The SNP’s election campaign will focus on the party’s key priorities for health, education and the economy, Nicola Sturgeon said, as she accused opposition parties of “not taking the campaign seriously”.
Ms Sturgeon’s remarks came as Conservative leader Ruth Davidson criticised the SNP leader’s plan to launch a fresh initiative for independence over the summer.
The party leaders were on the campaign trail for the first full day of election campaigning ahead of tonight’s first televised debate.
March 24 also coincides with what would have been the first day of an independent Scotland had the country voted Yes in the 2014 referendum.
Ms Sturgeon began her campaign in the Dumbarton constituency with a visit to the Maid of the Loch in Balloch, West Dunbartonshire.
She outlined pledges to increase the frontline health budget in each year of the next parliament, establish five new elective treatment centres and improve local access to health and social care.
Ms Sturgeon also promised to invest an extra £750 million to close the attainment gap in education, protect the Small Business Bonus Scheme, work to ensure more people are paid the living wage and expand childcare.
She said: “This campaign is about securing the achievements of the last nine years and winning the support to transform Scotland in the future.
“With more powers coming to the Parliament, it is essential that Scotland has a government that will use them wisely and in the best interests of the whole of Scotland.
“The next six weeks are a chance for voters to test our proposals, to put them under scrutiny and to choose a government that is stronger for Scotland.
“The opposition parties simply are not taking this campaign seriously, instead of fighting for support and setting out a clear vision for Scotland, they are looking backwards and fighting amongst themselves.”
Ms Davidson, who joined supporters who voted No in the independence referendum on Calton Hill in Edinburgh, said: “We see now that it was a bogus set of maths that the SNP were trying to sell the people of this country and it would have cost us a lot of money.
“This is about looking forward rather than back, so we made that decision, it is time the SNP respected that decision and moved on, and talked about what they are going to do in the future, rather than try to drag us back to another referendum.
“This is a big election because it is the first time that MSPs are going to be in charge of many areas of public policy, taxation, how we fund our public services and also a lot of the welfare issues that we have been talking about in recent weeks as well.
“We need a really big broad debate about what politicians are going to do in the future, not how they are going to try and break us up.”