MY late grandfather, Mohammad Yousaf, came to Scotland 61 years ago.

He was a man of great ambition, but I do not think that he could have ­imagined that six decades later his grandson would be in contention to become first minister of this great country.

I truly believe that as a nation, we should take great pride in the fact that an individual’s race is not a ­barrier to them being in the running for the top job in Government here in Scotland.

Scottish society has been on a journey in recent years to becoming the more inclusive, more equal and more progressive country that we are today.

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A country where every young person has the ­opportunity to go to university, free of charge. Where more young people from areas of higher deprivation are going to university.

A country that looks after families in need with the game-changing Scottish Child Payment, the Best Start Grant and the expansion of free early years education.

And a country where equal rights for all are ­protected, advanced and celebrated.

As your first minister, I want to lead Scotland through the next steps in our journey and build on the progress we’ve made together and ultimately ­deliver independence for Scotland.

Looking at the foundations of inspiration leadership

In 2007, Scotland elected its first Scots-Asian MSP, Bashir Ahmad, who I had the honour of knowing and working for following his election. To this day, I haven’t come across a more gentle soul than Bashir – a man who loved Scotland with every fibre of his being.

Addressing SNP friends in 1995, Bashir said with great wisdom: “It isn’t important where you come from, what matters is where we are going together as a nation”. At this juncture in the history of our independence movement, those words ring as true now as they did all those years ago.

The National:

As a movement, we must look forward and build on the foundations that have been left to us by the ­inspirational leadership of both Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney as they step back from government.

Our destination is an outward-looking ­independent Scotland, at home within the European family of nations.

But all three candidates in the race to become the next SNP leader, and first minister have outlined differing routes on how we get there.

What I'm offering

What I offer is a progressive vision for what ­Scotland can become today and what we aspire to be tomorrow with the full powers of independence at our disposal.

Times are tough right now. Westminster has ­imposed a damaging Tory Brexit that we ­overwhelmingly did not vote for. That same UK ­Government is the ­architect of a cost of living ­crisis that’s inflicting huge damage to ordinary ­families and businesses across Scotland. And of course, we are still ­recovering from the pandemic and feeling the ­effects of the war in Ukraine.

Those against self-determination try to ­present ­independence as somehow separate from our ­everyday lives and experiences in Scotland.

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Instead, they pitch independence as merely a ­constitutional side issue unrelated to the services and institutions we care most about, like our NHS and our schools. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Independence is the golden thread that runs through everything we do and everything we hold dear if Scotland is to realise its full potential.

One only has to look at the success of other European nations of similar size to us, who have been able to chart their own course, with full responsibility for their public services, their economy and their social wellbeing to see what Scotland is being held back from achieving.

The limits of devolution

Devolution allows us to only go so far, and no further.

It allows us, to some extent, to mitigate against the impact of some of the cruellest Westminster decisions but that comes at the expense of investing in public services here in Scotland.

Right now, there is a constitutional ­ceiling and significant fiscal constraint on our ability to deliver in full for the people of Scotland.

We need to ensure that ­independence is not simply viewed as the transfer of ­powers from one parliament to ­another, but seen for the transformational ­potential that it offers our country and everyone who lives here.

Importantly, we need to demonstrate that it’s not about changing flags, but about changing the lives of the people of Scotland for the better.

The National: The Union flag, Saltire and EU flag fly outside the Scottish Parliament

Independence gives us the means to transform our country and unleash the opportunity to take forward bold and ambitious changes, without being held back by Westminster rules and cuts to our budget.

With independence, we can build a country founded on care and ­compassion, where we do the right thing by one ­another and every person is valued, ­supported and has what they need to live a good and happy life.

That’s what living in a progressive ­society means to me.

The progressive case for independence

In Government, the SNP’s policies have focused on building that progressive Scotland with the powers we have, demonstrating in turn how much more we could do with independence.

We have removed ­barriers to accessing healthcare, with free ­prescriptions and free eye tests, and by extending free NHS dental care.

The work of the SNP government in the areas of preventative healthcare has been recognised and praised well beyond Scotland.

We have taken forward bold ­public health initiatives with policies like ­minimum alcohol pricing, which were not without controversy – but as we’ve seen in this last week, they save lives. ­Under post-Brexit rules, the UK ­Government would likely block minimum pricing if it came forward today.

Today the Scottish Government is ­supporting more young ­people, ­particularly from areas of high ­deprivation to access education, with policies like ­expanded Educational ­Maintenance Allowance scheme and free university tuition.

The SNP have built a social security ­system based on dignity, fairness and compassion and we’ve put in place a ­progressive income tax system, where those who earn the most pay the most.

We have built more council ­housing and affordable homes so that more ­people can access their right to a home.

The SNP have supported small ­businesses through the Small Business Bonus, and we are supporting a just ­transition from fossil fuels to a green jobs revolution, which has workers, ­businesses and communities at its heart.

Your Scottish Government has extended free bus travel for more than one ­million people in Scotland, making it ­easier for people to access education, training and work crucial to our ­wellbeing.

We’ve kept Scottish Water in public hands and brought ScotRail back into public ownership.

Think what more we could do with the full powers and resources of a normal country.

I want every child in Scotland to be afforded the same opportunities and ­upbringing that my two girls have had.

The cornerstone of the SNP ­government’s progressive policy agenda has been ensuring that every child in Scotland gets the best start in life.

From the baby box, improving ­maternity and neonatal care, expansion of the health visiting service, ­introduction of Family Nurse Partnerships, to crucial financial support through the Scottish Child Payment and Best Start Grants, we have invested heavily in supporting ­children in Scotland.

This work to support our ­youngest ­citizens and their families doesn’t just help them now, it lays stronger ­foundations for their future, results that we may not see for a few more years but that should see a new generation of young people grow up in happier, healthier ­environments because their parents have proper support.

We need to build on what's there

We need to build on the successes and forward-facing policies of the SNP ­government rooted in our desire to ­eradicate inequality.

Through this work, we have gained the trust of the people of Scotland at election, after election, after election.

Deviating from our progressive path now will not just be detrimental to our party and movement, it will be ­detrimental to our progress toward a more equal society.

So my commitment to you, as your first minister, is simple.

I will take forward a progressive policy ­agenda that puts people first. I will make the case for ­independence with a bold vision of the socially just Scotland we can build together.

As first minister, some of the first ­actions you will see from me are to ­accelerate the expansion of free childcare to all one- and two-year-olds. This will ­support children and their families but it is also an investment in our economy and our public services too – helping ­families, and women in particular, to get back into work.

My plan to turn empty properties into housing for key workers and those in need of affordable housing in rural areas will help more people to find a home and to stay in their community and in turn support those rural economies struggling against depopulation and a shortage of public sector workers.

I will back our small businesses to thrive and to grow with dedicated ­support in government and support ­innovators with investment in ­building a new ­generation of businesses here in Scotland, ­supporting start-ups to take the incredible talent, ­research and ­ideas ­coming from our ­universities and by working together, create new ­opportunities, new products, new jobs and new revenues for our public services.

The vision I’ve set out for our ­renewables sector is one that will deliver energy security, new jobs and ensure that profits for renewables are reinvested for the people of Scotland.

We will cement Aberdeen as the net zero capital of the world and we will ensure that as we deliver on our ­national commitment to be a net-zero nation by 2045, we seize the opportunity to ­secure thousands of good green jobs as well as tackle the inequalities built into our ­society.

Together, we can build a ­wellbeing ­economy that combines economic ­dynamism and social solidarity; where prosperity and fairness go hand in hand.

That’s the basis of my Wellbeing ­Economy approach and while I will do all I can to build that economy ­under ­devolution, it is with independence that we can truly reset the relationship ­between Government and the people it is designed to serve.

A new social contract for a new ­independent country.

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A country where we do not just reduce poverty, only to see the other government in Westminster push it back up again, but have the tools to eradicate it completely.

If Scotland had the power to ­eradicate poverty, it would be the single most ­important thing we could do for the health, wellbeing and economic ­prosperity of our citizens and our ­country as a whole.

The impact on quality of life would be transformative, and the pressure it would lift from our hardworking health and ­social care services would be immense.

With independence, we would have the ability to invest in the infrastructure that would modernise our housing, end fuel poverty and revolutionise our ­transport networks.

And with independence we would be back amongst our friends and allies in the European Union, benefitting again from the world’s largest single market and working together on our shared interests around the world.

That is why independence isn’t just an obscure constitutional side issue – it’s the only way we can truly deliver the kind of country we want.

There is no shortcut to independence.

We achieve our independence through hard graft and determination – taking our progressive vision for the future of our nation town by town, community by community, street by street, doorstep by doorstep.

I’ll be there alongside our activists ­every step of the way as we build our ­support for independence to sustained majority levels.

When independence becomes the ­settled will of the people of Scotland, which it will, then the political obstacles set in front of us by Westminster will be washed away by a wave of democratic will.

The UK Government may try to ignore a First Minister of Scotland but they ­cannot ignore the people of Scotland.

To use the words of the late, great ­Bashir Ahmad, that is where we are going together as a nation.

Trust me as your first minister, to lead Scotland on that journey, and together we will build the forward facing Scotland with the powers of independence.