The campaign for May’s Holyrood election has kicked off with party leaders making their pitches to voters.
Holyrood entered its pre-election recess period on Wednesday, with the official campaign allowed to begin on Thursday.
Scotland’s constitutional future was put at the forefront of the campaign before it started, with the topic set to dominate the next seven weeks before May 6.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said the UK Government could “wreck” Scotland’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic if they maintain control.
“With independence we’ll have a recovery made in Scotland and we’ll have the powers needed to build a fairer and more prosperous country,” she said.
“To vote for that right to decide your future – and to join together in our national mission to build that better country – make it both votes SNP on May 6.”
Sturgeon also said 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”.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, who is seeking election to Holyrood in the Highlands and Islands, has sought to rally pro-UK voters behind his party in a bid to ensure there is not another referendum on independence.
He said: “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% of our focus back on rebuilding Scotland.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the driving force of his party in the next parliamentary term would be the recovery from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This election campaign must focus on solutions which will deliver a fairer recovery and a stronger Scotland,” 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.”
He 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.
“Fairness is a crucial part of a green recovery, which is why we’re asking people to vote like our future depends on it.”