Nicola Sturgeon is promising to put rural communities at the heart of her recovery plan during a campaigning visit to her top target seat.
The SNP leader set sights on Tory-held Aberdeenshire West to unveil a “manifesto for rural Scotland”, and to publish her pledge for the first 100 days of a re-elected government.
However, Conservatives condemned the SNP’s record, saying: “It would take 100 years to unpick the damage they have caused, never mind 100 days”.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar is also campaigning in the area on his election “battle bus”, which departs Stirling for Aberdeen on Thursday.
He hopes to drum up support for the regional ballot papers, which could be key to any Labour gains in the election on May 6.
Ahead of her visit to a cafe in Insch, Ms Sturgeon highlighted SNP plans for a new centre for excellence for rural medicine and more mobile health services.
She wants to create a national digital academy to allow learners to access education from anywhere in Scotland, and vowed to spend £25 million improving mobile coverage in remoter parts of the country.
‘Recovery and a referendum’
The SNP, like other parties, wants to reinstate or develop railway branch lines – raising the potential for renewed train links from Aberdeen to Ellon.
Ms Sturgeon also aims to bring in a new, £15 million fund to support food processing and better support the fishing sector.
The party leader, who is ahead in the polls, is joining local candidate Fergus Mutch with one week to go until the Scottish Parliament election.
Her 100-day promise includes work to recover from Covid but also sets the stage for another referendum on leaving the UK.
Ms Sturgeon said: “This election is the most important in the history of the Scottish Parliament – and only the SNP are offering a programme for serious government to lead Scotland through the pandemic and into a sustainable recovery.
“Today we will outline the key steps that people in Scotland can expect an SNP Government to take within the first 100 days, if we win the election, to keep Scotland safe.
“It will show the immediate action we will take to protect our NHS, boost our economy, create jobs and to help Scotland’s children and young people.
“While other parties in this election have failed to put forward a serious plan for Scotland’s future, the SNP is ready to get to work.
“Our immediate priority should we be re-elected will be to steer Scotland through the Covid crisis and get the recovery under way.”
Aberdeenshire West is being defended by Conservative Alexander Burnett, who won with a 900-vote majority in 2016.
Mr Burnett said: “People in Aberdeenshire and across the north-east want a Scottish Parliament that will focus on rebuilding after Covid-19. But the SNP’s only aim is to hold another divisive referendum, before any such recovery can take place.
“Their record here is pitiful – cutting funding for schools, public transport and infrastructure; NHS Grampian underfunded by £239 million over a decade and £200m in rail investment gone missing.
“They’ve had 14 years and haven’t delivered. It would take them 100 years to unpick the damage they have caused, never mind 100 days.”
SNP candidate in Aberdeenshire West, Fergus Mutch said: “The SNP will put rural communities at the heart of its ambitious plans to transform our economy after the pandemic and make the whole of Scotland – cities, islands and countryside alike – a better place to live, work and grow up.
“Our focus, if re-elected, will be to invest to help people and businesses stay and produce locally and sustainably, as well as improve connectivity, to ensure our rural communities flourish.
“In government, the SNP has already fixed the Common Agricultural Policy payments system, ensured Scotland got its fair share of convergence funding, delivered the Aberdeen Bypass, and invested £300m in the Inverness rail line – including a new station for Kintore.
“We have a strong record on standing up for rural communities and will continue to do so.”
What is Nicola Sturgeon’s 100-day plan?
The focus is getting Scotland out of the pandemic. A cross-party group would be convened to pursue the “strongest possible recovery”, and a standing committee on pandemics would be formed to manage future risks.
Here are some other key promises from the SNP manifesto for the first 100 days of a re-elected Sturgeon government.
The SNP would push on with a 4% average pay rise for NHS workers and start formal consultation for a new National Care Service.
A minister for youth employment would be appointed, taxi drivers who got a Covid grant would receive a payment of £1,500.
A £25 million fund for tourism would be launched.
‘Recovering from covid’
Councils would be funded to increase teacher numbers by 1,000. A £20 million summer programme of help for pupils would be established. Fees for music and arts education would be scrapped.
Legislation would be drafted to give carers an extra Covid payment of £460.
A new minister would be appointed to focus on the “climate crisis” ahead of the global COP26 conference in Glasgow.
Legal changes would be made to extend free bus travel to everyone under 22 years old.