NICOLA Sturgeon has said the SNP will protect Scotland’s NHS as she confirmed Scottish Government investment of £300 million to deliver a 4% pay rise for more than 154,000 of its staff.

And the First Minister condemned the “miserly” pay deal being offered to NHS workers in England, insisting the SNP will “build a country fit for the heroes” of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pay offer, backdated to December, will see those on the salaries below £25,000 receive increases of more than £1000. It will mean that a porter at the top of pay band two, a healthcare assistant at the top of band three, a nurse at the top of band five, and a paramedic at the top of band six will all be around £2000 better off than their counterparts in England in 2021-22.

Speaking as campaigning began ahead of May’s Holyrood election, Sturgeon said: “Politics is about choices, and the SNP chooses to back our NHS. In this election we can build a country fit for the heroes who have kept us going every day through the pandemic.

“We have to do more than clap for the people who look after us – we should give them fair pay for the work they do. That starts with a fair deal for our NHS staff. This pandemic has shown us that every member of NHS staff is vital to the delivery of the service – we value our porters and cleaners just as we value our nurses and doctors.

“That’s why we believe all Agenda for Change staff should get a fair pay rise to recognise the enormous contribution they have made to keeping us safe in the last year.

“The Tories’ miserly 1% pay offer south of the Border shows that they have the wrong priorities – people will no doubt wonder how they can find the money to massively increase their stockpile of nuclear weapons or build a bridge to Northern Ireland but refuse to find the money to properly reward those who were at the frontline of the pandemic.

“In the coming weeks we will say more about how we will invest, protect and remobilise our NHS to provide the care people across Scotland expect.”

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Jackie Mitchell, of the Royal College of Midwives, welcomed the pay offer, and added: “Midwives and all maternity staff thoroughly deserve a decent pay rise, as do all NHS staff across the UK. We are pleased that these negotiations have happened before the elections take place in Scotland and shows us that the Government values the hard work and commitment of our members.”

Pressure mounted on Boris Johnson over NHS pay in England after a union said the Westminster Government should be “shamed into following the Scottish example”.

Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, said: “This shows where there’s a political will there’s most definitely a way. Valuing health staff and investing in the NHS is a political choice. One that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are choosing not to make.

“After a long and difficult year, a decent pay rise for NHS staff should be a simple decision to make and popular with the public.

“The Westminster Government should learn from the approach being adopted north of the Border on NHS pay and be shamed into following the Scottish example.”

Sturgeon also committed the SNP to an optimistic and hopeful election campaign, and said that now, more than ever, experienced leadership was required to protect Scotland.

She said Scotland’s recovery should be in Scotland’s hands: “The other parties have made it very clear over these past few weeks that they are not interested in governing or leading.

“Our campaign will be the polar opposite. It will be about raising up, not tearing down. It will be overflowing with optimism and hope for a better Scotland.”

Meanwhile Tory leader Douglas Ross urged pro-UK voters to “rediscover that Better Together spirit”, as he kicked off the Scottish Tories’ Holyrood campaign. The pro-Union campaign was backed by Tories, LibDems and Labour ahead of the 2014 referendum.

Speaking in Aberdeen, he urged voters who are against indyref2 to support his party, regardless of their affiliation, as he pitched the Tories as the only ones able to stop an SNP majority.

However, he repeatedly refused to say what he thought would be a positive result for his party on May 6, saying he did not want to “limit his ambitions”. Ross added: “We have to come together again, rediscover that Better Together spirit that enabled us to defeat the SNP’s campaign for separation.”