Humza Yousaf is to pledge an extra £300 million for the NHS in Scotland over the next three years – saying the cash could reduce waiting lists by 100,000 by 2026.
The Scottish First Minister and SNP leader will announce additional funding as he makes his keynote speech to his party’s annual conference on Tuesday afternoon.
It is his first conference since taking over from Nicola Sturgeon as party leader and first minister in March this year – but it comes at a time when his party is seeing support slip in the polls, while a police investigation into internal SNP finances is still ongoing.
Mr Yousaf will use his speech to the gathering in Aberdeen to insist that support for independence can be increased to a “sustained majority”.
After a debate about the party’s strategy for independence earlier in the conference, Mr Yousaf will stress the SNP must now “concentrate not on the how – but on the why” of independence.
As part of that he will seek to put the issue of the economy at the heart of the campaign, claiming independence would help with “raising living standards” and building a “stronger economy”.
With the most recent figures showing there were 820,352 Scots on an NHS waiting list at the end of June, Mr Yousaf – who was health secretary before becoming first minister – will use his speech to announce new cash to try to reduce the number who are waiting.
He will insist that post-Covid ministers are “working hard to reduce NHS waiting times” with a “significant reduction in the longest waits” having been seen since targets for this were announced last July.
But he will add: “I am announcing today that in each of the next three years we will invest an extra £100 million to cut waiting lists.
“This additional funding will enable us to maximise capacity, build greater resilience in the system and deliver year-on-year reductions in the number of patients who have waited too long for treatment.
“That will reduce waiting lists by an estimated 100,000 patients by 2026.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland on Tuesday, Wellbeing Economy Secretary Neil Gray hinted that the funding for the pledge has not yet been found within the Scottish Government budget.
“Obviously, we have to find it within a fixed budget,” he said.
“And there will be discussions across Government as to where that comes from.
“We don’t have the same luxury of an ordinary government to be able to borrow to invest in public services to the detriment of another budget.”
On the issue of independence, Mr Yousaf will say that already “around half” of Scots support the country leaving the UK.
“I have no doubt that we can turn that half into a sustained majority,” the SNP leader will add.
But he will tell supporters that will be achieved when the party focuses “not on the how – but on the why” of independence.
With the SNP having now agreed that winning a majority of Scottish seats in the next UK election should see the Scottish Government push for talks with Westminster on independence, Mr Yousaf will declare: “At the next election, page one, line one of our manifesto will say ‘Vote SNP for Scotland to become an independent country’.
“And that’s because independence is about building a better Scotland.
“It’s about raising living standards. It’s about protecting our NHS. Above all, it’s about a stronger economy. An economy that works for everyone who lives here.”
Mr Gray also rejected assertions that Ms Sturgeon did not overshadow her successor when she appeared at the conference on Monday.
Given rapturous applause both inside and outside the conference hall, the former first minister told a media scrum she fully backs the independence strategy voted on by members on Sunday.
Mr Gray said: “Nicola is a party member like any other delegate, like me, like my branch members, so she’s entitled to come along – I think it was very welcome that she came along.”
He went on to praise the former leader as “one of the foremost politicians in Europe for her generation”.
Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy MSP said: “Humza Yousaf has given up any pretence about focusing on the real priorities of the people of Scotland. His relentless pursuit of independence is all that matters to him.
“He has some brass neck in talking up his extra funding for Scotland’s NHS. It is the failures of his flimsy recovery plan – produced over two years ago – that means one in seven Scots are languishing on an NHS waiting list.
“Scotland simply cannot afford the SNP wasting more taxpayers’ time and money on their constitutional obsession, when they should be focused on people’s real priorities such as growing our economy and keeping our communities safe.”
Published: by Radio NewsHub