I am extremely proud to open the debate, and I look forward to hearing the speeches of members of all parties.
The First Minister has just laid out very clearly the Government's programme for the coming year. It is a programme that has a clear sense of purpose, which is driven by our determination to build a Scotland that is wealthier and fairer, safer and stronger, smarter, healthier and greener. It is a programme that, for the first time ever in the short history of devolution, will be delivered by a Government that is worthy of the name and not scared to use it.
Already, after less than four months in office, this Government has shown what can be done. We have demonstrated our competence and our ability to lead through testing times. We have shown that we can and will work to build consensus. We have set out our vision for Scotland's future—an independent future—and have invited others to set out theirs, too, so that we can have a real and honest debate about how best to equip our country for the challenges that lie ahead.
Above all else, we have delivered genuine and early progress on the issues that matter—health, education, the economy and fighting crime. All in all, that is not a bad start, but members should not just take my word for it, they should ask the 48 per cent of people who say that they would now vote for the Scottish National Party.
Talking of votes and percentages, how many members of national health service boards will be directly elected under the local health care bill? What will the percentage be? Will 50 per cent of members plus one be directly elected?
We have made clear our intention to consult on that very issue, on which I look forward to hearing Bill Butler's views. That is one area in which he agrees with this Government and not the previous Government, of which he was a part.
Even the leader-elect of the Scottish Labour Party—if that is not too grand a title for her Westminster colleagues—thinks that we are doing
"the right decision has been made".
That was refreshing confirmation—at last—that her party made the wrong decision.
The SNP Government has put the public good ahead of private profit. I wish that the previous Administration had done that.
In our first 100 days, we have taken the first steps towards achieving our objectives and putting Scotland on the right track. The challenge is to build on that solid platform, and the First Minister today pointed the way.
I will highlight in more detail the action that we will take in key areas of our programme and I will start with my portfolio—health and well-being. It is our responsibility as a Government to ensure high-quality health services that are delivered as close to home as possible, with the right balance between hospital and community care. We must do more to improve health and tackle the grotesque inequalities that still scar our nation. We need a sharper focus on prevention and on supporting people to take greater responsibility for their own well-being.
We must always remember that the national health service is a public service. It is paid for and used by the public, therefore it must include the public in decisions about its future. That is why we fulfilled our manifesto commitment to continue accident and emergency services at Ayr and Monklands hospitals—a decision that Labour will no doubt support if the party is serious about consumer-focused public services.
We have set a transformational 18-week waiting time target, we have confirmed the abolition of hidden waiting lists and we have made clear that the cancer waiting times target will at long last be met. We will comprehensively modernise Scotland's public health legislation to make it fit for purpose, we will consult on a patients' rights bill, and our local health care bill will ensure greater patient and community involvement in how local health services are delivered. All those measures are tied together by a vision of a healthier Scotland, where better health and better care go hand in hand.
Affordable housing, which Duncan McNeil mentioned, is another key challenge for this
The SNP will make the right to buy more flexible, as did the previous Government, because that is important. It is also important to take action on a broader canvas, which is why the consultation paper that we will publish will set out how we will better the record of the past 10 years in building houses for rent. The housing supply task force will identify the steps that we need to take to encourage more private sector homes for owner occupation and across all tenures. We will also give more help to people who are struggling to get a foot on the housing ladder. The new Government will take action to repair the neglect of the last one.
I am sorry, I am in my final minute.
Another key plank of our manifesto was reform of local government finance. In this as in every other area of policy, we have already started to deliver. We are working with local authorities to deliver the freeze in council tax that will bring relief to many people throughout Scotland. Across the political spectrum in Scotland, there is consensus that the council tax is deeply unfair and that it is time for a new, fairer form of local taxation. That is why we will consult on our proposal to replace council tax with a local income tax based on ability to pay.
The SNP Government offers Scotland an exciting, achievable and deliverable programme, and sound government based on the principles of competence, consensus and a clear vision for the future. Those principles will affect every area of the Government's activity. They are values that we have already demonstrated and will continue to demonstrate in absolutely everything that we do.
The Executive's to-do list includes plans that the Labour group welcomes. We have said many times that we will not oppose everything that the Government does for the sake of opposition. I have said before that we welcome plans to change the sex offences legislation, which we hope will improve the low rates of prosecution and conviction for rape. I also welcome today's announcement of a new prison for the north-east, which is something that the previous Administration considered carefully. Further, I welcome the announcement of a judiciary (Scotland) bill, which I am sure the Cabinet Secretary for Justice found in his in-tray, because I definitely left one there for him.
No right-minded person would disagree with the desire to prevent a repeat of the tragedies that have been caused by air-guns—we on the Labour benches share that aim. However, we would not bite our tongues if any SNP member tried to turn the issue into a political football or an excuse for a political row about the powers of the Parliament. I hope that we can make progress on the issue, in the real sense of trying to do the right thing for Scotland and the United Kingdom, rather than simply have an argument about where power lies. I hope that, during the debate, we will hear more about the First Minister's comment on the use of secondary legislation. I am interested in more details. Is the plan to ban air-guns, to licence them or to give councils the opportunity to use byelaws? That third option was mentioned to the previous Administration.
To return to the theme of the debate, the programme is characterised by what is not in it. Where are all the big promises that the SNP made to the people of Scotland and on which it was elected to Government? Where is the commitment to abolish student debt? What has happened to the plan to deal with council tax? Where are the extra police officers that the SNP promised? We have heard no answers to those questions today. What about class sizes? The First Minister has given a commitment on that, so I look forward to hearing more details of how it will be delivered in practice.
The First Minister made much of seeking to build consensus because a minority Administration is in
However, today, we have moved from the big promises to the broken promises. The students who thought that their debt would vanish under the SNP will get no consolation from the fact that it now calls itself a Government rather than an Executive. The people who believed that council tax would be abolished are already questioning why that is not happening, but there was nothing in the statement on that.
Creating safer communities is one of the most important issues. The people who live in the communities that are most affected by crime and antisocial behaviour and who were led to believe that there would be extra police officers on their streets will simply not be impressed by today's announcement that there will be further discussion about increasing capacity to provide an equivalent of a police officer—whatever that is. The SNP has dumped the big promises that got it elected. Some people may suggest that that is disappointing; others would suggest that it is dishonest and deceitful.
Those are not the only matters that are missing from the programme. The SNP told us that it will be guided by five key objectives: smarter, healthier, greener, safer and stronger, and wealthier and fairer. The objectives were discussed earlier and are laid out in "Principles and Priorities: The Government's Programme for Scotland". Let me take just one of them. I agree with anyone of whatever party who believes that we must all strive constantly to make Scotland a fairer place, to tackle inequality and to help those who most need help. However, despite the rhetoric on social justice that we have heard today and that is in the document, the SNP's programme simply does not deliver on that aim. Despite Nicola Sturgeon's rhetoric, there is nothing in the programme that will tackle the shortage of affordable housing, which is an enormous problem for many people, and there is nothing specific in the programme about how class sizes will be reduced—no timetable is laid out. There is nothing specific to help the probationer teachers who do not have jobs to get them, nor is there anything to help regenerate the communities that are most in need of a leg-up. There is nothing about community safety or about continuing the funding for community wardens, and nothing to help rejuvenate our town centres, which so many people rightly want to be brought back to life.
Those are some of the issues that matter most to the people of Scotland. They are the problems
I said at the start of my speech that Labour will offer support when that is the right thing to do. Labour members are already bringing forward members' bills on important issues. I am glad that the First Minister said that the Administration will look at those bills sympathetically. I hope to see them being supported in due course.
In the spirit of consensus, I conclude by inviting Nicola Sturgeon to see the points that I have made as constructive criticism and to respond to them in her closing speech.
This is the first debate in the Parliament with a new rebranded Scottish Executive. There are numerous examples of significant name changes in recent times: Harry Webb became Cliff Richard, Maurice Micklewhite became Michael Caine, Cat Stevens became Yusuf Islam, Windscale became Sellafield, and now the Scottish Executive has become the Scottish Government.
Of course, people and institutions are entitled to change their names if they wish, and I have no particular difficulty with the rebranding of the Scottish Executive. The only pity is that, unlike in the cases of private individuals such as Mr Richard, in the case of the Scottish Executive it is the poor taxpayer who has to foot the bill. Now £100,000 for a rebranding exercise may not seem like a great deal of money to ministers, but it is an unnecessary extravagance that they may well come to regret during the budget process when they start to run out of money for all their pet projects and finally start having to say no to those who are clamouring for additional cash.
Government is all about difficult decisions. If the evidence of the Scottish National Party group on the City of Edinburgh Council is anything to go by, this Government may find the going harder than it expects. Having said that, today we are here to debate the programme of Government for the new SNP Administration. It is, frankly, pretty thin material to work with. This is a string vest of a programme, which is more noticeable for the holes than for the material.
That is not necessarily a bad thing because, as the First Minister acknowledged, Governments are often far too quick to legislate. It should be a rule in any liberal democracy that Governments should pass laws only when there is a compelling reason to do so and only as a last resort when other non-legislative measures have failed.
Sadly, that was not a lesson learned by the previous Administration. It promised, in a famous slogan, to "do less, better". Sadly for it, most people—including, it seems, most of the electorate—did not realise that there was a comma in that phrase. Over the past eight years we saw unwanted and unnecessary legislation in a whole range of areas, from a ban on fox hunting to the introduction of compulsory landlord registration—tagged on to antisocial behaviour laws—a ban on tail docking of dogs, and the introduction of unwanted single seller surveys. We had eight years of a Labour-Liberal coalition that rushed to legislate as the easy option at every turn. If we are going to see a departure from that practice, it can only be a good thing.
We have here a pretty thin programme to debate, but at least there are some items in it that we wish to support. I was delighted to see the publication of the bill to abolish tolls on the Forth and Tay bridges—a policy that is firmly supported by my party and which formed part of our manifesto. The only issue that surprises me—it requires to be cleared up—is that there has been no mention of the repeal of part 3 of the Transport (Scotland) Act 2001. That piece of legislation, which gives power to local authorities to implement road tolls, was opposed by my party but supported by the SNP. In reply to a question from me in this chamber on 22 February 2007, the then SNP transport spokesman, Fergus Ewing, said that the SNP supported the deletion of that part of the 2001 act. That was a most welcome U-turn, but where is it today in the Government's programme? Perhaps we will be told later in the debate.
We in the Scottish Conservative party have made it clear that we want to engage constructively with the new SNP Government. Where there are areas of common ground between us, we will be happy to work with the Government—whether it is on tolls, on protecting rural schools or on cutting business rates—but when the SNP proposes measures that we do not agree with we will vigorously oppose them and look to build informal alliances with other parties in order to defeat them.
Above all, we reject the proposal for independence. The option of cutting us off from our neighbours in the other parts of these islands is persistently opposed by a substantial majority of our fellow Scots. What a pity that the SNP Government is wasting time on an unwanted national conversation when it should be tackling the real issues. Whatever it calls itself, if this Government wants to be a success, we will be happy to point it in the right direction.
As you said, Presiding Officer, time is limited, so let us get on to the substance. On health, the start from the SNP could not have been worse. I campaigned for 100 new local health centres. Under the SNP, we have already seen plans for the expansion of local health care put on hold. Plans have been delayed and building projects are in doubt. The SNP now proposes American-style health care—a lawyer by every bedside, and doctors to decide clinical priorities under threat of court action from a phalanx of lawyers.
On transport, the SNP is at its most slippery. The dualling of the A9 started as a solemn promise, became a woolly aspiration and ended as a vague possibility. Never, though, has the SNP been more cavalier than on the issue of the Edinburgh airport rail link. Parliament expressed a demand that the project should proceed. The cabinet secretary said that the Government would respect that wish, yet within weeks, under ministerial instruction, Transport Scotland suspended the project and stopped all work. SNP ministers may be smug that they have allowed the will of Parliament to be frustrated, but there should be consequences for their role in all of this—consequences in the Parliament.
I do not want to be too unfair. The SNP has been frustrating its own plans as well. I asked a series of written questions about its 100-day document, which states:
"we will introduce early legislation to confirm St Andrew's day as a full national holiday".
So I asked about that promise of early legislation and when we would see it. The reply from Linda Fabiani said:
"There is no requirement to introduce ... legislation".—[Official Report, Written Answers, 20 August 2007; S2W-2499.]
I asked when the SNP would honour its promise to put science and technology at the heart of the curriculum. There was better news on that one. Fiona Hyslop said that the SNP had met that promise on 23 March this year—42 days before it was elected. That is about as good as it gets for the SNP on education. It still cannot tell us how many teachers it needs for its pledge on class sizes. Its 100-day book promised to identify the schools, but it has not. On higher education, there has been silence on funding for our universities and colleges. For students, there is an abandoned promise to write off the total accumulated debt of Scottish graduates. Those plans are now added to the other 83 policies that written answers have shown have been put on hold and postponed—shuffled off to the spending review.
That is the big challenge now for the SNP. Its sums do not add up and it knows it. It is running scared of criticism. It thinks that it can get away with 1 hour and 15 minutes of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, and just 1 hour and 15 minutes for everyone else. It is wary, too, of the advice of its own advisers. The council of economic advisers is forbidden to look at the spending review. It was described in the chamber by the First Minister as "the most formidable ... firepower", yet it is forbidden to consider the £80 billion or £90 billion of spending power that the SNP will have at its disposal during the spending review period. That £80 billion could be directed to make a difference to the economy, but it is a no-go area for the economic advisers. What is the SNP afraid of?
Across government, the SNP's 100-day book has been torn up and its promises reinvented and reimagined to avoid embarrassment. Almost everything has been shoved off to the spending review. There has been lots of noise but little substance. The SNP promised everything to everyone. As yet, it has delivered little. People will start to realise that, in this new Parliament, delivery is the big issue.
Well, that has been a right glass-half-empty response from the Opposition. I do not know whether it seriously imagined that somehow everything was going to be delivered by this SNP Government overnight. Not even we believe that we are that strong and powerful. I remind all members that a parliamentary session lasts four years. We have done more in a few months than the previous Administration did in almost a decade.
I listened with some astonishment to Cathy Jamieson listing the many problems that she says we are not tackling. I am astonished that her face was not bright red and her neck shiny bright brass—the implication of what she said was that the problems were of her Government's making and she was asking us to clean up its mess. We are going to do our best to clean up as much of that mess as we can. I welcome the new Government's programme enormously.
Many pieces of legislation were passed over the past eight years. Most of it could be criticised, because it was all enabling legislation. Personally, I say thank you very much—the previous Government has enabled us to govern without having constantly to pass more legislation. If members of the previous Administration do not like that, they need to remember that that is what they chose to do.
Indeed we did. Now, we are using that legislation to govern in the way that we wish. The Opposition should not be moaning and whingeing about that. We are able to take matters forward in a way that the Opposition never did. It enabled, but it did not do; we are now going to do.
The Government has already achieved something quite remarkable. In a few short months, it has succeeded in uniting all the parties represented in the chamber around a call to increase the powers of the Parliament. That would have been unthinkable a year ago. We might not all agree on the precise nature and extent of the increased powers, but the fact that we are all agreed on the principle is a major step forward. I believe that Scots feel that Scotland has taken a step forward—and it is a step with a spring in it.
Manifest throughout civic Scotland and among individual voters is the feeling that a change for the better has taken place. Change is in the air—make no mistake about it. It is not change for the sake of it, but change for the betterment of Scotland. That is what the SNP has always been about, and it is what the SNP is delivering. It is about the kind of Scotland that we want to see, not "the best small country in the world". Small countries are already among the very best in the world; we should be aiming for no less than being the best, regardless of size, because we have unlimited ambition.
That unlimited ambition is manifest in some of the key things that have been announced this afternoon. I refer to the council tax freeze, and the consultation on taking that policy forward and tackling that unfair tax, which will be profoundly welcomed by many people in Scotland. The issue of small business rates has been raised with me in my constituency. People are eagerly looking forward to tackling it, and I hope that the Administration will publish an impact analysis showing the enormous benefit of doing so. If we do that, it will make a huge difference to many communities throughout Scotland.
There are many other things about today's announcements that are to be hugely welcomed and will make an enormous difference to Scotland. So far, the Opposition response, after eight years of combined inactivity, is absolutely astonishing. I look forward to making real change for Scotland.
Like Iain Smith, I find it astonishing that we have less than an hour and a half to debate the Government's legislative programme for a whole year, compared
On sight of the SNP's programme, all is revealed. The SNP Government is long on rhetoric, but short on reality. Its manifesto contained page after page of fine rhetoric and rash promises—promises and rhetoric that gained it enough votes in May to form the Administration. However, the feeble programme before us is the grim reality of the SNP in power. It is very long on promises, but short on performance.
During the election, the continuing problem of relative poverty was highlighted—child poverty, poverty among single parents and poverty among the elderly. What does the SNP propose to do in its programme to even start tackling those problems? Precisely nothing.
During the campaign, the lack of improvements in service delivery, particularly in the health service—in spite of all the money pushed into it—was diagnosed. What remedy is proposed in this programme? Precisely nothing.
There is an increasingly urgent need to provide affordable housing, as Nicola Sturgeon admitted. However, she was blaming people; she did not make any proposal at all, except to have consultation—no action, just consultation.
No; I have only four minutes. I will give a particularly powerful local example, about which I think that Margo MacDonald will agree with me.
The SNP manifesto's rhetoric promised a reduction in class sizes in primary 1 to primary 3 to 18 pupils or fewer and an increase in nursery provision by 50 per cent. We need two things to implement that promise: empty classrooms and more money. Where is the reality in the programme?
The reality is that the leader of the SNP group in the City of Edinburgh Council, Steve Cardownie, and his High Street mob—aided and abetted by their Liberal Democrat accomplices—proposed the closure of 22 schools in the city and a criminal cut in the education budget of £9 million. The SNP was the architect of that educational vandalism, but the education chair of the council, Marilyne MacLaren, is the most culpable, given that she has failed to defend the interests of parents, pupils and teachers. As a former chair of education, I fail to understand how she can continue in her post with any credibility or dignity whatever.
Of course the SNP needs funds to convert rhetoric to reality and to deliver its promises, but it knew that when it made those promises and it inherited a substantial surplus from the previous Administration, so it is possible. Instead of this feeble programme, we need Alex Salmond to start putting his money where his mouth is. If he does that, there will be no problem funding the urgent needs and turning his undoubtedly slick and skilful rhetoric into some semblance of reality.
It would have been the decent thing for the minority Government, at the very least, to have acknowledged the previous Administration's work on cervical cancer, hidden waiting lists and free personal care.
Before my colleague John Scott left the chamber, he asked me to acknowledge and welcome the continuation of accident and emergency services at Ayr hospital. I thank the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing for acknowledging the excellent record of previous Tory Governments on housing.
We welcome the light legislative programme, which means that we can draw breath and concentrate on the implementation of legislation such as the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 and legislation on care in the community.
We want better support for mental health services and for the drug and alcohol detox and rehab strategies. I have looked through both "Better Health, Better Care" and "Principles and Priorities: The Government's Programme for Scotland". At first glance, it seems that the only reference to drugs in the Government programme is to drug treatment and testing orders and I have found no mention of them in the health section of the document. I know that the Government is committed to addressing the issue and I look forward to playing a positive role in bringing forward strategies that were outlined in the Conservative manifesto.
There was little mention of prescription charges, which are due to be phased out by 2012. Nevertheless, we agree with the Government that there are anomalies, such as free prescriptions for diabetes and epilepsy but not for asthma.
We stand by our position of electing a proportion of national health service board members and look forward to receiving the information and research to prove that direct elections to health boards will improve patient care and give us all a better health service.
The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing will not be surprised to hear that we will support the review of the Public Health Act 1897. After 110 years, even conservatives with a small "c" can accept that some issues need to be revisited.
I have read the Government's discussion document, "Better Health, Better Care", and I note its emphasis on self-care strategies for long-term conditions, yet organisations that I have mentioned—such as Depression Alliance Scotland—are struggling to set up and maintain self-care and self-help groups in the Highlands and elsewhere due to lack of funding. The document contains barely a passing reference to the independent sector, which—as Nicol Stephen mentioned—can provide the capacity to help to achieve the waiting times and targets that the SNP promised in its manifesto.
Although the patients' rights bill has been relegated to a consultation paper for a year, there is no doubt that the bill, which will give the patient a legally binding waiting time guarantee, is more of a charter for lawyers than a charter for patients. It is likely to bog down the SNP in courts and legal wrangles and prevent it from concentrating on health centres and hospitals. For example, NHS Highlands recently offered 90 patients the opportunity to go to BUPA in Edinburgh for diagnostic and investigative work and more than 70 of them took up that opportunity. Patients in Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber, Argyll, Moray, Gordon, Angus, Aberdeen North, Dundee East, Dundee West, Central Fife, North Tayside and Perth all enjoy the excellent private health care facilities at the regional treatment centre at Stracathro. Will the SNP set its ideology and prejudice against utilisation of the private sector, which undoubtedly benefits patients?
I welcome my friend Shirley-Anne Somerville, who became an MSP today. I first met her when she was a 15-year-old schoolgirl who helped out in a local government by-election in Kirkcaldy. She is bright and articulate and she will enhance the Parliament. [ Applause. ]
I am gratified that we have a Government that understands that governing is not just about using the Parliament as a legislative sausage machine. Whenever a problem arose for the previous Labour and Liberal Executive, regardless of what the problem was, its mantra was that something must be done, and that something was legislation. Whether we needed it or not, we got legislation just to show that the Executive could do something. I am glad that the Government is refusing to go down that road.
In its first 100 days, the Government has shown us what a Government should be. We now have the Parliament that the people of Scotland hoped for when, in 1997, they voted overwhelmingly in favour of setting up the Scottish Parliament. As Donald Dewar said at the opening of the Parliament,
"This is about more than our politics and our laws. This is about who we are, how we carry ourselves."
In the past 100-odd days, the Government has carried itself well.
I fully endorse the member's views not only on the role of the Parliament in civic society in Scotland but the fact that it is representative. Why has the Government set up outside the Parliament two major bodies—the Scottish broadcasting commission and the council of economic advisers—that will not report directly to the Parliament?
We set them up to ensure that we bring in talents from Scotland and abroad and to ensure that the Government looks ahead with the best brains that we have so that we do the right things for the people of Scotland.
I listened to Cathy Jamieson. Labour is in denial about losing the election, but it is also in denial about its role in the past eight years. It is in denial about the crisis that it created in housing and about the fact that it forced students into debt in the first place by introducing tuition fees. I welcome the First Minister's assurance that there has been constructive dialogue with Westminster about legislation on air-guns. I look forward to hearing the results of the talks in the near future.
I am delighted that the Government, in its first 100 years—[Laughter.] I expect 100 years. This is the start of our first 100 years. I am delighted that every school pupil in primary 1 to primary 3 in Fife will get free school meals through our pilot scheme. I argued for that measure when Parliament considered the Schools (Health Promotion and Nutrition) (Scotland) Bill, although I was defeated by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
I welcome the commitment to exempt a person's main home from the enforcement process of land attachment. We will overturn the draconian measure that was bludgeoned through the previous Parliament by Labour—we had nae consensus then.
On the abolition of tolls on the Forth and Tay bridges, I was crossing a street last week when a man called my name. When I turned around, he gave me the thumbs-up and shouted, "At last—no more tolls. Well done the SNP!" That measure
At last we have some ideas about the SNP's programme for government. Most of the programme was heavily trailed over the summer and some of it has been carried over from the previous session of Parliament—such as the measures relating to judicial appointments and the reform of rape law. Some clear themes emerge: a debate on the constitution; a series of populist measures; new legislation; some pilots; and a series of commissions and forums, too many of which, as Jeremy Purvis rightly said, will be too distant from the Parliament. Tricia Marwick gave the wrong answer to Jeremy Purvis's question on that matter. She should have said that it is down to the Parliament and the Parliament's committees to hold those commissions and forums to account.
My early plea to this Government is not to allow the national conversation to be the dominant issue. Clearly, that will be hard for the Government to do—indeed, I think that allowing it to become the dominant issue is the Government's strategy. However, if that is allowed to happen, it will be at the expense of the bread-and-butter issues that the people of Scotland elected us to deal with, which are to do with improving their lives. If the Government has a mandate for anything, it has a mandate to work with the other parties and to make progress on the issues of housing, child poverty, tackling crime and so on.
So far, we have learned a lot about the style that the Government seems to want to adopt: a tendency to work outwith the Parliament, a self-congratulatory tone—already, we have heard three back benchers patting the front bench on the back—a legislation-light programme and an inability, as Mary Scanlon rightly said, to give credit to the previous Government on issues such as cervical cancer screening, judicial appointments and hidden waiting lists. The SNP will not command the respect of the other parties in this Parliament if it continues to pat itself on the back when it has only just completed 100 days in office.
There are many aspects of the programme for government that I can and will support. The SNP manifesto said that it will expand preventive health care and services in our most deprived areas. I would agree that that is a good pledge. However, I have heard little today about the strategy for tackling poverty. Not enough prominence has been given to the areas of Scotland in which poverty is at its most intense. The Government must be prepared to redistribute resources if additional resources cannot be found. The
I agree with the First Minister that public health represents a huge challenge for this Parliament. However, I think that the most pressing challenge is how to break the cycle of poverty and deprivation for children. Stopping children failing is the challenge that all of us must live up to. That cannot be done without resources.
Members can see for themselves the results of work that was done by the previous Administration. Life expectancy is up by two years and, in primary 1, 54 per cent of children show no signs of tooth decay. That is because of some of the intervention programmes that the previous Administration put a lot of resources into. I urge this Administration not to stop that.
I represent a Glasgow constituency—not the poorest one—and I can assure the Government that it must think seriously about the issues that I am raising. Some 22 per cent of drug users, as against the national average of 11 per cent, live in Glasgow. The addition of the Clyde area to the Greater Glasgow Health Board area clearly means that poverty is intensified in that area. The Government's funding strategy must be clear. It must be prepared to put the funding where its rhetoric is. That means that, if the Government is serious about tackling intense poverty, it will have to redistribute some of its resources to the west of Scotland.
I will address two issues with the Government's programme that are important to the people of the north-east. First, I will examine the Government's commitment to continue with the western peripheral route around Aberdeen. Before the election in May, the First Minister made it clear to Road Sense, the group that opposes the western peripheral route, that as First Minister, he would abide by the public inquiry's findings into the road. On 15 June, he wrote a letter to confirm that—I have a copy of it here. However, when the Aberdeen Evening Express challenged him about the issue last week, he was quoted as denying that he said any such thing. When the Evening Express obtained a copy of his letter, he is reported to have changed his tune and to have said that he meant that he would abide by any decision of the public inquiry on the road's proposed route and not on whether the road should proceed.
The people of the north-east want to know the real position of our First Minister. Is he about to
My other issue is the SNP Administration's decision to turn its back on new public-private partnerships to fund projects such as the western peripheral route. Its position is clear from the letter to Road Sense, in which the First Minister said that he would ensure
During questions on the legislative programme, he would not tell me how he proposes to fund the road. We had no answer from him, clearly and resoundingly.
The PPP issue is hugely important. The SNP's opposition to PPP threatens not only the Aberdeen western peripheral route, but our new schools programme. The previous Administration built three new schools in my constituency. We need more of them—at Laurencekirk, Portlethen, Alford and Drumoak, to name just a few places. However, it is clear that SNP ideology is risking our schools building programme. I thank the Aberdeen Evening Express again for exposing that in a major article on Monday evening.
In the period of the previous parliamentary session and the previous Administration, Aberdeenshire Council accessed £63 million of PPP money and built many new schools. All that it has to look forward to in this financial year is a paltry £8 million to maintain and refurbish as needed almost a couple of hundred schools, and the promise that a far-off idea of some kind of trust will rush to the rescue in years to come.
That is not good enough for my constituents. The people of the north-east deserve to know whether the Government will continue previous Governments' commitment to build the Aberdeen western peripheral route and to have spelled out for them how the Government will fund the capital projects of the road and the new schools that we desperately need. We need an answer from the new Administration, not silence.
It is a great pleasure to welcome the Scottish Government's programme. It has been long anticipated—too long for people of my generation—and welcoming it is a delight. We have been presented with a series of bills and non-legislative priorities that allow each part of the country to benefit from the Government's lead.
The wealthier and fairer objective leads me to mention why the abolition of bridge tolls is linked with the road equivalent tariff. Bridge tolls were dealt with under the principle of equity. Equity must take into account Scotland's geography and allow us to travel freely from all parts of the country to participate fully in our economy and in national life.
How can the more than 100,000 people in our 89 inhabited islands fully participate in such things unless some form of road equivalent tariff is introduced? The day after John Swinney made his announcement about the pilot in Stornoway, I was on a small Orkney ferry. The 600yd from Wyre to Rousay that the ferry crosses is about the most expensive 600yd in the world to cross. Such issues are now being addressed. We are talking about not simply a 40 per cent discount on air fares, but about allowing people, including businesspeople, to travel back and forward in every part of our country. Exactly the same argument applies to bridge tolls. We must have a far better and fairer way of measuring road use. I expect those issues to be debated during the consultation on climate change targets, which we in the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee will deal with next year. The wealthier and fairer proposals hold together in an important programme for the whole country.
I ask the Government to try to step up work on another non-legislative priority. It may want to retrieve the powers of the Crown Estate Commission. That would be widely supported. The most prominent issue relating to the Crown Estate in Scotland will be its approach to managing Scotland's sea bed and foreshore. There are big issues for us in that respect, including renewable energy issues. Addressing the issue within the existing legal set-up would be possible, and an immediate benefit could be had for our harbours. Some 80 per cent of Scotland's harbours are managed by the Scottish Government, local authorities and trust ports in the public interest. We could change the way in which the Crown Estate takes revenue and give a major bonus to operations that are at the heart of our coastal trade. I think that such action would receive cross-party support.
I turn briefly to the proposed culture (Scotland) bill and the creative Scotland body. There has been a lot of talk about education and culture for eight years, but at last, by picking up the threads of what has been discussed during that period, we can allay the artistic community's fears about interference in artistic policy. The new minister with responsibility for the arts recognises that, through creative Scotland, the arts will be able to call on funds that support excellence wherever it occurs in Scotland. Separating the national companies will mean that their needs can be dealt
Like colleagues, I am disappointed by the SNP's programme. Many of my constituents will be equally disappointed. They will be looking for action on issues that matter to them. I am particularly disappointed that tackling antisocial behaviour seems to have totally disappeared as a Government priority. Ignoring such behaviour will not make it go away.
I simply do not agree with Roseanna Cunningham's portrayal of the past eight years of our work in the Parliament. Eight years ago, my constituents' top priority was their worry about being able to get a job. That is not their worry now, because in the past eight years, through Government partnerships across the UK, we have created 50,000 jobs in Edinburgh. My constituents' problems now are the impacts of economic success and affordable housing. It is not enough for Nicola Sturgeon simply to say that we need another review: we need action. That means building more houses—particularly more affordable houses—rather than giving people £2,000 to waste on an already overheated housing market.
We need facilities so that families can live in the city, particularly in the city centre. Like George Foulkes, I welcome the withdrawal of the proposed cuts in Edinburgh. Three vital nurseries would have been lost in the city centre alone. Such actions force parents to move out of the city centre. I am therefore glad that the proposals have been withdrawn. They made a mockery of the SNP's manifesto commitments on access to nurseries.
My constituents are concerned about action to reduce our carbon footprint, both individually and through what we do in the Parliament. They will not be impressed by the news that it will take another year for a climate change bill to be introduced in the Parliament. During the summer, the SNP was also not prepared to make a clear commitment to include explicitly carbon emission reductions as a cross-cutting issue in this year's budget review. Those two facts will disappoint a lot of environmental activists. If the SNP calculates that we need to reduce our CO2 emissions by 3
For Alex Salmond to blame the fact that we have no climate change bill on the fact that a regulatory impact assessment and a strategic environmental assessment must be produced is just not good enough. He must come up with a better answer than that. It is a complex issue, and that was just not good enough.
The low-carbon building project and the work that the SNP has announced on energy efficiency in buildings is something that we will support. It builds on previous work that was undertaken by Labour ministers, and we support the idea of progressively raising the level of energy efficiency in our buildings. We want to go further, though.
I had a very pleasant conversation with John Swinney this morning. He politely informed me that, although the Government would oppose my bill on energy efficiency and microgeneration, he had a lot of sympathy with its objectives and would seek to include some of them in the proposed climate change bill. My bill is supported by 51 MSPs, and a lot of people outwith the Parliament are keen to see it passed. Unfortunately, John Swinney, who is not in the chamber, was unable to give me any assurances or detailed commitments on the incorporation of the proposals in my bill into the proposed climate change bill. I am not prepared to withdraw my bill without commitments on the detail of the SNP's proposals, particularly the fiscal incentives that will transform people's attitudes towards energy efficiency measures such as cavity wall and roof insulation—which we know make sense—and business rate incentives for businesses. I seek assurances from John Swinney on those issues and a commitment to require all new housing to include microgeneration as standard. I will not withdraw my bill until John Swinney makes those detailed commitments, although I welcomed his phone call this morning.
There will be lots of things on which the Labour Party will work constructively over the next four years in the Parliament. However, we will not support ill-worked-out, unspecific proposals, nor rhetoric about what flag is flown above this building instead of debate about the laws that are passed here.
My remarks will pertain mainly to the strategic spending review but, first, I assure the First Minister and his deputy that some of us think it no bad thing to feel the quality, not the width, of bills.
They should also not take too much to heart what Pauline McNeill said about poverty, as that is the legacy of the union, not of a national Parliament in Scotland.
The First Minister said earlier that Scotland needs flexibility, not rigid conventions. I could not agree more. I therefore urge the Government to depart from the rigid formula for funding local government, accepting that Edinburgh has a unique role that the Government should recognise by introducing a capital city funding stream. That could be done through the strategic spending review. Such an initiative should attract the Labour party's support, given the fact that, during the past week, the city's need to provide affordable family housing to ensure that Edinburgh is a good place to grow up and go to school has been highlighted.
The occupancy rate of schools in Edinburgh is inextricably linked to the fact that many young families cannot afford to live in the city and are living outwith its boundaries. The Government must consider planning, housing and education in the one way. If it does that, it will recognise the need to fund the city for providing those services to the degree that is expected of it while it also carries the burden of promoting and marketing Scotland more than any other single area. Edinburgh is also, perhaps, the main driver for the Scottish economy.
While we are talking about the Scottish economy and money, I should say that I voted for the trams, which are linked to the housing development on the waterfront and the new development that is being planned for Leith, and that I am concerned that the money for phases 2 and 3, which make complete sense of the trams project, might not be found. I urge the Government, now that it is committed to supporting the trams project, to look at the full picture and the funding for phases 2 and 3.
Colleagues in the Labour Party mentioned council housing. I noticed that no one in the Labour Party or in the SNP said that they are willing to go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is an Edinburgh MP, and the Prime Minister to emphasise how Edinburgh tenants have been given a raw deal. They voted against stock transfer and there should be advocacy on their behalf so that they are treated equally with the tenants who voted for it. If that burden were removed from the City of Edinburgh Council's debt, I doubt that we would see deficits of £9 million or £14 million.
The First Minister skated over the issue of the European Union. Will he demand that there be a referendum now, before we are landed with a constitution that gives European institutions governance over our energy sources? It is
Finally, I suggest to the First Minister that instead of asking for oil revenues—he will not get them right off—he should detail the cost of some of the capital projects and investment needed for Scotland, set that against the extra windfall revenues that have gone to the chancellor, and ask for it to be reinvested in Scotland.
I begin by welcoming Shirley-Anne Somerville to the chamber. I wish her well during her time here. I also wish her predecessor well as he brings his undoubted talents to demonstrating SNP coherence and consistency to the governance of Edinburgh.
I was interested in Roseanna Cunningham's statement that all parties are united around increasing the Parliament's powers, presumably within the United Kingdom. When the cabinet secretary replies, will she say whether that policy, which was until recently a Liberal Democrat policy only, is now a policy of the SNP Government?
The debate has been interesting, but its substance has been about not very much. The SNP has been compelled reluctantly to cobble together a Government programme of sorts. It is manifestly an Opposition's programme, not that of a Government—as, indeed, was its manifesto for the recent elections. It is by far the thinnest and most inconsequential legislative programme the Parliament has seen. If we Liberal Democrats had produced it, it would have been described as unambitious, unexciting and unworthy of Scotland's aspirations. As Mike Rumbles clearly demonstrated in considering the programme's details, it also contains substantial practical holes.
I am sorry but I cannot give way: I only have four minutes for my reply.
Of course there are nuggets: I welcome the proposed bill to abolish the graduate endowment, the technical legislation in support of the Glasgow 2014 bid and the proposed changes to rape laws, but seven or eight of the proposed bills would have appeared in any legislative programme.
The national health service is by far the most challenging of our great public services, and the previous Executive made considerable progress on putting in resources, shaping and modernising services, and concentrating on key priorities such as long-term conditions, but the proposed patient services bill, on which we have yet to see any detail, looks like a recipe for political meddling,
As a member of the Law Society of Scotland, I welcome whole-heartedly and on behalf of my legal colleagues the proposed legal rights for patients. They will provide the most fertile source of business that I have seen throughout my career. Sick and elderly patients in Scotland should not require to go to the law to access their rights to proper treatment under the national health service. After the Kerr report, there was consensus about the future of the health service but, in essence, it has been dumped. Clinicians throughout the country no longer know where or how they are going.
If Nicola Sturgeon could be so kind as to pay attention to what I am saying, perhaps when she replies to the debate she will indicate what has happened to the long-awaited children's services bill to reform and modernise the children's hearings system, on which the previous Administration consulted.
This is not a Government; it is a campaign, the sole object of which is to secure an independent Scotland. It organises the resources of government to advance that objective—wanted by some, admittedly, but strongly opposed by the majority—by carefully picking disputes with Westminster and placating this and that interest group. Its obsession with presentation makes new Labour look like beginners. If members want proof of that, they should go to the Scottish Executive website. Ministers have spent £100,000 on renaming the Executive as the Scottish Government and on changing all the signs, but on the website it is impossible to identify the locations, addresses or contact details of SNP ministers or departmental civil servants. When one attempts to do so, a banner stating
"the requested page cannot be found" usually comes up. The Scottish Parliament intranet site includes a connection to the Scottish Government directory, with the following message:
"The previous Government Directory available to us has been replaced by a web based search tool. Please note that this offers limited functionality".
In conclusion, I suggest to the First Minister a phrase that the SNP may recognise. The First Minister is Toom Tabard, an empty vessel—the phrase was used to describe King John Balliol's shadow Government in the days of William Wallace. This Parliament and this country deserve better than that.
Today's statement and debate are a welcome reminder that a programme for government is not just about a series of new bills and passing ever more laws to regulate the lives of our citizens. I recall Donald Dewar's speech in June 1999 on the legislative programme of the new Scottish Executive—Mr Dewar was never a man to have delusions of Government grandeur. In his speech, he quoted the 19 th -century Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, who, when asked about his legislative programme, grandly responded:
"There is nothing to be done."
Regrettably, that prescription for limited government was not followed by Mr Dewar or any of his successors. As a result, in its first two sessions the Parliament passed no fewer than 128 bills and 3,382 statutory instruments, many of them of dubious value and worth. Accordingly, the more measured pace of this legislative programme is welcome, even if it is born out of political necessity. However, my friend Mr Brown has pointed out to me a significant omission—the lack of a bill to decouple the council and Scottish Parliament elections, to which I thought the SNP Administration was fully committed.
In the legislative programme, a fair smattering of populist measures is coupled with an avoidance of the real issues. A proposal to abolish the graduate endowment stands in isolation from the real challenge that will face universities and colleges—that of competing with institutions down south that have significant additional streams of income. The abolition of bridge tolls was inevitable on grounds of sheer equity, following the former Scottish Executive's decision to abolish tolls on the Skye and Erskine bridges, but one wonders how that can be done in isolation from the much bigger question of how we fund a new Forth crossing, which in cost terms dwarfs every other transport project that the Parliament has previously considered. We note the proposed abolition of prescription charges, but wonder whether that is really a priority for a health and care system that is struggling to deliver the universal entitlement to free personal care for which the Parliament legislated five years ago.
Today we have seen some soft and easy options; the hard decisions lie ahead, and there is little evidence that the Scottish National Party as an institution is prepared to take them. The U-turn on the school closure consultation in Edinburgh by the SNP group on the City of Edinburgh Council that was highlighted earlier in the debate is an inauspicious straw in the wind. Whereas that bunch of political cowards, dupes and puppets can run with their begging bowl to John Swinney and
We must ask whether the party that over the past eight years of irresponsible opposition gave an army of hostages to fortune is a party with the guts to say no when all those markers are called in. Does the SNP have the guts to admit that it got it wrong with the follies of the pledges and promises that it made in its campaign? We shall see.
Over the past few months, we have heard a great deal about co-operation with Her Majesty's Government and about a national conversation, which I prefer to call Alex Salmond's big blether because it is irrelevant to the needs of Scotland and to the responsibilities with which we are charged in this Parliament. I suspect that when the chips are down the big blether will turn into the big bluster and the SNP will blame everything on the parsimony of Brown and Darling, which will simply not do. If this Government is serious about engaging constructively with the Westminster Government in the interests of our people, it must demonstrate its responsibility in the context of the spending review and its overall programme. That will be the real test of its good faith and the real challenge that it will have to address over the next six months.
We have had an interesting, if short, debate in which we have not had enough time to go into the detail of what we agree is a limited legislative programme.
As a former minister who perhaps delivered more legislation than any other during my four years with the justice portfolio, I may risk a response from David McLetchie by pointing out that I might have expected this legislative programme to include other bills—for example an arbitration bill and a bill around the children's hearings system, to which Robert Brown referred. Further, what about the reforms that the civil justice review will propose? What about wills and successions? What about a criminal justice bill, which the SNP previously promised?
I believe that the debate's theme has been the notion that the SNP is creating a brave new world of politics for Scotland. It is not, as some members have suggested, that the Labour party is in any sense in denial about the election result. We know that the SNP got one more seat than we did and, therefore, that it has formed a minority Administration. However, I remind the SNP of something about which it is in danger of being in denial: the majority of people in Scotland do not support its fundamental raison d'être, which is to
Labour members have highlighted throughout the debate the point that many people in Scotland voted for the SNP because they thought that what the SNP promised during the election campaign would be delivered: extra police officers—we have had no answers on that today; a reduction in class sizes—we have had no answers on that today either; scrapping the council tax and writing off student debt. Nor have we heard anything today about other matters, such as the tightening up of sentencing in the criminal justice system.
The SNP will be held to account for its promises not just by members in this chamber, but by the wider electorate. Today, rather than action on those issues, we have had backtracking and a failure to deliver. We now have a list of broken promises or, at best, delayed promises and a statement that the SNP will think about them at some point.
I say to Roseanna Cunningham, Tricia Marwick and others that government is difficult. The ministers here will learn that during their tenure. It is simply not good enough to say yes to everyone who comes along and asks for money, resources or the implementation of a policy, without knowing where the money will come from to deliver on that. Ministers must be able to translate rhetoric into reality. David McLetchie and a number of Labour members made that point.
Far from our being in denial, it seems to me that the SNP is in denial about the fact that it made certain promises. It now seems to be backtracking on them. The SNP made promises that it has now broken. There has also been a failure to face up to the fact that the sums simply do not add up. The SNP simply cannot take a pick-and-mix approach to politics in which policies are picked and put in a bag without it being known how much they will cost when it comes to paying for them.
We on the Labour benches have been honest enough to say that there are things in the Government's legislative programme that we will support. I was disappointed to hear my colleague Sarah Boyack say that the Government has indicated that it will not support her proposed microrenewables bill. That is a great pity. I urge ministers to consider that proposal further and engage at least in a constructive debate on it, as we have promised to do on the areas in which we want to see progress.
We have been honest enough to say that we will work constructively with the Government when that is the right thing to do. We have also been honest enough to say that some things have been done well, not only in the first 100 days but in the proposals that the SNP has brought before us—it
The debate has been good. It would not be a parliamentary occasion in the Scottish tradition if members did not have robust argument on the things on which we disagree. We also saw some sign of the things on which we can agree and on which we can build consensus in the Scottish interest.
For example, there are broad areas of agreement between the Government and the Liberal Democrats—although as Nicol Stephen spent most of his speech moaning about not having enough time to say anything, we did not get to explore much of that agreement this afternoon. His main contribution was to criticise the Government for saving accident and emergency services at Monklands hospital and Ayr hospital. I respect his view, but I refer him to a motion that was lodged on 9 May 2007, which demanded no less than that the Government keep its promise to save Monklands accident and emergency. It was supported by Nicol Stephen's colleague Hugh O'Donnell, who is a member for the area. I am glad that we have pleased some—if not all—Liberal Democrats.
I thank Mary Scanlon for her constructive speech and for her support for the inclusion on health boards of a proportion of directly elected members. I was about to reassure her that the Government is committed to abolishing prescription charges—I thought that that was what she wanted to hear—until David McLetchie said that the Tories do not want that. Perhaps the Tories need to sort out their position.
That is a helpful clarification, given that I was about to say that I look forward to working with Mary Scanlon to progress some of the points that she made. She suggested, quite fairly, that we should give credit to the previous Administration where that is due. In the spirit of consensus, I am happy to do that. For example, I acknowledge that the commitment on the cervical cancer vaccine was also in Labour's manifesto.
Mary Scanlon also raised the issue of hidden waiting lists, but as Labour has never acknowledged the existence of hidden waiting lists
I take the comments that Cathy Jamieson made in her opening speech as constructive criticism and look forward to her continuing in that constructive vein, but I have to say that Labour members' voting against the business motion on the first day back may not be the best evidence of the new politics. Notwithstanding that comment, we live in hope.
Cathy Jamieson's main focus was on the things that she alleges are not in the SNP's programme for government. She forgets that we were elected on a manifesto for a four-year term—not a 100-year term, as Tricia Marwick suggested. As Cathy Jamieson reeled off her questions for me, I could not help thinking up a few questions for her. She asked when we will get rid of student debt. I ask her to remember that it was her party that created a debt burden for graduates that now averages £14,000 a head. She asked me when we will put 1,000 more police officers on the streets. My question for her is, "What party's policies have led to every community in Scotland feeling under policed and to people feeling that it is not safe to walk the streets?" When, after 10 years of Labour government, Pauline McNeill accused us, after 112 days, of not coming up with a comprehensive strategy to tackle "intense poverty", I did not know whether to laugh or cry. She rightly pointed out the key challenges that face Glasgow—challenges such as drugs, crime, poverty—but I remind her that, until 3 May, when the good people of Govan decided to change things, Labour represented every constituency in the city of Glasgow. The Labour Party has been in government in Glasgow for generations.
As Roseanna Cunningham rightly said, the problems that Cathy Jamieson and Labour now want us to solve are the problems of their own making. Unfortunately, today, Labour members have been struck by a dose of collective amnesia about their party's record in office. We will solve those problems because this Government has a clear programme, a clear purpose and a determination to act.
Lord Foulkes complained about the lack of detail on affordable housing. I appreciate that affordable housing probably does not feature much on the agenda of the other chamber in which Lord Foulkes sits, but I point out to him that while he moans on the sidelines, the housing task force is already at work on the practical solutions to the problems that are the legacy of the most recent Labour Administration. That work will enable us to build the extra houses that, as Sarah Boyack identified, Labour failed to build.
We have made a good start to government—it has been some honeymoon, according to Wendy Alexander—but there is more to do. Our programme sets out the legislative and non-legislative action that we will take in the next year. We will take action to improve education and health and to boost the fight against crime, and will provide the opportunity for Scotland to decide its own future. When one reflects on the fact that perhaps the biggest change in the past 112 days has been Labour's transformation from a party that was implacably opposed to the Parliament having more powers to one that thinks that that is not such a bad idea after all, one must conclude that the campaign for independence is going very well indeed.
The programme that we have announced is one to be proud of. It is a programme that will and should unite not just everyone in the Parliament, but everyone in Scotland. With my colleagues in the new Government, I look forward to delivering for the people of Scotland.