HUMZA Yousaf has announced a freeze on council tax in Scotland next year to help people through the cost of living crisis. 

Giving his first leader's speech to SNP conference in Aberdeen, the First Minister said: "Nobody in Scotland caused this Westminster cost of living crisis – but almost everybody in Scotland is suffering because of it.

"I never thought that in 2023, people on above-average salaries would be coming to my constituency surgeries asking for financial help.

"Nurses, police officers, teachers – these workers are the backbone of Scotland’s public services.

"And people like them are being hit by this crisis too.

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"We know that people are filled with dread when the bills are going up and up.

"We can’t stop all the bills rising – but where we can act, we should".

The move to freeze council tax was one of a number of policies unveiled by the First Minister during the speech, adding up to around £1billion of spending over the next few years on areas ranging from the NHS to arts and culture.   

He also announced the “most ambitious proposal yet” in plans to issue Scotland’s first bond to fund infrastructure projects.

Yousaf also called on the UK Government to open a resettlement scheme for refugees from Gaza and says Scotland will be the "first country to offer" safety and sanctuary.

The SNP leader was introduced on stage by Deputy First Minister Shona Robison, who told delegates he had been getting on with his job while worrying about family members being in one of the most dangerous places on earth.

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She said: “I am very proud of Humza who has shown enormous strength and calm measured leadership at a time when my goodness, this is so badly needed.

“He has been a true statesman on his response to this terrible humanitarian disaster.”

Arriving on stage to cheers and applause, Yousaf responded by saying: “She almost made me greet”.

He began by talking about the situation in the Middle East, saying it was “truly heart breaking” and “too many men, women and children are suffering”.

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He called on the international community to commit to a worldwide refugee programme for the people of Gaza and for the UK Government to immediately create a refugee resettlement scheme to assist.

“And when they do so, Scotland is willing to be the first country in the UK to offer safety and sanctuary to those caught up in these terrible attacks,” he added.

Yousaf also urged the UK Government to support the medical evacuation of injured civilians in Gaza, adding: “Let me be clear, Scotland is ready to play her part and our hospitals will treat the injured men, women and children of Gaza where we can.”

Moving on to domestic policies, he made a series of announcements adding up to around £1billion of spending  plans over the next few years.

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This will include an extra £100million a year over the next three years to cut NHS waiting lists, £500m for a new offshore wind supply chain, an investment of £100m in arts and culture, a £500,000 fund to support women who are homeless due to domestic abuse and £400,000 for the campaign to fund the rejuvenation of Aberdeen’s Union Street.

He also attacked the Tories, saying they were “finished” and said he has no idea what Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer stands for.

Yousaf also outlined steps being taken to prepare for independence and said support for Yes can be built into a “sustained majority”.

He said this would happen by focussing on the “why” rather than the “how” of independence and when that happens, one of the world’s oldest nations will become its youngest independent state.  

Yousaf ended the speech with a call to delegates to: “Let’s get out there and make it happen”.

However the proposal to freeze council tax has met with a mixed response.

The Scottish Greens, who are in a power sharing agreement with the SNP, raised concerns about the effect the freeze could have on “already strained frontline public services” if it is not properly funded.

Finance spokesperson Ross Greer MSP said: “Our local councils and people who rely on services like social care, schools and early years centres must not lose out as a result of this announcement.

“Green MSPs will now work with our government colleagues in the SNP to work through the details, ensure that their decision is sustainably financed and that the most vulnerable people in our communities do not see the services they rely on being underfunded as a result.”

STUC General Secretary Roz Foyer said local authorities were increasingly strapped for cash and facing huge budget cuts.

She added: “Local services are crying out for investment and today’s announcement combined with a decade of inaction will only make the situation worse.”

But Alba welcomed the move, saying the SNP had listened to their campaign for a freeze on council tax.

Alba Westminster leader Neale Hanvey MP said: “Plans for further council tax rises should be scrapped for the remainder of this Parliament and the freeze must be fully funded so as to protect vital public services.”