The National:

THIS week, we hit a major milestone: one million vaccines delivered. Scotland is racing ahead of the rest of Europe in our vaccination programme - and while we must not be complacent, it is beginning to feel as if we are finally turning a corner with the pandemic.

So, it is welcome news that a draft bill for an independence referendum will be published before Parliament goes into recess ahead of the election.

While the Scottish Government has been focused on Covid-19 and resources have been diverted away from planning for independence and into the pandemic response, it has been a challenge for the Yes movement to keep moving forward. This is the positive progress we need to bring people together behind a new campaign for independence.

With this year’s Holyrood election now less than three months away, we know that the next parliamentary term will be defined by global challenges like the recovery from Covid-19 and the climate crisis, as well as the ongoing chaos of Brexit.

READ MORE: Countdown for bill to pave way for independence referendum begins

The priority must be on economic recovery with ending poverty as its goal. The biggest divide in Scotland is between the rich and the poor.

During the pandemic, we have seen that divide reflected in higher infection rates, worse health outcomes, and more economic hardship for people on lower incomes. Scottish Government policies like the temporary ban on evictions and the decision to fund support services for people whose immigration status prevents them accessing public funds have protected the most vulnerable during the pandemic. We need to progress successful temporary measures like this into permanent change.

Our recovery must also protect our public services and the health and care workers who have become heroes to us this year. The pandemic has shown us why it is so crucial to protect our NHS from privatisation and ensure its workforce is properly paid, trained and resourced. It has also shown us that we must learn from the success of our NHS and create a publicly-owned National Care Service that will guarantee access to free, high quality care for everyone on those same principles.

And we cannot forget that this Parliament is our last chance to act on the climate emergency if we are going to prevent global warming reaching a level that will cause irreversible environmental damage with appalling consequences for nature and people around the world. The climate emergency has not gone away while we have been occupied with the pandemic. Our plan for recovery must put urgent climate action at its heart.

We need independence to deliver the recovery from Covid-19 that Scotland needs. The devolution settlement is not good enough - no matter how far we stretch it. We need the full powers of a normal independent country to recover from this crisis and protect ourselves as best we can from any future crises.

READ MORE: Catalonia expected to be gripped by independence fever after election

The stark differences between Westminster and Holyrood, and more specifically, between Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon, in responding to the pandemic are a significant factor in why the majority of people in Scotland now support independence.

Westminster is becoming increasingly irrelevant to people in Scotland. While we would expect the UK Government to respect democracy and work with us to deliver a referendum, this is a democratic decision for those of us who live in Scotland. A carefully drafted bill from the Scottish Government is the next step on a legitimate, democratic path to independence. We always have the option of testing the bill in court if the UK Government disagrees.

Everything has changed over the last year. It is time for Scotland to change too. We can build a recovery from the pandemic that puts our people, planet and public services first. The power is in our hands.