THIS week, Rishi Sunak finally called a UK General Election. With the campaign now in full swing, I relish the opportunity for the people of Scotland to get rid of this disastrous Tory government.

This election is an opportunity for Scotland to unite to defeat the Tories and put Scotland first.

Sunak’s premiership has been a disaster for Scotland. The Tories have trashed the economy and decimated public services with swingeing austerity measures that have crippled households and families across these islands.

As an MSP representing a Highland constituency, I know how acutely disastrous this Tory government has been for my constituents in particular.

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Starmer’s Labour offers Scotland no better alternative. He has no plan for Scotland to escape the damage of Brexit; he has no plan to stimulate growth in Scotland’s economy, which has been hammered by backward immigration policy from Westminster; and he has no answer to the constitutional question but to deny democracy.

On day one of the General Election campaign, Labour’s campaign director Pat McFadden was asked for a specific Scottish policy that Labour had. He failed to answer. That pretty much sums up Labour’s attitude to Scotland at this election.

The SNP will listen to the people of Scotland during this campaign. And people are clear about their priorities – yet time and again, Westminster ignores them.

People want a National Health Service that they can rely on. But Westminster continually cuts Scotland’s budget, putting immense pressure on our public services.

People want to escape a disastrous Tory Brexit that Scotland overwhelmingly rejected. Both the Tories and Labour are signed up to Brexit – and under Westminster control, there is no escape from Brexit for Scotland.

People want Scotland’s voice to be heard. Yet Westminster continues to deny the democratic mandate Scotland has to decide our own future.

Even down to the election date, the Prime Minister gave no consideration to Scotland, where most schools are closed for the summer. Scotland has never been a priority for Westminster – no matter who is in charge.

The National: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addressing the Scottish Tory conference on Friday

The SNP campaign at this election is laser-focused on the priorities of the people of Scotland, and on the necessity of Scottish independence as the solution to the chaos of Westminster control.

The SNP are the main challenger in every single Tory-held seat in the country. By voting SNP, Scotland can get rid of this Tory government.

The rhetoric coming from Westminster on the NHS is staggering. Whether it’s picking fights with the unions or selling our precious NHS off to private interests, both Labour and the Tories are singing the same tune on dismantling our NHS.

Scotland can unite to protect the NHS by voting SNP.

On the economy and the cost of living, that affects every single person in this country, many people feel the UK economic system is broken. Under devolution, Westminster still holds most economic power over Scotland – and that power has been used disastrously.

More than a decade of Tory austerity, the catastrophic Liz Truss budget and the disaster of Brexit – which has wiped billions from the Scottish economy – pushed up prices and hit hard our ability to fund vital public services such as the NHS.

It’s staggering that Labour know the reality of this – but Starmer, once a staunch Remainer, now supports Brexit, no matter the cost to Scotland. The SNP are absolutely clear – Scotland should not put up with Brexit anymore. We can unite the nation by voting SNP to get Scotland back into the EU and stop the Brexit damage.

As Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, I know we have already made a difference where we can, with the limited economic powers Scotland has.

I will be proud to take that record to the doorsteps as this General Election campaign heats up.

Productivity – the key driver of living standards – has also grown faster in Scotland since the SNP came to office at Holyrood. Economic growth per head is higher in Scotland than the UK as a whole.

The SNP Scottish Government has helped ease the squeeze on households during the cost of living crisis, through measures such as free prescriptions, free bus travel for the under-22s and all-day off-peak rail fares. When decisions are made in Scotland for Scotland, just think of how much further we could go.

Indeed, Scottish Government analysis laid this bare in the Building A New Scotland paper series.

Independent countries that are similar to Scotland across Europe have higher living standards, lower poverty and they are more equal.

The question, then, is simple – why not Scotland?

Don’t let the Westminster parties tell you any different – Scotland has the people, the talent and the resources to be a successful independent country.

The full powers of independence give Scotland the ability to strengthen our economy, tackle the cost of living crisis and build about a fairer country.

Independence also means getting the government Scotland votes for every time. Scotland hasn’t voted Conservative since the 1950s.

We are the only party that offers voters a way back into the European Union through independence. We are the only party that can unite the country by putting Scotland first.

Writing in the only pro-independence newspaper in our country, I feel it is important to reiterate the call by First Minister John Swinney for independence supporters to back the SNP – to unite and bring about that independent nation we all want to see.

This election is absolutely crucial for Scotland’s future.

John Swinney is also absolutely clear that independence is the key for Scotland to unlock its full potential.

Decisions about Scotland should be taken right here in Scotland.

It’s hard to overstate how absolutely crucial the upcoming election is for supporters of Scottish independence.

We will win our independence with democratic pressure. If you are in any doubt about what is at stake here, just watch Labour and the Tories over the next six weeks.

They already appear to have a backroom deal that would exclude the SNP from TV debates. And that’s just the beginning.

Stephen Flynn and his SNP MP colleagues put Scotland first every single week – and both Labour and the Tories will do all they can to stop that.

From highlighting the damage of Brexit, opposing the rape clause, shining a light on the Horizon scandal and pushing for a ceasefire in Gaza, SNP MPs make Scotland’s voice heard.

The Westminster parties will do whatever they can to silence Scotland’s voice because they don’t care about Scotland.

If you do, get behind the SNP and vote on July 4.

Our message of hope and unity is needed more than ever. We can make this Independence Day election count. But we need to come together to do so.

So let’s unite to see the back of this disastrous Tory government.

Let’s unite to protect our public services, like our precious NHS, from Westminster interference.

Let’s unite to secure those full powers of independence.

On July 4, the choice in Scotland is clear.

Vote SNP to put Scotland first.