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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.