Sturgeon Eager To Build Unity

29 October 2014, 06:00

Nicola Sturgeon, the only candidate for the joint positions of SNP leader and first minister, today embarks on a series of rallies setting out how she intends to lead the country.

The current deputy first minister will succeed Alex Salmond after he announced his intention to resign from the post in the wake of the independence referendum which saw voters north of the border opted to stay part of the UK.

While she will stress her continued belief in independence, she will promise to ''focus on the job in hand''  of governing Scotland - and will make the NHS her ''daily priority''.

The former Scottish health secretary is expected to say: ''Wherever we progress to as a country in the future - and I believe it will be to independence - I pledge this:

''If our Parliament does me the honour of electing me as first minister, my government will have a relentless focus on the job in hand - on our public services, on the economy of Scotland, on tackling inequality and on our precious NHS.

''Just as it is for people across our country, the NHS will be my daily priority. I will work tirelessly to protect and improve it.''

Ms Sturgeon will set out her vision for the way forward at a rally of SNP supporters in Edinburgh this evening, which is the first of a series of six major events across Scotland in the coming weeks.

She will use her speech this evening to promise to represent those who believe in the union as well as those who want Scotland to become independent.

Ms Sturgeon will urge the SNP - which has seen its membership more than treble since the referendum last month - to ''face up to the opportunities that lie ahead'' for Scotland, with further powers set to be handed to Holyrood following the referendum.

She will state: ''While we continue to believe in independence, we must respect the views of those who voted No.

''We must never allow our disagreement on independence to blind us to the many things we all agree on.

''As First Minister, I will work to build as much unity and common cause in our country as I can.''

She will add: ''For me, One Scotland is not just a slogan - it is a principle that should guide us as a nation.

``There are many who voted No in September who are open to persuasion in future. I know a few who have changed their minds already.

''But I also know there are those who will never be persuaded of the case for independence. I respect that. And, as First Minister, I will serve them too.''

Ms Sturgeon will argue that while people may have ''differing views on independence'' they can share the same aspirations for the country, including a ''healthy economy, strong public services and a flourishing democracy''.

She will pledge: ''That is why, for each and every day that I hold office as first minister, I will govern this country to the very best of my ability - and I will do so for all of Scotland.

''That is what the SNP was elected to do in 2007 and again in 2011. And it is what I intend we will be re-elected to do in 2016.

''I will use every power I have at my disposal at any time to deliver the best outcomes for the people I serve - and that is all of the people of Scotland.''

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: ''Since becoming first minister-elect, Nicola Sturgeon has been dancing on the head of a pin with her rhetoric to keep alive the flickering hopes of those who believe in independence.

''However, in saying that, she seems to be accepting that compromise is needed and we must all hope that will prove to be the case in the ongoing talks for more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

''But Nicola Sturgeon's definition of compromise should not simply be an acknowledgement that people voted No, it is a statement of fact.

''She should now accept that and concentrate on helping to put together a lasting settlement for Scotland's place within the UK.''

Anas Sarwar MP, interim leader of the Scottish Labour Party, said: ''I welcome Nicola Sturgeon's commitment to recognise and accept Scotland's place as part of the United Kingdom as the settled will of the Scottish People. It is unfortunate that this view isn't shared by all of the candidates in the running to be her deputy.

''Nicola Sturgeon should stand by her pre-referendum vow that this would be a once in a generation event.

''As the Smith Commission negotiates more powers from the Scottish Parliament we need clarity from Nicola on how the SNP intend to use the powers the Scottish Parliament has, and the new powers it is guaranteed, to tackle the rising levels of poverty and inequality being visited on the Scottish people by the Tory and SNP Governments.

''Nicola Sturgeon has been in government almost 10 years and on her watch inequality has risen, 140,000 college places have been cut, and Scotland's NHS is in crisis. If Nicola's actions are to live up to her rhetoric then we must see a radical change of tack from the SNP in Holyrood.''