SPENDING cuts and austerity must come to an end, John Swinney has said as the SNP bids to retain a foothold in Scotland.

The first minister made a surprise visit to Clackmannanshire as he appeared at Sauchie’s Gig in the Garden on Saturday.

Mr Swinney came along to the gathering, featuring choir music and visiting alpacas, to speak with Wee County voters ahead of the July election.

Residents gave their views on issues affecting them on a local level and about what they wanted from the SNP.

Speaking to the Advertiser after his meeting, the first minister vowed to tackle spending cuts which has seen much close in Clackmannanshire in recent years.

Mr Swinney said: “People are generally concerned in this community and across the country about the cost of living crisis and that’s what is on people’s minds.

“Inflation has had a real effect on people’s incomes, the decisions and mistakes made by the Tory government in London prolonged that.

“There’s real challenges in the public finance and what people are concerned about is they want to see investment in public services but they’re concerned that the Labour party has signed up to the same spending as the Tories and that that is going to prolong the austerity and the spending cuts that we all have to face.

“People are looking for strong voices to protect them and that is what the SNP offers.”

In recent years, spending cuts across Clackmannanshire have been a concern, with the annual budget threatening to slash more and more.

This year alone, local halls and libraries faced having their support and financing cut as part of the council’s budget.

These decisions sparked fury from residents, who feel that options within Clacks are being restricted more and more each year.

Mr Swinney continued: “Essentially, the era of spending cuts has got to come to an end.

“We’ve had 14 years of spending cuts in the public sector in London and that has had a disastrous on our public services.

“We need to get rid of the Tory government in London but what worries me is that the Labour party that is very likely to replace them is committed to the spending cuts as the Tories.

“They’ve got to make £18billion of cuts according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies – that will be disastrous for our public finances, we need to be investing, not cutting.

“What I want to do during this election campaign is put on the pressure so that we have an increase in public expenditure so we can invest in our health service, invest in our schools and invest in our local authorities.”

Joining the first minister at Gig in the Garden was John Nicolson, MP for the former Ochil and South Perthshire ward.

Mr Nicolson is now leading the charge as SNP candidate for the new Alloa and Grangemouth ward.

Acting as a direct liaison between the party and Clacks voters, his campaign was fully endorsed by Mr Swinney who urged voters to get behind Mr Nicolson during the election.

Mr Swinney added: “We do that by making sure our local campaigns are focusing on the issues – about the cost of living, and the damage that has been done to our economy by Brexit.

“Local candidates like John Nicolson, who have worked so hard in this community, put that message across and have argued for that in the House of Commons. That’s resonating with people in the communities of Scotland.

“I want to make sure we fight a vibrant and energetic campaign in the community, I know that John is leading that campaign and I want to get that message across to voters across the Alloa and Grangemouth constituency.

“My message to voters would be to participate in this election. If they’re going to be away, get a postal vote.

“I would urge them to make their voices heard by voting for the SNP candidate John Nicolson.”

Lastly, Mr Swinney addressed independence and discussed if it is still as relevant now as it was during the referendum 10 years ago.

While he did not state if it was still a party priority, Mr Swinney doubled down on the SNP belief that independence could be the answer to the problems local residents face, problems he insists were “made in Westminster”.

He said: “Independence is relevant to all of the issues that people are concerned about. If you take the big concerns people have – austerity, spending cuts and Brexit and the cost-of-living crisis.

“All of these issues were made in Westminster. The way around that is that in Scotland, we have the power through independence to take better decisions.

“When we look at decisions made in Scotland, such as the free care for the elderly, or the free tuition fees at university, all of these things are good decisions made in Scotland for the people in Scotland.

“And I think people should take confidence in that in Scotland, we can exercise our independence to make better decisions for Scotland.”

Wee County voters go to the polls on July 4. For information on registering to vote, to apply for a postal vote, and other information, visit https://www.clacks.gov.uk/council/noticeofelectionukpge2024/