Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has pledged to put plans for the coronavirus recovery “front and centre” in the election campaign.
He said it must be the key issue for debate over the next six weeks, as Scots prepare to go to the polls amid the ongoing pandemic.
Mr Sarwar condemned his SNP and Tory rivals, insisting neither party would be able to build the recovery.
He claimed Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP has independence as its “one priority” while the Conservatives want to return to the “failed system” in place before the Covid-19 crisis.
Speaking on the first day of campaigning ahead of May 6 election, Mr Sarwar pledged: “I will be a leader that focuses on what unites us as a country, not what divides us.
“We can’t come through Covid and go back to the old arguments. Instead I will be focusing on delivering a national recovery plan, and I want to unite Scotland around a national recovery plan that is going to build a fairer and stronger Scotland.”
As part of that, he said his party has submitted plans to the Electoral Commission that could see the slogan “Anas Sarwar – Labour’s National Recovery Plan” appear on the ballot papers.
While the SNP and the Tories have put their leaders’ names on ballot papers before, it would be the first time Labour has done so.
Mr Sarwar said he wants to “express confidence” and “put my name on the ballot paper”.
He added he wants to “give people a choice, a direct choice between going back to the old arguments or a new kind of politics, a different kind of leader and a different focus for our Parliament as we come through and recover from Covid”.
Labour will unveil a recovery plan for the NHS in the coming days, ahead of its official manifesto launch.
And Mr Sarwar argued: “Whilst the Tories and the SNP can talk about recovery they are both compromised.
“The Tories are compromised because they can’t deliver a recovery that works for everyone, because they would have us go back to the failed system we had pre-Covid.
“We had inbuilt inequalities in our society pre-Covid, those inequalities have been exacerbated by Covid, and they want to take us back to that.
“And they have no ideas in this campaign, all they have in this campaign is an angry response on one side of the constitutional debate, going back to the old arguments rather than genuine ideas for our country.
“But on the other hand you have the SNP who will try to talk about recovery, it is not credible to say we are going to come through Covid and go straight into a referendum campaign which is going to pull our country further apart again.
“They can’t focus on a recovery that unites our country, they are blinded by their one priority.”
The Labour leader, who is running in the Glasgow Southside constituency against First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, insisted: “My position is very clear, I don’t support independence and I don’t support a referendum.
“What I do support is us changing the way we do our politics.
“I say directly to Nicola Sturgeon and I say directly to Douglas Ross, the idea that people right now sitting at home worried about the date of a referendum or an independence referendum campaign is just not true.
“In the real world people are worried about keeping their families safe, they are worried about when they are going to get a vaccine, they are worried about if and when they are going to have a job to go back to, they are worried about their child’s education and mental health, they are worried about all the cancelled operations and the failure to get a cancer diagnosis, they are worried about the planet we are going to leave our children and our grandchildren.
“I want us to focus on those issues, so we can build a recovery that works for everyone, in every part of Scotland, not going back to those old arguments and those old fights.”