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Programme for Government 2013-14

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 4th September 2013.

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Photo of Jackson Carlaw Jackson Carlaw Conservative

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—

Members: Oh.

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—