Scottish election 2021: Conservatives unveil plans to protect natural environment

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Douglas Ross said the fishing sector could grow while still protecting the marine environment

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has set out his party's plans to protect Scotland's natural environment.

Mr Ross unveiled his proposed Nature Bill while campaigning in Edinburgh ahead of next month's Holyrood election.

He said the plan would reduce the threat of species extinction, expand green spaces in towns and cities and protect marine life.

The bill would also create a third national park in Dumfries and Galloway.

Mr Ross said: "Scotland's natural environment is beautiful, diverse and precious yet it has suffered from 14 years of SNP neglect.

"We would increase new tree planting to 18,000 hectares annually by 2024 and have a national strategy to remove invasive non-native species which damage our environment.

"Marine life would be protected with a likely expansion of Marine Protected Areas.

"We can grow our fishing sector and support coastal communities while better protecting our marine environment. The two are not mutually exclusive."

SCOTLAND'S ELECTION: THE BASICS

What elections are happening? On 6 May, people across Scotland will vote to elect 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). The party that wins the most seats will form the Scottish government. Find out more here.

What powers does the Scottish Parliament have? MSPs pass laws on most aspects of day-to-day life in Scotland, such as health, education and transport. They also have control over some taxes and welfare benefits. Defence, foreign policy and immigration are decided by the UK Parliament.

How do I vote? Anyone who lives in Scotland and is registered to vote is eligible, so long as they are aged 16 or over on the day of the election. You can register to vote online.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie warned of "a mountain of delays" for mental health treatment and called for action on mental health to be the first priority of the pandemic recovery.

Mr Rennie said official figures showed 1,892 children and 5,452 adults were waiting more than a year for mental health treatment.

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Willie Rennie, who visited a hair salon on the first day of restrictions being eased, said mental health would be the Lib Dems' top priority

He said: "For too long, vulnerable people have been subjected to harrowing long waits for mental health treatment. It is impossible to imagine just how hard it must be. Despite the warnings, the pandemic has left a mountain of delays.

"As Scotland begins to reopen, we desperately need to put the recovery first and invest in mental health services.

"Our NHS staff do an incredible job. People deserve a government that gets behind them and puts mental health at the top of the agenda."

Reducing road traffic

The Scottish Greens said the party's Rail For All plan to upgrade and decarbonise Scotland's railways would create nearly 17,000 jobs.

Co-leader Patrick Harvie said the plans were "ambitious and transformative, but the climate emergency demands no less".

They include improving inter-city services and upgrading regional links, while opening new stations across the country.

More freight would also be shifted on to rail to reduce road traffic, Mr Harvie said.

He added: "Successive governments have favoured roads over railways, but the Scottish Greens recognise the urgent need to reverse that, which is why we are asking people to vote like our future depends on it in May."

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Nicola Sturgeon hailed the SNP government's response throughout the pandemic

Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish government's response throughout the pandemic may have helped boost support for independence.

The first minister said the first act of a re-elected SNP government would be "to continue to take the country as safely as we can through Covid".

She added: "If I could change things so we had never had Covid and that meant support for independence wasn't quite as high as it was, I would trade any day.

"But people have, at a time of crisis, looked to their own government here in Scotland to lead.

"They won't have agreed with every decision we have taken at times, but at a time of crisis I think what we have seen is that natural inclination of people to look to their own democratically-elected government."

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Anas Sarwar announced plans to create 5,000 new apprenticeships while visiting a hair salon in Glasgow

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said his party would put new work opportunities for young Scots at the heart of its jobs recovery plan.

Mr Sarwar said an extra 5,000 apprenticeships would be created - with all recruits picking up a higher wage than the £4.30 an hour that many currently receive.

He said: "Scotland's young people are worried about their futures as a result of the pandemic and the economic downturn that will take years to recover from.

"The partial re-opening of the economy today is a step in the right direction, but we need to take urgent action to kickstart our economy.

"By creating 5,000 properly-paid apprenticeship places, we can deliver a brighter future for thousands of young Scots if we keep the focus on recovery and don't return to the old political arguments."