All of Scotland’s main parties have been setting out their agendas ahead of the Holyrood elections in May.
Nicola Sturgeon has vowed to serve another five years as First Minister if re-elected as she promised more cash to help high streets recover from Covid-19.
Meanwhile Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has said that current lockdown has to be the last as Lib Dem’s Willie Rennie pledged to double the number of people training as counsellors.
Scottish Conservatives are calling for fans to be allowed into Hampden for Scotland’s Euro 2020 games and the Scottish Greens say they could ‘play a crucial role’ in securing a pro-independence majority.
The SNP leader, who has been First Minister since 2014, said she was “putting herself forward for a full term of office” in the post.
That would see her serving almost 12 years at the head of the Scottish Government – longer than the 11 years Margaret Thatcher spent in Downing Street as Tory prime minister.
But Sturgeon refused to commit to fighting another campaign as SNP leader in 2026.
Asked what would happen then, she said: “I am fighting this election campaign, I am putting myself forward for a full term of office as First Minister, should the people of Scotland elect me. And that is entirely up to the people of Scotland.
“And frankly I will think about the next election when we get closer to that.
“One of the things I have learned… is to take every election as it comes and not take the voters or the country for granted.”
On lockdowns Sarwar, who is running against Sturgeon in her constituency seat, said he supported the “cautious” route out but the Government should be open-minded about changing pace.
He said: “I support the framework we have just now but we should be open-minded about slowing down if the data starts going the wrong way or accelerating if the data is going the right way.
“I think we have to have a flexibility – keep hope and optimism in the country but also have a cautious approach so we don’t have another spike in cases which takes us back into another lockdown.
“This has got to be the last lockdown, we cannot have another lockdown because it would have devastating consequences on our economy, our health and particularly the wellbeing of our young people.
“I think it’s right that we take this cautious approach.”
The Scottish Liberal Democrats have pledged to double the number of people training to be mental health counsellors.
Leader Willie Rennie announced the move during a campaign event with mental health activist Ben Lawrie on Friday.
The party said it will offer grants of £5,000 to people studying to be counsellors to attract a broader range, as well as include counselling in NHS workforce planning systems, which it claims will open up services.
said: “As we come out of the pandemic, it is time for Scotland to put the recovery first and fix our overwhelmed mental health services for good.
“Even before the pandemic struck we had a record number of children waiting over a year for help and the situation has worsened since.
“Our policy will dramatically expand the number of counsellors. New help to train will open it up to more people.
“We will add counsellors to NHS workforce planning so their skills can help more people. It will bring down waiting times and make it much easier to access services whenever and wherever you need it.
“Scottish Liberal Democrats have consistently championed our national mental health. We led Parliament in declaring a mental health crisis and secured £120 million more for services next year.”
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has said the Scottish Government should not be “too cautious” and prevent fans from watching Scotland play in the Euros at Hampden this summer.
The men’s team made it to its first major tournament since 1998 following a penalty shootout win against Serbia.
But Covid-19 could prevent fans from being able to be in grounds to watch Euro 2020 ties, some of which will take place at the national stadium in Glasgow.
Ross, himself an assistant referee, said it was important to allow fans to watch the national team play.
Football body Uefa has set an April 7 deadline for plans to be submitted to allow spectators at games.
He told journalists on Friday: “I’m making it very clear that if we look at test positivity, if we look at the number of people in hospital, if we look at the number of people in ICU and, importantly, if we look at the 2.5 million people across Scotland who have the protection of the first dose of the vaccine, these are all signs that we can cautiously allow spectators back into stadiums.
“That’s why I’m urging the Scottish Government to give us this opportunity as fans of the Scottish national team.
“It’s been a long time since the men’s team qualified for a national tournament – we want to get as much support in there as possible.”
Responding to a recent poll which put the Scottish Greens on 11% for the regional list vote, co-leader Lorna Slater said:
“This poll tells us that the Scottish Greens are set to have a record number of MSPs in Holyrood and could yet play a crucial role in securing a pro-independence majority in May. I’m also proud that if this poll turns into votes we will have eight women and three men as our Scottish Green MSPs.
“We’re asking people to vote like our future depends on it, and it’s clear that our plans for a green recovery and to tackle the climate emergency are connecting with voters.”