WESTMINSTER has certainly been gripped by fever in recent days.

While wildfires rage around the Mediterranean in the midst of yet more record-breaking temperatures, both the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition fall over themselves to roll back on what they see as difficult policies to tackle climate change.

Scarcely has there ever been a more blatant example of political leaders putting perceived, narrow, short-term party advantage ahead of the national – and indeed global – interest.

It is absolutely not a road that I or the SNP intend to go down.

And alongside the climate emergency, Scotland’s future generations face another serious challenge – our population demographics.

READ MORE: Inside Scotland's cost-of-dying crisis

The fact that Scotland faces demographic challenges is not new. While Westminster politics is consumed by a toxic, and often irrational, debate about immigration, the problem in Scotland – particularly in rural Scotland – has been one of depopulation.

We’re already having difficulty filling vacancies in a whole host of sectors – public and private sector – and unless we do everything we can to boost our working-age population, our economy will suffer and our public services will come under increasing pressure.

You only have to look at the toxic, reactionary and sometimes downright nasty debate about immigration and citizenship in Westminster to realise that UK parties are not interested in offering solutions to Scotland.

Last week, the Scottish Government unveiled plans to take a fairer, more inclusive approach to citizenship as an independent nation.

The National: A person reads a policy paper on citizenship in an independent Scotland at its launch by First Minister Humza Yousaf, at the National Records Of Scotland in Edinburgh. Picture date: Thursday July 27, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Independence.

A fresh and open approach to citizenship is not only the right thing to do morally, it is also the right thing to do by our economy. It will help a modern Scotland tackle its urgent demographic challenges by welcoming more people who want to settle in our communities and contribute to our economy, culture and public services like our NHS.

On Thursday, I led a roundtable discussion with charities involved in helping people in Scotland obtain British citizenship, together with members of the public – some of whom had had first-hand experience of the application process.

Frankly, some of these stories were very difficult to listen to. It was a stark reminder that the hostile environment policy might have been a politically convenient slogan, but it has had devastating consequences for individuals and families – while helping to contribute to the economic mess the UK finds itself in.

Our proposals to create an independent Migrants’ Commissioner, who would be tasked with standing up for the rights of people who have moved to an independent Scotland, would demonstrate the government’s commitment to protect the equality of all citizens.

This was a crucial recommendation of the Windrush review – which Westminster has flatly rejected.

As a proud Pakistani Scot, I know from my own family’s experiences that questions about citizenship are often complex and rooted in people’s personal circumstances and personal choices about their future.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf slams Anas Sarwar ahead of Rutherglen trip

My own parents and grandparents came to this country in the 1960s. Like so many others from the sub-Continent, and across the world, they came to this country with barely a word of English but worked hard, set up businesses, employed people and paid their taxes.

Despite the right-wing rhetoric about immigrants, which has sadly been adopted by many in UK Labour, we know that virtually every study has shown the migrants who come to the UK contribute far more than they take.

Think how we could turbo-charge our economy if we had the full powers over citizenship and migration in our own hands, and could tailor that system to boost our economy, fill job vacancies and attract the brightest minds from across the world to live and work here.

The conversation about independence is not some abstract debate. Independence is about giving Scotland the powers to build a better and fairer country.

It’s about equipping us with the tools to tackle the key challenges we face – both in the short term, like the cost of living crisis, and in the long term. Fundamentally, it’s about us deciding what kind of country we want to be.

Over the coming months, the Scottish Government will continue to set out a prospectus for the kind of country Scotland could be by becoming independent.

Frankly, it feels like we are the only political voice trying to map out a better future for Scotland.

The fact that Labour, the Tories and the LibDems are desperately trying to shut down the debate on independence demonstrates the lack of any positive vision for Scotland’s future under Westminster control – it speaks volumes about the weakness of their position.

They know the evidence shows that neighbouring countries comparable to Scotland are wealthier, fairer and happier than the UK. By becoming independent, there is no reason why we cannot match their success – and in doing so, have more money to tackle the cost of living and more funding for public services like our NHS.