The Future of Scotland

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 9:29 am on 29th March 2007.

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Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party 9:29 am, 29th March 2007

Jack McConnell makes cheap jibes about Alex Salmond, but when Alex Salmond is First Minister, no one will forget his name. We relish the debate about Scotland's future, which is being led throughout the country by the SNP. As Labour descends deeper and deeper into the mire of negative campaigning, the SNP offers new ideas, fresh thinking and real ambition for our country.

It is the SNP that is setting the positive agenda in this campaign. Anyone who doubts that should log on to Labour's election website and see for themselves. It advertises eight election leaflets, no fewer than seven of which are about the SNP and are negative, hysterical rants, full of fears and smears. They are seven different ways of Labour talking Scotland down—proof, if proof were needed, that Labour has nothing positive to say about the future of Scotland. The only promises that it makes in this election are the promises that it broke last time round. Do not just take my word for it; negative, extreme and London-based is how Henry McLeish described Labour's campaign and how right he was.

Labour's negative campaigning says much more about it than it does about us. It is the last desperate refuge of a party that is ashamed of its record and which lacks any new ideas for the future of Scotland.

Here is a message for Labour and the First Minister: if they want to keep the SNP at the heart of this campaign, that is great, because so do we. Our campaign is all about Scotland's future and what an SNP Government will do better and differently. We have policies to be proud of in this election—policies that will make a difference and give people in Scotland the help that they need to enjoy the same independence in their lives that we want for our country.

I will outline exactly what Scotland can expect from its new SNP Government in May. We will deliver fairer and lower local tax. Unlike Labour, we will not defend the unfair council tax. An SNP Government will abolish the unfair council tax. We will cut bills for nine out of 10 taxpayers. That is a real tax cut from the SNP, not a tax con from Labour.

We will take real action to give children the best start in life. We will not spend our last few days in office trying to explain why a quarter of a million Scottish children are still living in poverty. We will spend our first 100 days working to increase nursery provision and cut class sizes in our primary schools. An SNP Government will also ensure that access to education is based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay. We will not force students into deeper and deeper debt. We will restore grants, abolish tuition fees and meet the debt repayments of Scottish graduates living in Scotland. That is a real investment in Scotland's future.

We will treat patients as human beings, not dump them on hidden waiting lists and pretend that they do not exist. We will introduce a patients rights bill to give every patient an individual waiting time guarantee based on need. We will keep accident and emergency services at Ayr and Monklands open, because we believe that emergency services should be local services.

When we say that economic growth is our top priority, we will back that up with policies that will help, not hinder, our economy. Labour's policy to keep business rates higher than in England for most of the time since the Parliament was established has, by its own admission, cost Scottish business £900 million. An SNP Government will abolish business rates for 120,000 small businesses and cut them for 30,000 more.

Those are our policy priorities and we are proud to campaign on them. We will campaign on them for every one of the next 35 days.