Nicola Sturgeon has insisted the SNP’s election manifesto is designed to “unite Scotland” as the country looks to recover from coronavirus.
While the policy proposals, published this week, set out plans to hold a second vote on Scottish independence by the end of 2023, it also promised free dental treatment, extended childcare and a “green transport revolution” – including giving bikes to youngsters who could not otherwise afford them.
Sturgeon insisted the manifesto, put forward in the run-up to the Scottish Parliament election on May 6, is the “most bold and ambitious” the SNP has produced.
Her comments came as she urged Scots to vote for her party, “to re-elect me as First Minister and for a serious government which will deliver the fairer and more prosperous Scotland that we all want to see”.
She vowed that in addition to this she would give “the people of Scotland a choice over their future once the Covid crisis has passed”.
Her political rivals have claimed if the SNP wins a majority in next month’s Holyrood elections, Ms Sturgeon will be focused on independence and not ensuring Scotland recovers from the pandemic.
Speaking about her party’s manifesto, Sturgeon said: “It is designed to unite Scotland around shared goals as we lead the country through the pandemic and into a sustainable recovery.”
The SNP leader stated: “At the heart of our plans is a belief that the recovery must benefit everyone.
“We cannot simply wind the clock back to 2019 – we must be prepared to make long-term investments which will provide much-needed support to families right now, but will also have long-term benefits for our health and wellbeing.
“I’m proud that the SNP has delivered a massive increase in childcare provision, has rolled out free school meals to all P1 to P3 pupils, abolished prescription charges and introduced the Scottish Child Payment.
“But now is the time to build on these ambitions by going even further.”
The First Minister also said a four-nations inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic should begin this year.
Sturgeon said she had already committed to an inquiry covering Scotland in 2021, but said a UK-wide inquiry could also look at issues affecting each nation.
The Prime Minister has previously said he supported holding an inquiry into the UK’s response to Covid-19 but a timescale has not yet been set.
The SNP’s election manifesto says there should be a “person-centred” public inquiry that would hear from those who have lost loved ones to the virus.
Sturgeon said: “I am committed to establishing in Scotland a judge-led public inquiry to examine all aspects of our handling of the pandemic – including the situation in our care homes – and to have this under way before the end of this year.
“This will happen in Scotland whether or not it happens in other parts of the UK.
“However, there is no doubt it would be beneficial to have an inquiry that could look across the four nations as well as at specific issues within each nation – this would help provide answers to families, businesses and all those who have made sacrifices over the last year.
“I hope all governments across the UK will join me in committing to a full public inquiry starting later this year.”