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Election 2021: Leaders set out vision for north-east as voters go to polls

Voters will go to the polls on Thursday.
Voters will go to the polls on Thursday.

The race to form the next Scottish Government is now in its final stages, and voters across the north-east will go to the polls later this week.

Over the last 10 days, we have featured the candidates standing in each of the constituencies in the area, giving our readers the opportunity to make up their own minds ahead of polling day.

Now, with election day fast approaching, we offered the leaders of each of the main parties a final opportunity to tell you why voters should choose them.

Here the SNP, Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Greens set out their plans for the north-east.

Nicola Sturgeon – SNP

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon.

The north-east forms a vital part of the Scottish economy, its diverse range of industries will be vital on our road to recovery.

Our world-class fishing industry in the north-east has been decimated and sold up the river by the Tories and their wretched Brexit deal. The industry was sold a lie and are now paying the consequences for it.

The SNP has supported fisheries with funding over and above anything provided by the Tories at Westminster. We will continue to press for the £62 million of marine funding Scotland is entitled to, to be fully allocated to Scotland, and do all we can to regain markets and opportunities for our fish and seafood sector.

In the same way we will continue to support the energy industry in the north-east. We are investing £15m this year just for the north-east to help support people hit by the downturn in oil and gas, and the pandemic, into work and training.

The north-east will be central to our work to deliver a just transition to net zero, that means as we move away from oil and gas, ensuring there are replacement jobs in green energy, renewables and low carbon industries. To help businesses as they diversify we will set up a £62million Energy Transition Fund.

We will ensure the workforce is taken on that journey too by creating a £100m Green Jobs Fund – increasing opportunities in the green sector.

We stand ready to support Aberdeen city centre as it recovers from the pandemic and the impact of retail closures. Aberdeen will benefit from a share of the £275 million set aside for town centre regeneration as well as a new retail strategy. If re-elected, one of our first acts will be to engage with the Aberdeen Taskforce on plans for the city centre.

Importantly we must remobilise our NHS. We will make the biggest investment in health infrastructure in the history of devolution. This will include renewing Insch War Memorial hospital and the Baird Family Hospital and Anchor Centre. We will also ensure every health board has a fast track cancer diagnostic centre.

On Thursday, the people of the north-east face a choice, whether to put Scotland’s recovery into the hands of the Tories who have already decimated industry in the area or to put Scotland’s recovery into its own hands with both votes SNP.

Douglas Ross – Conservative

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross.

The past year has been hard on everyone, but the combination of Covid-19 and a collapse in the oil price has dealt a double blow to this region.

The truth is that the north-east has been overlooked by a central belt-focused SNP for too long.

And there is a real risk at this election that the Scottish Greens – who want to cut off all support for the oil and gas industry – hold the balance of power.

In contrast, the Scottish Conservatives have put the north-east at the heart of our campaign.

In the first week, I was in the Granite City setting out how we would deliver a ‘fair share’ for this area.

Our plans include a new funding deal for our local councils that have been short-changed by £140 million this year alone compared to the Scottish average.

We would help rebuild the economy by launching a new north-east enterprise agency backed by £1billion over the next 10 years.

We would upgrade key local roads such as the A90 and A947 and tackle the £100 million backlog of bridge repairs in Aberdeenshire.

We would also look at the possibility of reopening railway lines such as the Formartine and Buchan line, stations like Newtonhill and focus on rural areas first in the full-fibre broadband rollout.

We would re-open Insch community hospital and minor injury units at Banff and Turriff. We have a manifesto commitment to reinstate the consultant-led maternity unit at Dr Gray’s in Elgin which was downgraded almost three years ago.

We are also backing a north-east freeport bid that has the potential to create up to 20,000 jobs.

The last three elections have shown that the Scottish Conservatives are the only party strong enough to beat the SNP in north-east seats.

And if pro-UK voters use their peach party ballot to vote Scottish Conservative, we can stop another divisive independence referendum and deliver the recovery that the north-east and Scotland needs.

Anas Sarwar – Labour

Anas Sarwar of Scottish Labour.

In this election you have two votes which will shape Scotland’s future.

Your constituency vote, on the purple ballot paper, is for your local MSP, and your second vote, on the peach ballot paper, is what decides the priorities of our parliament for the next five years.

Using your second vote for Scottish Labour will ensure we have a parliament which is focused on our national recovery.

The SNP has failed in government, and the Tories have failed in opposition.

Only Scottish Labour can ensure we hold the government to account and provide a better opposition that will work across parties to deliver the recovery we need.

It must be a recovery for the north, east, south and west – for all of Scotland.

While my opponents obsess about the constitution, I’m focused on jobs.

Our recovery plan includes a guarantee for every young person or unemployed person to have a job or and for everyone who needs it to get access to paid training. It is the biggest job creation scheme in the history of devolution.

In the North Sea, we are missing the opportunity to build expertise in decommissioning and marine renewables.

This could see additional work coming to Scotland for years into the future as we establish a reputation as the experts in all stages of the offshore oil and gas business.

A vote for Scottish Labour on the peach ballot paper is a vote for the priorities we all share – investing now to rescue and reshape our economy; a comeback plan for our children’s education; and a plan to restart our NHS.

I am fighting for a recovery that will benefit all the people of Scotland, leaving no community behind, so that together we can build a stronger and fairer nation.

Willie Rennie – Liberal Democrat

Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie.

In the north-east and across Scotland this pandemic has torn through our lives. Thousands of people died or suffered serious illness. Young people lost out on education and career opportunities. People waited longer for hospital treatment. Individuals suffered isolation. Businesses struggled to pay their bills. We owe it to them to put recovery first, not another referendum.

Scottish Liberal Democrats will set up new diagnosis and treatment centres to catch up with the NHS backlog. We will recruit more mental health professionals to work in communities, hospitals and schools. We will provide more in-class support for children who need it and guarantee a job for every teacher to cut class sizes.

In the north-east there are roughly 100,000 jobs employed by the oil and gas industry. Prematurely shutting down the North Sea would not reduce emissions because the demand would still exist. Instead, we would be forced to import more, from places like Russia.

Oil and gas will not last forever though so we need to make the most of the valuable skills and expertise from the sector as we transition to new industries. This is essential if we are to avoid the catastrophic damage to communities that we saw with mining towns in the 70s and 80s. It’s time for action to deliver new green jobs and reinvigorate our high streets.

My party is clear that now is not the moment for another independence referendum. We all need to come together to recover from the worst health and economic crisis in 100 years. Across the north-east of Scotland, people desperate for work, patients in our NHS and pupils in our schools can’t be left to wait as politicians return to old arguments. On May 6 I hope you will vote for Scottish Liberal Democrats and put the recovery first.

Lorna Slater – Green

Green co-leader Lorna Slater.

This is a crucial election for the north-east. This election will decide how we recover from the pandemic and how we tackle Scotland’s role in the climate crisis. You have the chance to vote for an excellent MSP in Maggie Chapman, who is heading our north-east Scotland candidate list.

The north-east has been hit particularly hard by falling oil prices and the crash. We have a costed plan to create 100,000 green jobs across Scotland by investing in warm homes, public transport, nature restoration and renewable energy.

I am an engineer myself, and know that many of the most skilled engineers in the world are working in oil and gas. Their skills can be central to our recovery. To ensure a just and fair transition, we will extend the Job Guarantee to all workers in the oil and gas industry, and ensure support and funding is available for re-training and development.

We will invest in services, with 740 permanent new teachers in the north-east alone. We want to build a national care service that cares for service users and offers a better deal to carers.

The Scottish Greens get results. In the last parliamentary session Green MSPs secured free bus travel for everyone under 22, including 140,000 young people in the north-east. We will extend that to everyone under 26 while introducing a railcard to cut train fares by one third for everyone.

What we are promising a new green industrial economy for Scotland. This is the solution to the climate emergency, but it is also how we will emerge from this pandemic together. A vote for the Scottish Greens is a vote for change. We have delivered for Scotland, and if you vote for Maggie Chapman then we can do even more.

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