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In opening yesterday’s debate, the First Minister not only set out our programme for government; he reminded Parliament how, in the months ahead, while we might debate our particular views on education, health, employment and welfare reform, we should never lose sight of the kind of nation that we are and, more importantly, the kind of nation that we can become. Scotland must always play its part as a responsible global citizen.
In recent weeks, the world has seen harrowing images of men, women and children in Syria injured and dying as a result of an illegal, unprecedented and abhorrent chemical weapons attack, which must result in the trial of those responsible before the International Criminal Court. The United Nations has warned that, as a result of the conflict, 10 million Syrians—half the population—will need humanitarian aid by the end of the year. Yesterday it highlighted that more than 2 million people have become refugees fleeing that event. That marks the biggest humanitarian crisis of the century.
We cannot stand idly by. Every country in the world must help. That is why the Scottish Government is announcing today a new donation of £100,000 to help those who are struggling to survive in a country that has been ravaged by civil war. That comes on top of the £100,000 that was provided to the Disasters Emergency Committee earlier this year. The new funding will again be allocated to the Disasters Emergency Committee to support vital humanitarian relief through the provision of food, clean water, emergency shelter and medical care within Syria and to the displaced Syrian population.
We must also respond as individuals, as members of Oxfam Glasgow have done today by setting up a makeshift refugee camp in Buchanan Street in Glasgow to highlight for a few moments the months, days and hours of suffering of those in such camps in Syria, and to mark Oxfam’s 50th anniversary of helping in such circumstances. I am sure that the whole Parliament will welcome my announcement today and will continue to support such efforts.
In his opening speech yesterday, the First Minister unveiled a strong programme of action that will support economic recovery and the creation of more jobs. Those measures will create a fairer Scotland and empower communities, as well as mitigating the impact of Westminster’s austerity measures on the people of Scotland.
In contrast, the leader of the Labour Party came to the chamber devoid of ideas and calling for things to happen that are already happening. For example, she challenged the Government to act now on childcare, but we are already acting. The new Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill will increase free and more flexible provision of early learning in childcare from 475 hours to a minimum of 600 hours per year for three and four-year-olds and for looked-after two-year-olds. The bottom line is that that is an increase of 45 per cent from 2007 when Labour and the Liberals were last in power. We are fully funding the initiative, which will benefit around 120,000 Scottish children.
Willie Rennie was similarly behind the times when he mentioned the importance of focusing on our youngest children. I agree, and we all agree, which is why we are doing it. We are doing more than any Scottish Administration before us in investing in early years. Through our world-leading early years collaborative, we will also make progress in the coming year towards stretching aims to reduce stillbirth and infant mortality and to improve child development.
We are making progress in other areas, too. In our schools, we are continuing to work closely with teachers to provide the support that they need to deliver the curriculum for excellence with confidence. We will continue to protect the principle that educational opportunity should always—always—be based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay. That is a foundation stone that supports one of the highest-achieving university systems in the world.
Of course, we heard yesterday, as no doubt we will hear today, Labour voices calling for action on colleges. We have acted on colleges; it was Labour and its little helpers—it was Mr Findlay and his little helpers—who tried to scupper that by voting against widening access, against national pay bargaining, against better gender balance in governance and against college courses that lead to jobs. That was Labour’s action on colleges, which was against the colleges that help young people.
Mr Findlay is as accurate as ever—I will really miss him, though I am sure that Alex Neil will not, now that he is Labour’s spokesperson on health—in that his accuracy is as questionable as ever. The Audit Scotland report indicated the progress that was being made. Every young person in Scotland knows that progress is being made. Unfortunately, Mr Findlay and his party do not keep up with progress.
Throughout this period of essential change in the colleges sector, we have maintained our manifesto commitment to maintain college numbers. Indeed, a record number of young people are now studying full time in our colleges and the number of hours of learning per student has increased by 36 per cent since the Labour Party was last in power. That investment in colleges has helped Europe’s only dedicated minister for youth employment to reduce youth employment from a peak of 113,000 to 77,000. That is still far too high, but it is progress and we will continue to make progress.
Yesterday, the Labour leader referred to a speech that I gave in Glasgow in March. Her account of that was of course a little different from the press account of it the next day, but then, for Labour, living in a fact-free universe is nothing new. In that speech, I outlined the actions that the Government is taking to bear down on educational inequity in Scotland—something that, to be fair, our predecessors tried to tackle.
There is much that we can do—I will outline more when I speak at the Scottish learning festival later this month—but there are things that we cannot do without completing the powers of this Parliament. With control of taxation, welfare and labour market regulation, we could bring to bear on educational attainment those things that will accelerate and expand the progress that Scotland must make to eradicate poverty as a determinant of educational destiny.
I believe in change for the better in Scotland; that is why I came into politics. The record of this Parliament demonstrates that decisions made in Scotland about Scotland are best for Scotland. That applies to all decisions—they need to be made here. Ultimately, in my portfolio as in all others, that can be achieved only by securing independence on 18 September 2014. As the clock ticks towards that date, let us approach it as, I hope, we will approach the debate this afternoon: with passion, with vision and with courage in our abilities as a nation.
In that spirit, I am pleased to open this second day of debate on the programme for government.
We on these benches welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement of additional funding to help refugees in Syria, and we commend the activities of the many charitable organisations across Scotland that are working on that.
There were few surprises in the First Minister’s speech yesterday, nor was it surprising that he spent most of his time talking about independence. In fact, we are getting used to that now. Independence is about the only thing that SNP ministers and SNP back benchers talk about—it is in every speech, in every press release and in every question. [Interruption.]
Wringing their hands, SNP ministers—who should pipe down a little—parrot the line that, if only we had independence and if only we had the power, they could then do whatever it is that they want. That covers everything from making the sun shine to Scotland winning the world cup. However, the majority of Scots have rumbled the SNP. They know that that is simply an excuse for doing nothing. It is entirely about putting Scotland on pause.
Doing nothing when you have the power to make a difference to people’s lives is, frankly, shameless. Doing nothing because you want to feed off people’s misery to deliver a yes vote for independence is beyond cynical.
Yesterday, Margo MacDonald said that the legislative programme is thin, and she is right. However, she also challenged all of us in here to work together. I say to the SNP that, if it wants to work on social justice, tackling poverty and creating a fairer society, Scottish Labour will work with it. We should pool our ideas and make a difference to people’s lives now. Let us not wait but act to alleviate poverty and suffering now.
I will deal with the Scottish welfare fund first, because it is, frankly, extraordinary that some SNP back benchers chose to misrepresent my concern about the substantial underspend in the fund as somehow being an attack on it. Instead, they trumpet of the success of the fund, pointing out that it has helped 20,000 people. However, by the end of this month, it should have helped nearer five times that figure: 100,000 people.
How can crisis grants be underspent at a time when we all know that families are struggling, the cost of living is rising and incomes are declining in real terms? There is no doubt in any of our minds that there are many people who are in increasing financial difficulty. It is simply not good enough to say, “We have a fund, let’s marvel at it” and stick our heads in the sand when it is not spent. That should be a concern for all of us across this chamber.
Let us be clear: it is not the fault of local authorities, as some in the SNP would claim. Are they really suggesting that SNP-controlled councils such as Dundee City Council, which spent just 31 per cent of its allocation for one month, are somehow at fault? I do not think so.
Where in the legislative programme is the ambition? Where is the hope? Where is the focus on tackling poverty and need?
On child poverty, there was huge progress under Labour, but that progress has now stalled and is likely to start heading the wrong way. On fuel poverty, we have heard a pledge that no one in Scotland will live in fuel poverty by 2016, so that older people, in particular, do not have to choose between eating and heating. However, fuel poverty is rising—the estimate is that it affects almost 900,000 households in Scotland in 2013. Fuel poverty is not going down, and the SNP will not say whether it will meet its pledge or what further action it will take.
On rough sleeping, the most extreme form of homelessness, the numbers are also rising. The fact that there are people sleeping rough on our streets because they do not have a roof over their heads is a disgrace, and it is our collective responsibility to do something about that. However, the Scottish Government does not do street counts any more. It does not know whether there are enough hostel places. We need that information so that we can do better because, frankly, we must do better.
It is at times like these that people expect support from the Government. They expect leadership from the Government. They expect everyone in Parliament to work together and strain every sinew to help them. However, what some people say is that they see a Government that cares more about nationality than need, a Government that puts geography and the constitution before the needs of its people. We really must do better than that, by working together and focusing on the needs of people here and now, not on the needs of people at some time in the future.
Nowhere is that more important than with the bedroom tax. We have all seen real-life examples of the distress and misery that has been caused by the bedroom tax in communities across Scotland. Of course we all want the Tories to scrap the bedroom tax—
In a minute.
We all want the Tories to scrap the bedroom tax, but there is something that the SNP can do now to protect tenants and help councils and housing associations. The Scottish Government has the power and the resources to do so. It was for times such as these that the Scottish Parliament was created. It was for times like these that the Scottish people voted for a Scottish Parliament.
Today, therefore, we proposed a package of measures that we hope that the SNP will support: a member’s bill to stop evictions as a result of the bedroom tax, giving effect to the Govan Law Centre petition; £50 million that was originally called for by Shelter to help councils and housing associations; practical support to deal with the spike in early years; and no evictions by Labour councils.
It should not be down to individual councils. We need consistency across all of Scotland, not a postcode lottery. We need this SNP Government to act for all of Scotland and to actually show some leadership on the issue. We need it to show leadership for tenants, to remove the fear of eviction. We need it to offer practical help to councils and housing associations.
Let us join together to work in the interests of people who are struggling. Let us use the powers of this Parliament—powers that we already have—to truly make a difference to the lives of people in Scotland.
I am pleased to speak in the debate on the Scottish Government’s programme for 2013-14.
As we have heard during this two-day debate, a number of important measures have been proposed in the legislative programme for the coming year—measures that will make a real difference to people’s lives. That is what the people of Scotland trust the Parliament to do—to focus on measures that improve the lives of our citizens.
In the six minutes that are available to me, it would be impossible to do justice to each of the 13 new bills that are proposed, but I will make some comments about at least a few of them. Starting off from my trade as a lawyer, I will make a few comments about the weighty changes that are proposed to Scots law. In particular, I highlight the proposed courts reform bill, which is intended to bring the system of civil justice into the 21st century, thereby improving access to justice for our citizens and making it speedier, which will be welcome to all those who practise in the civil courts.
Another weighty bill in that area is the proposed damages bill, which will make long-overdue changes to damages for personal injury, inter alia by extending the time limit within which an action can be brought and by consolidating and updating existing legislation, as recommended by the Scottish Law Commission.
Both those bills are to be welcomed. As a former MP in the House of Commons, I can say without any hesitation that, if our Parliament in Edinburgh had not been reconvened, no such important modernisations of our legal system would have received such a focus. For Westminster Governments, Scots law reform was never top of the agenda or, for the most part, even on the agenda. There was neither the time nor the inclination to proceed with it. However, with our Parliament in Edinburgh, we can bring our procedural laws up to date to ensure that our legal system is fair and robust and, crucially, meets the needs of our citizens.
That is one of the many examples of the opportunities that flow from being able to take decisions about our country in our Parliament. As a member of the Welfare Reform Committee, I also mention the important Scottish welfare fund bill. It will provide a statutory footing for the Scottish welfare fund, which was set up in April this year.
I very much welcome the fact that, in setting up the fund, the Scottish Government recognised the importance of there being a safety net in our society for those who face hardship. That is a fundamental principle that, surely, must underpin any welfare system in a civilised country. However, again, the contrast must be made with the Westminster Government. It retains power over all other key aspects of the welfare system that affect people in Scotland, but it has removed the safety net for the most vulnerable citizens.
As we heard yesterday in the eloquent speech from my colleague Christina McKelvie MSP, the Westminster Government has reached a new nadir in its treatment of our most vulnerable citizens: people who are terminally ill, such as those with motor neurone disease, have been told by the United Kingdom Tory Government minister Lord Freud—who, I understand, previously acted as an adviser to the Blair-Brown Labour Government in Westminster—that the answer to being evicted under the bedroom tax would be to take in a lodger. Words fail me, but I am sure that people throughout Scotland will feel sick at heart—indeed, sick to their stomachs—about such inhumane treatment.
There is another future for Scotland. We do not need to put up with such appalling and obscene treatment of sick and vulnerable people by a Westminster Government for which we did not vote and that, according to most polls, most Scots do not trust. We can complete the powers of this Parliament by taking to ourselves power over welfare. We have shown that, with the limited power that we have with respect to the Scottish welfare fund, we can create a fair system based on civilised principles.
Surely it is a better future for the people who care most about Scotland—the people who live and work here—to take decisions about the welfare system that they would wish to operate in Scotland. Having heard Ms Baillie’s speech—her usual negative contribution to such debates—I say that I for one do not see why people in Scotland, and particularly our most vulnerable people, should accept the second-best approach and the limited ambition of mitigating the measures that have been taken by Governments that we have not voted for. Why do we not seek to have the power to take such decisions for ourselves?
It should be pointed out for the record that the SNP has said unequivocally that we would abolish the bedroom tax within one year of an independent Scotland taking its rightful place in the world. The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, failed yet again today to commit to abolishing the bedroom tax. Ms Baillie should reflect on machinations in her political party before she comes to the chamber.
I mention as a member of the Referendum (Scotland) Bill Committee that, in addition to the 13 new bills that the First Minister set out yesterday, a number of bills are undergoing legislative scrutiny. They include the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill, which provides the framework for the vote in 2014. A yes vote is a vote for Scotland to get the tools that it needs to secure a prosperous and fair society. A yes vote means that decisions about Scotland are taken by those who care most about Scotland—the people who live and work here. Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands—that sounds very good to me.
The next year is without doubt an important year for Scotland but, if yesterday is anything to go by, it will not be about what really matters to the people of Scotland—jobs, security, shelter and hope. Instead, the year will be plagued by the on-going fight about the constitution.
Like many Labour members, I became involved in politics through trade union activism, to help people in our communities and workplaces—not to debate the constitution. Yet here we are with Scotland on hold to hear how the legislation that the First Minister and his Government propose will boost the agenda to separate from the UK.
Scotland stands still and suffers under the SNP’s separation agenda. We heard yesterday that Scottish Labour MSPs plan to bring forward a wide range of bills in the coming year. Each will tackle issues in the real world—they are about better buses to benefit communities and people, not the Brian Souters of Scotland; greater and improved services for deaf children and families; and changes to the organ donor system that would save lives.
Scotland faces a housing crisis—the biggest in more than 60 years and since the end of world war two. New housing supply is down by 14 per cent, the new completed housing rate is down by 13 per cent, and the number of affordable houses is down by 13 per cent. Perhaps SNP members can inform the chamber, people waiting on housing lists and those who need an affordable home why their clear manifesto pledge from 2011, which was to build 6,000 socially rented homes each year, was abandoned and replaced with references to affordable homes.
No, I am sorry. Yesterday, I listened to speech after speech from SNP members that were about their jam tomorrow plans for separation. To be honest, it got a bit like groundhog day. We should have been talking about the real issues, which I want to talk about, so I will not take an intervention.
Housing lists across the country remain unacceptably long, while Audit Scotland reports that we need another 500,000 houses over the next 25 years. A PhD is not required to assess that, as house-building rates are falling and demand is increasing, housing will continue to be in crisis until the Scottish Government accepts that it needs a vision that is deserving of those whom it aims to help.
The housing bill that is due over the coming months will be closely scrutinised and the true detail revealed. Although the First Minister promised to strengthen protection for tenants in the private rented sector, security of tenure must be a priority for the Government.
Yesterday we also heard the First Minister offer us a glimpse into statistics that clearly get him excited. Perhaps he could act on the statistics already offered to him and to his housing minister by Audit Scotland. Since coming into office in 2007, the First Minister and his Government have slashed the housing budget by more than half.
We also heard yesterday about the groundbreaking legislation brought in by Scottish Labour to tackle homelessness. The 2012 target set out to rehouse only those who became unintentionally homeless, but we need to move towards tackling the issues of so-called intentional homelessness. Let us be clear—no one aims to be intentionally homeless, but more has to be done. Without any fixed abode, what hope is there for anyone to access employment, improve their health and wellbeing and tackle the cause that leaves them homeless?
As a country, we are failing those individuals. As a Parliament, we need to have a cohesive and comprehensive strategy to help those individuals who are sleeping rough across Scotland.
Many this coming winter will face the choice between fuelling themselves and fuelling their homes. At least 28 per cent of all Scottish households are currently living in fuel poverty, and we need to go further and invest more to ensure that the Scottish Government’s target of abolishing fuel poverty “as far as practicable” by November 2016 can be achieved. That means further investment, as Energy Action Scotland called for in October 2011. It argued to the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee that there needed to be greater investment to reach that target—a message that the Scottish Government has failed to heed.
Sandra White asked yesterday what Labour members were doing in their constituencies during the recess. I am happy to inform Mrs White and the rest of the members on the SNP benches that I was out across my area carrying out street surgeries—
The single biggest issue that was brought to my attention was housing. I visited housing associations and heard how cuts to the housing association grant have damaged new-build programmes, reduced the reserves and contributed to such a poor record in house building.
New builds and starts have dramatically reduced over the past year, leading to Shelter Scotland commenting that
“even with recent additional cash injections Scotland simply isn’t building enough new homes” and that the Scottish Government could use its budget to make housing a priority. Philip Hogg from Homes for Scotland said that the 25 per cent reductions
“reinforce the fact that Scotland is mired in a housing crisis.”
Finally, I paraphrase Clement Attlee. When Nye Bevan asked him, “Where are all the people I need for my programme?”, Attlee responded, “Looking for houses, Nye.” Perhaps the First Minister, when not conducting his own polls, should ask, “Where are all the people I need for my independence?” The answer would be similar to Clement Attlee’s—“Looking for houses.”
Members may recall that, just before recess, the Subordinate Legislation Committee, of which I was the deputy convener, was translated to a higher purpose, and it is now the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee. Therefore I am particularly pleased that among the bills that the Government is bringing forward is a bill that has come from the Scottish Law Commission report “Review Of Contract Law: Report On Formation Of Contract: Execution In Counterpart”, because that appears to be precisely the sort of bill that it is thought might now come to the DPLR committee.
It is a little, modest bill, one might imagine, but it steps right back into some of the history of Scotland, and I will come to that later in my jamming session about this exciting piece of legislation. Essentially, the bill is about providing three things to businesses: security, privacy and certainty when they are conducting contract completion by other than the traditional means of bits of paper and everybody having to get to the same place. Essentially, it creates a legal framework for us to send documents across the ether with security, privacy and certainty, and thereby complete contracts. That will save effort and speed things up in business, which I am sure will be very welcome.
The bill is part of a larger agenda to use the electronic world to speed up processes in business and in government. Much more of our life is now online, and businesses want the legal certainty to be able to use the online world to a greater extent.
To make this work, we must rely on a piece of software called RSA, which was developed by and named after three eminent gentlemen called Rivest, Shamir and Adleman—incidentally, a Hindu, a Muslim and a Jew working together, which is quite interesting. That is due entirely to the UK Government. A brilliant scientist called Clifford Cocks, working for Government Communications Headquarters, developed that technology in 1973, but the UK Government decided that it was so powerful and so secret that it was bound by the Official Secrets Act until 1997. As a result, the United States, which had no such material inhibitions on the technology, grasped the commercial opportunity. The US now owns the rights to the encryption software that protects our financial and other transactions on the internet. It did not do us much of a good turn in that regard.
In the past week, President Obama described his country as
“the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.”
We have seen some abuses of power in this area by the US National Security Agency, but at least there are constitutional remedies. I would like to see, in an independent Scotland, a constitution that enables us to provide in law safeguards for the citizen and for businesses that guarantee the protection of data. At present, of course, the Scotland Act 1998 prevents us from doing so, in particular at section B8 of part 2 of schedule 5, which designates the interception of communications as a reserved matter.
There is a limit to what we can do. However, we have the intellectual horsepower in Scotland to build on the bill that I have mentioned, which creates a framework for one small part of the electronic communications world and gives us an opportunity to move into other areas. We can genuinely be a world leader if we can look further at what we are doing through the bill, and if we can get the powers that are currently reserved to Westminster.
The technology is new, but it is not new. Mary, Queen of Scots used exactly the same technology as we now use through RSA to communicate with her lovers. She did not use a mathematical origin, but she had a special box with two locks on it. The trick in protecting communications is not to share your key with anyone. She had the key to one lock and her lover had the key to the other lock, and there were no duplicates. The message was put in the box, and she locked her lock. The box was sent to her lover and he locked his lock, and it was sent back to her, and so on. In an insecure world, that box could travel around and nobody could open it. That is the technology that will be at the heart of a particular piece of our legislation. Well done, Mary, Queen of Scots. The First Minister, who comes from Linlithgow, where Mary was born, will be particularly pleased.
That story illustrates perfectly a fundamental truth about where we are. I can speak of many of the things that we have to do only in the following terms. We are limiting ourselves, when we use devolved powers, to using a teaspoon to bail us out of the consequences of the substantial problems that we face, such as the financial tsunami and the cuts from Westminster. Let us get to where we can use the bulldozer of full powers, so that we can do so much more.
I put on record our welcome for the new funding that is to be made available to refugees. None of us who has seen the harrowing pictures on television could think anything other than that we bear some responsibility to take action.
Besides the 13 new bills that were announced yesterday, a core plank of the Scottish Government’s programme for business this year is the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill. It is a substantial bill, which has implications for several policy areas and other pieces of legislation.
Scottish Conservatives agree with some of the bill’s stated intentions and with some of its actual proposals. In particular, we agree that we should do much more to increase a collaborative approach and ensure that children’s services are delivered more effectively, with better qualitative measures. We whole-heartedly agree with the plans to extend childcare, which will make it easier for parents to get back into work and will ease the financial pressures on hard-working families. We also whole-heartedly agree with the plans to provide greater backing for young carers and kinship carers, many of whom do tremendous work, at times with very little support.
The Parliament has made clear many times, on a cross-party basis, that it recognises the focus that needs to be put on such key areas, and compelling evidence on the need for additional focus on the early years has been submitted to several committees of the Parliament.
That said, there is much in the bill about which we have fundamental concerns. We are concerned about substantive as well as procedural and drafting matters. Most notable, we are against the unmistakeable statist and centralising philosophy that permeates so much of the bill.
As Professor Kenneth Norrie said during yesterday’s meeting of the Education and Culture Committee, the bill in its current state gives the Scottish minister powers that are open ended and not well defined. As we know from submissions to the committee, there are concerns about the proposed extent of data sharing, the extension to the powers of Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People and ministers’ ability to meddle in family life.
If we consider the bill in its entirety, we can see that, although it contains welcome provisions on childcare and kinship care, it is designed to take an unacceptable degree of responsibility away from many parents and professionals and hand over that responsibility to ministers and bureaucrats. That is something with which we fundamentally disagree, as do some very powerful voices, who expressed concern during the summer recess and who have submitted responses to the committee.
We therefore want the Scottish Government to review its approach to the bill and specifically to ensure that limited resources are targeted at the most vulnerable children and that responsibility is placed in the right hands, in families and among professionals, and not in the hands of Government.
In particular, we want the Scottish Government to review its policy on named persons, which has aroused the greatest controversy and concern. For some people it is a matter of detail; for others it is a matter of basic philosophy—the Scottish Conservatives are concerned about both.
I hear what the member is saying. It is worth discussing the issues to do with named persons, but I urge her not just to discuss the matter in the chamber. Yesterday I visited a primary school in Forfar, where I met a young man in primary 7. I do not think that he will mind my saying that he is a looked-after child and that, because of the availability of a named person, that is, his teacher, he had been able to get through some very difficult experiences. It is important that we talk to the people who are affected rather than organisations and politicians.
The cabinet secretary makes a good point in relation to some children. However, I have read most of the evidence in recent weeks, and I think that we must pay great heed to the concerns that organisations are expressing, in particular about the universality of the named person approach, which is many people’s fundamental concern. For example, at yesterday’s meeting of the Education and Culture Committee, Unison representative John Stevenson told us that because of the universal approach, far more children will by definition be involved in the named person issue. That will create pressure on local authorities’ costs; it also raises a fundamental question about whether it is the right thing to do for all families, even when there are no specific problems in a family.
I take on board Liz Smith’s real and passionate concerns over the policies that we have in ensuring that we get it right for children. In the same spirit as the cabinet secretary, I point her to some of the work of the getting it right for every child pathfinder in Highland, which shows that there have been savings, a cutting of bureaucracy and a real benefit to the end user, the child, in having a named person. She is painting a picture that is wholly negative when, in fact, there are many positives about the named person. However, I appreciate her views and offer to talk the matter through with her as the bill progresses through Parliament.
I do not deny that there are huge benefits to be gained from the GIRFEC principles. All parties in the Parliament support that. My point is that the universality of having a named person for every child between birth and 18 is a major change of focus. In my view, and in the view of the Conservative Party in the Parliament, that is something that we cannot accept because of its statism and its transgression of many of the rights and responsibilities that are held by families and parents.
I ask the Government to take careful recognition of the strong feelings about the bill that have emanated, as the cabinet secretary knows, from the wealth of evidence that has been submitted. There are some really important points that we must think about not just because of their substantive nature but also partly because of the drafting of the bill and the implications that it will have on so many other aspects of legislation.
I will pick up two strands in the current debate. The first is that, somehow, we are marking time and the Government is neglecting its duty to govern Scotland by focusing entirely on the referendum while we are legislation light. Let me take members through a little bit of the Justice Committee’s forward programme for dealing with legislation.
On 3 and 10 September, we will consider the Tribunals (Scotland) Bill. We will then move on to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, which has police powers in it. Next, we will have budget scrutiny and consideration of the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill before returning to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, which is a substantial piece of legislation on which we will have many evidence sessions. That takes us up to January. On top of that, we are looking to go back to our inquiry into purposeful activity in prisons and we have a sub-committee on police and fire service reform. We will also conduct a review of defamation law and the community justice system. The list goes on and on. We even have an overspill committee, which Stewart Stevenson referred to, because the Justice Committee—as in previous years—does not have time to deal with all the legislation. I do not see any foot being taken off the legislative accelerator, certainly for the Justice Committee. As far as I am concerned, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice could slow down.
To the best of my knowledge, nowt. We are too busy dealing with law that has to be passed for the benefit of the people of Scotland under the restrictions of devolution. It is a nonsense to say that we are not working as we have before.
I turn to the second strand. As someone who has been a socialist all her life, when we debate things such as punitive payday loans, the bedroom tax and food banks I share exactly the same concerns as Labour members. However, we cannot do anything substantive about those things in here. Yesterday, Johann Lamont commented:
“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?”—[Official Report, 3 September 2013; c 21883.]
I support credit unions. I am a member of a credit union and contribute to a credit union. However, that does not deal with reserved legislation on punitive rates of interest and does not deal with legislation on advertising and the regulation of broadcasting, which is at the heart of the problem. Beyond that, it does not deal with the poverty that has driven people into those positions, including people in work—because nearly 50 per cent of the people who are in poverty are in work. There are not the deserving and the undeserving poor; they are all in it together, to use that abused term.
I have just gone through the Justice Committee’s timetable and I regret to say that we have little time to pause, let alone look at other matters. However, I heard what Margo MacDonald said about the law of usury. The Government must look at that significant issue, but we do not have all the powers that are needed to deal with everything else that goes with that matter, such as the macro-economic climate that is driving Scots down further into poverty and making a bigger gap between the haves and have nots.
I want what Labour members want, but we will not get that fiddling around the edges in here. I am tired after 14 years of pretending that we can do something real in this Parliament about the matter. Malcolm Chisholm had it in a oner when he said:
“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.—[Official Report, 3 September 2013; c 21919.]
He is absolutely right. We cannot do anything about matters such as the bedroom tax, but we get the fall-out, the illnesses, the bankruptcies, the homelessness, the despair and the pressures on the NHS, the justice system, our councils, individuals, communities and the whole nation. Why are we pretending that we can do anything about the matter? Without independence, we do not have the ability to get the Governments that we vote for. There is not one Labour MP in the UK Government—it is a Tory Government with a few Liberal Democrats. We must have a Government that Scotland votes for and which puts forward her priorities. We may share what those priorities are in the chamber, but they will never be delivered until we have independence.
I welcome the announcement of additional cash from the Scottish Government to mitigate some of the terrible refugee problems in Syria. A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to some refugees in a Kurdistan refugee camp. From that experience, I am aware of the dire need they have and how much they appreciate any support and any amount of money from anywhere in the world. I am proud to be part of a Parliament that does what it can, with limited resources, to make international humanitarian contributions.
Unfortunately, I must contrast the Government’s approach with Jackie Baillie’s tasteless comments on nationality. I want to give her comments no further credence, so I make the point only for the record. This Government bases its policies and position not only on what is best for all the people of Scotland, no matter where they come from, but in the interests of all humanitarian interventions across the world in order to meet our international obligations. The approach is not about nationality; it is about the human condition and helping everyone.
Many Labour speakers chose to ignore the legislative programme. Instead, they sought to indulge in negative speeches that did little to comment on or scrutinise the programme. Not for the first time in the chamber, it will take an SNP MSP to scrutinise the Government’s legislative programme. The Labour Party needs to be mindful of being fit for opposition, never mind being fit for government.
In doing my bit for scrutiny, I will talk about the bankruptcy consolidation bill. I ask colleagues to look closely at the bill. The bill could be vital in improving debt solutions for some of the most vulnerable people. The bill will build on the good legislation in the previous session—the Home Owner and Debtor Protection (Scotland) Act 2010—that I helped to scrutinise at committee stage.
I want to comment in detail on a problem that still exists, and I ask for the chamber’s indulgence in doing so. There are three core debt solutions for those who have no realistic hope of finding a way out of their personal debt. Those solutions are bankruptcy via a sequestration or the low-income low-asset route, the debt arrangement scheme and protected trust deeds. There may be others, but those are the three core routes that I will focus on.
Which debt solution is appropriate will, of course, depend on individual circumstances. For example, home owners with substantial debt might benefit from a protected trust deed, which could protect their family home from repossession and enable them to achieve a workable debt solution. This Government brought in the relevant legislation. Other people—non-home owners with a certain level of debt—might be best served by the low-income, low-assets route to bankruptcy. It is evident that it would be wholly inappropriate to offer a protected trust deed to someone who would clearly benefit from the LILA route.
I believe that protected trust deeds are being offered irresponsibly to vulnerable tenants in Scotland. Protected trust deeds can lead to debt repayment schemes that cost tenants many thousands of pounds and take them several years to pay, and which leave them struggling financially. I put it on record that there will be many good advisers in the marketplace, but some of those who provide advice on protected trust deeds might not give the best, or clear, advice. Such advisers get finders’ fees of more than £1,500 to put people through the protected trust deed process, which they may do inappropriately. I hope that the Scottish Government will use the proposed bankruptcy consolidation bill to regulate debt advice in that area and to ensure that any debt advisers who offer such flawed advice are driven out of the sector. Such inappropriate advice might be offered as a result of incompetence, but it might also be offered by cowboys in the marketplace, whom we should drive out. The Parliament has the regulatory powers to do that.
Debt advisers who offer other debt solutions have to be registered with the Scottish Government’s Accountant in Bankruptcy. We could stipulate that those who offer advice on protected trust deeds also have to be registered with the Accountant in Bankruptcy and that, if they did not fulfil their functions properly, they would no longer be registered with the AIB. That is just one way of improving people’s situation.
In the time that I have left—with the Presiding Officer’s indulgence—I would like to refer briefly to two other aspects of the legislative programme. I had hoped that people would come forward with ideas for measures to improve the quality of housing that could be included in the proposed housing bill instead of sniping from the sidelines. I would like to offer one thought on how we can improve the quality of housing in Scotland. We must go a lot further in the private housing sector. We must find ways of rewarding good registered private landlords—we should incentivise them to improve their stock, where we can—and of clamping down further on the cowboys. I also think that we must do more to put an obligation on landlords in the private rented sector as far as electrical safety is concerned.
Finally—do I have time, Presiding Officer?
I will leave it at that and sum up by saying that there is a lot in the legislative programme, about which members—if they took the time to read it and think constructively about it—could say something meaningful. That is what MSPs should be doing, rather than letting themselves down, as members of the Labour Party have done over the past two days.
Unusually, I begin by thanking Mike Russell, who introduced the notion of a “fact-free universe”. That is a useful context in which to consider some of the comments that I will make on the justice proposals.
Today, Mr MacAskill took to the radio to announce, yet again, that we had
“a record number of police officers”, and insisted that the Scottish Government is “making Scotland safer”. On the second point, I have yet to hear anyone on the streets of Scotland shout, “I need help! Get me the Government!” More important, on the first point, is that police numbers fell by 172 in the previous quarter and are now at their lowest level for almost two years, and the chief constable of Police Scotland is warning of possible cuts to come.
In addition, Mr MacAskill failed to acknowledge the almost 1,000 police staff who have been let go by police authorities, with the prospect of more going in the coming months, and he failed to recognise that police officers have been forced off front-line duties to cover the support-staff deficit. Many officers now spend their time in offices, dealing with recruitment issues and administration in order to ensure that Mr MacAskill can get back his record number.
Nevertheless, some of the Scottish Government’s proposals have been described as populist and have been welcomed by elements of the media. They might be easily pleased; I think that the proposals look tired and lack bite. What do we have here? As Annabelle Ewing has acknowledged, much in the programme is long overdue. For instance, although I very much welcome the airgun legislation, the fact is that families have been waiting for it for six years.
My point was that in the long years in which we have had the Westminster Government dealing with such matters, particularly in the period before this Parliament was reconvened, there were very few opportunities for Scots law to be progressed. As for airgun licences, it would be fair for Graeme Pearson to recognise that we have only just the got the power to deal with that issue.
It is also fair to acknowledge that the Government opposed changes to those powers. What we have had is six years of promises. At last we are seeing some action.
Scrapping early release would also be a good move, but Mr MacAskill’s bill is aimed at a very tiny proportion of offenders and is simply not enough. I have a letter from the Scottish Prison Service to a victim’s family, indicating that the family is not entitled to be informed on every occasion on which a prisoner is released into the community and that the Prison Service has—rightly—a duty to treat prisoners humanely. It is time that this Government faced up to its duty to treat victims and witnesses with the same sense of duty. Unfortunately, I do not believe that the current proposals meet that criterion.
In the scrap metal licensing proposals, there is no mention of the need to ensure that cash transactions are banned, which would remove the profit motive for thieves and vandals. In their current state, the proposals are half a solution, even though both the cabinet secretary and the Lord Advocate have spoken warmly of the need to deal with the problem. The fact is that it took three days of commuter disruption in Aberdeen to finally produce from Mr MacAskill a half-baked response that just does not cut it.
What could Mr MacAskill have done? I have some suggestions. We could have had better asset recovery legislation and legislation on human trafficking. Regulation of the security industry, which is important ahead of the Commonwealth games, has been delayed since 2007. There could have been new lobbying legislation to prevent corruption in politics, efforts to tackle alcohol abuse, reform of criminal verdicts, and the criminalisation of the purchase of sex. Tackling those issues will help to protect those in our society who are most at risk, but they have all been ignored as the Government fails to provide real substance. Where is the vision for today’s Scotland among the First Minister’s promises of mañana tomorrow?
I have said that the proposals look tired. In fact, the cabinet secretary's bag of promises looks empty and it seems the seven-year itch is just around the corner. The proposed licensing bill might improve and extend some local authority powers with regard to taxis and private hire cars and lap-dancing clubs, but the false assertion that the First Minister's Government has stabilised the prison population and is on course to reduce it flies in the face of reality. As we speak, the prison population is up to 8,100 and the Government’s own forecasts indicate that it will rise further to 9,500 by 2020. The Government is not taking action to deal with the real problems of reoffending and meaningful activity in prison; Audit Scotland has identified that very problem, saying that reoffending, which is stuck at around 30 per cent, should be dealt with. We know what improvements are necessary. A strategy was set out in 2006, and it needs to be delivered.
What about major improvements that have been implemented in the justice system? There has been a significant backlog of cases in our dedicated domestic abuse courts, a rise in the number of sex crimes, a risk of further court delays through closures, and growing demand for better protection for witnesses.
A tired Government is running out of time and, evidently, out of ideas. Scottish Labour will provide the evidence in support of our union of nations, but we will also continue to challenge this myopic Government and force it to address people’s real needs.
I, of course, support the Government’s programme of bills for 2013-14, but I would like to make a very small point before I get into the meat of that. As my good friend Mike MacKenzie rightly keeps telling me, we should all remember that, in this year, we have the privilege of being in the front-row seats in the theatre of history.
However our fellow Scots, as the main audience, react in 379 days’ time, we have collectively—all of us—an obligation to them and to the millions across the globe who are watching this momentous period of our history. We have an obligation to maintain some elements of dignity, courtesy and integrity when we review the elements of the bills in the programme, and to eschew the tribalism—facile and cosmetic tribalism, in many cases—and personalisation that were inherent in, and which characterised, major contributions in Parliament yesterday. That diminishes us all, and it diminishes the Parliament above all.
Whether or not we move inexorably to independence—as I believe we will—let us at least scrutinise the programme and others with substantiated evidence, and not with some of the stuff that we have heard this afternoon, in order to support the honestly held but differing political and economic journeys that we each, in our own ways and collectively, wish to travel.
In that context and in the context of the programme, we ask the following questions. With or without the constitutional issue, does the programme add value to economic recovery and job planning in Scotland? Does it provide a foundation for a more equitable Scotland? Does it embrace in a meaningful way a plan to empower our communities and small businesses? Will it create a fairer Scotland? That is what the journey should be about for all of us. It is about the kind of country that we wish to see and it is about encompassing and embracing the natural characteristics that the Scottish people display.
Any nation that seeks economic success and all that flows from it—health and wealth aspirations and improvements in social infrastructure, for example—seeks something that can be predicated only on a nation that has at its heart the capability to apply and gather its own taxes. That is why I welcome the proposed revenue Scotland and tax powers bill as an historic first step in our accepting responsibility for the setting and collection of taxes in Scotland. That power will set us off on our journey to develop a tax regime that will eventually determine a fairer and more equitable tax system that eschews the current disproportionate Westminster system, in which the income gap between the richest and the poorest in the country is the second worst in the world.
I am not sure what Richard Baker’s point is. I believe that sometimes it is better to sit still and say nothing, in case one is thought to be foolish, than it is to stand and confirm that.
When talking about fairness, we can look at the banks’ bonuses this year. They were delayed for a month at a cost of £3.2 billion, but their total was £75.1 billion, which is two and a half times the budget of Scotland. However, a fairer and more equitable distribution of wealth in a high-wage and high-productivity economy can be achieved only by creating the right support mechanisms to generate that wealth: the finance, skills and markets, and support for economic development in all our growth sectors. One route to that development and investment, which is in the programme and which I welcome, is to work with our enterprise agencies and others to consider the business case for the creation of a Scottish business development bank, which I hope will sit alongside a social enterprise bank, in the future.
In the programme lies the personal and social wealth of the nation: small businesses, properly risk assessed; the transfer of technologies from the research and development capabilities of our colleges and universities, and others; and an opportunity through the forthcoming procurement reform bill and our continued review of public services to see how we can unlock the competitiveness and ingenuity of the third sector to provide a more inclusive, competitive and supportive structure for the public sector.
Many economic features in the programme this year are commendable—not least the continued recognition that the multiplier effect best comes from a capital programme that enriches our infrastructure and in so doing enriches our economy.
I commend the proposed community empowerment bill, which will strengthen community planning partnerships and community management, and the ownership of very local public sector assets.
I believe that the programme, with or without consideration of the I word, takes Scotland a bit further along the journey to the kind of society that we all wish to see.
I am afraid that I have to repeat much of what my colleagues on this side of the chamber have been saying since the debate began yesterday, and suggest to the Government that the legislative programme really does show a crushing lack of ambition from the SNP Scottish Government. Rather than use existing powers to tackle the problems and issues that are facing our people today, and rather than look to use the powers that we have to tackle poverty, to improve education and health inequality, and to invest in our public services and people, the Government has put on hold any effort to address the day-to-day struggles of ordinary Scots.
Instead, of course, the Government chooses to use legislative inaction as a referendum tactic. It is very clear that the desperate attempt to portray this Parliament as impotent has trumped the plight of our young people, providing jobs for the unemployed, the situation with food banks and the bedroom tax as the Government’s real agenda.
Neil Findlay, in common with other Labour members, has mentioned his concern about the bedroom tax. I do not doubt his concern about the bedroom tax, but his party is presently engaged in a campaign to ensure that power over welfare, including the bedroom tax, remains at Westminster. Can he point to one statement from Ed Balls, Liam Byrne or Ed Miliband in which they have committed to getting rid of the bedroom tax?
Mr Hepburn is well aware that we have devolved Government in Scotland and that the relevant spokesperson for Labour in Scotland has today announced Labour’s plans to bring in a member’s bill on the bedroom tax. I fully expect a radical like Mr Hepburn to sign up to that bill.
Last week, I met people from across the UK who work in the national health service, and I heard of the disastrous privatisation of the NHS in England. I am glad that there is a largely public, if not wholly political, consensus in Scotland whereby we reject the marketisation of our most cherished and respected public service. However, it would be a complete dereliction of our duty as members of the Scottish Parliament were we not to highlight the multitude of very real issues that are rapidly piling up in our NHS, which are being brought to members at surgeries week in and week out by staff and patients alike.
It has been a long hot summer for the NHS in Scotland and I suspect that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing has been getting a little hotter under his starched collar over the past few months. We have had reports from the General Medical Council concerning staff shortages; indeed, it was so concerned about NHS Lothian in particular that it described the staff shortages as “dangerous”.
We have had reports from the College of Emergency Medicine, which reported that 21 out of 24 accident and emergency departments are regularly unsafe—a fact that it informed the Scottish Government of in April last year, but which the Government apparently did not admit until the following January, a whole nine months later.
We have heard of bed shortages, inappropriate boarding out of patients and consultants warning that hospitals are regularly at crisis point, at full capacity and
“sailing ... close to the wind.”
All the while, fewer staff are expected to deliver more for less as wages stagnate, pension contributions increase and pressures rise and rise.
I would like there to have been more in the programme—or, at least, in the First Minister’s statement—to address how fit for purpose our NHS is and what the Government will do to tackle some of the social ills that shame our country today. The failure of anyone on the Government benches to mention those matters is, quite frankly, astonishing.
Early in the summer, I called for the Health and Sport Committee to hold an inquiry into the state of the NHS in Scotland in 2013. I repeat that call today and hope that the cabinet secretary will join in with that. As one consultant said to me recently, we cannot go into the winter in the current climate of crisis management.
Scottish Labour wants integration of health and social care to succeed, and for it to improve care of our older people in particular. Labour-led councils are doing some fantastic work in that field, and we will closely scrutinise the passage of the Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Bill. Where proposals are good, we will support them, but we will also seek to amend the bill to make it better and fit for purpose.
The same applies to the proposed mental health and adults with incapacity bill. I hope that the Government will support Richard Baker and Graeme Pearson’s proposed member’s bill on alcohol, Drew Smith’s proposed member’s bill on organ donations and Labour’s proposals for a new health inspection regime. Those are all positive health and wellbeing proposals.
I hope that all sides will support my colleague Kezia Dugdale’s proposed bill on the living wage. Here is a clear example of how the Government can use the powers that it has to put cash directly into the pockets of the low paid. Alternatively, it can choose not to do that. Time will tell.
As we have already mentioned in talking about the hated and obscene bedroom tax, there is no proposed bill to amend housing legislation to protect tenants from eviction. The powers exist, but the Government chooses not to do it, so Labour will introduce a member’s bill on that.
I regret that Christine Grahame has left the chamber, because her speech of despair was not about the socialism that I recognise. A socialist has to be an optimist, and I am one of those optimistic people, as members well know.
I ask Mr Paterson to join the Labour Party. We will instil some optimism in him.
Finally, prior to the summer recess, the Government came and told me that it would take over my proposed bill on lobbying transparency. The proposal has cross-party support, the consultation has been done and the bill could have been drafted over the summer, but there is no bill. Why? Will someone from the Government front bench tell me that?
I realise that I am one of the last speakers in the debate—in fact, I am the last back-bench speaker—so perhaps there are not many items to mention that have not already been touched on at some stage. However, I will start by mentioning three of the bills that I am particularly enthusiastic about.
The first is the proposed revenue Scotland and tax powers bill. It seems to me that one of the key features of a real country is that it has its own taxes and its own tax system. Therefore, I am glad not only that we are getting the land and buildings transaction tax and the landfill tax, but that we will get revenue Scotland to oversee them. Although they are relatively small taxes to start off with, every journey starts with one small step, and once Scotland has a taste of operating its own taxation, it will be difficult to put the genie back in the bottle. We should not forget that it is estimated that revenue Scotland will cost 25 per cent less than would Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs doing the work.
Second is the proposed housing bill. There are many aspects to that, and we will see more in due course. However, I particularly welcome the fact that there will be movement on the private rented sector. In parts of my constituency—I suspect that other members have seen the same thing—the private rented sector has grown in recent years in places where there was very little of it before. With that growth has come a number of problems, including tenants who have no commitment to the area, landlords who care nothing for communal maintenance, and letting agencies that take no responsibility. Of course, there are good tenants, landlords and letting agents, but I welcome the fact that there will be action on the sector.
Third is the proposed licensing bill, which again covers issues that affect my constituency. Ever since I became a councillor about 15 years ago, the issues of taxis and private hire licences, the competition and tensions between the two, and the picking up of people in the centre of Glasgow to which the council has largely turned a blind eye, have all caused real problems. I am therefore delighted that there will be some movement in that area as well.
Work on scrap metal dealers will also be very welcome. A church in my constituency has lost the lead off its roof twice within about six months, which is incredibly difficult for a small charity to deal with. We are also all aware of the travel disruption that has been caused by copper theft from the railways.
Other key bills have already been mentioned such as those for welfare, food standards, and community empowerment, so I will not touch on those.
Some bills have already been launched and are already working their way through Parliament, and members will not be surprised if I mention same-sex marriage, or the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill, to give it its proper title. Tomorrow morning, the bill starts its journey at the Equal Opportunities Committee, and I look forward to giving it a thorough examination.
I have to say that I am not exactly enthusiastic about the whole concept of the bill, but I would be more relaxed about it if it was only about giving extra rights to lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender people and not about endangering anyone else. We have assurances from the Scottish and Westminster Governments that there will be adequate protection for those who disagree, be they denominations or individual celebrants. We also have assurances about freedom of speech. My question is whether those assurances are deliverable or will be washed away by higher courts. Even then, it seems that there are fewer protections for public sector workers or third sector volunteers who speak out with their own personal views. We will look at all that in committee before we have our first debate on the subject in the chamber.
The next topic that I will mention is the budget bill—a hugely important piece of legislation that is done each year and which dominates much of the work of the Finance Committee, as well as having an impact on all committees. I suppose if I was to make one request today to the other committees, it would be for them to make suggestions for the budget, but to please tell us where the money will come from. We had an example today from Mary Fee, for whom I have great respect, who suggested that we spend more money on housing, but did not tell us where she wants that money to come from. Jackie Baillie and Iain Gray also suggested that we could easily find £50 million to cover the bedroom tax: no problem, but where is that money to come from?
During the summer, I met a number of housing associations in my area. The director of one said to me that we should find £50 million to cover the bedroom tax. To give him his due, he was more honest. He said, “Just cut the £50 million out of the culture budget.” Before the culture secretary falls over, I certainly do not agree that chopping money off theatres, music and museums would be a good idea for ordinary people who benefit from those things educationally and in other ways, but could not possibly afford them themselves. However, at least that housing association director was honest and straightforward in that he gave a clear alternative. I hope that we will, during the budget process, get that from Opposition members.
Finally, it has been suggested that we should ignore the constitution and concentrate solely on bread-and-butter issues such as welfare reform and housing. Is that a fair point to make? No, it is not. We all, as individuals, have long-term and short-term plans; it is not about one or the other but about both. I thought that Christine Grahame put it particularly well when she showed how the two are inextricably linked.
Let us not forget why our constituents are struggling with welfare cuts, why they are having to use food banks, why they are seeing college and housing funding being cut, and why we are living in one of the most unequal countries in the world. It is because we are in the United Kingdom that we are seeing those cuts, and that is why we have to leave.
Like many debates on legislative programmes over the years, this year’s have occasionally been needlessly polarised. We have heard many speeches from SNP back benchers portraying this legislative programme as the best that it could possibly be from a Government that is led by the finest First Minister that we could possibly have, whereas many in the Opposition parties have pretended that the case is entirely the opposite—a utopian dream versus a nightmare vision. Alison Johnstone was perhaps the first speaker in yesterday’s debate to recognise that the truth lies probably somewhere in between.
I have been in this job for 10 years, and I think that every legislative programme that I have seen has been a bit of a mixed bag. This one really is no different: there are some things to welcome and some things to oppose; there are things that should be welcomed with caution and scrutinised; and, certainly, there are some missed opportunities. It is the same every year, whoever is in government. I do not think that Alex Salmond is a hero or a demon; he is a politician. As politicians, we are often a pretty flawed bunch, although very few of us manage to live down fully to our public reputation.
I want to look at two themes: the Government’s argument—in particular, the First Minister’s argument—which casts this legislative programme as a further step in articulating the concept of the social wage, and the criticism from the other side that we have a Government on pause or a Government that has become a campaign. Let me quote from the First Minister’s statement:
“Far from being a something-for-nothing culture, the social wage is a contract that we have with the people of Scotland. To suggest that that is something for nothing is to mimic the bankrupt ideology that prevails in the Westminster Parliament.”—[Official Report, 3 September 2013; c 21876.]
I very much welcome those words, but I wish that they showed through in a bit more reality. I lost count of the number of comments about the need for a competitive tax environment. Tax competition has been one of the real flaws in that Westminster ideology. Under that pro-big business agenda, we see bungs continually going not only to big businesses in general but occasionally even to tax dodgers and those who facilitate tax dodging. If we are serious about moving away from that flawed ideological model of Westminster, we need to make that a reality.
On the other hand, regarding Jackie Baillie’s passionate call for action now on the bedroom tax, well—to quote someone—I get that. I have not seen the detail, but I hope to be able to support her bill. I think that we should be straining at the limits of the available powers not only now but in acting for the future. My frustration with that criticism that has run through both days’ debates is that, while figures on the Labour benches have said that we can act now only with the powers that we have, figures on the SNP benches have said that we can act only once we have all the powers. No—we must do both. I say to colleagues who want the same outcome as I want next year that we must strain every muscle against the limits of the existing powers of devolution in order to articulate those limits, to show people that this Parliament has not enough power and to indicate our intent.
While listening to Jackie Baillie’s words about action on the bedroom tax, although I agreed with her I found myself being reminded of the source of so much disappointment during new Labour’s 13 years in government at Westminster. Labour threw extra cash at things that it believed in—many of them were things that I believe in—but it did not address the structural causes of the poverty and inequality that it sought remedial action to deal with. We saw the gap between rich and poor continue to widen even as Labour tried to put safety nets in place. That was simply not enough. As I said in my intervention on Christina McKelvie yesterday, following the post-war movement towards greater social justice and equality to close that gap between rich and poor, from the Thatcher Government onwards—including those 13 years of new Labour—we saw the dominance of a market-led, ever more unequal, centre-right consensus, which has always failed the many even though the UK political parties are still clinging to it.
There are three dominant political parties in the UK, but we need not just the chance to change one party for another or to swap one UK Government for another. There is a problem with that Westminster mindset. For too many, economic recovery simply means getting back to business as usual, with all priorities subordinated to the self-defeating pursuit of everlasting economic growth. We saw that centre-right economic model functioning and achieving economic growth, and it did not achieve greater equality, because the social and environmental costs of growth that were generated were heaped on those who were least able to defend themselves and who benefited least from that economic growth. We must not make the same mistakes here. The debate that we are engaged in about Scotland’s future should not paralyse us in the face of the urgent political, social, economic and ecological challenges that we face; it must encompass them.
We have the opportunity to be the generation that faced up to those challenges, not the one that hid from them—to be the generation that took the power to ourselves. Let us not be the generation that wakes up in 20 years’ time and regrets the failure to take those opportunities and to vote yes in the referendum next year. Let us be the generation that took the power and took the opportunity and started to make our society the better place that it can be.
This debate started with a statement for which the amount of obedient clapping was in inverse proportion to the level of substance. It then spanned two days, allowing many contributions and issues to be raised. However, there was always a sense that, to coin a phrase, “It’s the referendum, stupid.” The mood was set by the First Minister. His speech boiled down to, “My priority is independence; it’s why I’m in politics. Everything else is on the list only to make me look more rounded.”
Johann Lamont rightly observed that, rather than a Government, we have a campaign in office. No matter the issue, no matter the concern, the answer from the Government is always picked from the same three options: “It’s Westminster’s fault,” although other legislatures and scapegoats are available; “We need more powers, and do not be distracted by the extensive powers that the Parliament has already”; or “It will all be magically sorted once we are independent.” The result, as Jackie Baillie said again today, is that Scotland is on pause. The Parliament is in a holding pattern and the act of not deciding has been raised to an art form, with every hard decision farmed off to an expert panel that is expected to act as a human shield until things calm down a bit—and certainly until after the white paper is published.
No, I will not.
That would be bad enough in normal circumstances, but when we are struggling to emerge from the biggest economic crisis to face this country in generations, it is inexcusable. That should be the Government’s priority. As Willie Rennie pointed out, the number of Scottish companies taking on apprentices is lower than the number elsewhere in the UK. Our two Governments should be working together closely to address that. The £2,000 national insurance rebate from the UK Government from April could allow businesses here to increase apprenticeships in Scotland, and the enterprise capital fund and the Green Investment Bank offer further opportunities for collaborative action by both of Scotland’s Governments in the interest of Scotland’s economy.
However, Mr Salmond elevates his place in history above the needs of those whom he was elected—we were all elected—to serve. With no hint of self-irony, he treated us yesterday to devolution’s greatest hits. DJ Alex—who, let us not forget, was so impressed with the Scottish Parliament that he could not wait to return to Westminster not so long ago—offered up a mash-up of free personal care, free eye and dental checks, a ban on smoking in public places, concessionary travel and the abolition of tuition fees. Those are examples that, along with others, clearly demonstrate the success of devolution and show how this Parliament has reflected and responded to the needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland. However, the First Minister is not looking to strengthen devolution; he is looking to abandon it.
The logical response to the way in which this Parliament has used its powers over education, health, justice and transport to chart a different course where necessary is not to say that we no longer benefit from being part of the UK but to say, as the majority of people in Scotland do, that we need to strengthen this Parliament within a reformed UK. Indeed, the First Minister himself seems to agree with that. Why else would he be arguing against the advice of his Nobel-laureated advisers, yes Scotland comrades and most economic expects to keep the pound, a move that would see an independent Scotland hand over control of its fiscal and monetary policy to a foreign country?
On further devolution, Alison Johnstone was absolutely correct when she reminded the chamber that devolution should not stop in Edinburgh. Like her, I will be interested to see what emerges in the community empowerment and renewal bill, but the Government’s record in this area is not encouraging. Some 18 months ago, Tavish Scott and I responded to both Government consultations on constitutional reform, expressing our support for the right of our island communities to take more control over their own affairs, if they wish. We were denounced by the SNP as troublemakers. That vision did not fit with the nationalist narrative, particularly regarding the use of our oil and renewables resources. However, last month, Mr Salmond’s rather grand Lerwick declaration saw a working group set up to examine that specific issue. That is progress, perhaps, but the fact that much of the public appetite in our islands for more powers stems from anger at the SNP’s centralising agenda over recent years suggests that reversing some of that centralisation would be a useful place for the working group to start.
There are, of course, areas of agreement on the programme. Following the lead taken at Westminster, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill will help to make Scotland a fairer and more progressive society. So, too, will the proposed increase in childcare and nursery provision although—sadly—it still risks leaving two-year-olds in Scotland behind their counterparts in England, where 130,000 will benefit from 15 hours of free provision as of this week.
I agree with the First Minister’s sentiment that this Parliament can, does and should adopt Scottish solutions to address Scottish problems, although I counsel caution on that. I suspect that, on airguns and taxi regulation—both of which Mr Salmond mentioned—he would find a difference in the perception of the problem and, therefore, the solution in our respective constituencies compared with that in the constituency represented by, for example, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice.
Mr MacAskill’s plans to abandon corroboration despite serious concerns from the Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates may play well with parts of the gallery but, as Ruth Davidson suggested, they also risk leaving Scotland with the lowest level of protection against wrongful conviction.
Ultimately, the legislative programme confirms one thing: the Government’s purpose is separation. As a result, Scotland is on pause for the next 12 months, with the nation’s ambitions stalled in favour of Mr Salmond’s.
As deputy leader of my party, I congratulate the new front-bench spokesmen on the Labour side who were appointed to their positions during the summer and commiserate—if only a very little—with those whose services are, it seems, no longer required.
It is not so difficult to remember the SNP front-bench members bouncing down to their seats in 2007. In those days, they were luxuriously coiffed. They had full heads of hair with hardly a grey one in sight. I ask members to look today at the greying men on the front bench opposite. It is a tired Administration.
As James Kelly, Gavin Brown, Ken Macintosh and Malcolm Chisholm all said, we have the most lacklustre Government programme presented to the Scottish Parliament since its creation in 1999. The best that could be said of it is that it is inoffensive. It is not a programme for government; it is a programme for a quango.
It took some 20 minutes yesterday for even the most feeble applause to be mustered from the normally Politburo-enthused ranks who sit behind the First Minister. That was after a summer in which the First Minister heroically went around the country with kerfuffle, bilge and balderdash seeking to talk up the independence campaign. How many members saw speeches, tweets or anything from SNP back benchers saying, “We’re rushing back to Holyrood to pass the conclusion of contracts bill, the Historic Scotland merger bill or the damages bill”? There was none: all they talked about all summer was independence.
At least last year, the First Minister reshuffled his team between the first and second day of the debate on the Government programme. There was no such excitement for us this year.
Where the programme is not inoffensive, it is a conceit. I will talk first about justice. On pages 64 to 66 of “Empowering Scotland: the Government’s Programme for Scotland 2013-2014”, there are some justified claims for success on the justice front.
I must deal with Annabelle Ewing, who told us during her speech that in all her experience as a Westminster MP, Westminster did not discuss Scottish justice issues. I looked it up. She was an MP between 2001 and 2005. Westminster did not discuss those issues because a Scottish Parliament had been established to which they had been devolved. Let us not dwell on the hapless Annabelle Ewing.
The point that I made, which I made again in an intervention that Mr Graeme Pearson kindly took, was that, for all the years that we have had Westminster government, progressing Scots law reform has not been at the top of the agenda; indeed, it has hardly ever been on the agenda. Perhaps if Mr Carlaw looked a wee bit further back in Hansard, he would find that out.
All of us in the chamber distinctly heard Annabelle Ewing refer to her experience as a Westminster MP.
We get to the principal conceit. Yesterday—extraordinarily—the Government made a virtue of the small change that it will make to early release, which is a U-turn of extraordinary proportions. For the past six years, when Annabel Goldie and Ruth Davidson have raised the issue, the First Minister has not said that he agreed with them and that he would make the change when he could; he has said that they were fundamentally wrong. We have accepted that the legislation that we passed in 1993 was wrong. In 1997, we had proposals to change it.
For those of us in the chamber yesterday afternoon, it was an extraordinary spectacle to see the First Minister having to prompt the Cabinet Secretary for Justice on the scope of the proposed legislation. We have a U-turn that would end automatic early release for just 2 per cent of the people who were convicted last year. That programme does not substantiate the claim that the Government will end automatic early release. It will do the bare minimum and, even in doing that, it owes an apology to the people who have for the past six years campaigned for the policy.
I pay particular attention to Aileen McLeod’s speech, if only because I think that the words “I believe” were used in that remarkable contribution more often than in the Bachelors’ song. I revisited the lyrics of that song, which I commend to her for a future speech. She could paraphrase them like this:
“I believe for every drop of rain that falls a flower grows” in an independent Scotland.
“I believe that somewhere in the darkest night our candle glows” in an independent Scotland.
Aileen McLeod lambasted the Conservative Government—the coalition Government—at Westminster—
I do not understand the drama. Aileen McLeod lambasted the Conservative Secretary of State for Health in the coalition Government at Westminster for not proceeding yet with plain packaging of cigarettes. All summer we heard from the Scottish Government and SNP members that the SNP would introduce legislation on that, yet page 74 of the programme says that the Government
“will consult ... with the intention of introducing legislation in 2014-15.”
That is no different from the Westminster Government’s position. We can wait and see what happens in Australia and, if that proves to be effective, we will introduce legislation elsewhere, too. That is another example of rhetoric not being matched by the programme.
Nearly 500 days after the minimum unit pricing legislation was passed, the Government has had two debates on its programme, but it has not had another word to say on alcohol. To that extent, I applaud the contribution of Richard Simpson—whom I am pleased to see with us in the chamber—in bringing forward constructive proposals, which we urged on the then Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Cities Strategy when we supported MUP as the next stage. The Government, not the Opposition, should lead on that.
The debate has been all about independence. I believe that independence would be deeply damaging for communities across Scotland. In my support, I call Dennis Robertson, who commended to us over the summer a motion to congratulate Banchory trampoline club on winning the British championships and to wish Graham Ross every success in the future. Poor Graham would be denied the chance to defend his title; I say to Dennis Robertson that Graham would not be able to compete in the British trampolining championships. I have no doubt that the First Minister will tell us that he would personally see to it that such participation was still allowed.
We are in a five-year parliamentary session—the longest session at Holyrood. Two and a half years into it, we have a lacklustre and uninteresting programme. All that the Government concentrates on is independence in the future. By September next year, we will have spent two and a half years debating independence. That was the Government’s judgment. Next year’s programme for government speech will need fresh leadership to give this tired Government a way forward. If Scotland rejects independence, the people who were responsible for putting Scotland through the agony of two and a half years of the debate will need to stand down and be replaced by people who can offer the people of Scotland a more imaginative programme.
As Mike Russell said—
Patrick Harvie is right, I think—the debate on the legislative programme takes a traditional form. The Government tries to talk up legislation on such prosaic topics as electronic signatures or the consolidation of bankruptcy—it happens to all Governments—and the Opposition tries to decry the programme. However, the truth is that this year, the legislative programme is so thin, so insubstantial and so timid that even the First Minister did not bother trying to talk it up. Instead, he took the time that he had for his statement to talk the Parliament down. [Interruption.] Even Mr Chisholm, a paragon of open-mindedness and giving the Government credit where it is due—a bit too much for my liking sometimes—correctly pronounced it a programme for a campaign, not for a Government.
Bereft of material from this year’s programme, the First Minister chose to tell the story of the Parliament, but there are two sides to every story. He said that 16 years ago
“the people of this country ... had the confidence and belief to bring this Parliament into existence.”—[Official Report, 3 September 2013; c 21871.]
He omitted to mention that he fought them tooth and nail. He did not sign the claim of right, he boycotted the constitutional convention and he compared our Parliament to a pizza until the last moment, when the Parliament was imminent—then and only then did he find his confidence and jump on board.
The SNP has never believed in this devolved Parliament and that is why it is a campaign trying to do away with it rather than a Government trying to do its best with it. That showed when the First Minister listed the Parliament’s achievements. Liam McArthur is right—almost none of them happened under Mr Salmond’s leadership. Land reform and the land fund, free personal care and the best homelessness legislation in the world—that was all us. The bus pass, the smoking ban, adults with incapacity legislation and free eye tests—that was Labour-led legislation. Even university tuition fees were abolished by Labour and the Liberal Democrats in this Parliament. [Interruption.] I know. Mr McArthur is right. Mr Salmond might not remember because I think that that was the time when he ran home to Westminster—was it not?—so he was not here.
What did the First Minister come up with for SNP achievements? Minimum unit pricing—
Good—in a moment.
The First Minister came up with minimum unit pricing, although that was mired in legal problems that we were told at the time had been resolved, and the abolition of bridge tolls. We abolished 1,000 years of the feudal system with this Parliament. The SNP abolished a pound to cross the Forth road bridge.
To go back to tuition fees, part of my memory of the last election campaign is that I remember Iain Gray using that exact line in the STV debate and the whole audience bursting into laughter—just like today. What is this line that the Labour Party abolished tuition fees? It had tuition fees—back-door tuition fees. While we are at it, can Iain Gray ask his successor, who is sitting beside him, how she voted in the 1979 devolution referendum campaign?
Do SNP members know what it funded? It funded support for students from low-income families. That is what the SNP abolished, so it is no wonder that we have heard today and yesterday speech after speech from Government back benchers dripping with despair and angst. Christina McKelvie told us that she sits in the Parliament and looks on “virtually helpless”. I think that that is a comment on Ms McKelvie, not on the Parliament.
Christine Grahame wailed, “We cannot do anything real”—what ambition, aspiration and determination! SNP members queued up to tell us how this Parliament—of which some of us are so proud—is too small, poor and powerless to make any difference at all.
Meanwhile, Labour members suggested ways in which we could and should be promoting a living wage, ending zero-hours contracts, improving buses, battling the human traffickers and the legal loan sharks and protecting people from the bedroom tax.
No—I am sorry.
To be fair, some SNP members found glimmers of light in the darkness. Mark McDonald and Sandra White welcomed the airgun legislation, and Jamie Hepburn, Chic Brodie and John Mason welcomed the revenue Scotland bill and the new landfill and land and buildings transaction taxes. Many SNP members hailed the Scottish welfare fund bill, and rightly so. However, none of them acknowledged that those powers are all newly devolved as a direct result of the Calman commission and the Scotland Act 2012, with much more to flow in the form of powers to borrow and to set income tax.
How did that happen? This chamber had to seize control from the SNP Government, set up the commission and deliver the biggest transfer of powers since 1999 across two Parliaments and four Administrations. Until the last moment, the SNP stood defiant against devolution yet again, because it has always been on the wrong side of the devolution story. It wants not to complete devolution, but to kill it, and it always has done.
Every SNP member who spoke in the debate told us how much fairer the Scottish Government would make Scotland if it had power over benefits. Thank goodness that there is a welfare fund bill, because the Scottish welfare fund is a disaster. Eligibility rules are so botched that Scots in crisis are receiving a fraction of the help that they used to get from that great Satan, the Department for Work and Pensions. In Dundee, the amount of help is down by 70 per cent; in Edinburgh and Glasgow, it is down by 80 per cent; in Highland, it is down by 90 per cent; and in the Western Isles, people are now getting no help at all—voluntary organisations tell us that they are being sent to food banks instead.
Iain Gray bemoans the fact that SNP members call for power over welfare in this place, but he is presumably presently engaged in a campaign to retain power over welfare at Westminster, as he is campaigning for the Labour Party to be elected. Neil Findlay failed to answer the question earlier. Can Mr Gray tell us of any commitment from Labour front benchers at Westminster to get rid of the bedroom tax?
Given power over a bit of the benefits system—the welfare fund, crisis loans and community care grants—the SNP has managed to create something that looks more like the parish and the poor law than a modern welfare system.
Families are being sent to food banks because the SNP Government has failed to get support out to them, not through malice but through sheer incompetence and inattention to detail. That is what happens when we have a cabinet secretary who is more interested in the priorities of her party than the obligations of her office and the people whom she is supposed to serve. That is what happens when we have a Government that puts Scotland on pause.
In this Parliament, there is only one story for the SNP, and only one bill in the programme that its members care about: the referendum. There are 384 long days to go, and it will seem like 380 years.
With every day, Scotland wants separation a little less—perhaps one in four people at present, we see today—but incredibly, with every day, the SNP also seems to want independence a little less. It now proposes that we keep the British monarch and the British pound, that we let the UK run our fiscal policy, and that we keep our UK passports, the UK energy network and UK research funding. We will be in Europe, but we will be out of the euro, Schengen and the common fisheries policy, and we will ignore European pension law.
Some SNP members even try to say that we can leave the United Kingdom but still be in the United Kingdom. It is, as one of the SNP’s cheerleaders in the press said today, independence
“diluted to the point of meaninglessness”.
The Government’s legislative programme accurately reflects the character and circumstances of this SNP Government. This SNP Government is trapped in a devolved Parliament that it has never believed in and never will believe in. It is constrained by a desire to show the Parliament’s limitations, rather than push its boundaries to help the people of Scotland. It is blinded by the pursuit of an independence cause that it no longer even believes in itself.
The programme is the measure of the limitations of that Government; it is not a measure of the limitations of this Parliament. This is the dynamic, developing, devolved Parliament that the Scottish people believed in 16 years ago and still believe in. It gives us powerful, wide-ranging and growing choices over health, education, justice, jobs and, increasingly, taxation—let us use those powers—while giving us the opportunities that are provided by shared risk and rewards in the bigger social and economic union that our forefathers in the Labour movement built, supported, created and argued for.
Let us make the most of that opportunity. What Scotland needs is a Government and a programme that believe in this Parliament, as we do. This programme is not that programme, and the SNP Government is not that Government.
For the avoidance of doubt, I am, along with Mr Swinney, a member of the life-after-leadership school. Leadership is not something that I aspire to any more. Of course, I cannot speak for Mr Neil; let us hear his leadership speech.
Well, I must say that that is the first time we have seen life from Iain Gray in about 14 years.
There is something that I do not understand about Iain Gray. Given that he is so proud of what Labour achieved during its eight years in power here—free personal care, concessionary fares and his claim about abolition of tuition fees—why is he supporting the cuts commission that Johann Lamont has set up to get rid of all those things? We know that behind the scenes Johann Lamont’s previous finance spokesman, Ken Macintosh, did not agree with her. I wonder whether Iain Gray agrees with the cuts commission. Is Iain Gray to be the fall guy who must come forward with the cuts commission’s recommendation that we abolish all the great achievements of not just the Labour Administration but the entire Parliament?
Aspects of the debate have been very interesting, but there is something that I particularly want to pick out. Mary Fee, who is not a lady whom I often quote, complained about our dealing with the constitution. She spoke almost as if “constitution” were a dirty word. Let me say to Mary Fee that, in any country, the constitution matters.
Mary Fee should look at the honourable history of the labour movement and the example of the Attlee Government in the 1940s. The constitution of India mattered to India, and by changing the constitution and passing the Indian Independence Bill, in the face of opposition from Winston Churchill, that Labour Government freed the Indian people from colonial rule. In South Africa, it was the constitution that mattered. To see the constitution as some paper exercise is nonsense. The constitution is about power and where that power lies.
The fundamental issue about independence is this: where will power lie in relation to Scotland in the 21st century—economic power, political power and legislative power?
Let us take the example of the bedroom tax. The fact is that it was the Labour Government that introduced the bedroom tax in the private rented sector. Jackie Baillie tells us that she wants to see the abolition of the bedroom tax, but her problem is that the power to abolish the bedroom tax lies not with Jackie Baillie or even this Parliament. The power to abolish the bedroom tax lies with Westminster and, unless we gain control of the power, that will continue to be the case.
Ed Miliband, the alternative Prime Minister at Westminster, has today again ruled out any prospect of a Labour Government abolishing the bedroom tax. [Interruption.] The excitement is getting to Jackie Baillie—it is the first time that she has broken a glass for me. The only way that we can abolish the bedroom tax is by voting yes next year.
Is it not the case that the cabinet secretary is arguing for people in Scotland to be put on pause—for people who are threatened with eviction because of the bedroom tax to be abandoned—and that the SNP Government will do nothing for at least three years? The Scottish Government has the power to do something now to protect tenants and to help landlords. Why will it not use the powers that it has now to help people in Scotland?
After last week’s events in North Lanarkshire—this was in the Daily Record, so it must be true—where Jim McCabe, the Labour leader of the council, was evicting a disabled woman because she could not pay the bedroom tax, we will not take any lessons from the Labour Party in relation to the bedroom tax.
The reality is that there is only one way to abolish the bedroom tax, and that is by voting yes next year. The incredible position of the Labour Party in Scotland is that its aspiration on the bedroom tax is that, in the future, it will be able to lobby a Labour Government at Westminster to abolish it. It would be far better to have the legislative power in this assembly. Had we had that power, the bedroom tax would never have been introduced in the first place.
Jackson Carlaw rose—
Ruth Davidson (Glasgow) (Con) rose—
There is obviously another leadership competition going on. Is it going to be Jackson Carlaw or Ruth Davidson?
Before I let one of them in, I do not want to be rude so I should congratulate Jackie Baillie on her reshuffled appointment just before the recess. I knew that, with all the nonsense that she was talking, she would not last as my shadow for much longer. Having listened to Neil Findlay, my prediction is that by Christmas Helen Eadie will replace him as the shadow health spokesperson.
Jackson Carlaw rose—
Ruth Davidson rose—
I will give way. I ask the members to decide among themselves.
I have been following the cabinet secretary’s argument closely. The inescapable logic of it, which he will probably find uncomfortable, is that if the people of Scotland vote no next year they must support the bedroom tax. He is making the bedroom tax the cornerstone of the SNP’s campaign on independence.
All I can say in response to that comment is that Jackson Carlaw must not have done first year methodology at university. If I were him, I would stick to being a used car salesman.
Let us look at where power resides because that is what this constitutional debate is about.
I want to refer to the ridiculous speech that Gordon Brown made yesterday during one of his rare visits to Scotland. His argument is that the only way to abolish child poverty is by sticking with the United Kingdom and Scotland remaining within it. Has Gordon Brown not read last week’s report from the National Children’s Bureau? It reported that, over the past 40 years, the number of children in poverty in the UK has risen by 1.5 million. That destroys Gordon Brown’s argument in a oner, particularly because he was the Chancellor of the Exchequer and then the Prime Minister for 13 years and still the number of children in poverty has risen by 1.5 million. Those were 13 wasted years by Gordon Brown.
If the great Gordon Brown cannot deliver the abolition of child poverty in 13 years when in Downing Street, what chance do George Osborne and David Cameron have of ever delivering the abolition of child poverty? The reality is that the UK has been tested and tried, and it has failed.
Yesterday, we heard Ruth Davidson describing the UK as one of the most successful unions ever. Let us look at the state of the UK. Leaving aside the fact that we have 1.5 million more children in poverty than we had 40 years ago, the last time that the UK had a trade surplus was 1997. That is not a measure of success. The UK’s debt figure is up to £1.4 trillion. Does Ruth Davidson regard that as success? The UK’s level of unemployment and underemployment is one of the worst in Europe, particularly compared with the small Scandinavian countries in northern Europe. The Conservatives cannot say that the UK has been or is a successful country—they must stick to the facts.
I will give way but, as always, it will be in my own time, Presiding Officer.
Each year, Neil Findlay organises and chairs a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference, the theme of which is to get rid of Trident and invest the money in health and education. I say to Neil Findlay that, given the Labour Party and its Tory and Liberal Democrat friends’ commitment on Trident, there is only one way to achieve that: vote yes next year.
Given the mince that Mr Neil has just said about me, it is no surprise that he has talked mince about everything else. I bring Mr Neil back to his portfolio. He has a torrid time over the summer. Will he mention health at all in his speech?
I am just coming to health.
I want to compare the health service in Scotland—where we have independent control of health under this Parliament—with the health service in England. Fact number 1: in England they are privatising the health service, but we are keeping it in the public sector. Who started the privatisation? The Labour Party.
Fact number 2: we have free prescriptions, while the poor folk in England have to pay nearly £8 for theirs. Fact number 3: we have more nurses per head of population than any other part of the United Kingdom. Fact number 4: we have more GPs per head of population than any other part of the UK. Fact number 5: according to Professor Don Berwick, Obama’s adviser and Cameron’s adviser on the health service in England, we have the safest health service in the world.
I have been listening to the nonsense from Neil Findlay and his predecessor Jackie Baillie, to the point that I am looking forward to Helen Eadie taking up the post—I think that she will be a big improvement. Last week, we were criticised by Neil Findlay because we went public and transparent with the hospital standardised mortality rates in the two Lanarkshire hospitals. The standardised mortality rate has improved by 12 per cent over the past five years. Labour cannot say that, because it did not measure the hospital standardised mortality rate. Labour did not bother about patient safety: it did not measure what the reality was in its hospitals and it had no definition of an adverse event. The reality is that, under Nicola Sturgeon and now under me, the NHS in Scotland has grown and prospered, and we will continue to make it a service that the Scottish people can be proud of.
Power is about what we can achieve. I have been listening very carefully to Labour. Over the summer, I was waiting for some speeches by Johann Lamont, but there were none—she was clearly hibernating along with Ed Miliband. I have been listening to the speeches by Labour members over the past two days and they have been a constant stream of moaning and groaning and criticism. The one thing that we have not heard from them is one new policy idea—in fact, we have not even heard any of their old policy ideas—and that is why Labour is languishing so much in the polls.
A classic example of Labour’s real problem is the party’s campaign on the independence referendum. People who believe in the fundamentals of the labour movement—people who believe in a more equal society, in getting rid of poverty and in full employment—cannot achieve any of those things as long as we remain part of the UK. There is only one hope for Scotland to realise the dreams of our people. It is not true to say that we do not believe in devolution—we are proud of the Parliament’s achievements. Our criticism is that the Parliament’s powers are far, far too limited, which means that we cannot implement the far-reaching agenda that we need to put in place for a 21st century Scotland.
That was an extremely worthwhile intervention—not.
What we are talking about is policy, aspiration, what we have achieved in the Parliament and, more important, what we will achieve in the future. We will not be taking any lessons on policy from Mr George Osborne or Mr David Cameron because, as long as they have any control over affairs in Scotland, we will continue to languish in terms of our potential as a nation. Last year, Jackson Carlaw told me that he was thinking about voting for independence. I say to Jackson, “Come and join us—we take all types.”
The car trade must have flourished enormously in your day, Jackson.
We are proud of the Parliament’s achievements, but we want a yes vote so that we can use the powers of sovereignty to transform the economy and social justice in Scotland.