LAST week, I took on important new government responsibilities.
My top priority in my new job as Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities will be to do everything I possibly can to boost the economy and support job creation.
With so many people, especially women, finding it difficult to get work and so many families – even those with adults in work – struggling to make ends meet, there can be no greater imperative.
As Deputy First Minister, I will also be leading the preparations for the independence referendum in 2014. For me, the two things are inextricably linked.
While the Scottish Government does everything it can to boost the economy, our powers and resources are limited. The big decisions are still taken in Westminster and that means by a Tory Chancellor who seems to care little about the human impact of unemployment.
If Scotland was independent, things would still be economically difficult but we could take different and better decisions about how to get the economy growing again.
I am looking forward immensely to my new responsibilities but I have to admit that my excitement about the challenges ahead is tinged by more than a little sadness at moving on from my job as Health Secretary.
Having responsibility for the NHS over the past five years has been the biggest privilege of my life so far. The NHS is not perfect but it is fantastic and we are incredibly lucky to have it. The moves in England to break it up and privatise it are, in my opinion, utter folly.
As long as the SNP is in charge – and I know my successor, Alex Neil, is as committed to this as I am – the NHS will remain a service that is publicly funded and publicly delivered.
Of course, the NHS depends on the dedicated men and women who work in it, delivering care day in and day out. I want to pay tribute to each and every one of them.
I am proud of what has been achieved in the NHS over the five years that I have been Health Secretary. We have the lowest waiting times on record, hospital infection rates have fallen dramatically, patient care is safer than ever and more people are treated in the community or as day cases.
New hospitals and health centres have been built all over Scotland and, here in Glasgow, the new Southern General will be a real jewel in the NHS crown.
All of this has been delivered against the backdrop of tightening budgets and economic hardship which, I know, impacts on NHS staff just as it does on everyone else.
None of what has been achieved over the last few years would have been possible without the dedication and hard work of doctors, nurses, ancillary staff, allied health professionals, ambulance workers, managers, members of health boards and everyone else who makes up our wonderful NHS.
So, to each and every one of them, let me say a simple and heartfelt 'thank you'.
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