with Alex Salmond, First Minister and MSP for Aberdeenshire East

Foodbanks and soup kitchens across the country provide an invaluable lifeline to hundreds of people right across Scotland.

Those who volunteer their time or donate items to help those most in need in our communities play an ever more vital role as the number of people in Scotland relying on foodbanks is, sadly, on the rise.

On Monday, March 24 I will join volunteers at the official opening of the Aberdeenshire North Foodbank at Harlaw Centre in Inverurie.

By most measures, Inverurie is a successful and economically buoyant market town with a growing population and a confident business community. Indeed, there is no doubt that Scotland, as a whole, is a prosperous country. The fact that ordinary people are having to rely on foodbanks to feed their families is an utter disgrace, indeed figures show that the number of people using foodbanks has increased fourfold from last year.

Delays in the payment of benefits and Westminster’s changes to the welfare system are the reason behind 50 per cent of foodbank referrals, according to recently published research commissioned by the Scottish Government.

The UK is already one of the most unequal societies in the developed world and the Tory-led coalition government’s cuts unfairly impact upon the most vulnerable in our communities.

The fact that over 56,000 people in Scotland have had to ask for help to put food on the table in the last year is a scandal, which requires urgent attention.

The Scottish Government has provided an additional £9.2 million to the Scottish Welfare Fund, allowing local authorities the capacity to award an extra 5,600 community care grants and over 100,000 crisis grants this year to those who need it the most.

However, it shouldn’t be the case that our Government in Scotland should have to reallocate limited resources to mop up the mess created by damaging Westminster policy.

Scotland is a wealthy country and can more than afford to be independent – taking full control of the money raised and spent in this country. In each of the last 33 years we have paid more in tax per head than the rest of the UK and over the last five years, Scottish people would each be £1600 better off. This is money which could have been more wisely invested in bolstering the economy, in public services and reducing inequality and the causes of poverty.

In the week of George Osborne’s Budget it is worth reflecting, by contrast, that Westminster has instead cut capital spending in Scotland by almost 27 per cent, and our overall discretionary spending power by 11 per cent over the five years to 2015-16.

We are not even hallway through the planned cuts by the Tories and their Lib Dem partners in government, with a further £12 billion of proposed welfare cuts after the next election. Sticking with Westminster also poses a real threat to the Barnett formula, which could see a £4 billion of further cuts to Scotland’s public services. This is not, by any stretch, a financial prospectus which will end or even reduce inequality. It will only increase the gap further, placing vulnerable families at even greater risk.

If Scotland were to become independent, we would have full control over the welfare system but also over the means to pay for it. Only then would we have the powers needed to address inequality head on.

It is just under six months until the people of Scotland vote to determine whether budget decisions should continue to be made by governments we didn’t elect or whether these important decisions, which impact upon all of our communities, should be made here in Scotland.

A vote for independence can be a vote to end Westminster austerity, to tackle economic challenges, to end inequality and the growing reliance on foodbanks, and to build a fairer more prosperous country.

Sunday’s League Cup Final brought to an end an agonising wait for the Dons.

This was a hard fought, but ultimately well-deserved victory for Aberdeen and fantastic news for the North East of Scotland. It is great for Scottish football to see Aberdeen’s re-emergence as a major force after 20 years and my congratulations to the management, the players and all the fans. The mass exodus from the Granite City last weekend and the conversion of Glasgow’s east end stadium to “Park-red” by 40,000 travelling support is testament to the excitement surrounding this historic cup final. It has been a major achievement for Inverness to reach the League Cup Final and a great tournament run for them. It’s always tough to lose on penalties, but I’m sure they will have better luck in future years.