Salmond hopes NHS pledge will be vote winner

The SNP has launched its campaign for re-election with a pledge to protect spending on the NHS.

First Minister Alex Salmond said the issue is among key themes the SNP will campaign on in an attempt to catch Labour in the polls.

The main opposition party is ahead, according to recent surveys, and Mr Salmond said support for the Nationalists will have to increase from about 33% to 40% to secure victory in May.

The SNP leader said he will campaign on the Government's record, vision and ministerial team - starting with health.

At the launch in Edinburgh, he said: "We'll protect the health service for the duration of the next parliament.

"We've protected the health service in real-terms through the four years we've been in administration, and we're now extending that commitment to the next four years."

Mr Salmond, who was joined by Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon, said the pledge is "not matched" by other parties.

He continued: "There can be no better way to start a campaign than by making a pledge on the most important service of them all - that is the National Health Service, which protects the health of our citizens."

Mr Salmond said extra money Scotland gets as a result of UK Government spending in England will go towards the health budget.

The knock-on cash is generated through the formula used to allocate money to devolved administrations.

Mr Salmond acknowledged the gap in the polls between the SNP and Labour, saying: "We're at 33% in the latest poll. To win this election we have to get to 40%.

"My entire intention, and that of the SNP team, is to move our support from 33% to 40%."

Ms Sturgeon, who is also deputy leader of the SNP, said the campaign will be "full of positive ideas", marking the 100 days to the poll.

She added: "I believe this commitment puts us on the side of the public in Scotland.

"Poll after poll shows how important the NHS is to people - people do not want to see cuts to the NHS budget.

"We are on the side of people who care about and value the health service."

The comments came one day after Finance Secretary John Swinney said the health budget would be the only portfolio to increase in cash terms, according to budget assumptions up to 2015.

Earlier, Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon unveiled a campaign poster on the Royal Mile bearing the message: "A Scottish Government working for Scotland."

The poster contains a barcode-like image which allows some mobile phone users to navigate to a campaign website by taking a photograph.

Mr Salmond has also has sent letters and e-mails to members and supporters highlighting the party's achievements in Holyrood over the past four years.

Copyright © Angus MacDonald MSP 2017

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