few years ago. I think what most people want is to focus on the country and taking it forward and rebuilding our economy and getting people into work.

“That seems to me to be the priority.”

For Scotland to hold a legal referendum, Westminster would have to pass a section 30 order allowing a vote to go ahead.

The Prime Minister has repeatedly ruled out doing so, despite the Scottish Tories tweeting this week that an SNP majority was a “guarantee” of a second referendum.

It came as former prime minister Gordon Brown claimed if the SNP could not solve problems in Scotland over the past 14 years, they should stand aside for the Labour Party.

Speaking at a drive-in rally of supporters in Glasgow on Wednesday, Mr Brown talked up new Labour leader Anas Sarwar while urging voters to turn out for the party on Thursday.

He said: “If the SNP could not solve the health problem, the waiting list problem, the mental health problem, the social care problem in any one of the 14 years in government, they will never solve the problem now.

“That’s why they should give way to the Labour Party, who can do it.

"We need Labour MSPs who believe in the policy of full employment.

“We need Labour MSPs who will link up with Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Newcastle, Sheffield, Bristol – mayors of all these places – and the First Minister of Wales.

"Because in an integrated economy like ours, you cannot win full employment in one country unless you work for full employment in all countries."

Mr Brown also claimed the SNP were more focused on independence than tackling the “scandal” of child poverty.

He said: “It's rising drastically – 300,000 children in poverty in Scotland and the figure going up in the pandemic.

"Poverty is not just a scandal – for children, it is a crime. And I say you can't solve the problem of child poverty without using all the resources of the United Kingdom.

"And that's why instead of independence and getting out of the United Kingdom, we need to force the case for resources from all over the United Kingdom to fight child poverty in our midst.

"That's the difference. We want to end child poverty, the SNP want to end the United Kingdom.

"They wake up in the morning thinking about a referendum, we wake up in the morning wanting a recovery.

"They go to bed dreaming of separation, we go to bed dreaming of social justice.

"They spend all their waking hours trying to change our borders, we spend all our waking hours trying to change society."

Flanked by Mr Brown, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar warned that jobs, education and the NHS were "on the ballot".

He said: "The people of Scotland face a stark choice at this election – either we go back to the old arguments about a referendum with the SNP and the Tories, or we forge ahead with our national recovery with Labour.

"In this moment of national crisis, we must pull together, not go back to fighting among ourselves."

The final message from Lib Dems leader Willie Rennie was that his party would prioritise recovery from the pandemic, "not independence".

He said: "Voters can choose whether the next parliament is one that puts recovery first or one that is dominated by independence.

"The next parliament must have a needle-sharp focus on helping education bounce back, cutting mental health waits, creating jobs for people desperate for work and taking action on the climate."

Scottish Tories leader Douglas Ross, who separately joined Ruth Davidson on the campaign trail in Stirling on Wednesday, urged pro-UK voters to lend their peach party list votes to his party as the only way to stop an SNP majority he said would “wreck our recovery”.

The warning came after ex-Labour MP Tom Harris revealed he was backing the Scottish Conservatives with his party list vote.

Ms Davidson said: “If the pro-UK vote sticks together, we can stop that majority. All the opinion polls say it can be done. But if the pro-UK vote splits, with votes going to smaller parties, then the SNP will win a majority.”

Making a final pitch for votes in Edinburgh, Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie promised to take "urgent action" on the climate and a "green recovery".

Mr Harvie said: "This is the time to take matters into our own hands, to build a Scotland that can lead Europe in tackling the climate emergency.

"But there is no time to lose. It's time to vote like our future depends on it."

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