– in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd September 2013.
The next item of business is a debate on the Scottish Government’s programme for government.
The First Minister’s statement was so uplifting that I almost felt like reaching into Jackie Baillie’s handbag for a saltire. [Laughter.]
I imagined that during the recess the First Minister might like to re-engage with the real world but he is, on the evidence of his statement today, as distant and delusional about what Scotland is like as he was on the day that he left for the recess.
Despite Andy Murray’s best efforts, the summer did not get off to the best of starts for the First Minister. He has kept himself busy by making a series of speeches—each one more ludicrous than the last. We, too, could be like the Isle of Man: independent, but still part of five unions—everything changing, but nothing changing.
In his statement, the First Minister said that it is better for us to make decisions ourselves than to let other people do so, yet he is happy to cede economic policy, fiscal policy and monetary policy to a Westminster Treasury team. He knows that that does not make sense, and the members who sit behind him know it even better.
Over the recess, Alex Salmond made clear what his one priority is. It is not health, not education and not economic growth, but a referendum on independence—
Members: Where were you?
I will tell members where I was: I was listening—[Interruption.] You see, the difference is that when someone listens to people and understands what is happening in their lives, it informs their politics—not a project that they have been interested in for the past 40 years. It is not about talking to people, but about listening to their lived experience. The First Minister’s priority is just a referendum on independence. [Interruption.]
I know that that is the line that SNP members have been given and they have done very well at shouting it. Let us get on.
Today was an opportunity for the First Minister to draw a line under that summer of woe and to show us that we could take him seriously as Scotland’s First Minister. He could have done that by bringing forward a legislative programme that met one crucial test: to put the interests of the people of Scotland before the Scottish National Party’s interests. With this unambitious, lacklustre and moribund programme, he has completely failed.
This morning, Nicola Sturgeon described the programme as “radical”. I can think only that she has led a very sheltered life. I bow to no one in my interest in a bill on electronic signatures, and I am as interested in merging Historic Scotland as the next person, but nobody can pretend that such measures are “radical”. As the First Minister often reminds us, he won an unprecedented majority in May 2011, but he uses that power to put Scotland on pause.
We no longer have a Government—we have a campaign. It is a campaign that will do anything not to rock the boat ahead of next year’s vote, despite the challenges that we face, as a country.
As I have said, the First Minister made a series of speeches this summer. None of them spoke about the pressures on our health service and his plan to ensure that our care is not affected as a result of those. Indeed, listening to and reflecting on what the First Minister said in the passage in his statement on promoting fairness in the NHS and its safety programme, I was trying to work out whether he was totally insensitive, whether he was complacent or whether he actually lives in the real world at all. There was no mention of the concerns of staff and patients about hospital mortality rates—especially the concerns of the staff and patients in the constituency of his Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing. The First Minister waxes lyrical about his vision for Scotland, but he does not do the basic job of Government in addressing those problems.
This week, teachers have warned us that pressure on school resources will impact on education standards—in particular for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, we know the Scottish Government’s solution; Mike Russell has told us that he cannot do a thing to improve our schools until after independence.
We want the Government to address the concerns of people in the real world—I point out to Mike Russell that he went to the University of Glasgow and said in a press release that he could not do anything about schools until after independence. He ought not to deny that now.
On care, when I exposed the scandal of 15-minute care visits, the minister who is responsible, Michael Matheson, told me that it was an “old chestnut”. Since then, care workers have spoken out about the pressures that they face in being told to task and go, and not to speak to elderly people who are isolated in their homes. It turns out that Michael Matheson is partly right about 15-minute visits; in some areas, the visits are down to seven minutes. That is a scandal and an affront to all of us, and it should be the business of Government to address it. Instead of telling us that everything is fantastic, it should use the powers that it has to make a difference. When are we going to face up to this challenge? Not any time soon, by the sounds of it.
I will take Mr Mason in a moment.
On childcare, although we welcome the move to 600 hours, we would also welcome money for local authorities to deliver them—or we would welcome, at least, John Swinney outlining for us what our councils will have to cut from their budgets to pay for that promise. However, we know that that will not be enough to make a difference to families’ lives. How do we know that? The First Minister has told us that we will get a childcare revolution, but only after—you guessed it—independence. We have to address concerns right now.
On the bedroom tax, which was dreamed up by the Tories—[Interruption.]
Cue noises off.
The depressing thing is that the SNP has not lifted a finger to help people. It would take only £50 million to protect the most vulnerable tenants in Scotland from that unfair and unjust tax, but again we must wait until after independence. We have offered to work with the Scottish Government on the matter, but it has rejected us.
Today, Wonga has announced profits of £62.5 million. Where are the funds for a loan guarantee fund to stop people falling into the hands of the extortionate legal money lenders?
Young people are looking for the skills and qualifications that are needed in a tough jobs market. Where is the plan for our colleges, which have been decimated by the Government over the past few years. For the young people who depend on it, it will ring very hollow that the First Minister believes that we have free education in Scotland. If a person does not have access to a place, there is not much at all that is free about education.
Nicola Sturgeon said this morning that there is a programme for economic growth. I am sorry: the Government must do more than just say that for it to happen. A feature of the SNP Government is that it tells us that it is doing things, but it lives with a different world out there. There are unacceptable levels of unemployment, there is underemployment, people are stuck on low wages and there are zero-hours contracts. Where in the programme is the action to help people?
What could the Government do now to make a difference to people’s lives, instead of spending all its energy, enthusiasm and commitment in persuading people to vote for independence? If its members were to remember that they are parliamentarians rather than nationalists, they might know where to start.
Jenny Marra wants to produce measures to tackle the shame of human trafficking. Drew Smith is proposing an opt-out organ-donation system that could save many Scottish lives. Patricia Ferguson proposes to reform our fatal accident inquiry system to ensure that families are looked after when they lose a loved one. Iain Gray proposes to regulate our buses so that those who rely on public transport can get a bus when they need it. Richard Simpson is proposing a raft of measures to save lives by tackling Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Neil Findlay is taking steps to give people confidence in our politics again by reforming lobbying rules. Mark Griffin is proposing changes to help British Sign Language users.
The First Minister, with Scotland’s devolved powers, has the ability to do so much more, but his Government turns the other way. He is always telling us what he cannot do, rather than what he can do. He talks positively about devolution but either does not understand it or does not want it. He wants to frame the debate as though the choice is between Scotland and the Tories.
The First Minister denies that one of the great successes of devolution was when a Labour Government funded record levels of public services, which we were then allowed to deliver in our communities. He is a man who lacks even self-awareness. He tells us that Parliament listens to evidence and seeks consensus where possible. If only that were true. If it were true, his ludicrous, ill-thought-through and dangerous proposals for independence would have been flung out long ago.
The First Minister says that his referendum will give the people of Scotland the chance to finish our home rule journey. He takes for himself—ironically—the successes of devolution, which were delivered by those who are committed to staying in the United Kingdom, not by those who want to leave it.
The strange thing is that neither the First Minister nor the SNP were ever on that home rule journey. They would not sign the claim of right—I know because I was there. Alex Salmond stood outside the Scottish Constitutional Convention and had nothing to do with the Calman commission. I signed the claim of right; he absented himself from it. The truth is that Alex Salmond and the SNP refused to be part of the journey that set up the Parliament. They stood apart from the will of the Scottish people and those of us who fought for devolution. The irony is that those who are driven by a desire to take power closer to people through devolution are now witnessing a Scottish Government that pulls power to itself instead of empowering people. Why so timid on community empowerment? The SNP again stands apart from the will and ambitions of the Scottish people.
If there was any doubt that the SNP does not believe in devolution and this Parliament, it is its legislative programme. There is nothing in it to address the real needs of the Scottish people, there is nothing progressive, there is nothing radical and there is no attempt to exploit the Parliament’s full powers. Why is that? It is because it is not in Alex Salmond’s interests to prove what the Parliament can currently do, or to show that our lives can be improved by devolution. We all know that week in, week out, minister after minister says, “Well, that’s a very interesting problem. We’ll solve it after independence.” They damn themselves with their own words.
All Scotland knows that Alex Salmond will always put his own interests ahead of those of the people of Scotland. The First Minister puts his referendum ahead of Scotland’s needs. That is why the legislative programme is as thin as his case for separation. The First Minister has decided that Scotland must wait until after the referendum for any of our needs to be addressed. His back benchers must ask themselves whether they are parliamentarians or placemen and placewomen, because surely they can see that they are standing up for Salmond, rather than standing up for Scotland.
The depressing fact is that Scotland is on pause while we wait for Alex Salmond’s referendum, and families across my constituency and across the country are having to wait for action until the referendum comes. That is a denial of the First Minister’s responsibilities. I remind him that this battle is Scotland versus Salmond, and Scotland is going to win.
Perhaps we should not be surprised that in the same breath as the First Minster celebrates the success in tackling unemployment in Scotland, he claims that the UK Government's approach, which is fundamental to delivering economic growth, is all wrong for Scotland. The UK delivers for Scotland, yet it chokes the First Minster to admit that we are moving in the right direction, thanks to the action of the coalition in Whitehall. Despite that, in the same breath he said that he would keep the economic underpinnings of the pound sterling and the Bank of England.
It is with deep irony that a legislative programme has been presented that will mean that the parliamentary year will be marked not by the introduction of new laws to materially improve the lives of Scots, but by the Scottish Government’s obsession with the break-up of the United Kingdom and its white paper on independence, so this parliamentary session will be dominated by something that could not possibly be considered until more than a year from now. Clearly, I hope that it will never be considered.
We await the white paper’s appearance with interest. Planning for the break-up of the most successful political, economic and social union that the world has ever seen will take some time, but from the evidence of the Government’s programme, there has been time for little else, and the governance of Scotland is all but on hold. For unionists like me, that is the great tragedy of the referendum campaign, because at a time when we should be getting on with the job that the vast majority of the people of Scotland want us to do—working together to make Scotland a better place—valuable Government time is being spent on planning for something that even large numbers of SNP voters reject.
If we glance back at the SNP’s manifesto for the 2011 election, it shows us how many promises the party still has to honour. We should remember that we are talking about an Administration that has an overall majority that allows it to do anything that it wants with the powers at its disposal.
What happened to the grandiose promises to help to create new retail banks and to support social banking? Nothing. What about the promise to create the UK’s most competitive business taxation system? It has resulted in a new retail tax that will instead burden Scottish businesses with a £95 million disadvantage. There was also a pledge to create a simple town centre regeneration fund. I am sorry, but that is still under generation.
What about the promise to increase Scottish exports by 50 per cent in six years? The daddy of them all is the non-profit distributing scheme, which, it was promised, would in its first two years deliver up to £500 million of investment in building projects such as schools and hospitals, but which has so far produced only about £20 million of investment.
From what I can see from the programme that has been presented today, there is no intention to make good on those pledges any time soon. Instead, we have two new bills about the governance of public bodies and four bills on technical changes to the administration of law.
The proposed community empowerment and renewal bill makes great play of strengthening community voices, but will that mean that the Scottish Government will stop riding roughshod over communities when it comes to wind farm applications? Although the bill talks about streamlining community right to buy in the accompanying housing bill, that right is being taken away from individuals. In fact, in that housing bill we will see the abolition of the right to buy, which was the most empowering legislation passed in this country for a generation and which created a property-owning democracy. The First Minster talks about what is democratically right for this country, yet he seeks to deny its people the one thing that gave them real economic and social freedom. Thanks to the Conservative Party, thousands of people took control of their own lives, unshackled as they were from the whims of local authorities’ determination to control every aspect of their lives.
Indeed, it is also thanks in large part to the Conservative Party that the proposed revenues Scotland and tax powers bill is necessary to establish a system for dealing with the new tax-raising powers that will come to the Scottish Parliament in 2015. That is in response to the Scotland Act 2012 and the biggest transfer of fiscal powers for 300 years, which has been enacted by a Conservative-led UK Government.
It is thanks, too, to the Scottish Conservatives that we have those 1,000 police officers of which the First Minister spoke. It is also thanks to the Scottish Conservatives that the council tax freeze happened. We also called for action to improve the care for pre-school children and we are glad to see some recognition of the problems in that crucial phase of life in the continuing passage of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill.
It is therefore to be regretted that amidst the rhetoric about a commitment to education there is nothing in the programme that directly addresses the continuing underachievement of the thousands of young people who are leaving the education system unable to read, write or count properly. It is a stain on this country, with its once proud reputation for educational excellence, that approximately a fifth of our young people leave school functionally illiterate. Apart from improving life chances and employability by putting in more effort to tackle illiteracy, it would make us better able to tackle the challenges that are faced by the police and justice system in dealing with offenders.
Today, we have learned from the First Minister that the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill will now include the abolition of automatic early release for serious offenders. He rightly says that that practice no longer commands public respect. It is something about which the Scottish Conservatives have been ceaseless in our criticism. Unfortunately, despite promises not just in the First Minister’s 2011 manifesto but in his 2007 manifesto, the change will not extend to all offenders. Indeed, long-term sentences of over four years, which the First Minister talked about, accounted for just 3 per cent of sentences handed down last year. So, when 97 per cent of custodial sentences will be untouched by the change, it should be no surprise to the First Minister that we will continue to argue that the reduction of prison terms passed by our courts should in principle be a reward and not a right.
As one welcome measure is introduced—albeit taking baby steps—a fundamental liberty could be at risk from another bill. It is the plan under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill to abolish the safeguard of corroboration in criminal trials without a full review of the law of evidence—something that we believe is essential if the change is not to lead to miscarriages of justice in the future. The precious principle of innocence until guilt is proved must be protected, but there is a real risk that it will be sacrificed to secure more convictions, in particular for sex crimes. Of course, we all want all offenders to be caught and punished, but the price must not be the removal of liberty from the blameless.
I urge the First Minister, if he will not listen to members of this Parliament, to listen to the Scottish legal profession. The Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates have argued that the proposal will lead to miscarriages of justice without significant change in criminal procedure. Removal of corroboration from Scots law will potentially leave Scotland with one of the lowest levels of protection against wrongful conviction in the western world. So, we urge the Scottish Government not to introduce the change without undertaking a wider review of the law of evidence.
The First Minister says in his programme’s foreword:
“It is now time to extend the advantages of self-government”.
I agree with that but, sadly, the programme is notable not for what it achieves but for what it does not achieve. It does little to extend the advantages that he has, because it is not in his interests to make devolution work as we believe it can. It is in his narrow self-interest to hold back this country, to limit its ambitions within the framework of the United Kingdom and to present a deliberately negative and uninspiring picture of Scotland. We do not recognise his view of a nation that is trodden on by its bigger neighbour, but we do see a thriving nation that is playing a crucial and enthusiastic role in the continued development of the fully integrated family of nations of these islands.
The First Minister says that he is ambitious for Scotland but, sadly, this programme shows that that ambition is more for him than for his country.
With more than 50,000 incidents a year, domestic violence is far too prevalent in Scotland. Too many women and men suffer behind closed doors, and often in silence. On this first day of the new parliamentary term, we should signal our renewed determination to root out the problem. I would welcome new proposals from the Government on how we can do more to tackle domestic violence in our country, on education to help people to identify abusive relationships, on reviewing guidelines on prosecution for domestic violence, and on funding for the range of organisations and facilities that support people who find themselves in abusive relationships.
I am pleased that the Scottish Parliament will be given an early opportunity to vote on equal marriage. It is a mark of a modern, open, tolerant and liberal society that those who wish to get married can do so. Churches will have the power and the right not to participate in such ceremonies. Individuals will also be protected if they do not wish to conduct such ceremonies, even if their church wants to.
Is Willie Rennie assured by the reassurances that have been given that ministers, clerics and even denominations will not be dragged through the courts because the European Court of Human Rights can make the ultimate decision?
I am. The appropriate measures will be taken at Westminster to introduce changes to the Equality Act 2010, which will protect the individuals about whom John Mason talked. We need to ensure that Scotland joins the nations of the world that have equal marriage on the statute book, because it is a mark of the modern society that I want Scotland to become.
I would like the Scottish Parliament to match what is happening on childcare in England. This week, thousands of two-year-olds in England will get the chance—the right—to have 15 hours of nursery education each week. The First Minister has denied Scottish children that, but he could change all that. He could concede that Professor James Heckman is right when he says that the best education investment takes place before the age of three. There is an opportunity to improve young people’s life chances through education. If the First Minister wanted to, he could include such a proposal in his legislative programme.
In his statement, the First Minister spent much time on outlining new—and sometimes old—initiatives on community empowerment, which is close to my heart. I am sure that we will look carefully at the proposals that he makes, and that we will support measures to give communities more powers. However, the reality and the record are something different, after the centralisation of our police and fire services, which was one of the biggest transfers of power from local government to central Government since devolution—so much for community empowerment.
Recent news has shown that the economy is on the mend and that we are moving towards recovery. This morning, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development gave a positive assessment of growth. Substantial progress has been made on the UK Government’s plan to cut the deficit, which has since 2010 reduced by a third as a percentage of gross domestic product.
Significant progress has been made in the past year on job creation and reducing unemployment. Although the Scottish figures wobble from month to month, it is clear that we are benefiting from the 1 million new private sector jobs that have been created across the UK.
The challenges that are faced by the hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland who are still out of work need to be met by our two Governments working together. I support much of what the Scottish Government does on growth and employment, but it is important that it and its agencies promote the UK schemes that are available in Scotland, too. For example, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills survey shows that there are fewer companies in Scotland with apprentices than there are in the rest of the UK.
Scottish businesses will get £2,000 off their national insurance from next April because of the changes that the UK Government is making. I want ministers in both Governments to promote that so that small businesses think about using the savings to take on an apprentice or another employee.
I also want to hear Scottish ministers telling Scottish companies about the £1 billion youth contract that provides businesses with up to £2,275 per person for a job, training or work experience, and about the funding-for-lending scheme and the business bank, which will provide billions of pounds of low-cost capital.
There is also the UK enterprise capital fund, which is worth £200 million, and the annual investment allowance for plant and machinery, which is being increased from £25,000 to £250,000 for two years. The UK Green Investment Bank, which is based in Edinburgh, has £3.8 billion-worth of UK Government money to help to unblock the financing of renewables projects. It is my hope that the Scottish Government will work closely with the UK Government to maximise those opportunities for Scotland.
The next 12 months will set the course of this country for the next 300 years and more. The power that is vested in the hands of the people who live in our great nation is immense. I am in no doubt that everyone in this chamber wants the best for Scotland; we just disagree on how we want to achieve it. My support for a strong Scottish Parliament with home rule in a strong partnership with the United Kingdom is on the record. The stakes are high and the risks are great, but the opportunity of a renewed constitutional settlement within the UK is within our grasp.
I thank the Government for advance sight of the First Minister’s statement, much of which concentrated on the referendum next year. It is quite right that both sides continue to make arguments to further their case and Greens will continue to argue for the principle of decentralisation: that decisions should be made as close as possible to those whom they affect. I hope that we can all make our arguments with the mutual respect that best facilitates the debate among us and among all those in Scotland outside the Parliament who will really decide.
It is important, however, that we spend time making the best use of the powers that we already have. The way in which we develop the economy is extremely important, and I am pleased to hear the First Minister make the argument that looking after the health and wellbeing of Scotland’s people and creating an inclusive society in which the maximum number of people can participate is key to making Scotland flourish.
When Professor Stiglitz spoke to the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee in February he emphasised the importance of using a dashboard of indicators to measure a society’s success. We must aim not to create growth in the economy purely for growth’s sake. People want high-quality, meaningful, secure and well-paid jobs with full employment rights; warm, secure homes with secure tenancies; first-class education and health services; and a clean environment in which to live—not an extra percentage point on GDP that benefits only a few.
Scotland’s national performance framework gives us hope that we can lose the tunnel vision that GDP imposes and emphasise the things that make people’s lives better and more fulfilling. Measuring median household income is one practical change that we could easily make to help to ensure that our economic policy benefits more people.
Government is expected to deliver across a wide spectrum of social, environmental and economic outcomes; public procurement accounts for £9 billion of spending a year and should be expected to do the same. We are constrained by European Union procurement rules, but we must not use that as an excuse for not making progress with the forthcoming procurement bill. It is our responsibility to make Scottish procurement work hard for Scottish society and for our environment and economy.
It is very important that our small and microbusinesses are better able to access public procurement contracts and compete for work. Small, locally owned businesses create a resilient economy and they are more likely to hold on to and value staff and less likely to disappear off seeking the next big tax break or subsidy. Ministers might not get to stand in front of the latest new thing cutting the ribbon, but there is substantial evidence to support the wisdom of investing in smaller local-level infrastructure projects as the best way to help people to create jobs and to help the economy.
I will be interested to look in more detail at today’s statement and at the impacts of the planned bills on women and children. We need to understand how a legislative programme or a policy change benefits different sections of society. We already know that the coalition Government is imposing a gendered austerity on Britain. The cuts affect men and women, but it is women who are chiefly being hit—hit through the loss of benefits, hit through the loss of public sector jobs and hit as they are expected to fill the gap left by underfunded care and community services.
The Scottish Government published its own gender analysis of the UK cuts last week. I hope that that will be replicated for other areas of policy. A gender analysis of this year’s budget would be a welcome addition. Gender comes into play across almost all areas of society, including starkly in health and sport. Last month’s British Medical Journal reported that only 38 per cent of seven-year-old girls in Scotland engage in an hour’s worth of physical activity each day, compared with 63 per cent of boys.
Significantly more men than women cycle, and only proper investment in safe junctions and segregated cycle lanes will convince more people that cycling will improve, not endanger, their health. The Government must increase spend on cycling and walking infrastructure or the target of 10 per cent of journeys to be made by bike by 2020 will remain a vague and unsupported vision. Many people in Scotland cannot afford to or do not want to have to rely on a private car. They want transport justice and they want investment in public transport to be increased to ensure that the Government does not continue to miss climate targets.
The First Minister also talked of decentralisation and building strong local democracy. So far, the Government has failed to convince me and many others that it is really committed in this area. I find it deeply ironic that a Government that is campaigning for full independence has, in effect, removed local authorities’ ability to raise the revenue that they need to fund local services properly. We do not want a mini-Westminster here. Devolution must not stop here in Holyrood.
The community empowerment and renewal bill should help clubs such as Musselburgh Windsor to take over the changing facilities that it needs. It should allow input from and engagement with those who want to contribute to improving and running local activities, to working with the NHS on hospital community gardens and to using vacant land for allotments, working alongside local authorities and others. However, we need to ensure that communities have sufficient capacity and support to make that a reality.
Scottish Greens look forward to progress on equal marriage and on childcare, which is much needed. The proposed bills on welfare additions, food standards and housing are welcome, too.
I do not have time to cover everything that I would like to, but I look forward to listening to the rest of the debate.
We move to the open debate. I call Mark McDonald, to be followed by James Kelly. Speeches should be six minutes or thereby, please.
This is my first speech in the Parliament since the Donside by-election. [Applause.] It is important that I begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, Brian Adam, who, as we all know, had tributes paid to him in the Parliament at the time of his passing. Brian was a great source of encouragement and inspiration for me during my time as an activist and then as a city councillor, when I worked closely with him. He was a man who always put the communities of his constituency at the forefront, and that is something that I aim to do in following in his footsteps.
The Aberdeen Donside constituency is something of a microcosm for many of the issues that affect the wider Scotland. Its social dynamics, which members will have seen as they came to campaign, range from the affluent to the areas of poverty that still exist within what is regarded outside Aberdeen as a rich city. We still have what my colleague Kevin Stewart has oft described as poverty amidst plenty within the city of Aberdeen.
I spent the summer going round my constituency and talking to various groups in the community about issues that affect them and, turning to the legislative programme that lies before us, I note that much in it will be of interest and benefit to the communities that I represent. It was interesting to note Johann Lamont claiming that Scotland is now on pause. I think that it is worth noting that Ms Lamont seemed to spend the entire summer on mute. The community empowerment and renewal bill will offer significant opportunities for community groups and organisations across Scotland. I echo some of what Alison Johnstone said about that. I hope that it will allow, for example, the development of community gardens and play facilities, and allow sports clubs to come together to develop facilities on land that is currently unused.
Those are the kind of opportunities that we want to see being unlocked, because there often seems to be far too much bureaucratic process lying in the way of that happening. I hope that legislation can be introduced that will allow such groups to take control of resources within their communities and operate them for the benefit of people in their communities.
One of the other interesting and very welcome elements of the legislative programme is the airgun licensing. I encountered that issue during my time in Aberdeen as a parliamentary researcher and latterly as a councillor. It was being pushed very hard by Norman Collie, a Labour councillor at that time, in relation to a potential City of Aberdeen byelaw to deal with the issue.
I was delighted to receive Norman Collie’s backing and endorsement during the course of the Donside by-election campaign and I am sure that he would be equally delighted to learn of the progress that is being made on airgun licensing in this Parliament. It is a demonstration of this Parliament taking action in Scotland to deal with priorities that have been identified within Scotland.
I noticed George Osborne’s visit to my constituency today. He trotted out the claim that we do not need to look at taking control of oil in Scotland because it is already benefiting Scotland, apparently. If he took the time while visiting my constituency to go and knock the doors in areas such as Middlefield and Cummings Park, he would encounter many individuals who are feeling the sharp end of his welfare reform and austerity agenda.
What we need to do is less of the taking away of the benefits from people and more to ensure that those who are in work—
No, no, no. We need to do more to ensure that those who are in work and who rely on in-work benefits because of poor pay are lifted out of that depressing cycle. That is a way to reduce the benefit bill and improve the lot of people. It would be far better if we saw George Osborne acting on that, rather than coming to preach to Scotland. That is why the legislative underpinning of the welfare fund is welcome—albeit depressing, because it highlights the idea that pervades the unionist parties that the function of the chamber should be to mitigate bad decisions taken at Westminster using only the small array of tools at our disposal.
If that lack of self-belief and vision is so inherent in the no campaign, it is little wonder that its supporters cannot lift their eyes to the horizon and look at the future that Scotland could see and could realise, were the chamber possessed of the full powers of independence to take decisions on behalf of the people who elect us.
I thank the member for taking an intervention. The Scottish welfare fund has of course been devolved to Scotland by the UK Government. How can the member explain the fact that the Scottish Government cannot seem to spend it?
In an interesting twist of fate, the Scottish welfare fund is also being administered via Scotland’s local authorities. I am sure that the member will welcome that, given that she is so concerned about giving powers to local authorities. Perhaps if the member gets on the blower to her local Labour council and gets it to do more to promote the welfare fund, she might find that it would start to spend some of that money on the people who need it the most.
The eyes of the world will be on us over the next 12 months as we shape up for the independence referendum. We stand ready to join the family of nations as a full member, but again we find self-belief and vision so lacking as Alistair Darling claims that Scotland would struggle on the world stage and would not have the reputation of the UK in international affairs. I am not entirely sure that that is necessarily a bad thing, but it is worth pausing to look at nations around us. If we look at the pivotal role played by Norway during the course of the Middle East peace process and at the exemplary record of Ireland when it comes to contributions to United Nations peacekeeping missions, we see that being a big country waving its guns around and swaggering on the world stage does not necessarily make that country a key contributor to world affairs.
All too often, the UK’s reputation is that of one who hides behind the playground bully and occasionally peeks out to say “Yeah” in support. That is not the reputation that I want for Scotland on the international stage. We can do better; we will do better.
You would think that ministers, in considering the programme for Government, might have taken some time over the recess to exit their offices to look at what is actually happening in the country. If they had done so, they would have seen the cost-of-living crisis due to the 6.4 per cent real-terms drop in wages that workers are having to suffer, the 25 per cent drop in the number of homes built, resulting in a housing crisis with a potential shortfall of 160,000 homes in 2035, and the scandal of zero-hours contracts whereby workers are being exploited.
Let me make some progress.
None of those issues is addressed in the programme for Government. The SNP Government and its back benchers have become a team of one-trick ponies, the record stuck on continually playing the tune of independence.
The procurement bill—legislation that is being introduced—does not exactly inspire confidence. As Alison Johnstone quite rightly said, we need to look at how the £9 billion that is spent on public procurement could be spent advantageously for local economies. However, we can hardly be inspired with confidence when we see that Sir Peter Housden is being required to appear before the Public Audit Committee tomorrow to explain £500 million of unreported cost—£0.5 billion is hardly an amount of money that might be lost down the back of the settee. How can we have confidence in procurement when there is no control and transparency in key transport projects?
I will give way to Mark McDonald, who is no doubt fresh from the Haudagain roundabout. He probably had to leave last Tuesday to reach the Parliament today.
I thank the member for giving way. He mentioned zero-hours contracts, pay and conditions and expenditure on housing. Can he remind us where, in relation to this Parliament, decisions on employment and capital spending are taken?
On the issue of what this Parliament is responsible for, the member might want to look at the Borders rail project and some of the examples of zero-hours contracts there. That is a Scottish Government responsibility.
In the procurement bill, the Scottish Government should be looking at addressing some of those issues. How can we introduce a living wage to some of the contracts that are being handed out by the Scottish Government? How can we tackle the issue of blacklisting—something that SNP MSPs were silent on before the recess? It is an absolute scandal that trade unionists should be penalised for their activities by being blacklisted. We should be examining that issue closely. We should also look seriously at how we can support apprenticeships and training programmes not only to help businesses, but to support young people and the economy. Labour will examine those issues in the procurement bill.
There is a complete absence from the programme of anything to do with buses, which are a big issue in local communities. We know why that is. The SNP Government has cut the reimbursement rates for concessionary travel, so routes are being cut—bus operators in my constituency have told me that. That means that pensioners and people in local communities are being left stranded without bus services. SNP members’ attitude to that is to shut their eyes and to pretend that it is not happening. Some of the proposals in Iain Gray’s proposed bus regulation (Scotland) bill would help to tackle those issues.
The tragedy is that the SNP’s obsession with independence has undermined our ability as a Parliament to deal with the issues that affect hundreds of thousands of Scots. While we were mired in a housing crisis, the Parliament was taking time to debate the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq war. While thousands of food parcels are handed out in communities every week, the First Minister and his Government have armies of civil servants looking at the independence referendum. While pensioners are stranded as a result of bus routes being axed, the Government rushes out yet another consultation.
To sum up, the SNP Government is too busy talking to itself instead of standing up for Scotland. This is not the time for a time out. The Scottish Government needs a plan of action now that addresses the anxieties and problems of Scotland’s communities in 2013.
As we look on, virtually helpless, we see Iain Duncan Smith and his coalition colleagues damning the most vulnerable to a future of hopelessness and financial misery. While the bankers and Tory donors are bought off with tax dispensations and bonuses, the poor, the sick and the struggling must be made to pay for that. In the post-war years, with the national health service and family allowance coming on stream, there was a belief that Government was beginning to turn around the great divide between rich and poor and north and south. Now, we should look at what has happened in the space of just a few months. Not only has any sort of movement towards equality and a real diminution of child poverty—an issue that the Scottish Parliament has made good efforts to tackle since its instigation—been arrested but the tide has been reversed.
It can hardly come as a surprise to the UK Government’s leaders that women and families are disproportionately affected by that Government’s benefit reform programme.
I agree with much of what the member says, but the change has not been over a few months; instead, it has been decades since the post-war consensus was thrown out. Arguments such as those for tax competition have been a big part of the reason why we have moved away from the trend towards equality. Should not Scotland reject such arguments rather than attempt a new generation of the same thing?
Patrick Harvie makes a relevant point, but the points that I will go on to outline are about the changes in the past few months. I take on board completely what the member says about the past decades, but the changes that I will talk about have happened in the past few months.
Last week, a National Children’s Bureau report showed that up to 1.5 million more children are growing up in poor households now than in 1973. That is UK progress for us. We have the freeze on child benefit; the benefit cap; the reduction in the proportion of childcare costs that are covered by working tax credit; the increase in the taper rate for all tax credits; the removal of the baby element of child tax credits; the requirement for lone parents on income support with a youngest child aged five to move to jobseekers allowance; and the abolition of the health in pregnancy grant. That is all before the assault of the bedroom tax on families who have the audacity to give their two children separate rooms or, for those with disabilities, space for special equipment. Those are all attacks on equality for women in our society.
As the Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said last week, the Scottish Government is doing all that it can to mitigate the problem using the resources and powers that are available to it. So we have the tale of two Governments and the choice of two futures. We are at a crossroads for our nation. One choice is an SNP Government that is providing an extra £9.2 million towards the new £33 million Scottish welfare fund. That fund has already helped more than 20,000 people and it has the capacity to support about 200,000 people. We should all be promoting that fund with our local authorities. I commend the fact that the welfare fund is being put on a statutory footing.
However, our powers are limited. Only with a yes vote can Scotland’s Government set about creating a fair, caring and compassionate welfare system that does not punish those who are sick, poor or vulnerable. Our approach will, I believe, be positive, constructive and supportive, rather than one that implies blame or that labels people as benefit scroungers. Everyone will be working for and will be supported by the Scottish common weal.
As colleagues in the Parliament are aware, I have a close and very personal interest in the lives of those who suffer from motor neurone disease. On average, victims of MND live for 14 months from diagnosis. Those sufferers, having been assaulted in 2008 by the work capability assessment, now have to be put through the mill of Department for Work and Pensions welfare benefits assessments, questionnaires and appeals as well as the worry that they might not be able to support themselves financially through such a traumatic time.
It seems downright malevolent to force a terminally ill person to go through that, and that is to say nothing of the waste of taxpayers’ money. People with MND do not get better; they get worse and they die, but the Westminster Government believes that, unless someone is likely to die within six months, they are not terminally ill and they might well be considered fit for work—as many MND sufferers have been told—and have their benefits withdrawn.
Then there is the bedroom tax. They lose their jobs because they are no longer physically capable of work. They need special adaptations to cope at home. They need kit like a wheelchair or breathing equipment to keep them safe overnight and it all takes up a lot of space in their bedrooms. Not surprisingly, their carers—who are probably their spouses—have to give up their work to look after them and need a second room to catch up on the much-needed sleep that they require to care for the person through the day. For that privilege, the family is expected to pay £12 a week.
Lord Freud—members know him: he was employed by the Tories on the other side of the chamber and continued in employment by the Tories on this side of the chamber—said in a letter to me this week that the options that people have
“in some cases could include taking in a lodger, finding work or increasing their hours of work.”
How disgustingly out of touch he is. Not only that, he directly contradicted his Prime Minister.
It does not take a rocket scientist to work out that child poverty and discrimination against the most vulnerable and poorest in our society increase the gap between rich and poor. The no parties need to ask themselves whether they really want to back policies that are designed to militate against the most needy and to reward the wealthiest.
With independence comes the responsibility and freedom for Scotland to make its own choices and to introduce policies that do not condemn to social exclusion those who are already struggling. At the last count, we were talking about 80,000 of Scotland’s most vulnerable families. The UK is the fourth most unequal country in the developed world. An independent Scotland would be the fourth most equal, resting alongside other small independent nations such as Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.
What does the no campaign have to offer? It offers a continuation of the increasing divergences between the rich, who get richer, and the poor, who get poorer.
We have a choice of two futures. I say choose independence and choose a fairer Scotland.
Dare I say that it is good to be back? The summer recess is often our only opportunity to pause, take stock and come back with fresh ideas—although I admit that I ended up with a little more time than I expected.
There is much in the Government’s programme that my Labour colleagues and I welcome. Although the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill could go further, it will, we hope, make a difference to the provision of care for three and four-year-olds. The Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Bill will bring to the fore once again the discussion about how we deliver social care. The proposed community empowerment and renewal bill could provide an opportunity to involve local communities in their own decision making. However, that does not feel like the sort of legislative programme that will tackle the major problems that face Scotland—the economy, the cost of living and inequality—or create the sort of modern Scotland that many, if not most, members wish to see.
The countdown clocks in SNP headquarters may be clicking over the 380 days to next September, but the legislative programme suggests that many have forgotten that there are still 1,000 days left in government. That is 1,000 days to modernise our education system, to get young people off the dole and into work and to rebuild confidence in our besieged college sector. It is 1,000 days to change the way in which business is conducted in Scotland, to support small businesses and not multinationals, to protect workers from zero-hours contracts and to introduce a strategic plan to create a living wage programme. It is 1,000 days to implement radical land reform the likes of which we saw in the early days of the Parliament, to promote community ownership, to encourage new co-operative and collaborative ways of delivering the rail system and to protect bus users with robust regulation.
I admit to having a little laugh at my career trajectory from Government supporter to shadow minister to Opposition back bencher. However, I suggest to SNP colleagues who may believe that they are enjoying the political good times that one is never more conscious of the opportunity to make a difference than when that opportunity is taken away. By that, I simply mean that they should make the most of their time in Government. They should not put all their political eggs in the basket of independence and be disappointed when they break.
There is much that we can do right here and right now to help the people of Scotland. Mr Brown, the Minister for Transport and Veterans, is currently presiding over the allocation of the Scottish rail passenger franchise. At more than £2.5 billion pounds, it is one of the biggest contracts that the Scottish Government handles, and I know that I am not alone in believing that we could get better value and a better service for that money.
We can agree across this chamber that it is neither fair nor right that a Dutch or German Government-owned firm can bid for the franchise but that a Scottish Government-owned firm cannot. However, where we seem to part company is that l believe that we can do more than just rail—pardon the pun—against the iniquities of rail privatisation and an unsympathetic Tory Government; I believe that we can do something about it. The power to award the franchise lies with this Government here in Scotland and this Parliament here in Holyrood.
In the next few weeks, the Co-operative Party and others, including the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen—ASLEF—intend to publish a document highlighting the many benefits that would flow to the Scottish public, rail passengers and our industry and transport infrastructure if only we were to pursue a more collaborative and co-operative approach to the running of this public service. I ask only that Mr Brown, his ministerial colleagues and the many SNP MSPs who I believe will be sympathetic look at the document with a view to shaping the way in which they award the new passenger franchise. It is a decision that is likely to be in place for the next 10 years. Once taken, it is unlikely that the referendum—whatever way the vote goes—will affect it, so why not start shaping the new Scotland right now?
I have not read the document but it sounds like I might be sympathetic to that argument. However, does Mr Macintosh agree that, although the awarding of the franchise is devolved, the terms of the franchise are hugely encumbered by the fact that they are set by Westminster at this moment in time?
Mr Hepburn emphasises the very point that I am trying to make. Why does the SNP always look at things that it cannot do rather than things that it can do? It can shape the franchise and it can promote social enterprise, community benefit and worker co-operation. All of those things are within its power. It could run a not-for-profit company in relation to the franchise, if it had the political will. We have the political will, and we would join the SNP in supporting that.
Tomorrow evening I hope to join John Wilson and others in the SNP and across the chamber in welcoming and debating Oxfam’s report on the economy. Scotland often prides itself on being a more progressive country than the rest of the UK—more altruistic and less selfish in our politics and our voting intentions. Today, I am conscious that David McLetchie would describe that claim as a moot point, but it is an issue that I would like the Government to pursue and explore. Why can we not set an example in pursuing a more ethical economy? If we believe that it is morally right for people and companies to pay their taxes in order to pay for the schools and hospitals that we all need, is there not more that the Scottish Government could do to support that culture of social responsibility? The minister knows how strongly I and my colleagues feel about our handing over millions of pounds to companies such as Amazon. However, rather than excuse or explain how we ended up subsidising that immensely profitable multinational, can we not introduce a set of criteria that favours local small businesses?
Government procurement is not the most radical reforming agenda but, as Alison Johnstone and James Kelly have already pointed out, it could provide an opportunity for the Government to make a statement about the economic values that it holds dear. Why not use it to promote not just small Scottish businesses but good working practices, union recognition or the living wage? People do not want to have dead-end or exploitative jobs and they do not want zero-hours contracts. This Government and this Parliament could do something about that right now.
I was going to make a point about education, but I will move to my conclusion.
I worry that, today, we are debating the platform of a Government with only one objective—independence—and that, in the meantime, Scotland is on hold. If this Government could see beyond the referendum, it would see that the issues that are on people’s minds are to do with their jobs and livelihoods and the education and future prospects of their children, not constitutional change. We did not need independence to deliver the smoking ban, to rebuild all our schools or to introduce free personal care and the free bus pass for the elderly. We do not need it to oppose privatisation of the NHS. We did all of those things through devolution, and it is through devolution—through the powers and the political will of this Parliament—that we can build the new, progressive Scotland.
I am very pleased to have been asked to contribute to this important debate on the Government’s programme.
Those members who have had ministerial experience will know that the content of a Government’s programme is the culmination of months of hard work. Behind the scenes, many dedicated and committed individuals—whether they be ministers, special advisers or civil servants—have been working away hard. On the document itself, I know from experience that the minister responsible will be feeling some relief that it is finally printed and at the back of the chamber. They, the First Minister and other ministers should also take some satisfaction from still delivering so effectively on behalf of the Scottish people after more than eight years in government. The Government continues to demonstrate that it is an experienced team that works together on behalf of the people of Scotland and always puts Scotland first. It has a record to be proud of and is still driving forward positively to improve the quality of life of our citizens. Most important of all, it has a vision for the future that is about hope, aspiration and taking Scotland forward—a future in which the people of Scotland will gain from having responsibility for the political and economic direction that the nation takes.
With just over a year to go until the referendum, this debate is not only an opportunity to consider some of the Government’s significant proposals in the programme—in particular, I welcome the announcements on the housing bill, the community empowerment and renewal bill and the courts reform bill; it is also a chance for us to have a quick look back at the gains that the Parliament has brought to the people of Scotland since the advent of devolution. Those gains would simply never have been achievable if decisions in those areas had been left to Westminster. I pay tribute to the former Labour and Liberal coalition of the first eight years of devolution, which, as we have already heard other members suggest, ushered in leading legislation on land reform and ensured free care for the elderly in Scotland, for instance. Similar tribute can be paid to the Parliament and an SNP Government that swept away tuition fees, scrapped prescription charges and kept its promises to deliver an extra 1,000 police officers. None of those gains would have been possible had the reins of responsibility remained at Westminster.
There are many more demonstrations of how Scotland is making more appropriate choices for its future as a result of responsibility resting here in Edinburgh. Perhaps the most notable relates to Scotland’s national health service, which the First Minister alluded to. Scotland’s national health service is what it says on the tin; it is not the fragmented organisation south of the border that is in danger of meltdown as a result of Westminster’s flawed policy choices. On health matters, I am also pleased to see the mental health and adults with incapacity bill in the programme. That bill is important to protect vulnerable people.
I am not making the comments that I am making to applaud the actions of any one party or any one organisation in the Parliament; I do so for this institution—this place called “Holyrood”. I do so for the Parliament of Scotland. Over the years, the direction that Parliament has set for Scotland has served only to deepen my belief about who the best people are to make the decisions about our future. By that, I mean the people who happen to live and work in Scotland. They self-evidently have more invested in Scotland’s future and are therefore much more likely to make the appropriate decisions and better choices. The creation of the Parliament has demonstrated beyond doubt that Scotland has gained through having more responsibility in her own hands.
The revenue Scotland and tax powers bill is a historic but small first step, as the First Minister described it. However, it is now time to put responsibility for the full range of powers in the hands of the people I mentioned.
It is time to give the people of Scotland the opportunity to create new gains and make better choices through setting their own direction, and to give them the opportunity, for instance, to decide for themselves, if they so choose, to say no to a new generation of weapons of mass destruction based on the Clyde. It is time to give Scotland the opportunity to gain hugely from not having to take part in what is no more than a vanity project that is unjustifiable using moral, environmental, strategic or economic arguments.
Unfortunately, however, all unionist parties are now committed to throwing untold billions of pounds at a new generation of nuclear weapons based in Scotland. As the First Minister said earlier, last year the UK Government announced £350 million more of spending on the next stage of Trident renewal. That sum is barely one third of one per cent of the £100 billion of the total lifetime cost of replacing Trident. I cannot understand for the life of me why we are having this argument and why Scotland cannot make its own decision. We have a Government in Westminster committed not only to spending all that money on Trident but to bringing in the bedroom tax and welfare cuts, which are creating much misery in so many of our homes.
The one undeniable fact is that most people and Scottish parliamentarians are opposed to those abhorrent weapons. Irrespective of that, it is Westminster that will decide whether to commit billions of pounds on a project that is not worth the pennies that are spent on it.
The evidence is clear for everyone to see: the only democratic means by which we can halt the madness of siting a new generation of nuclear weapons only a few miles from our largest city, Glasgow, is independence. I hope and I pray that, when we get to September next year, Scotland will deliver that.
There have been times when members could have been forgiven for not realising that we were debating the Scottish Government’s legislative programme for 2013-14, although occasionally they may have realised that that was the case.
Most members on the SNP benches do not want to talk about the Government’s legislative programme. We listened carefully to the bills that were outlined in minute detail during the First Minister’ statement. We on this side of the chamber will happily support some of the bills, we will want to examine and amend some of them and I am sure that we will ultimately reject others. However, the totality of the programme on offer is relatively thin for a Government with an in-built majority that could make fundamental reforms to a whole range of systems.
Let us focus on some of the details that we have heard about. One of today’s big announcements was about automatic early release. That was a case of classic Scottish Government speak. It ignored the fact that the Conservative Party had formal plans to reverse automatic early release, it blamed the former UK Government and the previous Liberal-Labour Scottish Executive for not reversing it, but it conveniently ignored the fact that, for six years in power, it failed to reverse the policy.
We had a statement of fine principle:
“We have now all accepted the need to end the system of automatic early release ... It does not command public confidence.”
However, moments later, it was made clear that it will be ended only for some people. We welcome any reversal of automatic early release.
For the benefit of the record, will Gavin Brown remind us who introduced automatic early release?
That has been put on the record a number of times. I have just mentioned it, but I will say it again. It was introduced in 1993 by the Conservative Government, which, in 1997, sought to reverse it.
The reality is that, despite that fine statement of principle, the Scottish Government is only reversing automatic early release for a minority of offenders. The Government needs to explain what percentage of offenders will be dealt with under the proposal and why, if there is such a strong principle—a principle with which we agree—it will apply only to such a small number of offenders.
We heard from the First Minister about the courts reform bill. That is another bill that we will examine in detail. Lord Gill’s initial report was a weighty one. An element of that bill—the Cabinet Secretary for Justice may want to respond to this—is that it gives far more work to sheriff courts. We are giving the sheriff courts more work to do tomorrow, but the slight problem is that we shut many sheriff courts yesterday. Perhaps the justice minister will explain how we can give sheriff courts far more work while shutting them at the same time. The First Minister said, in relation to the UK Government, that some people see the price of policies and not their value. That applies equally to the Scottish Government’s decision to close down numerous sheriff courts across the country.
We heard the usual hyperbole. The Scottish Government is creating a quango by the name of revenue Scotland—indeed, it already exists—which will be responsible for the collection of the landfill tax and the land and buildings transaction tax. The Scottish Government says that establishing revenue Scotland is “an historic step”. If setting up a tax quango to pick up two taxes—in fact, it is not even collecting the taxes but overseeing their collection, which is a minor detail—is an historic step, I do not want to see something that is not an historic step.
Perhaps the Government or any SNP member can explain what is happening with the procurement reform bill. We welcomed the proposal when it was announced in 2011 and when it was re-announced in 2012, but I heard nothing about the bill from the Government today, and when I checked this morning it had not been introduced. The bill seems to have been delayed, rather like most of the Scottish Government’s procurement projects, which is ironic.
During the past few years, we have heard numerous bits of new language to describe the consequences of the recession. A zombie debtor is an indebted consumer who is able to pay only the debt interest each month. A zombie company is one that does the bare minimum that is needed if it is to exist as a company. We now have, with the SNP, a zombie Government—a Government that is so focused on the referendum campaign that it does the bare minimum that is needed to exist as a Government. That is what we heard from the Government today.
I am delighted to speak in support of the Government’s programme.
Today marks the beginning of a parliamentary year that will take us to within touching distance of the biggest decision that Scotland will take in 300 years. In next September’s referendum, people in Scotland will be asked to choose between two futures. One is the status quo, whereby the power to determine Scotland’s future will be retained in Westminster and exercised by a Government that Scotland’s voters did not elect and which imposes on Scotland economic and social policies that our people do not support and that harm the weakest and most vulnerable in our society. The bedroom tax, which many members mentioned, is just one example of the unfair and unjust measures that a Westminster Government has imposed on Scotland.
The alternative future, which I believe the people in Scotland will support, is one in which our people are governed from a Scottish Parliament that they elected and which represents their interests. It is a Parliament that since 1999 has demonstrated its ability to deliver policies that reflect the values of Scottish society, as Bruce Crawford said in his excellent speech. It is a Parliament whose policies underline what has been, to date, a shared commitment to protecting the weak and vulnerable in our society and to creating a dynamic economy that can generate jobs and prosperity for our people. It is a Parliament that adheres to the principle of universality in delivering essential public services that reflect the strong moral and ethical underpinning of our collective approach to the government of Scotland.
Today’s programme for government embodies and reflects those objectives and values. Although we are debating the Government’s programme for the future, it is appropriate to reflect on what this Parliament has achieved with the limited powers that are at its disposal. For example, we introduced the ban on smoking in public places, we retained universal benefits in the form of free personal and nursing care for the elderly, benefiting more than 77,000 older people, we introduced free eye examinations for all and we abolished prescription charges.
In doing all that, this Parliament has delivered a national health service for the people in Scotland that remains free at the point of need and that has not begun—and I hope never will begin—a process that many people think will mean that the NHS south of the border is increasingly driven by the dictates of the marketplace and not patients’ needs or the decisions that are made in general practitioners’ consulting rooms or hospital wards.
It is clear from those examples that people in Scotland benefit the most when decisions about Scotland are taken in Scotland. The programme for government set out today by the First Minister will build on the achievements so far—and nowhere more than in relation to our public health.
This parliamentary year will see the passage of the Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Bill to permit the integration of health and social care services, which will improve greatly the health and wellbeing of our people and which, along with the prioritisation of preventative spending, demonstrates this Government’s commitment to adhere to the principles set out by the Christie commission in its report on the future of public service delivery. That agenda will be taken forward under the programme for government through legislation to improve the operation and efficiency of mental health legislation for service users and practitioners—the mental health and adults with incapacity bill—which I welcome greatly and which will help to protect our vulnerable, and through provision to establish Scotland’s own food safety and standards body called food standards Scotland, which will help us to address the significant food-related health challenges that Scotland faces, with consumer protection being paramount.
I am also particularly pleased that, unlike the Westminster Government, the Scottish Government will continue to move forward with its plans to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes and other tobacco products. I firmly believe that to be one of the most important public health measures that can be taken in this country. It is a matter of some regret that the UK Government has decided not to proceed with legislation on that. Our nation’s health and wellbeing is one of the most important matters for which this Parliament has legislative responsibility. I believe that it is one in which the Parliament has had a genuinely impressive track record throughout the period since 1999. The measures outlined by the First Minister in the programme for government will build on that track record and demonstrate that this Government and this Parliament can continue to deliver for the people in Scotland.
It remains the case that if this Parliament is to build fully on those successes and be in a position to tackle all the underlying causes of our public health problems, not least the considerable inequality in income that has come to characterise this country under successive Westminster Governments, this Parliament must have access to the full range of economic and social policy powers. That is what independence is all about. It is not about empowering the SNP or this Government; rather, it is about empowering this Parliament to take the decisions and make the policies that are right for the people in Scotland. It is about putting the people first and ensuring that the politicians for whom they vote have the powers that they need to deliver the policies that they want and to create the type of Scotland in which they want to live.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s programme and am looking forward to 18 September next year, when we will have the opportunity as a nation to take control of our own destiny and to begin to build a Scotland that reflects our values, our aspirations and our principles.
I remind members that there is a little bit of time in hand if they wish to take interventions.
Last week, The Courier in Dundee reported a 37 per cent rise in shoplifting in our city—people shoplifting food to survive. Meanwhile, food banks in our cities are inundated with hungry people driven to desperation and to bear the indignity of asking for food to feed their families. Last week, the Trussell Trust, which, sadly, has become familiar to all of us through its food bank operation, reported that the use of food banks has gone up by 120 per cent in my city and by 400 per cent across Scotland.
Rising domestic energy prices, constantly rising food prices and a freeze in wages have made it difficult for some and impossible for others—even those in work—to survive. We all know that for those out of work things are more difficult. Our young people are still struggling desperately to find work. The number of 18 to 24-year-olds claiming jobseekers allowance in Scotland has gone up by 78 per cent in the past year.
The First Minister said this afternoon that our Parliament has demonstrated concern for the most vulnerable people in our society. I contend that this legislative programme does not match that assertion. He listed previous Administrations’ achievements as the hallmark of the Parliament’s success and then presented us with a thin and uninspiring legislative programme that is supposed to match his bold assertions for our country. It falls woefully short. It does nothing to address the problems that families going through the doors of food banks this afternoon are facing, and it does nothing to address the scandalous waste of young people who are out of work.
Under my new brief, I will shadow the Bankruptcy and Debt Advice (Scotland) Bill. I sincerely hope that the minister, Fergus Ewing, will produce a bill that will help, and not penalise, the financially marginalised in our communities. Less than a year ago in the Justice Committee, I asked John Swinney, the finance secretary, to justify his new fees for bankruptcy. He doubled the bankruptcy fees for people with low incomes and low assets from £100 to £200 despite warnings from Labour and from Citizens Advice Scotland that those people would turn to payday lenders to find their bankruptcy fees. Maybe the finance secretary did not get the acronym and did not realise that LILA stood for low income, low assets. I really hope that the Bankruptcy and Debt Advice (Scotland) Bill will be a bit more progressive.
There is absolutely nothing in the programme for government on the scandal of payday loans in our communities. Perhaps that is not surprising, as Fergus Ewing’s views on payday loans are clear. Over the summer, my colleague Kezia Dugdale has been doing a power of work with my Labour colleagues, including Anne McTaggart, in campaigning hard on the issue. However, in a letter to Kezia Dugdale, the minister called payday loans “legal, fair and transparent”. I will give him the fact that they are legal, but debt is devolved into his hands and he holds the cards on it: are they fair and transparent? I imagine that Anne McTaggart would tell me that the people to whom she has spoken in her community have not told her that payday loans are fair and transparent.
That is an issue on which, once again, we should all be able to find some common ground. However, those who are on the no side of the independence debate must acknowledge that, with responsibility for debt but no power to regulate credit, we are in a bind. What is the solution to the problem if we do not have the ability to regulate the provision of credit?
Patrick Harvie brings me neatly on to my next point, which is on Labour’s asks. Johann Lamont kindly gave us some ideas for how the Scottish Government could fill out its legislative programme. Labour has three key asks on this topic. The first is that the Government use the planning system to say no to payday loan shops in our communities. The second—[Interruption.] If members will let me give the ideas—
The second ask is that the Scottish Government set up a loan guarantee fund to help credit unions to offer an alternative, and the third ask is that the Government run a public awareness campaign on the dangers of those loans. Bob Doris calls those ideas back-door solutions, but I call them using the powers that are vested in this Parliament to make a difference to people in our communities now.
No, thank you.
Johann Lamont gave the First Minister a list of initiatives that Labour would take to make a difference to people’s lives now. Iain Gray’s bus bill is desperately needed in the communities that I represent, as is Labour’s living wage bill and Richard Simpson’s nutrition bill, which would prevent ill health before it starts. My bill on human trafficking is designed to use the powers of the Parliament to make Scotland a no-go destination for traffickers.
So much can be done with the powers that we have in this building, and they are not back-door solutions—they are powerful solutions. World-leading experts on trafficking have said that the proposals in our consultation are some of the most radical and progressive in the world, but they are achievable with the powers vested in this Parliament.
This summer, the British Government adopted a private member’s bill at Westminster that was very similar to Labour’s proposals and committed to driving it through the House of Commons. I am surprised that the Scottish Government is not taking the same approach, given that other devolved Administrations within the UK are taking the initiative on human trafficking. The Scottish Government is rapidly falling behind on modern-day slavery in our communities. I had hoped that we would see a bill today, but perhaps the Cabinet Secretary for Justice will think again and change his mind.
I welcome today’s debate and the Government’s programme that has been laid before us. I also welcome the First Minister’s statement that set out that programme.
I thought that it was interesting to hear Johann Lamont suggest that it is not in the First Minister’s interests to state what the Parliament can do. I presume that she was not listening to the First Minister because his statement was entirely imbued with the achievements of the Parliament. Perhaps her rhetoric does not match the reality.
I will focus on a couple of the bills that have been specifically mentioned today. As a member of the Finance Committee, I undertook scrutiny of the Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (Scotland) Bill and the Landfill Tax (Scotland) Bill, which formed the first legislation on taxation that the Parliament has ever considered.
I therefore welcome the proposed new revenue Scotland and tax powers bill, which will establish revenue Scotland as the tax authority that is responsible for Scotland’s devolved taxes from 1 April 2015. That is an important first step in taking on greater responsibility for setting and collecting taxes in Scotland. It is entirely unclear to me why Gavin Brown does not think that that is the case—and now that we know that he is not interested in the issue of revenue Scotland, I look forward to him disengaging from any thorough and rigorous assessment of the proposed bill when it comes before the Finance Committee.
I will take a very keen interest in the bill, but I thought that describing the setting up of a quango as a historic moment was slight overkill.
It is all about different opinions, is it not, Mr Brown? The fact that this is the first time that the Scottish Parliament has had the chance to enact legislation on taxation could be described as historic. That is my perspective on the matter.
We know that the proposed bill will include provisions for resolving tax disputes quickly and efficiently, thus providing the public with confidence in the taxes that we are establishing. Crucially, the bill will include provisions on tax avoidance. Too often we see people trying to avoid paying the taxes that they should pay, so it is important that it is set out in legislation how we avoid that scenario. In the same way as Mr Brown, I look forward to scrutinising the proposed legislation at the Finance Committee.
The Scottish Government is also using the powers of the Parliament for the proposed Scottish welfare fund bill. As the deputy convener of the Welfare Reform Committee, I have a clear interest in that proposed legislation. We know that the Scottish Government has already taken measures to support mitigation of the welfare reforms. Working with COSLA, the Scottish Government has plugged Westminster’s £40 million cut to the council tax benefit budget for this year.
This summer, I read that the First Minister was backing a benefit cap. The point had quotation marks around it and it was in the Sunday Post. Will the member tell us when the Government will bring in a benefit cap, how much it will be and for which Scots it will be implemented?
That was an interesting intervention when I was talking about council tax benefit. The point that I was going to make is that 560,000 people in Scotland will not be impacted by the cut from the Westminster Government, which Ms Davidson supports. Professor Steve Fothergill from Sheffield Hallam University told the Welfare Reform Committee that people in Scotland are comparatively better off as a consequence of that move.
We have also seen around £8 million being set aside to support advice agencies, and we have had assurances of the continuity of the payment of passported benefits. Those are important measures that will protect people in Scotland.
The Scottish welfare fund will be another important part of the Scottish Government’s work to use the powers of this Parliament to mitigate the effects of welfare reform and to plug the gap caused by the cuts imposed by the UK Government. Christina McKelvie made the point that 20,000 people have already been assisted and that we have the capacity to assist around 200,000 people.
It is extraordinary to hear the Labour Party criticising the proposed new fund. I would have thought that the Labour Party would get behind the fund and support it, but instead we hear criticism of the Scottish Government establishing a Scottish welfare fund.
I will let you in in a minute, Ms Baillie.
It is particularly peculiar when we see that research by the Children’s Society found that funding for local welfare schemes in England has been cut in real terms by £150 million compared with equivalent funding in 2010, which is not a scenario that we have here in Scotland.
Does the member not recognise that it is one thing to have a fund but that if you sit on the money and do not distribute it to those in most need, that is, frankly, extraordinary? [Interruption.]
I do not see that as a real characterisation of what is happening on the ground.
I will let you in in a minute, Mr Gray, if you will let me answer Ms Baillie first. I will come to you in a minute, Mr Gray.
I beg your pardon, Presiding Officer. I will come to Mr Gray in a minute.
We know that the welfare fund is a new fund that has just been established, but people are becoming more aware of it. It would be better for the Labour Party to get behind the fund instead of criticising it.
Mr Hepburn must remember that we sit together on the Welfare Reform Committee. In that committee, Labour members said the Government’s guidelines for the welfare fund would mean that not enough of the money would get out to the people who need it. In the Western Isles, 90 per cent less has been spent than was spent in the same period last year. We are behind the fund, but what we said is right: it needs to be sorted.
I remind Mr Gray that he is not actually on the Welfare Reform Committee any more, because he has resigned from it. [Interruption.]
I also make the point that this is a new fund and that its funds have to be spent over the entirety of the year, so we will look and see what the position is at the end of the year.
We will put the welfare fund on a statutory footing, and I look forward to scrutinising that over the coming period. However, as much as I welcome the measures to mitigate the effects of the welfare reforms, I think that we can surely aspire to do more. When we see £2 billion per annum cut from benefit payments, with a disproportionate impact on women and on families with children, and a bedroom tax hitting tens of thousands of households that was introduced by a Government that people in Scotland did not vote for, surely we can aspire to do more than just mitigation.
A letter from Mark Hoban MP, the Minister of State for Employment at Westminster, to Glasgow City Council contains the UK Government’s apparent explanation for the increased reliance on food banks. I quote directly from the letter:
“The increased emphasis on reducing food waste may well be one of the drivers for the growth in the number of foodbanks and similar initiatives and, consequently, the increased use by companies.”
That is through-the-looking-glass stuff. Why are we allowing those people to determine Scotland’s welfare system for us?
I welcome what is being done for mitigation, but I think that we can aspire to do more. That is why I welcome part of the on-going Scottish Government work programme in the form of the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill, through which we will have the chance to put power back into the hands of the Scottish people, complete the powers of this Parliament, do more than just mitigate, and create a better society.
I have listened very carefully to all the contributions and speeches, but I am still trying to get my head round some of the Opposition’s contributions, if they can be called that.
I must say that I take great umbrage at some of the comments that were made. I intended to start my comments in a very positive manner and I will go on to do that. However, I just want to say to the Opposition, particularly Mr Macintosh, that as an SNP back bencher I did not join the SNP for a career as an MSP. I joined because I thought that the best thing for the people of my country was an independent Scotland. I take great umbrage at what Mr Macintosh said about that.
I also wonder where the Opposition members, particularly the Labour members, have been during the summer months. Like many other members, I was out in my constituency talking to people. I know what the people in the Kelvin constituency are thinking and what they want. They want a Government that listens to them, not a Government that talks them down and talks down to them. I put that in as my contribution just now.
When the member was going round the Kelvin constituency, did she come across anybody on housing waiting lists, which are getting longer and are failing to be tackled due to the Government’s lack of strategy and its cuts in the housing budget?
I am glad that Mr Kelly raised that particular issue. I certainly did come across many people on a housing waiting list. I also came across some very caring and concerned housing associations that cannot place people because of the bedroom tax and the problems coming from Westminster. That seems to be okay for an Opposition party, while the people of Scotland have to do as they are told. That is why I take great umbrage at the Opposition.
I will make more positive contributions than Opposition members have. I thank the First Minister for his announcements today. He set out a programme for government that was made in the Scottish Parliament for the Scottish people.
I give a positive welcome for the fact that the Scottish Government is still delivering 1,000 extra police officers. We must remember that police numbers in Scotland are unlike those in England and Wales, where police numbers and salaries are falling catastrophically—that is all because of the Winsor report. We must remember that we do not have that problem in Scotland.
I thought that the police figures would be welcomed across the chamber. The Scottish people want a Government and a Parliament that work together for them and welcome positive outcomes, and they want a Parliament that can hold the Government to account when that is required. I do not see a problem with welcoming that. As a back bencher, I uphold that approach and I welcome positive contributions from any member.
There is much to be welcomed in today’s statement, such as the community empowerment and renewal bill, which is great. The licensing bill, the housing bill, the ending of automatic early release and many more initiatives are all to be welcomed. It is high time that the Opposition parties put aside their opposition for opposition’s sake and worked with the Government to deliver what is best for Scotland and its communities.
Although it is not the only factor, the increase in police numbers has undoubtedly contributed to the lowest level of recorded crime for 37 years. We should all be proud of that. I hope that Opposition members would have the maturity to acknowledge that the legislative programme will go further to reduce crime and make our communities much safer.
Only last week, the Glasgow Evening Times ran an excellent article on crime in Glasgow. The headlines were staggering. Since 2007, the youth crime rate has almost halved and the number of knife assaults has fallen by 40 per cent—by the way, Glasgow City Council’s Labour leader has welcomed that. The reduction has been credited in part to the Scottish Government’s cashback for communities programme, which £50 million has been put into. We should be proud of that, too. I thank all the people and organisations who have been involved in that not only for making their communities safer but—what is important—for empowering people in those communities to realise their potential. We should look towards that.
I have long championed the community empowerment and renewal bill. I echo Alison Johnstone’s comments; the bill has fantastic potential and I will follow its progress with great interest.
Like Mark McDonald, I welcome the licensing bill and in particular a new licensing system for airguns. It is a pity that Johann Lamont, the Labour Party leader, did not even have the decency to mention that important bill.
I also welcome the inclusion in the licensing bill of a provision to give communities the power to regulate adult entertainment. Some members might recall that I previously tried to introduce a similar provision but, unfortunately, Opposition parties did not support it and voted it down. Perhaps they will support the legislation this time. That is all that I will say on that.
I am sorry, Margo—I do not have time.
The Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill, which is working its way through Parliament, puts victims at the heart of the justice system. I look forward to scrutinising it at further stages.
As I have said, there are many things to be proud of. We have heard from everyone about what the Parliament can do with the powers that it has and about the successes that it has achieved so far. We have heard from some members about successes that can be achieved in the future, which can only be a good thing.
However, I am keenly aware of the areas of our lives that we have no control over and about which decisions are being taken at Westminster by a Government that is neither representative of nor interested in Scotland’s needs. It might come as a wee bit of a surprise to some Opposition members to realise that the Scottish people out there on the doorsteps are also aware of that. The decisions at Westminster are causing further inequality and further hardships for ordinary working folk and they are pushing thousands into poverty. Westminster legislation is doing that—that is the reality of our not having the full powers of a normal Parliament.
I hope and believe that most of us in the Parliament want a fairer and more equal society. The debate serves as a reminder that to achieve that—we probably differ on this point—there is only one way forward, which is for all the decisions that affect Scotland and the people of Scotland to be taken here in Scotland. The only way to achieve that is through a yes vote next September.
I remind members to speak through the chair and to use full names when referring to other members.
I find this rather a difficult speech to make: I had thought that I would be able to say something about a wide range of bills, but I find that there is not a great deal to say. I think that Alex Salmond, the First Minister, found exactly the same difficulty in his speech, because in 14 years I have never heard a legislative programme speech by a First Minister that devoted so little time to the bills. I am sure that somebody will go away and analyse all 15 of those speeches, but I would be prepared to guess—and even to put on a bet—that his speech today had the lowest proportion of any of those speeches of time spent actually dealing with the bills themselves. Of course, the reason for that is absolutely simple: it was a speech about the referendum and a legislative programme about the referendum, from a Government that has transformed itself into a campaign.
The programme has been driven by two principles. First, do not rock the boat—if you want to win as many votes as possible in the referendum, you clearly want to annoy as few people as possible in the next 12 months. Secondly, the whole underlying theme of the First Minister’s speech was an attempt to demonstrate what Scotland cannot do rather than what it can. It certainly was not one of Nicola Sturgeon’s finer moments when she said on the radio this morning that the programme was radical and that it was a programme for economic growth.
Being a fair-minded person, I will comment briefly on some bills that are interesting and potentially good. I think that everyone who has spoken has mentioned as a first choice the community empowerment and renewal bill, so let us hope that we can make something radical of that. I am not sure whether it is radical in its current form. We debated the consultation paper in Parliament one year ago this month, and people can look up the issues that were raised then. The proposed bill builds, belatedly, on our own historic community right to buy. I hope that that will be extended to urban areas and will become meaningful, because at the moment councils often say that they cannot take an interest in a community group that wants land because that would be against European state aid rules. That issue must be confronted head on.
I also rather like the revenue Scotland and tax powers bill, but I gently remind the Administration that it springs directly from the Scotland Act 2012. It is important to me because I want to build on the fiscal powers that we already have to create enhanced devolution, so I think that that is a significant bill.
The housing bill is interesting and I have no objection to the abolition of the right to buy. However, if the First Minister really thinks that that will make housing available to all, as he seemed to suggest, I must tell him that the bill is really marginal in that regard. It is investment in new housing that is crucial.
Finally, of course I welcome the mental health and adults with incapacity amendment bill, which springs from the McManus review of four years ago and builds on our own historic Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003, which is another jewel in the crown of devolution.
Near the beginning of his speech, the First Minister emphasised how the Scottish Parliament had demonstrated concern for the most vulnerable in society, although I do not think that free personal care is necessarily the best example of that. The question for us today is: what have we got for the most vulnerable in society in this programme? Where is the serious drive against health inequalities? Where is the action on payday loans or the living wage? What about legislation on human trafficking? We should thank Jenny Marra for filling that gap with her bill.
Where are the further measures against the continuing scourge of domestic abuse, which, for understandable reasons, is very much to the forefront of the Parliament’s and the public’s mind today? We all know what we think in Parliament about one particular individual, but let us not forget the progress that has been made and the further action that is required. There is a courts reform bill that will come before the Parliament, to address other issues to do with the Court of Session and so on, but we all saw the story in The Herald last week about the way in which the great domestic abuse court in Glasgow is now running into difficulties, so let us address that problem. Although I welcome the setting up of a domestic abuse court in Edinburgh, I was discussing with Alison Johnstone a moment ago the fact that that court serves only sections of Edinburgh and not the whole of Edinburgh. Why do not we address those issues, which relate to the protection of victims of domestic abuse?
We also need to look at some of the provisions in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. Scottish Women’s Aid has put in a long submission that highlights concerns about some of the effects of that legislation on victims. As well as taking action on the member who should not be a member of this Parliament, let us drive forward at the same time and build on the great work that we have done on the issue over the past 14 years.
Finally, where is there anything about the bedroom tax, except rhetoric against laws from London? It is the classic example—the best example of all—that emphasises what we cannot do and forgets what we can do.
Surely Malcolm Chisholm will recognise that, alongside the bedroom tax, there are a range of other welfare reforms that are impacting on his constituents and mine. The simple fact is that, within the fixed budget of the Scottish Government, to select the bedroom tax above other parts of the welfare reform agenda would lead to pressure to move resources to other elements of welfare reform. Would it not be better if we took those decisions here, in this chamber, rather than picking and choosing which welfare reforms we mitigate and which we do not?
That was a very nice try to deflect us from the issue of the bedroom tax, but the simple fact of the matter is that it is the Scottish Government and the SNP who relentlessly use the bedroom tax as, I would say, almost the number one piece of ammunition against the UK Government. They forget what they could do, as a Scottish Government, to mitigate the effects of that tax. Fortunately, Labour has not forgotten, as Iain Gray made clear yesterday, and I hope that we will hear more about that in due course.
I welcome the programme for government, which tackles vital and urgent matters. I remind members that a number of other bills are already in train that do the same. I am glad to serve on the Referendum (Scotland) Bill Committee, which is considering one of the bills that can bring about major changes in Scotland—one that can allow us to have the powers that we do not have at present.
I will concentrate on the questions that affect rural Scotland, which will face the same choice as the rest of the nation next September. With a no vote, we face a future where we are without the powers to transform Scotland, where we will be unable to represent our vital farming, fishing and food interests in Europe, and where the needs of Scotland are seldom the UK Government’s priority. My committee—the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee—heard the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs rub that in when we heard from him last June. With a yes vote, however, we will have the normal powers and responsibilities of an independent nation and a seat at the top table to defend our rural interests.
Rural Scotland will welcome the programme for government. With the food standards (Scotland) bill, we, unlike Westminster, will ensure that the vital functions of the Food Standards Agency remain together to ensure that its primary function is consumer protection. Given the horse meat scare, it is all the more important to protect the reputation of Scotland’s booming food and drink industry. The community empowerment and renewal bill can increase participation in decision taking and in the design and delivery of services in local areas; it can also enable public assets to be taken over for local uses through the community right to buy. I have believed in that for many years, and I believe that it can be achieved by this Government.
Underpinning that, in a tax, financial and fiscal sense, are the revenue Scotland and tax powers bill and the tax management bill, which create the possibility of a distinctive structure and framework that will apply to all devolved taxes but also, potentially, to more taxes when Scotland demands them—and with independence, it will certainly demand many more. I will give an example of why that is needed. Land reform needs those tax powers and a lot more. Before devolution, the House of Lords in the Westminster Parliament could block the abolition of the feudal system. People recognised that then. Since 1999, Holyrood has abolished the feudal system, codified access laws and reformed crofting and some aspects of tenant farming, but not as much as we would like.
This summer, James Hunter and others pointed out in a briefing paper for the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee something that highlights the most concentrated pattern of land ownership in Europe: 432 people own half the private land in Scotland. The briefing says:
“Adept at maximising flows of public money to their estates, landowners have been equally skilled at minimising the flow of cash in the other direction—helped greatly in this regard by successive”—
I would add Westminster—
“Governments’ toleration of a series of arrangements intended to reduce greatly, or even eliminate, effective taxation of landed wealth.
Those arrangements include:
• The various inheritance and capital gains tax reliefs and allowances available to landowners;
• The vesting of ownership in companies, foundations and other entities whose beneficiaries are obscured and concealed;
• The registration of such entities in offshore tax havens such as Grand Cayman, the British Virgin Islands, Panama and Guernsey;”
Those are all reserved matters. We cannot effect radical land reform until we have the powers to do so, and there is no chance in 100 years that Tory, Liberal or Labour Governments—and certainly not if the UK Independence Party is in any future coalitions—will make such a move.
The briefing goes on to say—and justify this—
“Although there is beginning to be anger in some quarters about such largesse (much of it directed at people of great wealth) at a time of unprecedented stringency in other areas of public spending, those arrangements have attracted surprisingly little scrutiny” in Westminster
“and accordingly merit investigation by” the Scottish Affairs Committee.
Like Rob Gibson, I am no great supporter of tax havens. That is why I was a bit puzzled to see, early in the summer, his First Minister making a speech that seemed to imply that Scotland should be a tax haven like Guernsey and the Channel Islands.
That is very much a diversion from the facts that we face in this legislative programme.
Labour, in April, promised radical land reform, but not one piece of flesh has been put on the bones of that promise, either since then or today. Even the Lib Dems are set to discuss land reform at their autumn conference. No doubt they will summon up the Gladstonian spirit and promise more half-measures.
The Scottish Affairs Committee can investigate anything it likes, but only independence can deliver the gains of land reform to the Scottish economy, the environment and society. This year’s work by the Scottish Government in the land reform review group, which is part of the programme for government, will lay the proposals for taking those radical steps next year.
During this session, the Scottish Government will tackle issues of concern in rural Scotland—I have outlined some of them. Devolution has to be a step along the way, as we have seen. However, in relation to all the issues in the programme for government that I have outlined, we need the full powers of independence to ensure a fairer and more successful Scotland. We need to make sure that we get better than devolution because devolution is a limited offer that is not up to Scotland’s needs.
I call Margo MacDonald, who has a very generous six minutes, to be followed by Kenny MacAskill.
Six minutes! Thank you so much, Presiding Officer. Where will I start?
First, let me put a few people right on a few things. Johann Lamont should remember that it was not because Labour got gubbed and had to find a way of coming back to some prominence and some usefulness in Scotland that we started with devolution. Some of us have wanted devolution and then transfer of power to Scotland for 40 years. Along the way, we have managed to join in and help with the UCS campaign, the housing campaigns and any number of other campaigns that I could mention.
I have the battle scars from those campaigns too, because for me they are indivisible from the means that we are trying to find to best govern ourselves. We have to look at the totality. There must be an awful lot of members in the chamber with fairies living at the bottom of their garden if they thought that they could get through this year and completely separate the Government’s programme from the principle that we have to decide. That is why I would not have done it the way that Alex Salmond did it—I told him that a while ago, but we are where we are.
The Government’s programme looks thin in places, but it shows potential in other places. Folk such as those on the front benches, who have come up with some pretty good ideas during today’s debate, could use that potential to ensure that those ideas get into the legislative programme. The Government should be magnanimous enough to say, “That’s a good idea.”
I thought that the no campaign figured far too large in much of what has been said by members on the other side of the chamber. From what I have heard, some members just seem to parrot what Scotland could not do. They say that we need broad shoulders so that we can make the same mistakes as have been made by London—no, we could do that with shoulders like sauce bottles. James Kelly complained about civil servants working for the Scottish Government to produce ideas for the white paper. What does he say about half of Whitehall being tied up finding things for the other side?
Before I come on to what I wanted to talk about, I want to say how much I agreed with the Tories on the issue of corroboration. I think that we need to hold on to the requirement for corroboration, which is one of the jewels of the Scottish system. Perhaps we should also consider whether, instead of “guilty” or “not guilty”, the verdict should be “proved” or “not proved”. That would also take care of the third verdict.
My colleague Alison Johnstone, who talked about the lack of attention to physical activity in the Government’s programme, spoke the truth. She, too, could do a great deal, because she has loads of good ideas on how to get communities involved in promoting physical activity.
I make no apologies for saying that the white paper will be the most important paper ever to come before this Parliament. Therefore, I think that we are entitled to look at it in a somewhat different light. For that reason, the Government must understand that, although white papers usually signal a Government’s intention as regards implementing its policies, this white paper must be better than that. The white paper will need to hold out the various options that the Scots might choose in several different policy areas.
For example, the First Minister has said—I have often heard him say it—that we will be a monarchy, but I think, “Mebbes aye and mebbes no.” That is a decision that should be taken by the Scots individually. What sort of head of state do they want? Do they want a monarchy? Do they want the monarchy that they have got? Do they want a president? Do they want a senate? Do they want to choose someone from the senate? Do they want a head of state at all? Those are options—all of them legitimate—and I think that the white paper should encompass them.
I have talked about the monarchy, so let me now talk about the difficult things. We will need to control our borders. We will need to determine who comes into and out of Scotland, and we should be quite blunt about that. We are very stupid if we say otherwise, because south of our border there is going to be a huge debate about how population is controlled. Any country has the right to say who comes to live within its boundaries, how many people should be able to come in any one year and so on. We can do that without being racist and without being exclusive. We should be honest about it, but everyone is beginning to duck out in case they are labelled extremist and racist.
Those are a couple of the things that we might look at and consider how they should be presented in the white paper. The white paper should be not merely about the Government’s position. The Government can say which option it prefers or advises, but it should also say what the choices are. People have been asking for information—that is what folk on the other side of the chamber do not seem to realise. A look at any opinion poll shows that the majority of folk are saying, “I do not know enough about this.” Well, the way to find out about it is to look at the normal business of government and to hold that up against the options for change that are being suggested.
The Labour Party says that it is suggesting options for change, too. Labour should not be a stick in the mud about it: let us see them and let us hear them. Labour could roll out a white paper as well. The Labour Party is supposed to want maximalist devolution—fine, let us see that in a paper. I am not in any way afraid of that, because I think that the Scots will realise that, if they vote no, on the day after that, the whole place will realise what a wound it has inflicted on the body of Scotland. They will not do that. We have come too far for us to stall or turn back. That is why I think that, at the end of the day, the Scots will vote yes. They will be full of doubts and complaints and there will be terrific jokes against ourselves, because that is us, but I think that we will vote to move on, because if we vote to stick in the same place, we will be a laughing stock. In the Parliament in London, they will say that we are all mouth and no kilts.
Those of us who lived through the 1979 referendum can visualise that. That referendum had a much smaller goal, but people realised what they had done to themselves in the time immediately following it. It took us a wee while to lift up politics in Scotland—that did not happen until the UCS came along and that sort of heart came back into Scotland. We cannot afford to do that.
Right now, extra revenue is available to any Scottish treasury and we should use that money productively. I do not care that people say that we could not possibly have enough money coming in to fund the things that we want. Who is kidding who? Why are they trying to hold on to us?
Oh yes—I was just noticing the time, Presiding Officer.
I ask the Government to take on board what I have said about the breadth of the white paper.
The Scottish Government is committed to helping to create a fairer and safer Scotland for all our people. We will continue our distinctive and highly effective approach to justice, which is focused on doing the right thing for the people of Scotland and putting their interests and, as members have mentioned, values first. That approach has for example led to our policy of ensuring that we have 1,000 extra police officers keeping our communities safe—a matter that was again confirmed today. That policy is bearing fruit and the results are clear. As the First Minister mentioned, recorded crime is at a 39-year low. Further, knife crime is down by 60 per cent since we took office in 2007 and violent crime is down by one fifth in the past year alone and by nearly half since we came to office.
All that is in a climate in which Westminster budget cuts continue to create massive financial challenges across the justice sector, as is the case in every sector. However, we are focused on continuing to make Scotland’s communities safer, which is why we have today announced the end of automatic early release for dangerous prisoners. Automatic early release was introduced by the then UK Conservative Government in 1993. It remained unaltered throughout the period of devolved Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition Government, and this SNP Administration will end it. We are taking action to make Scotland safer.
The cabinet secretary used the expression “dangerous prisoners”. Can he give the Parliament absolute clarity on to whom the measure will apply? So that we have clarity, will he say exactly which criminals and what length of sentences will be involved?
We are making it clear that the measure will apply to dangerous prisoners who would cause harm, which obviously includes those who perpetrate violent offences. Clearly, the period is 10 years, which would encapsulate offences such as culpable homicide and other serious matters. As a matter of interest, given some of the points that Mr Brown made earlier, I do not know whether he knows that 10 years is the period that was introduced south of the border under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
Chris Grayling has effected that and set that date. We are targeting serious, dangerous offenders who would cause harm in our communities. It is essential that we ensure that we have the power to keep them in for the period that is necessary for their sentences and allow them to be released only if the body that is charged with looking after the interests of the public—namely, the Parole Board for Scotland—is satisfied.
What about serious, dangerous criminals who would do us harm and are sentenced for shorter periods?
As the First Minister kindly helped me out by saying, the proposal also relates to those who commit a sexual offence because we realise the consequences of such offences. For them, the tariff is set at four years. Given that Mr Brown and his colleagues have been calling for the abolition of automatic early release, I hope that they will now welcome the action that the Government is taking.
We will address automatic early release for dangerous offenders, such as violent offenders who are sentenced to 10 years or more and sexual offenders who are sentenced to four years or more in prison. The Parole Board for Scotland will be empowered to consider risks to the public for those prisoners. If a prisoner poses an unacceptable risk to the public, that prisoner will stay in prison and serve their entire sentence.
We will introduce amendments to our Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. If they are approved by Parliament—I hope they will be approved unanimously—that will provide the protection that the public seek and to which they are entitled.
Parliament is already considering important reforms through the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, including corroborated evidence no longer routinely being required. The Lord Justice Clerk has said that quality, not quantity, of evidence is necessary. We are clear that strong cases—cases that could be taken forward under other countries’ systems—should not be denied a hearing under our system because of the requirement for corroboration.
As the cabinet secretary is aware, I have huge concerns about the abolition of corroboration. I maintain that position and ask him to consider the position of many of us in the Parliament—perhaps even among SNP members—with regard to considering corroboration in the context of reviewing the position on the not proven, proven and guilty verdicts, rather than taking it on its own.
We have taken on board the understandable concerns that some people have, which is why we are increasing the majority that is necessary for a guilty verdict and why we are taking on board views that we received when we asked for safeguards for the recommendations given by our most senior judges. However, the reform is also about providing a voice for those who have suffered in silence—often vulnerable men, women and children who have experienced abuse behind closed doors, where there are no eyewitnesses.
In addition to the existing bills, three new justice bills will be introduced in the year ahead. That builds upon what we are already doing in the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill, as Ms Grahame will know. Our courts reform bill will take forward the recommendations of Scotland’s most senior judge, Lord Gill, who was appointed by my predecessors to make recommendations to help to improve the public’s access to justice and to provide a court system fit for the 21st century. The damages bill and licensing bill will also improve matters in those areas and provide necessary changes.
We will also have a conclusion of contracts bill, which will be a candidate for the new parliamentary procedures.
Those bills will make Scotland safer and stronger. We have delivered record police numbers and a 39-year low in recorded crime. We are now ending what the public have regarded as an injustice for far too long: automatic early release.
The debate on the Scottish Government’s programme for government 2013-14 will continue tomorrow afternoon.