First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 28th June 2007.
To ask the First Minister when he will next meet the new Prime Minister. (S3F-98)
I spoke to the new Prime Minister last evening. We had a cordial conversation. We said that we would make plans for an early meeting, and I look forward to that meeting.
I think we all agree that the First Minister's relationship with the new Prime Minister could not be any worse than his relationship with the previous one, but the omens are not encouraging. Mr Brown has in the past described Mr Salmond as someone who had
"lost the power of communication, but not the power of speech."
That prompted Mr Salmond to respond by saying:
"He's out to get the big job but has forgotten the people back home."
In the interests of ensuring that there is no question of Mr Brown, now that he has got the "big job", forgetting "the people back home", and in the interests of proving that the First Minister has not
"lost the power of communication", what will the First Minister do to create a more interactive engagement between his Administration in this Parliament and the Prime Minister's Government at Westminster?
I thank Annabel Goldie for her faith in my restored powers of communication.
The important thing is to restore the joint ministerial committee structure to the structure that was originally envisaged when this Parliament was set up, because it has fallen into disuse since 2002. Outwith preparation for European Council meetings, none of the joint ministerial committees has met. Indeed, the plenary session that the Prime Minister chairs and which involves the First Ministers of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland has not met either.
It is not just my opinion or that of, I hope, people in this Parliament, but the opinion of the leadership of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the National Assembly for Wales, which is about to become a Labour-Plaid Cymru leadership, that those channels should be restored forthwith to give a formal structure so that issues can be progressed properly to the benefit of the Scottish people.
After he congratulated the new Prime Minister, the First Minister said yesterday:
"I'm very confident that both us can put aside our long-term ambitions for the country in constitutional terms and direct our sights to what we need here and now for Scotland and that's to work in the best interests of the Scottish people."
Will the First Minister therefore pledge today that he will put aside his personal preference for constitutional change and prioritise our domestic bread-and-butter issues? Those issues are: more police officers on our streets; a new agenda for drugs abuse in Scotland; an urgent expansion of affordable housing; restoring governance and discipline in our schools; and providing help with the council tax for our older citizens. On all those issues, people are crying out for political leadership here and now in Scotland. Will he make that pledge, and will he put delivery before divorce?
Pursuing, in our case, a policy of independence or, in the case of others in the chamber, a policy of federalism or enhanced powers for this Parliament is quite honourable and a perfectly legitimate stance to take in politics. I assure Annabel Goldie that I shall always pursue the aim of independence. Indeed, this Government will publish within its first 100 days its white paper on independence.
Having different constitutional objectives should not prevent people from co-operating on other issues. Indeed, only yesterday, Annabel Goldie, Bill Aitken, Kenny MacAskill, Nicola Sturgeon and I had what I thought was an extremely productive meeting in which we addressed one of the great scourges in Scottish and other societies—the scourge of drug addiction. None of the different views that Annabel Goldie and I have on Scotland's future prevented us from having that meeting and taking joint action on that crucial issue.