HAPPY New Year, everyone.

2024 will be an election year. Building a stronger and fairer economy, and a better country, will be at the key to the campaign for the Scottish Government, one that offers a more hopeful and optimistic future.

Clearly the most important concern people have right now is the cost of living. We all want the same things in life. But there are other relevant considerations that I would argue there is broad consensus on in Scotland.

Firstly, the way Westminster runs the economy isn’t working for Scotland. And secondly, Brexit has damaged, and will continue to damage, the economy and those aspirations for better living standards and greater security.

There will be others sympathetic to independence but who are not yet persuaded or who don’t think this is the right time. It is my argument that independence is urgent. It is urgent precisely because the cost of living is top of people’s concerns. Because it is through independence, and in particular the powerful combination of independence and EU membership, that we can raise living standards.

And it is urgent because damaging economic trends are becoming hardwired into the UK and Scottish economies, regardless of which party is in charge at Westminster.

Analysis published in the Financial Times describes the UK as a “poor society with pockets of rich people”.

Look at the facts. Real wages have been stagnant. It’s now estimated that wages will not recover to their 2008 level until 2028.

Inequality in the UK surged in the 1980s and has remained high ever since. Indeed, the share of total income going to the top one per cent of people under the last Labour Government was consistently higher than even under Margaret Thatcher.

I believe it is our duty, as the Scottish Government, dedicated to working in the interests of the Scottish people, to set out an alternative path: one that leads to a renewed sense of possibility. It should then be for the people of Scotland to decide between those two futures.

I have optimism in a number of factors that I am working on with colleagues across business in East Lothian. Our extraordinary resource in renewable energy is a key economic strength.

The Scottish Government has asked those on the highest incomes to contribute a little more in tax to help fund universal benefits that help to build a more cohesive society, while allowing us to target resources and support for those that need it the most. It’s an approach typified by the fact that here in Scotland, people don’t pay prescription charges and university tuition fees have been abolished.

As we approach the General Election, this should be the central focus of the campaign: to demonstrate how we can build a new, stronger and more productive Scottish economy with the powers of independence, because that will mean higher living standards for the people of this country.