The Scottish Liberal Democrats have launched their election manifesto with a promise to “put recovery first, not independence”.
Leader Willie Rennie argued that in the wake of coronavirus, “we must bring the country together to recover from this dreadful pandemic”.
He insisted: “This is not the moment to go back to the divisions of the past with another independence referendum that will divide because the recovery will require the skills and talents of everyone.
“Just imagine what we can do. This manifesto is packed with over 50 top line commitments.
“To cut mental health waits. Faster treatment in the NHS. Giving pupils the education they deserve to achieve their best. Creating well paid jobs with a skilled workforce. Taking bold action to tackle climate change.
“This is a liberal offer. At our heart we want every individual to achieve their potential. Liberal Democrats will put recovery first.”
The manifesto, launched ahead of the May 6 Holyrood poll, promises an “urgent programme to help children bounce back in education” after schooling was disrupted during the coronavirus pandemic.
Liberal Democrats plan to raise the school starting age to seven, with a play-based education until then, and more childcare for youngsters from the age of two.
Every qualified teacher will be guaranteed a job – a move the party says would cut class sizes – and starting salaries will be at least £30,000.
The party will also guarantee every primary and secondary school pupil has at least one week away at an outdoor centre – as well as “regular” classroom lessons outdoors.
It vows to put “recovery first for the NHS”, with 15% of health spending going on the key area of mental health.
The Lib Dems say they will train more specialist mental health workers who would be based in community centres, schools and workplaces, as well as hospitals.
They also plan to double the number of specialist psychiatrists in training to help young people, as well as doubling the number of people training to be counsellors – with the offer of a £5000 grant to those studying on such courses.
Other commitments include a job guarantee for 16 to 24-year-olds, moving one million homes to zero-emission heating by 2030, and the creation of the new post of Outdoor Recreation Champion within government, to help everyone in Scotland get the benefits of the outdoors.
But unlike other parties, the Lib Dems do not support the creation of a National Care Service in Scotland, saying they are “concerned that this risks losing local innovation and skills, and could repeat the expensive mistakes made by the similar creation of Police Scotland”.
Speaking about the policy programme, Rennie said: “Liberal Democrats will put recovery first, not independence.
“That means an NHS recovery plan. It means a greater priority for mental health with extra counsellors, mental health first aiders and specialists for easy access near to you.
“Bounce back support for pupils, employing more permanent teachers to cut class sizes, and extend free nursery education to all two-year-olds.
“Creating more jobs and taking action on the climate with one million low-cost, low-carbon homes, a young people’s job guarantee and £5000 training grants.
“That’s what you get when you put recovery first.”