At the start of last week, I convened a summit in Edinburgh - bringing together local and national politicians, staff from the NHS, Police Scotland, charities and campaigners - to discuss the options for establishing buffer zones around health clinics, so that women can access healthcare without fear of harassment or intimidation.

The summit was in response to anti-abortion ‘protests’ at places like the Sandyford Clinic and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

While the right to protest is, of course, a fundamental part of any democracy, those wishing to do so against abortion should bring their views to parliament where the laws are made, rather than subject women accessing healthcare to stress and anxiety.

Last week’s summit came at a time of rising concern in Scotland at these protests. It also took place in the wake of a deeply worrying erosion of women’s rights in the United States.

The US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the landmark Roe v Wade ruling, thereby ending the established right to abortion, will have a catastrophic impact on women in the USA.

Experience tells us that countries which seek to ban abortion only ever succeed in banning safe abortion - we should be in no doubt that women’s lives will be harmed and lost as a result of this change.

While this is first and foremost an issue for the USA, those who value women’s rights across the world should also be concerned. There is little doubt that what is happening in the USA will embolden anti-abortion forces in other countries.

A woman’s right to choose - in other words, to decide what happens to her own body - is a fundamental human right and it needs to be protected.

The discussions at the summit reinforced my strong support for national legislation to protect women’s access to these clinics without fear of harassment and I look forward to progressing these plans as quickly as possible.

In other news last week - and following the publication by the Scottish Government of the first in the ‘Building a New Scotland’ series of papers - the national conversation on independence moved forward another step.

In May last year, the people of Scotland said yes to an independence referendum by electing a clear majority of MSPs committed to that outcome.

Our world has changed immeasurably since the last referendum almost a decade ago in 2014.

Despite having just six MPs in Scotland, the Conservatives have ripped us out of the European Union and single market against our will, created the worst cost-of-living crisis in the G7 and saddled us with the second-lowest growth in the G20.

Boris Johnson’s Tories are showing every day that they are intent on stoking industrial strife, demonising workers and provoking a trade war. We are seeing children and families pushed into poverty at a stroke of the chancellor’s pen. Businesses and public services are struggling for staff because freedom of movement has been ended as a result of Brexit.

It is clearer than ever that Scotland is being taken in the wrong direction by this Tory Government at Westminster. Indeed, not being independent has held Scotland back for years.

However, the Scottish Parliament still lacks the full range of levers to shape our economy and grow our country’s wealth. We are powerless to stop our budget being cut. We cannot block the Tories’ new anti-trade-union laws, or prevent them from tearing up human rights protection.

And, although we are investing £3bn a year to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, Tory decisions are making life harder for so many.

It is a basic principle of democracy that when circumstances change, especially in a way that is deeply damaging to Scotland, the people who live here should have the right to choose an alternative.

An independent Scotland would clearly face challenges, like every country does at times, but in my view there is no doubt that with the talent and resources Scotland has - coupled with the full powers of independence - we would be better able to navigate those challenges and play our full part on the world stage.

Now is the time to debate and decide the future of our country. Now is the time to get Scotland on the right path, chosen by those who live here.

And that means it is vital that people living here in Scotland have a lawful, democratic route to make a choice on independence.

That is the way to build our recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and secure the kind of country that we want to see.

As I have always said, Scotland can’t become an independent country without a majority of people voting for it.

I believe that a majority of people will vote yes in a referendum - and it’s up to those of us already convinced to persuade those still undecided on the merits of the case for independence. I am committed to doing that in an open and respectful debate.

One thing though is clear - the people of Scotland have the democratic right to decide our own future. We should do so with confidence.