LEADERSHIP elections by their very nature are blunt and bruising events. No party is immune to this and no individual exempt.

But as an SNP MP and a lifelong supporter of independence, I feel that so far in the campaign for our next first minister, there’s been too much of a focus on peripherals and unhelpful arguments that are already the settled will in Scotland rather than what must now be addressed urgently if we’re to get match-fit for the epic challenges ahead.

There are many issues burning energy just now that can be laid to one side and returned to when more urgent questions are answered, and this is key, effective solutions delivered.

We need to focus in on what is best for all Scots be it decent renewable energy sources at a fair price, future-proof homes, sustainable transport, good job and training opportunities, health and well-being. Clearing the playing field, accepting that certain issues are divisive and holding us to ransom unnecessarily will ensure a tighter and more successful focus.

The National:

We’ve seen at Westminster how a new leader brings new possibilities, with Stephen Flynn now running the SNP Westminster group with an “independence first” mantra.

I, for one, am excited and energised by change too at Holyrood while respecting the work of those that have gone before. In fact, I would have been delighted if Stephen could have taken on the role of deputy to the new first minister as an opportunity to tighten focus and ensure a more collegiate and collaborative liaison between the teams in both parliaments to maximise independence success.

Now, with all this new blood I believe we have an opportunity to refocus, reboot and renew our arguments for nation-building and independence, to create a “can-do” Scotland by widening our reach in terms of experts and citizen input and the wealth of ideas and talent that we’re lucky enough to possess in our small country.

We need to create a vision for our economy that is rooted, not in a very old-fashioned “left vs right” paradigm but in pragmatism, ambition, expertise and sustainability so that all Scots can thrive.

The National: Alex Salmond

And it needs to start on day one. Back in 2007, Alex Salmond (above), as first minister, set out his plans for the first 100 days in government.

Abolishing road tolls, ending tuition fees, developing a concordat with local government and halting hospital closures were among some of the successes of this minority government.

His successor, Nicola Sturgeon, followed suit and many of the pledges she made just two years ago for Scotland to be wealthier, happier and fairer are very much ready and necessary to be realised.

Setting out your stall like this gives clarity on vision and an opportunity to measure the success of this vision, good, bad or ugly.

In his time as FM, Salmond was also keen to build consensus with the recognition that no one party held a “monopoly on wisdom” which surprised his opponents as much as his fans, but which worked to create a more positive vision of Scotland, described by commentators at the time as “a revolution” and brimming with energy and hope.

This would help now too in terms of collegiate spirit and, to quote the Common Weal think tank, an “all of us first” approach.

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It’s exactly this sort of positive, pragmatic, yet revolutionary spirit that we need to evoke in order to rise to the challenges of climate change, Brexit, the war in Ukraine and a world still reeling from the Covid pandemic.

Setting out our detailed vision for an independent Scotland in the face of either blue or red intransigence at Westminster must come with a realisation that the Growth Commission is now well past its sell-by date, that land reform is far, far too long in the making and one that takes a deep breath and an even deeper dive into challenges on our land border to boost trade, initiating a new currency and creating a positive relationship with Europe.

So, a tall order for the new first minister in 2023. But they will have plenty of support from a party ready to be re-energised and refocused and a nation desperate to be part of this positive change.

It may sound a bit “motherhood and apple pie” but is it really beyond us as a nation to think about collaboration, co-operation, consultation with communities, reinvigorated local government, Citizens Assemblies, a constitutional convention, well-paid jobs, new opportunities, all Scots as stakeholders in our natural resources, new voices, cross-party consensus, transparency, openness, respect for those we agree and disagree with?

It’s quite a list but there is so much more we could be doing and so much talent and expertise and enthusiasm ready to get started if we’re confident enough to widen the net and raise up the tenor of debate.

We are all part of the independence generation – let’s refocus, reboot and renew and start nation-building as if we really mean it!