THE Holyrood election campaign is officially under way after the curtain was brought down on the past five years of the Scottish Parliament.
After speeches in the chamber paying tribute to MSPS who are retiring, the party leaders wasted no time in taking to the campaign trail.
SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the election was the most important since devolution in 1999.
In an address to SNP election candidates in Edinburgh, she said she wanted “a positive, constructive battle of ideas” in which parties set out how they would use the new powers coming to Holyrood. She said her own party should be “both humbled and motivated” by the opinion polls showing it comfortably in the lead.
“Humbled that, after nine years in office, the people of Scotland continue to put their trust in the SNP,” she said. “And motivated that, if we work hard to repay that trust, we can be rewarded with another term in office.”
She added: “Over the next few weeks, the SNP will talk about what we have achieved over the last few years. We’ll lay the foundations not just for the next five years, but for the next decade and beyond.”
She appealed to voters to back the SNP “and help us carry on with the progress we have made over the last few years”.
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said the election offered an opportunity to end austerity in Scotland.
“The cuts to our schools and other vital public services aren’t necessary,” she said. “The SNP are using the Scottish Parliament as a conveyor belt for Tory cuts, but the new powers mean we can take different choices from George Osborne.
“Labour’s plan to ask those who can afford it to pay a bit more, including asking the richest one per cent earning more than £150,000 to pay a 50p top rate of tax, means we can end austerity.
“The alternative is fewer classroom assistants helping our children, thousands of jobs lost and the very fabric of our society at risk.”
And Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson launched her party’s campaign, telling activists in Edinburgh: “We are ready, more than ready, to take on this over-mighty SNP government and provide the strong official opposition that Scotland needs.”
She accused the SNP of wanting to turn Scotland into the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom.
“And the only response from Labour and the Lib Dems is to demand they tax them even more. We will make the case for fair and competitive taxation.”
The first of the TV leaders debates will take place tonight on BBC1 at 9pm, featuring the SNP, Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Greens and Ukip. Polling day is in six weeks, on Thursday, May 5.