Scottish Government (Record)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 9:39 am on 5th March 2009.

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Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 9:39 am, 5th March 2009

After almost two years in office, the Scottish Government cannot—despite what Nicola Sturgeon says—get away from the fact that it has done very little of substance. It came to power full of its own promises. I think that the SNP believed that its new Government would be a radical and reforming Government. After all, it was committed to dumping student debt—getting rid of not just the student endowment, but all student debt. It was committed to an extra 1,000 police officers, but what we have now is a projection. It was committed to matching, brick by brick, the previous coalition's school-building programme. We were going to have lower class sizes and nursery teachers for every nursery-age child. We were going to have a Scottish Futures Trust that actually did something. Of course, we were also going to get rid of the council tax and replace it with a fairer local income tax. That is not even to mention the first-time buyers grant of £2,000 and the generous kinship carers allowances. Wow. Utopia was meant to be here.

Over the past two years, we have seen those and other commitments being ditched, one after another. On the council tax, every SNP candidate said that getting rid of that discredited tax was their main priority. However, the Government did not even go to the trouble of introducing a draft bill to Parliament to test support for its plans. On the funding for capital projects, answers to parliamentary questions from my colleague, Jeremy Purvis, revealed that only two of the 35 capital projects for which the SNP takes the credit did not originate under the previous coalition Executive.

In two months' time, in my constituency, we will have the long-awaited reopening of Laurencekirk railway station. Nicol Stephen, as a previous transport minister, gave the go-ahead for that project and allocated more than £3 million to it. I wonder who will open the station in May—I could certainly have a guess. Should we congratulate the current Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change on not cancelling it?

The chief executive of Transport Scotland admitted in a letter to Danny Alexander, the member of Parliament for Inverness, that work on multimillion pound Highland road projects that are included in the strategic transport projects review will not even start for at least another eight years. The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, Stewart Stevenson, admitted in Parliament just last week that he did not take one project out of the STPR. However, he did not put one project into it either. That is marvellous work from the do-nothing transport minister—or perhaps I should call him the do-something transport minister, as what he did was delay the whole thing for six months while he did nothing. Our transport minister elevates doing nothing very much almost into an art form.

On education, does the Government really expect us all conveniently to forget the fact that the slogan "Dump the Debt" appeared on every leaflet, badge and postcard that it distributed to students? The campaign was very effective. My own sons, who were students, were tempted to vote for the SNP on the regional list because of that promise, which was sent directly to them in the post. However, I persuaded them not to be so silly as to vote for the SNP on that basis and I am glad to say that they did not do so. Nevertheless, many others did and I believe that the SNP will rue the day that it abandoned that promise.

I could list a whole raft of populist policies that the SNP Government has unceremoniously dumped, but that would take a great deal of time and I have only three minutes left. It seems to me that the Scottish Government has spent the past two years doing very little indeed. Perhaps it will become known as either the do-nothing Government or, at the very least, the do-very-little Government. Perhaps its new cunning plan is to appeal to the voters at the next election, in 2011, as the Government that does nothing but does it very well.