Ministers

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:55 pm on 28th November 2001.

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Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 12:55 pm, 28th November 2001

One of Mr McCabe's difficulties this year arose when he miscounted on an occasion when we debated the fishing industry. It will be a great comfort to Patricia Ferguson in future divisions in the Scottish Parliament that she will not have to deal with a Conservative whip who can count.

We all know that the First Minister went to the Court of Session on Tuesday and received the great seal of Scotland. We did not expect that he would wield the sword of state soon afterwards on the same day. We have seen a set of decisive actions from the First Minister. Let us examine those first decisive actions in office.

The key and absolute qualification for any First Minister of Scotland is that that individual must be able to command the trust of the Parliament and the public. One First Minister had to go because he lost that trust. The current First Minister must have the Parliament's trust. However, his actions in the past 10 days raise the question whether he commands our trust. In the past 10 days, he has said that he would have a Cabinet of all the talents. He dumped five of his six Labour colleagues. He said that there would be no night of the long knives. Believe me, last night was a night of the long knives. He said that he would put an end to factionalism. All that he has done is to create an inferno of factionalism in the Labour group in the Scottish Parliament.

It goes some distance for even a Labour First Minister to break three promises on his first day in office as a result of his appointments. That is a record for the Labour party. As my colleagues have said in the various amendments that the SNP has lodged, the appointments have been all about ensuring that the First Minister can command the support in Cabinet of his cronies and buddies. We used to have team McLeish. Now we have faction Jack at the heart of our Government. It is not a Government for Scotland. It is a Cabinet of cronies. That is why we have decided to challenge the Cabinet of cronies in the debate.

Let us take the First Minister's actions at face value. They amount to an admission that the Labour-led Administration that has governed the country since 1999 has unreservedly failed the people of Scotland and that five of his six Labour colleagues therefore had to be shown the door. His actions are an admission of failure on waiting times, on waiting lists, on crime and unemployment, which are up, on tourism, which is in crisis, and on our small business start-up rate, which has collapsed. That is the Labour record that the First Minister had to confront. We want to know what his Administration will do to improve—in some form—on that appalling record of failure. The debate, especially the First Minister's contribution to it, has shed no light on that.

This morning, the former Minister for Finance and Local Government, Mr MacKay, was on the radio. He said that he was optimistic that the First Minister, being a moderniser, would take forward the modernising agenda by driving forward public-private partnerships and the private finance initiative. He also said that he would take the opportunity to find ways of challenging the Administration's position on free personal care for the elderly. We need to hear from the Administration and from the First Minister what, when all the dust has settled on the personalities, will happen to the Government's policy position.

The Government has failed to deliver on the expectations of the public. It has failed to deliver the public services that we require. We need to see behind the froth of personalities and hear whether the Government will abandon its obsession with PPP, which puts money from our schools and hospitals into the pockets of private financiers, and start investing that money in our country's infrastructure. Will the Government dramatically transform the handling of the health service or will the miserable record of failure with which Malcolm Chisholm and Susan Deacon are associated continue? We need to hear whether the Government will take Scotland forward or be resigned to the record of failure that Labour has delivered.

In the debate last week, we argued that it is essential that we move out of the murky swamp of Labour Scotland and be given some of the fresh air of independence. After yesterday's exercise in cronyism, the sooner that that day comes, the better for Scotland.