Building a recovery from Covid must be the next Scottish Parliament’s “collective national mission”, Anas Sarwar said as he launched Labour’s manifesto for the Holyrood election.
He said the policy document is not just a party manifesto, but a “recovery plan for our country”.
Mr Sarwar, who has been Scottish Labour leader for less than two months, said he is “calling time on the old politics” and its focus on the constitution and independence.
Instead, he said he proposes a “route map back to stronger and better times for our country”.
Labour has set out “five distinct recovery plans” covering jobs, the NHS, education, the climate, and communities.
To help children who have seen their education disrupted by school closures during the pandemic, Labour wants a personalised plan to be drawn up for every youngster, based on both an education and mental health assessment.
For younger children, the party proposes to offer 50 hours a week free early years education.
The party also plans to abolish council tax and replace it with a “fairer alternative based on property values and ability to pay”.
Mr Sarwar has ruled out raising income tax for Scots earning less than £100,000 a year.
His party believes its proposals can be paid for with cash coming to Scotland to help deal with the pandemic – which should be £4.2 billion next year – and the borrowing powers the Scottish Government already has.
Speaking as he launched the manifesto, Mr Sarwar stressed the focus for Scotland must be on rebuilding in the wake of the virus – not on arguments over independence.
He said: “This isn’t an ordinary type of election, it is a pandemic election and too many of the other politicians and too many of the other political parties want to take us back to the old arguments.
“I don’t want us to come through that collective trauma of Covid and go back to those old arguments.
“Imagine what we could achieve if we focused on what unites us a country, not what divides us.
“Imagine what we could achieve if we put aside those things we disagree on and focused on the things we agree on.
“Imagine if we obsessed about education in the next Parliament, imagine if we obsessed about the NHS in the next Parliament, imagine if we obsessed about jobs and economy in the next Parliament, imagine if we obsessed about eradicating child poverty, imagine if we obsessed about challenging the climate emergency. Just imagine the kind of Scotland we could build together.
“I want to work with you, my fellow Scots, so we can come through this crisis and build a stronger, fairer, more equal, more just, greener Scotland together.
“That’s why this recovery plan’s focus is on a jobs recovery, an NHS recovery, an education recovery, a communities recovery and a climate recovery.
“This isn’t a manifesto, this is a route map back to stronger and better times for our country.”
He urged voters to support Labour in both the constituency and regional list sections of the ballot, saying the list vote will be crucial in determining the priorities of the next Parliament.
Rather than having “politicians both from the SNP and the Tories who want to play up the division in our country for their own interest, not in the national interest”, Mr Sarwar insisted the recovery from the pandemic “must be our collective national mission”.
He continued: “Covid has changed the world, Covid has changed Scotland, and the idea that we shouldn’t have to change our politics too or change the way we behave with each other is simply not acceptable.
“I want to change our politics. I didn’t come into this to have more of the same.
“I’m not standing in this election campaign because I want to fight with other politicians, I’m standing in this campaign because I want to change the country I love.”