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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.