Prime Minister (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:10 pm on 27th March 2003.

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Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 3:10 pm, 27th March 2003

To ask the First Minister when he will next meet the Prime Minister and what issues he intends to discuss. (S1F-2635)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

I have no immediate plans to meet the Prime Minister, but I plan to speak regularly with him over the coming weeks. In particular, I intend to draw to his attention remarks that Scotland's aid agencies made yesterday. They stressed to me the importance of the United Nations not only in the provision of humanitarian aid in Iraq during and after the conflict, but in the reconstruction of Iraqi society. I am sure that those agencies and others strongly support the Prime Minister's efforts today to convince the American Government to take the same route.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I associate myself and my party with the First Minister's remarks about the work of the humanitarian agencies and the primacy of the United Nations in drawing the matter to a conclusion and putting in place the necessary humanitarian assistance.

In a recent keynote speech, Scotland was described as a country that suffers from low growth and population decline, that has the unhealthiest people in Europe, where the environment is spoiled, where we are reluctant to take a risk and quick to blame, and where communities are blighted by violence on Saturday nights. When he made those remarks on Friday, was the First Minister talking Scotland down, or was that just an assessment of the failure of his Government and successive London Governments?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

It is a measure of my ambitions for Scotland that those are the issues that require to be addressed. I will be delighted to send Mr Swinney a copy of the whole speech, so that he can see the answers and solutions, as well as the challenges that Scotland faces.

The Parliament has several important functions. It is important that we pass the right legislation, and that we do that in the name of Scotland. It is important that we allocate our budgets and make decisions daily, weekly, monthly and annually in ways that befit the Scotland that we are trying to create. It is also important that we have wider ambitions and that we try to tackle the underlying problems over the years, such as maltreatment of our environment, the culture of violence on a Saturday night, the lack of entrepreneurial culture and a host of other matters. If challenges such as racism and sectarianism are taken on, Scotland will be made a better place. That is exactly what I intend to do as a continuing First Minister.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

If we have all those problems, that raises a question: who has been running the country for the past 40 or 50 years among the crowd on the other parties' benches?

The First Minister offered to send me a copy of his speech, but he will not be surprised to learn that he does not need to do that, because I have examined his speech closely. It contains a number of interesting ideas. The big idea was a promise to take action against

"dealers who sell drugs to ... children at the school gate".

That idea is admirable, but six years ago in "Labour's covenant with Scotland", the people were made an identical promise by Labour:

"We will ... introduce ... 'drugs cordons' round Scottish schools, whereby anyone caught dealing in drugs within a specified radius will be liable for tougher penalties."

Since that promise was made six years ago, how many drug cordons have been established around Scottish schools and where are they?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

It might have escaped Mr Swinney's notice, but the Parliament has been in existence for only four years, not six years. In the past four years, the Parliament has seen serious action being taken on tackling Scotland's drug dealers and tackling drugs in Scotland, such as the establishment of the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency as promised, the staffing of that agency and the additional powers—on which SNP members were not keen—to take the proceeds of crime and put them back into communities to ensure that dealers pay the price for their actions.

Action has been taken throughout Scotland to pull together drug action teams that help those who require local rehabilitation and assistance. Those are the practical measures that the Parliament was meant to take and has taken. Other practical measures will be taken in the next session if we spend the next four years talking not about independence, but about problems in Scotland and how to address them.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The only thing that was missing from that answer was the word "none". The commitment that I cited has not been delivered; that is yet another broken promise. No wonder the First Minister read out that litany of failure; it is the failure of this Government.

The First Minister promised that he would cut waiting lists by 10,000. He has broken that promise. He promised that 80 per cent of primary school pupils would achieve appropriate standards in reading and writing. He has broken that promise. He promised to set up drug cordons, but he has broken that promise, too. Given that he has broken so many promises, how can the people of Scotland take seriously any of the First Minister's promises at the forthcoming election? Is not it the case that patients, pupils and victims of crime cannot wait any longer for the Government to deliver? Is not it the case that the people of Scotland should move on and change the Government of Scotland?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

It is a pleasure to know that one of only three examples that Mr Swinney quotes—the other two are inaccurate—is an example from six years ago. It was included in a document, which I believe was issued prior to the 1997 general election.

Only one significant promise has been broken in the past 12 months by a politician in Scotland and that was the promise to talk about independence that the leader of the Scottish National Party made last May. We have not heard the word "independence" since—entire party political broadcasts do not even mention the concept, never mind use the word. When we get to the election campaign, we will talk about independence, but we will also talk about education, health, transport, crime and job creation. Those are the priorities for the people of Scotland, which is exactly why they will back us to return after 1 May.