Nicola Sturgeon told to 'stop campaigning and start governing' after launching SNP election campaign

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale accuses First Minister of electioneering after promise of 'visionary' SNP manifesto

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Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of putting “politics first and the possibilities of power second” after she used her speech in the Scottish Parliament’s New Year debate to launch the SNP’s election campaign and talk about her ambition to build a majority for independence.

In her first address to MSPs since the Christmas break, the First Minister made a direct pitch to voters, focusing on her party’s record in government before promising to deliver an “ambitious, upbeat, visionary and detailed” election manifesto which would win the SNP a historic third term at Holyrood.

Reiterating her belief that independence would provide “the best future for our country”, Ms Sturgeon also promised to lead a “renewed debate” about the possibility of separation from the rest of the UK – and said she was convinced that the argument would be won by the end of the next parliament.

“We will make that case [for independence] positively and powerfully, and we will do so in realistic and relevant way,” she said. “In so doing, I am confident that over the next few years, we will build majority support for that position.”

Over the next few months, the SNP would set out “a range of ambitious plans” to transform Scotland, Ms Sturgeon added – highlighting education, health, welfare and the newly devolved powers on setting income tax rates as key areas.

Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour leader, responded by accusing Ms Sturgeon of electioneering and of having no vision for the future beyond independence. “Nearly a decade into government, it’s time she stops campaigning and start truly governing,” she added.

With only four months to go before Scots head to the polls, both Labour and the SNP are on an election footing. In a separate speech, Ms Dugdale made her first major manifesto pledge, promising that first time house buyers would each receive £3,000 to put towards their deposits under a Labour government.

Under the plans, Scots saving for their first home through the UK Government’s existing Help To Buy ISA scheme would be given an additional £3,000 on top of the £3,000 maximum bonus they are currently offered – effectively doubling the level of state financial support.

However, the SNP immediately poured scorn on the policy, claiming that it was “counter-productive” as it would push up house prices in Scotland without providing any new homes. “Our focus has been on boosting housing supply in both the private sector and the social sector,” said the party’s MSP Clare Adamson.

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