Vote 2011: SNP outline vision “for a better Scotland”

First minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, writes exclusively for Left Foot Forward on the Scottish National Party's vision "for a better Scotland".

In the last in our series of guest articles for the devolved elections in May, Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of Scotland, outlines his party’s vision for Scotland

This election is about Scotland’s future.

It is about the jobs we need to create, the health service we need to protect and the financial powers our national Parliament needs to make Scotland a wealthier and fairer country.

Above all it is a choice about the kind of nation we want to be and how we see ourselves and our role in the world.

I am proud of the SNP’s record in the last four years. We have met 84 out of 94 of our headline manifesto commitments – a good record for a minority government and on our website you can read the 100 key achievements of the SNP government.

We have slashed NHS waiting times, brought crime down to a 32-year low – thanks to the 1,000 extra police officers we have recruited – and frozen the Council Tax for four years, saving the average household more than £300.

And when the UK Labour and Tory governments put in place drastic and damaging cuts in response to the recession, the SNP government took a different approach and invested capital in construction, in new homes, new schools and transport projects supporting jobs in construction and giving our economy the ability to recover from recession.

That action is responsible for five months of falling unemployment and 9 months of rising employment in Scotland. This month for the first time in a year employment in Scotland was higher than at the same time last year.

But there is much more to do.

The SNP’s manifesto sets a course for the next five years to make sure that Scotland capitalises on our vast resources, both human and natural.

On the first of those, our greatest resource is our people, particularly our young people. That is why I have given the cast-iron guarantee that no Scots students will face tuition fees to study at Scottish universities as long as there is an SNP government.

That stands in stark contrast to the huge fees of up to £9,000 a year now being charged by universities south of the border, punishing talented young people and their families with a burden of debt they cannot properly afford.

The right to education based on the ability to learn and not the ability to pay is a historic Scottish principle which underpins our longstanding international reputation as a country of innovators and inventors.

It is a principle that the SNP has restored by scrapping the backdoor tuition fees brought in by Labour and the Lib Dems, and it is a principle we will defend.

To those who ask how we can afford to keep university education free, I ask how can we afford not to?

No talented young Scots and their families should be forced into a choice between unaffordable debt or denying themselves the chance to make the most of those talents.

And our world-class universities can and will remain competitive without charging tuition fees for Scots-based students.

Just as we are determined to make the most of our human potential, we are equally focused on maximizing our huge natural resources.

We are also blessed with enormous potential in the green energy revolution in which Scotland is leading the world. We have a quarter of all Europe’s offshore wind and tidal energy sources and a tenth of the Continent’s wave power potential.

That is why the SNP manifesto pledges 130,000 jobs in the green and low carbon energy sector by 2020, and why we aim to be generating all of Scotland’s own electricity demand from renewable sources by the same date – on top of other energy generation, making us a net exporter of power.

These are ambitious goals, but they are also achievable. To get there we need big investment, but that is already happening, with some of the world’s biggest companies announcing they are setting up in Scotland’s green energy sector in recent months – and there are more such announcements to come. And with each of these announcements come jobs for young Scots with apprenticeships in renewable energy training as part of the 25,000 apprenticeships we are delivering every year.

The renewables revolution will allow us to reindustrialise Scotland, providing hi-tech, skilled jobs for thousands of our brightest and best. It will allow us to shape the marine engineering future of the 21st-century, just as we powered the seagoing industrial might of the 19th- and early 20th-century.

All this will help make us a wealthier country, but we are also committed to fairness and that means making sure, for a start, that families and pensioners the length and breadth of Scotland are given some respite from the soaring cost of living.

Heating and fuel bills are going through the roof, inflation is surging – and on top of all that people are feeling the costs of Westminster’s hike in VAT. The SNP wants to give people the certainty that at least one of their regular bills won’t be increasing, and that’s why we are pledging a Council Tax freeze all the way through to 2016. Together with the freeze we have already delivered it will mean an average saving of more than £1,200 per household.

But our commitment to fairness goes beyond simply helping with household bills. It lies behind our support for small business, for free education and for the abolition of prescription charges.

Our commitment to fairness is why we will invest over £1 billion in the NHS over the next parliament rejecting the dismantling of the service south of border. It is why we will invest more resources in the unpaid carers whose kindness supports people across our communities and why we are investing £50 million in Surestart centres to support our young children and their parents.

On May 5th, I want people to vote for a better Scotland.

And only the SNP has the record, the team and the vision to take us forward together to a wealthier, healthier, fairer, greener and independent future.

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