Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I thank the First Minister for advance sight of the statement. I expect that she remembers what it is like to be leading her party from the Opposition benches; indeed, I remember as a student watching her opposite a Labour First Minister debating the programme for government back in 2006.
It is a privilege to be here—it is a privilege to serve and it is a privilege that I will never take for granted. I promise the First Minister and her Government this: where the Government shares our ambition for the people of Scotland; where the Government shares our determination that where a person comes from matters less than where they want to go; where the station that a person was born into matters less than their talents; and where the Government recognises its responsibility to nurture talent, to support aspiration, and to help those who find themselves in need, the Labour Party is ready and willing to stand with it. Where the Government lacks ambition or shows timidity, and where it fails to meet the aspirations of a new generation, it will find us equal to the task of opposition.
The Scottish Labour Party that I lead will not exist to face off against Scottish National Party ministers here in the chamber; rather, it will turn to face the country. We will work for a Scotland where everyone gets the opportunity to unlock their talents and to know the dignity and satisfaction of work, for an environment that is protected for all and enjoyed by all, and for a dynamic economy in which entrepreneurs are supported to create the jobs, opportunities and wealth that Scotland needs in order to thrive.
The First Minister has placed educational inequality at the heart of her statement. I welcome that; she knows that I am passionate about ensuring that every child gets a fair chance in life. The First Minister has asked us to look at her Government’s record. She says that it is a strong foundation for the future, but if we look at children who are in their final year of primary school, who have so far spent every day of their school years under this Government, we do not see a record of which to be proud. We see that 93 per cent of children in primary 7 who come from the least-deprived backgrounds are performing well at reading, compared with just 81 per cent of the children from the most-deprived backgrounds—a 12 per cent gap in reading. When it comes to writing, the figures are 77 per cent of children from the least-deprived backgrounds compared with just 56 per cent from the most-deprived backgrounds—a 21 per cent gap. In numeracy, 77 per cent of kids from the least-deprived areas are reaching the appropriate levels, compared with just 53 per cent from the most-deprived areas, so there is a 24 per cent gap in numeracy between the richest and poorest pupils.
Almost half the poorest kids are unable to write or to count properly on leaving primary school. That should shame us, as a nation. We in this chamber are not just responsible for caring for those children during the hours when they are at school, but for preparing them for the opportunities of the years to come. By any measure, we are failing them.
I started the day this morning by joining the breakfast club at the Royal High primary school here in Edinburgh. For 30p pupils can have some toast and juice and start the day well, but the City of Edinburgh Council is under increasing financial pressure and faces the choice of either scrapping that breakfast club or charging £2 a day so that it can meet its costs. That is a Labour and Scottish National Party council, so the First Minister and I share the responsibility for keeping that breakfast club open.
In fact, we share the desire to tackle educational inequality as the number 1 priority. After months of debating inequality in this chamber, we can now see real action. That is great. We have seen money being invested in education advisers: let us now see money being invested in the teachers who work with the pupils who face the biggest barriers to educational achievement. We know who those teachers are and where they work, and we know that so many of them already defy the odds daily and help their pupils to shine. We can reward those teachers and give them more classroom assistants. We can bring in a new enhanced teacher grade to raise the skills of, and rewards for, those who teach in the most challenging classrooms. The SNP has already led the way on that with the programme for headteachers. It can do it again, should it wish for that support for teachers on the front line.
There is so much more that we can do now. We can recognise that to improve literacy among children we have to improve literacy for mums, dads and primary carers. We can scrap fees for exam appeals, so that all young people who want one can have a fresh look taken at their grades. We should move mountains to help looked-after children, for they are our kids and their future lies in our hands.
We can take a fresh look at school inspections. Today, 90 per cent of schools that are inspected are assessed as “satisfactory” or better. However, “satisfactory” means that the strengths only just outweigh the weaknesses, which is why I believe that the First Minister should immediately suspend all school inspections for one year and use the time to redesign the inspection regime. I would like to see more unannounced inspections. Inspections must be used to drive excellence for all. No parent wants a “satisfactory” education for their child. Parents want the best possible education for their child, and it is my mission to ensure that our children have the best possible start in life.
No, thank you.
After educational inequality, inequality between the genders should be the top of the First Minister’s list for the year ahead. Much has been said over the summer about how having three female leaders in this chamber is good for Scotland. I agree with that, but it is not enough for us to just stand here. I feel that I have now a greater responsibility than ever before to deliver material change and equality for women, as I lead my party.
We welcome the moves to introduce an offence for revenge porn, and hope that we will quickly follow the rest of the United Kingdom, where individuals are already being convicted for such offences. Putting into the public domain material of the most private and personal nature is not simply an abuse of trust; it leaves the victim feeling humiliated and ashamed. I believe that there is more that we can do to protect women from other forms of domestic abuse and assault, so I welcome the bill that has been announced today.
The number of rapes that are reported to the police has increased over the past year. A fifth of those are reports of being raped while asleep. We need to do more to tackle not just those crimes but the culture that means that such offences persist in modern Scotland. I urge the First Minister to give proper consideration in the year ahead to how we can use the education system to teach young men and women about sexual consent.
Today, a young woman—no matter how hard she works—will experience institutionalised barriers to success. For some young women it will not matter how hard they work; they will not make it unless Government eradicates the injustices that are in their way. It is our duty, in this chamber, to break down those barriers, whether they are issues of access to science and technology skills; the gendered violence that one in four women will face; the culture of low-paid, low-skilled and part-time work; or the motherhood penalties that result in women losing positions or promotions through going on maternity leave. Having women leaders talk about those issues is a start, but it is only a start. We will be known by our deeds, not just our words.
I welcome the First Minister’s focus on growing the economy, and the recognition that the strategy that was set out last year needed more detail and a plan for implementation. The single most important issue that we can get right is childcare. I believe that we now have a consensus across the chamber that childcare is not just a social policy but a hard-nosed economic policy that strikes right at the heart of labour-market participation. Together, we accept that high-quality affordable and accessible childcare can transform lives and open up opportunities.
As in previous years, the First Minister spoke about increasing the number of hours of childcare that will be available. However, she knows that the MacLean commission on childcare made it clear this summer that not only do the hours that are available matter, but whether they are affordable and accessible to working parents matters, too. That report highlighted the fact that although we in Scotland spend as much on childcare as Denmark and Sweden do, we get nothing like the same return for our money. I urge the First Minister to use the year ahead to take a fresh look at our approach to childcare and to ensure that the policy is designed to fit around parents’ lives rather than into an election leaflet.
Any economic plan must also acknowledge the problems that our oil industry faces. The problems in relation to jobs and the sustained low oil price have not gone away. The First Minister some months ago launched an apprenticeship scheme in response to those issues, but since its launch the scheme has helped only 12 people, against a backdrop of thousands of job losses. In the medium term, we need to find and support action in the industry. In the long term, we need a serious national effort to prepare for a post-oil economy and to take advantage of the economic opportunities of decommissioning that will otherwise go to other parts of the UK and Europe.
We must also recognise that a serious economic plan needs analysis, and that data that we can trust must be free from political interference. Therefore, although we welcome the proposed Scottish Fiscal Commission bill, we renew our call for an independent fiscal watchdog.
Absolutely no one has been impressed by the plans that the Government has put forward for the Fiscal Commission. People want independent knowledge and advice on which they can rely.
Growing our economy means improving productivity. We can achieve that only with investment in skills that gives everyone a chance to change their lives and to have the opportunity of a second chance. The Government has cut colleges to pay for universities, so the solution cannot now be to cut universities or schools in order to invest in colleges. We need a real debate about why we view education as a lesser spending priority in Scotland.
I will turn to that in detail in a second, but first I will say something about the Tory Government’s Trade Union Bill. None of us in the Scottish Parliament should be in any doubt about the intentions behind that Tory bill, which Ruth Davidson supports. It has one intention only, which is to undermine the rights and ability of working people to organise for better wages, terms and conditions in the workplace.
The withdrawal of their labour is the most basic right that working people have, and its effective use over time has resulted in better wages, better health and safety standards, and better pensions and, as a result, better public services and a better society. That ideologically driven bill is an attack on those hard-won rights and must be resisted: it must be stopped. Therefore, I make it clear to the Scottish Government that it will have the full support of the Labour Party in order that we do everything that we can to stop the bill.
Over the summer, I heard Roseanna Cunningham say that it is the prerogative of the Scottish ministers to decide on issues such as check-off and facility time. She is right. The Tories’ arguments against check-off and facility time are rooted in logistics, practicalities and costs. They are issues of public administration, not industrial relations, and are therefore clearly devolved, so the Government will have our full support in saying no to the Trade Union Bill.
Likewise, the Government would have our support for demanding a legislative consent motion on the matter. That way, the Tories would need approval from the Scottish Parliament to act—approval that they will not get from Labour members. We do not want just to support the Scottish Government’s rhetoric on the Trade Union Bill; we want to support some real action now to stop that bill.
Today, as is always the case when the Government sets out its programme for the year, we have seen many eye-catching and worthy announcements, such as the one on the education maintenance allowance, which in reality will simply reinstate a cut that the SNP Government made a few years ago. Furthermore, on issues such as kinship care, the announcements were promised a long time ago by this Government, but only now is it delivering on them.
However, I am delighted with the announcement about motor neurone disease and communication aids for people who suffer from the condition. I am also delighted that Gordon Aikman is in the gallery today to hear that announcement. Last week, the First Minister and I visited the Anne Rowling regenerative neurology clinic—in fact, we both donated our voices to the nation, as if people had not heard enough from us already. I am sure that the First Minister will have been persuaded—indeed, blown away—by the incredible technological advances at the centre. Through the science and innovation of academics in our universities here in the UK, we can now give people their voices back. When we take that breathtaking innovation and combine it with the beauty of our national health service, we see that wonderful things are happening for people in the most incredible circumstances, and that must be welcomed.
Likewise, I welcome the announcement of a burial and cremation bill, which will bring a sense of peace and justice to the families who were affected by what happened at Mortonhall crematorium, many of whom I know well and have worked with over the past few years. I know that that issue goes beyond Edinburgh and that the bill will be welcomed across the country.
I also welcome the proposed private tenancies bill. The First Minister knows that we have been arguing for months for action to control rent rises; indeed, we tried to that end to amend the First Minister’s previous housing bill, which became the Housing (Scotland) Act 2014, but she voted against the proposals several times. It is great that action will finally be taken on the issue. However, while the Government has prevaricated, rents have risen again. Had the SNP Government acted in 2013, when its previous private rented sector review took place, the average Scottish renter in the private sector would already have saved £150 a year, so this is slow progress.
However, what overrides all those individual spending announcements is the overall balance of spending in Scotland. It was Joe Biden who said:
“Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.”
Scotland’s public spending is currently £1,300 higher per person than the UK average. How successive budgets have chosen to invest that money reveals our real national priorities. Today, the First Minister has again said that education and health are priorities. However, her Government’s budgets have told a very different story. When the Labour Government established this Parliament, we spent a higher proportion of our budget on health and education than England did. Today, we spend a smaller proportion of our budget on those priorities than England does—points that are well made in the editorial of today’s Financial Times.
At the start of devolution, spending on health was 16.5 per cent higher than the UK average. Today, we spend just 6.5 per cent more on health than the rest of the UK.
I am happy to put the figures in the Scottish Parliament information centre immediately after today’s debate.
In 1999, we spent £204 per person more than the UK average on education. Today, that has fallen to £18. Those budget decisions reflect huge issues about the future of our country, so we are disappointed that the budget process has been truncated.
This First Minister is the most powerful person who has ever sat in that chair. Not only does she have a majority in this Parliament, she has swept aside her opponents in our other Parliament. She has more powers than ever before, and more are coming. Her party and her supporters dominate many aspects of Scottish public life. Therefore, I say to her today: “You have the power, and if you have the political will, you have the money. If you have the courage to take the radical action that we need to reform and to redistribute resources, you will have our support.”
It is time that all of us raised our ambitions for our country, for our politics and for ourselves. Last week, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives committed to using the new tax powers to ensure lower taxes, and they will have to set out what that means in terms of cuts. The other parties in this chamber will have to set out our priorities, too. I welcome that, because it shows that Scottish politics is moving from a debate about what we cannot do to talking about what we can do and what we will do.
We are not powerless to act. Nothing is inevitable. We are the masters—and, in this chamber, the mistresses—of our own destiny, so let us build that fairer and more equal country together.
Of course, Scottish politics did not stop in Parliament’s absence; indeed, it seems almost to have gathered pace. As the First Minister pointed out, the Scotland Bill is being pushed through at Westminster. I am pleased that the new tax and welfare powers—the devolution of which we all support—are being advanced in line with the agreed timetable.
I put on record my whole-hearted backing for the introduction of a new living wage of £9 an hour across the United Kingdom, as announced by the chancellor in his summer budget.
I am in my first minute.
No doubt the omission of a welcome for the new living wage in the First Minister’s speech was simply accidental.
However, we in this Parliament must turn our attention to the powers over which we exercise full control—from the education of our children to the laws under which our justice system is run and the state of our national health service. Those powers are huge in scope. Over the next year, they must become the clear centre of our politics in Scotland. In short, it is time that this Government focused 100 per cent on the day job.
Let me start with the parts of today’s statement that we welcome. On issues such as the baby ashes scandal and domestic abuse—both of which I have raised repeatedly in the chamber—we see welcome forward movement, which will have Scottish Conservative support.
I am pleased that our repeated and sustained calls for standardised assessments to be introduced in schools have been heeded. It is a massive U-turn but a welcome one. It is simply wrong that parents across Scotland can see their child go all the way through primary school and halfway into high school without having any independent measure of how well they are doing. That failure of critical assessment cannot continue; we need to change and we need to go further still.
The SNP Government has already withdrawn Scotland from two international tests on literacy and maths. The First Minister has said that we need reliable data to inform policy. I agree. That is why she should pull another U-turn and re-enter those international tests. We need to measure ourselves against the rest of the world so that our children have the very best chance of success.
The First Minister has made it clear that she wants her Administration to be judged on its educational record. I only wish that that single-minded purpose had come about a little earlier than eight long years after the SNP took sole control of the Scottish Government, because this is a Government that has presided over a fall in literacy standards. It is a Government that oversaw a real-terms cut in education funding of 5 per cent between 2010 and 2013 and one that has cut college places by 140,000 at the altar of a university tuition fee policy that favours the better off.
Although Conservative members will take time to assess the ideas that the First Minister put forward in her statement, we will do so with no little scepticism that this eight-year-old Government has the ideas and focus necessary to do the job. We will also propose a better alternative.
As we see families continuing to move house to secure the golden ticket of a good catchment area, we will press the Scottish Government to free up headteachers to innovate so that every local school is one that people want to live near. There is nothing stopping schools in deprived areas from becoming beacons of excellence. That begins with giving teachers, headteachers and communities the power to do it.
In the meantime, it is clear that we need a renewed focus on reading and writing by ensuring that teacher training institutions prioritise literacy training. It is astonishing that some courses are allocating just 20 hours of a four-year course to literacy teaching. That needs genuine change. We also need to ensure that schools work with parents so that reading is at the centre of school life and of family life.
I turn to the Government’s other legislative priorities. This party’s view is that we continue to see a worrying trend towards centralisation and political control freakery. The Government’s Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill, which is already in progress, is quite simply an attack on academic freedom. It will enforce political control of academic institutions whose reputations have been built precisely because of their political independence. Quite why the SNP has decided to fight the very institutions that deliver massive added value to Scotland is beyond me. I ask the First Minister today to reconsider those plans.
Similarly, we will contest the Government’s Land Reform (Scotland) Bill as it is another move towards an illiberal and centralising Government.
We will campaign for a genuine fix for our failing police service. Armed officers; stop and search; the M9 tragedy—Police Scotland is struggling. Now, just two years after creating Police Scotland, the SNP Government is forced to concede today that it needs reform. The creation of a few new committees simply will not cut it. We need local accountability restored to a service that, to much of the country, now feels utterly remote.
I turn to health. This party will support all moves to ensure that the national health service is properly funded, but it is also time to accept that money alone will not solve the NHS’s problems. Doctors and nurses are telling us that politically driven targets are hampering their attempts to provide patient care. We must listen to them before more nurses and doctors decide to leave NHS Scotland and pursue their careers elsewhere.
We also need clarity of thinking. We need to free up more money to recruit more nurses. If that means that the better off—such as those of us here in the chamber—should pay a contribution for our prescriptions, so be it.
As we prepare for more powers being devolved to this Parliament, I welcome the fact that the First Minister has turned her attention to the substantial welfare powers that she will soon be responsible for, but I would like to know how developed those preparations are. The First Minister used her speech, unjustly in my view, to attack the current work programme, which is the largest welfare to work programme in our nation’s history and which, in point of fact, has helped 38,510 long-term unemployed Scots—those who are furthest from the job market—back into a long-term job. She says that she is working on a replacement. What evidence can she provide to show us that her replacement will be ready by April 2017?
For our part, my party will promote our own proposals on welfare over the coming months. Our guiding principle will be to ensure that the welfare system helps people back into work. In that we will be helped by the sound economic foundations provided by the UK which, since we came into government in 2010, have seen employment levels rise in Scotland by 174,000 and unemployment levels fall by 64,000. That shows just one benefit of our continued membership of the United Kingdom—the fastest-growing economy of the G7 last year.
Over the next year, I will ensure that this party stays committed to what I believe are the priorities of most Scots: speaking up for those of us who want Scotland to thrive in the United Kingdom; standing up for family finances, which face ever-greater pressure from the cost of living; and insisting that the huge powers that this Parliament has are used to ensure that we have better schools, a secure NHS and an enterprise culture that makes us the best place to do business in western Europe.
It is time for a Scottish alternative to the SNP and we are determined to provide it.
Since we last met in the chamber, the chairman of the Scottish Police Authority has resigned, the chief constable of Police Scotland has resigned and we have witnessed the unfolding terrible aftermath of the tragic incident on the M9 motorway.
A police officer told the BBC last week that Police Scotland is “on its knees”. I know that to be true from almost daily contact from police officers and civilian staff. They cite low morale and serious problems such as the backfilling of civilian jobs by experienced but inappropriately trained police officers; excessive waiting times in call centres and control rooms; industrial-scale stop and search; top-down targets and controls; and more near misses because of errors at Bilston Glen.
The list goes on. One person told me just yesterday that the reforms that the Government is putting through are putting the police and the public in danger. However, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice still thinks that it is appropriate to praise the soon-to-depart chief constable and tells us that he will leave a “lasting positive legacy”.
“The successful transition to the new single police service” on 1 April 2013 has placed
“Scotland at the forefront of UK policing.”
I warned ministers before about the dangers of their plans, and I am warning them now that what they have announced today is simply not enough.
The Government is denying reality. The reality is that Police Scotland is not
“at the forefront of UK policing”; it is “on its knees”. We need an independent inquiry into the operations of Police Scotland, which needs to change before it gets any worse.
We have put forward proposals to reform the democratic architecture of the Scottish Police Authority and Police Scotland. As part of the First Minister’s review of accountability and scrutiny, I will—if she is prepared to listen this time—take her through our plans, which are reasonable and pragmatic and will inject local accountability back into the police.
The code of conduct on stop and search is a step in the right direction, but all stop and searches must be put on a statutory footing to bring an end to their industrial use. The review of the police as a whole is essential to restore the morale of staff and officers and the confidence of the public.
We have other proposals, which combine economic discipline with social justice. We want to create opportunity for everyone, no matter what their background.
We propose a pupil premium to help children who need a helping hand at school. It would target financial support to individual children across Scotland, not just in limited council areas, to provide support for extra tuition and resources. It is that personalised support that makes the difference to inequality.
We propose an expansion of nursery education and childcare. That is the best educational investment that we could make. Last month, 15,000 two-year-olds skipped through the doors of their nursery for the first time—but only after Liberal Democrat members pressed the Scottish Government to deliver that. That figure should be doubled. The support in England is outstripping that which is available in Scotland, and that needs to change.
We propose a recruitment plan for general practitioners. Our survey of GPs in the summer found that one in three would not choose that career now if they had an opportunity to revisit the decision. Many are retiring early or going part time, and potential new recruits are going elsewhere. Of the GPs who knew about the Government’s plan, 99 per cent thought that it was inadequate. The Royal College of General Practitioners has a blueprint, and the Government should take it seriously.
We propose parity for mental health treatment. One in four of us will have a mental health condition in our lifetime, but the treatment options are inadequate and involve long waits. Yesterday, I visited Urban Therapy in Crosshill in Fife. It is overwhelmed by people who are seeking counselling from as far afield as Glasgow. We all need parity for that service.
On pupil testing and league tables, the document that was published today says:
“The clear purpose of this reporting and use of assessment data is to drive ... accountability throughout” the Scottish education system. That includes school-level data. That will lead to teaching to the test, with every child put under unacceptable pressure to make the numbers look good. Despite what the First Minister says, it is clear that we are returning to the type of testing and tables that the previous Liberal Democrat-Labour Administration abolished.
The problems with the police, the NHS and the schools are not just problems of which the First Minister is a passive observer. This Parliament has been responsible for more than 15 years. Nicola Sturgeon has been in government for more than eight years, and she is responsible now. She repeatedly mentioned the future in her statement. Perhaps the First Minister prefers to talk about the future because she cannot face up to her Government’s past.
I thank the First Minister for an advance copy of her statement. I assure her that the Greens will also look forward to working constructively with her on a number of the areas that she has outlined. The focus on inequality is an issue on which she has spoken on a number of occasions. If that continues to be an element of her Government’s programme, we would certainly welcome that. We probably do not frame it in terms of economic growth as she does. We believe, as I am sure that she does as well, that inequality is bad in its own right and not just detrimental to what we regard as a short-term notion of economic growth.
The First Minister has in the past asserted the need for a living wage. More could be done to promote it. There is a wide range of business support services that the Scottish Government makes available that are not currently contingent on applicants qualifying as living wage employers. A different approach could drive uptake. However, there will have to be recognition that, as a result of UK Government changes and not least those on tax credits, the wage will have to increase in order to be meaningful and ensure that people do not still live in poverty.
I found it rather galling that Ruth Davidson seemed to have expected congratulation from the First Minister for the announcement by the Tory Government’s George Osborne. Perhaps the answer is that the First Minister, just like the rest of us, can notice a con when she sees one, and that any worker who has successfully campaigned for a living wage in their own workplace has a right to feel insulted by the proposal to replace it with a so-called living wage that is lower than the one that exists today. This Government should see through such con artistry, as I think that most of this Parliament does, too.
I particularly welcome the proposal to abolish the fees for employment tribunals. That will be a very positive step. I also welcome the reversal of the Scottish Government’s opposition to rent controls. That is long overdue. We have made the case for rent controls for well over a year, as have the National Union of Students Scotland, Shelter and other organisations. I look forward to seeing the details of that proposal.
There are areas in the programme where we may simply need to wait and see what the detail has to say. For example, the commission on local tax reform is due to report soon. We have engaged constructively with it. However, we will have to wait and see what the Scottish Government has to say about its intentions for the way forward. Local democratic freedom—the ability of councils to decide for themselves how much revenue is right for them to raise and on what terms—will be an important measure that we take forward.
As for the mitigation of the welfare cuts, which is an agenda that I think we will again share, the devil will be in the detail. It will be for this Parliament, with its increased range of powers, to decide whether it is willing to raise the additional revenue necessary if we are to be successful in that agenda.
The emphasis on education, which has come from the Government and the Labour benches, is important. My only concern here is that the issue simply becomes another political football, where the Government and the main Opposition party’s shared intentions fall down the crack between a political division about whose statistics are correct and whose are most meaningful. Instead of using or relying on its inbuilt majority, the Government will have to make a case for the specific proposition that it has in this area, and all Opposition parties should listen to that case with an open mind.
The Government’s review of policing will be a welcome step. However, as I think that Willie Rennie said, there is a need to recognise a wider culture in Police Scotland, which has been too controlling from the centre. There is a need to recognise that a deficit of local accountability is inherent in the push towards a single police force to replace the forces that previously existed in Scotland. That is a circle that it will be difficult to square.
In addition, we in this Parliament need to have no patience in future with ministers who respond to questions by saying that we are raising merely operational matters, for example when we are talking about the presence of weapons on our streets or the covert use of surveillance, whether in the context of journalism or in the context of peaceful political activism. Those are not merely operational matters; they are deeply political. If the Government wants to get to grips with that issue, I will welcome that. However, that remains to be seen.
I must mention one or two negatives. I was disappointed that there was not a single mention of climate change, or even the wider environmental agenda, in the First Minister’s statement, despite the serious challenge that exists not just globally, in getting agreement between Governments in Paris this year, but here in Scotland, where the Scottish Government is yet to meet even one—I repeat “even one”—of its annual climate change targets, more than five years after the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 was passed.
“Tackling climate change” is mentioned in the full document, “A Stronger Scotland: the Government’s Programme for Scotland 2015-16”, but I need turn only one page to see a section that is headed, “Investing in the Oil and Gas Industry”. That brings us to the long-standing contradiction between the Scottish Government’s high-carbon and low-carbon economic and energy strategies. We cannot have it both ways. Kezia Dugdale mentioned the concept of a post-oil economy and the need to prepare for the transition; I am happy to let Ms Dugdale know that Scottish Greens are well ahead of her. I will happily send the Labour office a copy of our report, “Jobs in Scotland’s New Economy”.
Finally, there was nothing in the statement or in the programme for government document that gives clarity on the Scottish Government’s position on fracking and other environmental threats from the fossil fuel industry. The moratorium must become a permanent ban, and its scope must be extended to include underground coal gasification. The First Minister said that she is setting out a long-term vision—an agenda for the next parliamentary session. The SNP cannot go into the next election without giving voters clarity on its intentions in that most contentious area.
I am very positive about the programme that Nicola Sturgeon put forward, because it clearly builds on the achievements of the past four years—and prior to that—and because, as always, it takes a holistic approach. It looks at the big picture, considering all the elements for which our Government is responsible and which this Parliament is responsible for scrutinising, to ensure that we can make Scotland the country that we want it to be, by fighting for more powers for Scotland so that we can be more ambitious for Scotland’s people and deliver more powers for Scotland’s communities.
The main strands as outlined in the statement—I look forward to reading more of the programme—are the economy, employment and fair work, welfare and housing, education and health and, of course, democracy. On democracy, I really took offence when Kezia Dugdale said that the Labour Government established this Parliament. No, it did not. The people of Scotland established this Parliament. That is at the root of democracy. Let us hear no more of that rewriting of history.
Will the member say how democratic it is of the Scottish Government to impose on local government its position on local taxes? Should it not be up to local government to make those decisions?
It is clear that Mr Findlay has not listened to anything that has been said about getting more powers for Scotland’s communities and people, so that they can take decisions about what affects them in their daily lives. That is what this Government is about. If he paid more attention to looking at the legislative programme and the government that has gone on for the past eight years, he would realise that. He should start getting a bit positive about how the Opposition can actually help to deliver for Scotland, instead of trying to pull Scotland down at every available opportunity.
While we are at it, let me mention education, which is the big thing that is getting talked about just now. Kezia Dugdale talked about education, the attainment gap and how Nicola Sturgeon has failed over the past eight years in making differences in deprived communities, but let me tell members that there have been decades of Labour control in deprived communities right across our country, and we inherited an attainment gap. We inherited areas of multiple deprivation that people in the Labour Party should be absolutely ashamed of presiding over for all that time. They should help us to make it better, admit the mistakes of the past, look at history and move forward to the future, because together we can actually make changes.
Ruth Davidson outlined how she thought education could be done in deprived areas, with headteachers having more responsibility. I would say to her, “How about eradicating poverty instead of embedding it?” That would make a difference. How about ensuring that people have enough to eat rather than normalising food banks? That would make a difference, too, because there is a fundamental fact here: hungry children find it more difficult to learn. I think that we can all agree on that. I ask Ruth Davidson to look down at what her Government is doing at Westminster and join the rest of us in condemning what is happening there.
We need to look at the big picture of Scotland and the country that it can be, and we need to be ambitious for all its people. I believe that Nicola Sturgeon and her Government are anxious to deliver on that.
I have been looking at the programme for government in terms of what is being done for business with the small business bonus and more for small and medium-sized enterprises, which are the bedrock of business in our communities right across Scotland. I am looking at how the programme can benefit my community of East Kilbride. The town that I represent—and the biggest town in Scotland—has been suffering because of economic changes, because of austerity and because things have changed in terms of what kinds of businesses are there.
I am glad that there is going to be a new initiative about manufacturing, and I hope that I will be able to speak to the business team in the Scottish Government about how East Kilbride, through its task force, can start to capitalise on that.
Yet again, we have people who will not look at the big picture and how we actually look at business as a whole—at how it contributes and what is fair. One thing that this Government does is to look at what is fair, whether in relation to helping employers or fair work for employees. I am absolutely delighted that there is going to be strong opposition to the terrible things that Margaret Mitchell’s Government is trying to do to workers’ rights through the Trade Union Bill.
I see that I am quickly running out of time.
I have so much more to say.
I hope that the Labour Party in opposition at Westminster will be totally opposed to what the Conservatives are trying to do with that bill. I hope that Labour will join Scotland’s main Opposition party, the SNP, in fighting what is going on down there. Let us look at the bigger picture of how the Conservative Government is damaging Scotland, and at how we can work with the SNP Government in Scotland to mitigate that and be positive for the future.
The next eight months will see crucial decisions taken about our future—decisions about how we protect and make the best sustainable use of our land and seas, how we enable communities in urban and rural Scotland to tackle the environmental and social injustice that scars people’s lives, and how we play our part in tackling the climate challenges that will destroy the livelihoods of millions across the globe.
The Scottish Parliament should be proud of its record on land reform. Our Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 enabled communities in some of the remotest parts of Scotland to make better use of the land and to create jobs and opportunities. Scottish Labour supported the new powers in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, because we believed that the act built on those achievements. It included urban areas and gave communities the chance of having a greater say in the use of abandoned and neglected buildings and land. How that works in practice is critical; therefore, we will monitor the new processes to ensure that they deliver for communities.
There remain key areas of unfinished business, particularly in relation to sustainable development, which we will debate this autumn, when the recommendations of the land reform policy group and the many submissions that we have had from representatives across the country will be crucial. There are key things that, I hope, we will all agree need to be delivered, such as clarity about the ownership of land. How can land be owned when there is no paper trail to show who the owner is? The Land Reform (Scotland) Bill gives us the opportunity to deliver greater transparency, and, in committee, Scottish Labour will test the principles and the detail of the bill, working to ensure that it secures a decent deal for tenant farmers.
The Scottish Government could do much more to tackle the challenges of climate change. I was disappointed and genuinely surprised that the issue did not feature once in the First Minister’s statement. With the Paris talks due to take place in December, we need radical action now. Yesterday’s cross-party initiative by WWF saw all party leaders sign up for action. The SNP Government, with its clear majority, can move ahead with radical action now and needs to do so without delay.
The Scottish Government is failing on European Union air quality targets and has now missed four annual climate change targets. Although we have made progress on renewables, much more can be done. For example, the Scottish Government’s budget needs to reflect new investment in the greening of our infrastructure, our buildings and our transport networks. The proposed national energy infrastructure plan is long overdue, and we need to see new investment in community heat and power to provide robust solutions for communities and co-operative ways to move forward.
Crucially, we need to retrofit homes to tackle the scandal of fuel poverty. It is not enough to build new affordable homes; we need to support the 39 per cent of Scottish households who live in fuel poverty and the thousands of people in our rural communities who live in extreme fuel poverty. That is not a future challenge; it is a challenge now.
Iain Gray’s proposed bus bill is one practical way in which we could invest to deliver sustainable public transport, support demand-led and community transport initiatives and move the agenda forward. Will the Scottish Government now sign up to the provisions of that proposed bill? Across the rest of the UK, local authorities are beginning to work together on franchising and supporting bus regulation across local authority boundaries, so why can we not do that here in Scotland, too?
I would like to know what the Scottish Government’s view is on the new raft of city deals that are being agreed across the country. Will it be possible for new bus options to appear in them? That could be a practical way of tackling the problem and delivering sustainable transport.
On Thursday, we will hear a statement from ministers on the future for people at Longannet. That highlights the need for a practical transition now to a greener energy future. We are losing jobs and expertise across the country, particularly down the east coast from Aberdeen to Fife, and we need to hear more from ministers about practical solutions and a practical transition before more jobs are lost. We must work with energy companies and communities now to ensure that vital skills and supply industries are not lost for the future.
Throughout the summer, we have seen the dairy crisis continue, and we have now reached the point at which costs are being cut but the pressure on payments continues so that they are still below what is necessary for farmers to produce milk viably. When water is more expensive than milk, surely something is seriously out of kilter. I welcome the Scottish Government’s dairy action plan, but farmers need to see it delivered with much greater urgency. There must be more transparency in the whole supply chain, investment in product diversification and support for the public and private sectors to actively source produce of Scottish provenance. We need that now more than ever.
It has been a horrendous summer for our farming communities and the rural jobs that depend on them, and the autumn will bring yet more challenges. Can the Scottish Government confirm today that single farm payments will be processed and paid on time? Our producers and the rural jobs and industries that they support need that certainty.
We need to know that the Scottish Government is focused on protecting and creating new jobs, whether in energy, transport, farming or food production, and that it will use its budget to green our infrastructure, to tackle fuel poverty now and to enable it to deliver on our climate targets and deliver environmental justice for all.
Before we came back to Parliament, I ran the emotional gauntlet of sending my daughter off for her first day at primary school. The tears were not flowing; she has been keeping me up to date with all the things that she has been learning. That has helped me put into focus and context my aspirations for her and, from that, my aspirations as a politician for the children of Scotland.
Both my children are now in the education system, and I want to ensure that we have an education system that works for all the children in it. That is why I welcomed the extension of the attainment fund that took place over the summer, from which two schools in my constituency—Manor Park and Bramble Brae—will benefit. Manor Park and Bramble Brae schools are doing a tremendous amount of work in communities of deprivation in Aberdeen, but, as has been highlighted, and as I have said previously in the chamber, there is a world outside the school gates that affects children’s chances. We often find that the schools that children attend are working against external factors instead of being able to maximise those children’s educational outcomes. The work that is being done in our schools is vital, but the wraparound provision outside school is important too, and many of the factors involved in that lie outwith the Scottish Government’s control. I will come on to say a bit more about some of those things.
The expansion of childcare and early years provision is important and welcome, and the plans to go further will benefit not just children but parents, who will be able to take the opportunity, should they choose to do so, to get back into the workforce earlier than might otherwise have been the case.
I welcome the announcement that the energy jobs task force will be extended for six months, although that is obviously bittersweet, given that pressures are still faced by those who work in the energy sector, many of whom are my constituents. Indeed, just recently there were some regrettable announcements about helicopter pilot jobs. An issue that has been raised with me is the difficulty that helicopter pilots have in finding alternative employment, because there are not many helicopter pilot jobs available. I hope that, as part of its work, the energy jobs task force will consider the options and opportunities for reskilling those who find themselves being made redundant.
That is an example of support for a key sector in the north-east of Scotland, but there are other key sectors. An issue that has often been raised with me is that we do not always hear enough about the other sectors in the north-east of Scotland, one of which is life sciences. I welcome the fact that it will continue to be a focus of the Government’s economic strategy. Over the summer, along with the Minister for Sport, Health Improvement and Mental Health, Jamie Hepburn, I visited NovaBiotics in my constituency, which is doing fantastic work on the development of a treatment for cystic fibrosis. It is a spin-out company from the Rowett institute of nutrition and health. Such spin-out life sciences companies are the kind of companies that we want to be fostered and supported, and I know that NovaBiotics is grateful for the support that the Scottish Government is giving the life sciences sector.
One of the decisions on the energy sector that needs to be probed quite seriously is the UK Government’s bizarre decision to apply the climate change levy to the renewable energy sector. That seems absolutely and utterly without rhyme or reason and will do significant harm to our attempts to diversify the energy sector in Scotland.
As far as the health sector is concerned, I believe that there have been improvements in the health of our nation and in the experience of people in accessing our NHS. As the First Minister highlighted, we now have a greater number of people in the health service waiting for a shorter period, which by any measure is improvement. I also welcome the moves that have been made in the primary care sector. I have had a number of discussions with the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport on the issues that primary care and general practice are facing, and in particular on some of the pressures that are being experienced in my constituency.
Recently, I met again local GPs who are looking at how primary care will be shaped and delivered at a local level. When the Minister for Sport, Health Improvement and Mental Health was in my constituency, we visited the Middlefield healthy hoose, which is a nurse practitioner-led service that is delivering strong support for a deprived community in my constituency. I believe that there are a number of ways in which the primary care sector can complement other disciplines to reduce workload and improve patient experience and outcomes. The Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport and I have spoken about that, and I know that she is very keen to explore the issue.
On social justice and the improvement of living standards, I referred earlier to the factors that exist outside the school gates that affect children’s life chances and educational outcomes. One of those factors involves the difficulties faced by many people in sustaining their income without tax credits, for example, which we know are about to come under significant attack from the UK Government. The living wage is crucial—it is called the real living wage because it meets the living wage standards and is not just a repackaging of the minimum wage, unlike the phoney living wage that the Conservatives put forward. We know that the £9 an hour that the Conservatives trumpet will not be a living wage by the time that it comes into force.
Work in those areas is important to ensure that living standards increase and that families have the best possible opportunities in our society. I welcome the programme for government because it is ambitious for and about Scotland.
With the election on the horizon, this is a shorter parliamentary year than normal but it is important that we use the time that we have to make progress in a number of key areas. The First Minister has come forward today with a number of proposals. At the close of her speech, she talked about transferring power to local communities—about community empowerment. That will be a challenge given the finance, capacity and sustainability of some communities, but the prize will be great. We could see people engage much more in their communities, making decisions every day rather than just at the ballot box.
I will touch briefly on land reform. It was recently revealed in Private Eye that title to 750,000 acres of land in Scotland—an area larger than the First Minister’s home region of Ayrshire—is held in tax havens. In last year’s programme for government, the First Minister said that her
“ambition for radical reform remains undiminished”.
However, there have been areas where campaigners have been disappointed, including the lack of plans to tackle land that is held in tax havens. Land reform is an opportunity to change who holds power in Scotland. This should be a Parliament that challenges the old consensus. Land reform is one of the great success stories of this young Parliament, but we can be more ambitious still.
The Government was forced to redesign the land reform review group after it had a weak start. The group produced a final report with a host of recommendations that were designed to take the land reform process forward, and the Government has adopted a number of them in legislation. However, I hope that it will take another look at the plan to bar companies in offshore tax havens from holding title to land and property in Scotland. We need greater transparency on land ownership. Unless action is taken on that, we will start to see a ridiculous situation whereby Scotland will fall behind the rest of the UK on the issue, given that the Conservative Prime Minister has announced plans to publish a central public land registry of foreign companies that own land in England and Wales. There is a real need and desire to see the Scottish Government at least match that level of transparency.
Educational attainment is an issue that Kezia Dugdale has championed in the Parliament. Too many young people are still leaving school not having achieved as much as they should have. Kezia Dugdale outlined some of the stark figures that we must address in that regard. Last year, I visited Kirkland high school in Methil for its end-of-year show. Kirkland was part of the schools of ambition scheme that, along with cultural co-ordinators, was introduced by the last Labour-led Executive. Both those initiatives were brought to an end by the current Government, but in 2014 I could still see their impact on that school—on the pupils, their teachers and parents and the community as a whole.
What I saw was engagement with arts and culture by pupils who might otherwise have struggled to have those experiences. They showed confidence and team work, and were a great argument for why arts and creativity are so important. However, when we look at who is reaching the attainment levels needed for art college acceptance or entry to the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, we see that for groups of young people a career in the arts is just not possible because of a combination of financial constraints and lack of opportunity.
The actor James McAvoy recently stepped into the debate, saying that, although no one detracts from the talent and success of actors who come from privileged backgrounds,
“we are real worried about a society that doesn’t give opportunities to everybody from every walk of life to be able to get into the arts, and that is happening.”
There should be no profession that a talented child or young person, regardless of their family income or circumstances, should be excluded from.
In looking forward to the coming months in the Parliament, I would like to consider two further areas of the programme for government. An EU referendum is coming and we must be fully engaged in that debate. So far, the focus has been on the process, but we need to move on to the meat and substance of the debate. We cannot take the result in Scotland for granted. Many people in Scotland will not have made up their mind about the issue. We cannot yet see the shape of the campaign, although it will be another yes/no type of campaign, and across the political and social spectrum strong arguments will be put that the EU does not work in Scotland’s interests. People will argue about the EU’s political direction, and the campaign against the transatlantic trade and investment partnership will be highlighted, as will concerns about business regulation.
Those of us in the chamber who support continued EU membership must be ready to engage with those arguments and to meet the criticisms if we are to remain in the EU. The EU needs to change but reform must be achieved from within. Membership is important to our economy. The First Minister talked about international exports, and continuing membership is crucial in that regard.
I will close with some comments on the BBC. The First Minister talked about additional powers for Scotland. The Scottish Parliament and the Government have greater power in the charter renewal process, but with power comes responsibility. The debate cannot be driven by political ideology, nor must it be about settling old scores. We must choose our words carefully, refrain from threats and ultimatums and work towards securing a deal that works for the BBC and licence fee payers.
It is important that we use the correct facts. I was disappointed by the motion that Bill Kidd lodged last week, in which he said that the BBC Scotland budget was between £30 million and £35 million—despite its budget being almost seven times that. It is not conductive to having an honest debate about the future of the BBC to have misinformation around. The BBC has some great talent working here in Scotland and it is a vital partner in developing the sector and the skills that are needed in it. We will have fuller discussion about that on Thursday, but we must not lose sight of the issue during the charter renewal process, and that is why Scottish Labour wants increased investment from within the licence fee settlement and why we want the retention of the quota systems for commissioning from the nations and regions.
On the BBC and the EU referendum, we must ensure that in the months ahead we work together where we agree and debate constructively where we do not. We should positively engage on the future of the EU and the BBC and take an inclusive approach that puts people, not politics, at the centre of those decisions.
I welcome the programme for government. There is so much in it that is impressive, and I echo Linda Fabiani’s comments about its positivity. It has been good to hear that in a number of the contributions—if not all of them—this afternoon.
The First Minister said much in her statement about attainment, and it is on that, and on literacy specifically, that I wish to concentrate. Many members in the chamber will probably expect that the librarian in me would want to take part in a debate on literacy, but the debate on literacy and closing the attainment gap is actually about equality. It is a debate about equality in access to education and in access to health, because health literacy is proven to play a part in people having better health, and it is also a debate about equality in employment and therefore in breaking down poverty.
When we talk about literacy, we should talk about it from the earliest years all the way through to adulthood. The standing literacy commission, which the Scottish Government set up, published its report earlier in 2015. It was initially chaired by Sir Harry Burns, when he was the chief medical officer. That raised eyebrows at the time, but he could tell us absolutely clearly that literacy is part of education, health and breaking down poverty.
The standing literacy commission makes it quite clear in some of the statistics that it gives that, in the world rankings, Scotland has a 99 per cent literacy level. That sounds marvellous, does it not? It puts us in something like the top 20 countries in the world but, as the commission also highlighted, it is the gap between those with high-functioning literacy and those with poor-functioning literacy that is the biggest problem that faces us.
The most recent Scottish index of multiple deprivation surveys show that the literacy gap is narrowing. That is to be welcomed, but we must not stop there, as the First Minister said. We have heard the First Minister talk today about the SNP Government’s ambition to close the literacy gap, which is so important.
The First Minister told us about the attainment challenge and the £100 million attainment challenge fund. She also talked about how we have moved to providing 600 hours per annum of early learning and childcare for all three and four-year-olds and, if we are elected to form the Government next year, our ambition is to move to 1,140 hours. Opposition party leaders spoke about that in quite disparaging terms. To Ms Dugdale especially, I say that I spent the summer travelling the length of the country from Dumfries to Inverness and from east to west to look at the challenges of delivering those 600 hours and how we have met those challenges. I also looked at how our local authorities, in partnership with private and third sector nurseries, are already planning—and, in many cases, implementing—the flexibility that our working parents need. I know that Ms Dugdale was otherwise involved in an election this summer while I was out touring the country, but we need to look at the facts before we disparage the work.
I will highlight quickly a couple of areas in which the Government has already been evaluated as working well in narrowing the literacy gap. I do not know how many members know about this initiative, but one of the delights for me is bookbug: four times in a child’s life from birth to primary 1, they receive a bag filled with books. However, we are not just talking about books and reading. When we work with our youngest children, we are working on attachment, relationships and emotional literacy. We are not just working with those young children; we are encouraging their parents and carers to be part of their learning journey.
I have to highlight a couple of other issues because they are so exciting. The first is the play, talk, read strategy for older children. Members who have not been on one of the three play, talk, read buses should do so when one comes to their constituency and see the delight of the children—and of their parents or carers—when they are playing, talking and reading. If a bus does not come to members’ constituencies, they should get in touch and find out how to get it to come.
An allied initiative is the NHS play@home programme, which was evaluated highly by Queen Margaret University in 2011. There is also the recently announced read write count initiative. Members who have not seen the videos on the Government’s website that show parents or carers how going for the messages can be used to raise children’s literacy levels while increasing attachment really need to look at them—they are amazing.
I have only a few seconds left, although I could have brought many other things to members’ attention. In the bookbug bag, I came across a quote from Albert Einstein:
“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
I recommend doing that, but I am not talking about the fairy tales that we heard from Ruth Davidson this afternoon.
Such programmes are fun, creative and academically evaluated. We need to infect everyone across Scotland with enthusiasm.
Two weeks ago, when the First Minister told us—boldly, it has to be said—that her neck is on the line when it comes to the attainment gap, it showed a welcome acceptance that it is one of the major education challenges that face the Government. The First Minister spoke about the successes that she saw; that 500 new schools have been built or refurbished since 2007, that the number of people who are staying on in S6 or who have meaningful school-leaver destinations is increasing, and that there has—notwithstanding the controversy around the Scottish Qualifications Authority this summer—been a record number of passes at higher and advanced higher levels.
When the First Minister talks about success in education, it is noticeable that most of the national measures that she uses to support that assertion are quantitative and do not tell us much, if anything at all, about the overall qualitative changes in pupils’ learning. There are and always will be beacons of success, with qualitative improvement in individual schools, but quite frankly, no one believes the First Minister when either she, or her education secretary, tells us that
“standards have risen and are continuing to rise”.
Why does no one believe that? It is because every education expert in the land tells us that between one in five and one in six pupils is still leaving school functionally illiterate. It is because the most recent statistics show that in many aspects of literacy and numeracy Scotland has gone backwards, and it is because of what is for me a very telling statistic, which was used by the First Minister herself when she said that 69 per cent of schools are classified in inspections as being good, very good or excellent, but which means that 31 per cent of schools—or approximately 210,000 pupils—are not in that category. That is a damning indictment.
The First Minister has said on several occasions that she will listen to good ideas from other parties. Maybe today’s U-turn on testing is one example of that, but there are others on which we have met a brick wall. If she will not listen to the politicians, perhaps she will listen to the experts in education—for example, Keir Bloomer, when he analyses the issues in literacy, numeracy and the attainment gap. While praising the First Minister for at last being prepared to grasp the large and difficult nettle, he comments that when change is mooted by opposition parties, it is rejected because it is not seen to promote egalitarianism. If new policies involve different organisation in schools, greater devolution to headteachers and more choice to parents, they are dismissed because of the mistaken belief that egalitarianism and uniformity are the same.
The First Minister could also listen to Sue Ellis, who argues very convincingly that there is not only a significant lack of meaningful data in Scotland—which the First Minister has addressed this afternoon—but the absence of a consistent approach to following the child through school, which my colleague Mary Scanlon pointed out at the time of the Audit Scotland inquiry.
Those experts make it clear that advice to teachers is very weak, so Ruth Davidson is quite right when she focuses on teacher training and on the fact that in Scotland fewer hours are devoted to literacy and numeracy training than in England.
The Scottish Government is rightly keen to stress the importance of the early years, and it can take some credit for some pioneering work that is being done across Scotland. However, that effort will be compromised while too many families find it difficult to access—some are actually prevented from accessing it—good-quality flexible childcare. Twice in this chamber we have debated the evidence that was provided by the fair funding for our kids campaign group, which has argued that
“for many children and working parents ... the system is not delivering a model of childcare that matches the needs of the modern working family”, and the evidence that was provided by Reform Scotland, which flagged up the inherent unfairness within the nursery system, which prevents approximately half of children in Scotland from receiving the same entitlement just because they happen to have been born in the wrong month. The First Minister made a welcome announcement about the discrimination that affects kinship carers, so perhaps she could turn her attention to the discrimination within nursery provision.
At the other end of the scale, we know exactly what is happening to colleges despite their extraordinary collective efforts to provide a top-class education, greater accessibility and more support for people who are often furthest from the labour market. They have seen their real-terms funding cut, they have seen substantial cuts in college places, they have seen lecturer numbers decrease and they have had to suffer serious financial pressures on their reserves because of Office for National Statistics reclassification.
However, we know that the further education sector is not alone; the higher education sector is now facing exactly the same threat—all because the Scottish Government wants to exert more control over the running of our universities. It proclaims that it wants to do so because, it alleges, there is insufficient transparency within university governance and therefore insufficient accountability for the public money that underpins what they spend. I have tried several times before, and I will try again this afternoon, to ask the Scottish Government for one shred of evidence to prove that the existing system of university governance is in some way undermining the education experience or holding back our universities in competing internationally.
The fact of the matter is that the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill is a mess. It is politically driven and it has so many technical problems in it that it will need radical change. If it does not get that, it will have to be abolished altogether.
Ruth Davidson made it plain earlier this afternoon that this party will strongly support anything that can reduce the attainment gap and provide effective testing. What we cannot accept—and what the public is struggling to understand—is why the SNP has become obsessed with university governance when no problem exists; with forcing named persons on all children under 18, when it is quite clear that the vast majority of parents do not want or need a named person; with attacking colleges; and with refusing to budge when parents demand that the date of a child’s birthday should not determine the level of provision of nursery education.
I know that the First Minister is not in the chamber, but I hope that she will listen to what is being said. Is it not time to do more U-turns, so that we really deliver on what matters?
We are debating an exciting programme for government today, in the final year of this parliamentary session. Regarding my responsibilities, I see that land reform is central to the quest for fairness and equality and that building a sustainable Scotland is one of our core purposes.
In “Small Is Beautiful”, Eric Schumacher said:
“Among material resources, the greatest, unquestionably, is the land. Study how a society uses its land, and you can come to a pretty reliable conclusion as to what its future will be.”
That is exactly what the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee will be doing. We will be building on the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and on the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, which was passed in June.
I have read most of the 200 submissions to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee on the current Land Reform (Scotland) Bill, which cover many different points from different aspects. I hope that over the next three months we will hear them and come to our conclusions about the best ways forward for land reform. We are trying to ensure that encouraging and supporting diverse land ownership is one of the key issues, as is addressing the fairness, equality and social justice that are connected to ownership of, access to and use of land in Scotland.
I want to comment on two issues that have been raised by members and the public, and which follow on from issues in the land reform review group report: ownership of land in Scotland by non-EU entities and human rights.
I am surprised that the Opposition has not seen the explanation of why the bill does not include banning of land ownership by non-EU-based legal entities. NFU Scotland has told its members that the Scottish Government considers that such a ban
“would not achieve the policy objective, as it would still allow the use of complex structures and trusts to obscure how land is owned and managed in Scotland. The Scottish Government intends to bring forward regulation making powers to require disclosure of certain information on a proprietor or tenant in Scotland. That will be done on a case by case basis, where it can be demonstrated that lack of information can be shown to have an adverse effect.”
That being so, we will look at those things in great detail in the RACCE Committee.
“If the body of ECHR law is incorporated appropriately, the land reform debate offers an opportunity to rescue rights from their misrepresentation and to re-establish the ECHR as an institution which responds to the prevailing needs of societies and aligns State power to address those needs.”
ECHR is not about property rights and landlords’ rights. It is about human rights, and we intend to investigate that in great detail.
I turn to a wider issue that is encompassed by Europe—and which goes much further than that. The approaching Paris climate change conference requires us to reflect on the bigger picture and how it affects the way in which the Scottish Government can act. In July, the French Government announced a package of measures that will turn around its energy production; in short, there will in France be greater emphasis on and investment in renewable energy, and a cut in reliance on nuclear power. Contrast that with the approach of the UK Conservative Government, which is now clearly waging an all-out war on renewables. What we are seeing develop is a tale of two Governments—not just of the French Government and the UK Government, but of the Government in London and the Government in Scotland. The communities, businesses and parts of the environment that should benefit from renewable energy are certainly going to be hit most by the changes from London.
I agree with Rob Gibson’s criticism of the UK Government’s recent energy announcements, but we are examining the Scottish Government’s programme for government in the final year of the session. Does he know why, after four missed climate change targets, we have today had no new policy announcements that are intended to get us back on track?
Targets are one thing, but the trajectory of change towards achieving our goals is on target. The First Minister and Fergus Ewing, the Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism, have pointed out that it is anti-business to stop us developing one of the things—renewable energy—that most helps us to achieve our climate change targets, as the Conservatives are doing to us at the moment. They will potentially cost about £3 billion of investment and risk perhaps 5,000 jobs. The trajectory is right; we have proved that.
Those realities include increases in flooding and rising temperatures. They would cause dangers to our way of life and the loss of some of our best farmland.
We are up against an attack on renewable energy and we have to fight against it. This December, delegates at the climate change summit in Paris will wonder why the British Government is going there and arguing exactly the opposite, and why the Scottish Government’s hands are too tied on energy policy and climate change policy for it to succeed.
I hope that you, Presiding Officer, and colleagues enjoyed a slightly more relaxing and successful summer than perhaps some of us in the chamber did.
If I can put this as objectively as I can, without meaning to sound envious in any way, it is fair to say that the SNP—
Mr Paterson will change his mind shortly.
It is fair to say that the SNP Government is in a strong position at the moment. It has an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament and is riding high in the polls, with the First Minister on her political honeymoon. If ever there was a time for the Government to do something different—to push for real change or to be bold and radical—this is it. Such moments do not come along often.
The last time my party enjoyed such a position of political strength was probably 1999. That term in office was marked by notable successes and achievements: a huge expansion of nursery and higher education, the restoration of public services, investment in teachers’ and health workers’ pay, the school-building programme and the introduction of free personal care. Even if we acknowledge that there was then a different political climate, we must acknowledge that it was also marked by landmark legislative successes, including the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, the abolition of feudal tenure, the smoking ban, the abolition of section 28 and the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000. I could go on.
If I am entirely honest, I am not sure that today’s announcement of a vision for the next decade stands comparison with that record. I notice that the First Minister used the word “bold” in trailing the programme for government, but although there are several announcements that we welcome, the programme feels more worthy than inspired. I welcome the announcements on tackling educational attainment and housing, for example, but they feel like an attempt to correct past mistakes and to put right some of the poorer decisions that have been taken over the past eight years, rather than a step out in a new direction.
I am also unsure how the Government’s stated plans for the next few years sit alongside day-to-day reality for most Scots. If we ask people in my area about public services, for example, they will give a list of issues with which they are wrestling: the selling off of the last publicly owned care home in the area; trying to find ways to prevent the local dementia support service from being reduced; school librarians being got rid of; the closing of a centre for people with additional needs; fighting for an even semi-decent public transport connection to our hospital; and fighting against long waits for hospital treatment.
As colleagues will recognise, in the majority of the examples that I listed, local government is at the sharp end of the political decisions. However, there is little in today’s programme for government that offers much in the way of comfort. When we ask colleagues from local government what they want the Administration to address—what they wanted to hear from the programme for government—the overwhelming response identifies local government finance. It is unsustainable to continue to cut central Government grants to our local authorities while also underfunding a centrally imposed council-tax freeze. Scottish Labour has been working with the commission on local tax reform to come up with a sustainable long-term solution. We await with interest the report that will be published in the autumn.
However, none of that stops the Scottish Government from sending out a strong and clear message now about its direction of travel—or its “trajectory”, if I may put it that way for Mr Gibson.
It is directly contradictory to talk about transferring more powers to our communities while emasculating our local authorities when it comes to their exercising any kind of fiscal responsibility. Yes—there was reference to the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, which Labour fully supports, and we are looking forward to the possibility of similar legislation for our islands, but those are quite specific examples that stand out almost because they are exceptions.
I know that the First Minister and her colleagues are sensitive to the accusation that this is a centralising and overly controlling Administration, and that we are in danger of living in a one-party state. Surely, therefore, this is the perfect opportunity to rebut that charge. Council colleagues are willing to stand up and take the tough decisions that need to be taken, but they need to feel that they have the support of Government ministers, rather than worrying that they are to be blamed by them.
Alongside my worries about local government and the future of public services, of all the areas in which I was looking for a bold and ambitious plan from this Government, housing was probably top of my list. Scarcely a week has gone by this summer without further evidence or a new report highlighting the housing problems that face many Scots. Just last month, the proportion of Scots who own their own home hit a 15-year low, while the number who rent privately hit a 15-year high. In fact, the amount that is paid in rent by tenants in private lets is at an all-time high. People are either paying too much, are living in inadequate accommodation, or both. We urgently need to build more homes—for social rent, in particular.
There are announcements in today’s programme that are to be welcomed, but again they lack detail and, in fact, it is difficult to describe the sum total as “bold” or “ambitious”. I welcome the announcement of a root-and-branch review of planning, but the First Minister has stated that the intention of the review is to help to deliver more homes. That scarcely does justice to the complexity of the issue, so I would welcome further information on that. At the moment, the number of local planning decisions that are being overruled by the Scottish Government has, unfortunately, had the effect of undermining confidence in the whole system.
There will be many who, like me, warm to the idea of a housing fund to address the specific needs of rural communities.
I ask for even an idea of how much that fund will amount to. Furthermore, will the fund be solely for new-build homes, or will people be able to access it to address the pressing needs of fuel poverty?
The help-to-buy scheme should continue. I am glad about the announcement with regard to the next three years.
I can tell Parliament that Scottish Labour will have housing as its first subject for debate in the new session. I hope that we can agree on the genuine ambition that all Scots should be able to enjoy the benefit of a warm, secure and affordable home, wherever they live in this country.
I put on record my regard for Chief Constable Sir Stephen House’s service, particularly in the two years since Police Scotland’s inception. I do not underestimate his commitment to the police service. He will not always have known that, because sometimes—rightly—he had a rough ride from the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, which I chair, as did Vic Emery. However, transforming eight constabularies, with eight cultures, into one, as well as delivering substantial savings because of cuts to the budget was a tough task, which was delivered to a tight timescale.
There is a spotlight on Police Scotland as never before, with Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, Audit Scotland, the Opposition—rightly—and the press focusing on the service. However, sadly, that has gone too far to some extent and policing has been politicised.
Willie Rennie does a disservice to his party as well as to the police by overegging the pudding. In chairing the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, I have received a handful of emails concerning the establishment of Police Scotland and only one complaining about the delivery of the service, which was from someone in my constituency. It is not that I am not looking for issues that are raised; it is that those are the only ones that have been raised with me.
Police Scotland is not the talk of the steamie. The doom and gloom that Willie Rennie has expressed today and on previous occasions does a disservice in particular to our front-line officers, who have delivered drops in levels of knife crime and the fear of crime, with the perception of crime at an all-time low. Yes, there have been mistakes with Police Scotland and, more particularly, with the SPA. Yes, we need rebalancing. However, to say that Police Scotland is on its knees is complete nonsense.
Necessity is the mother of invention. There have been swingeing cuts to our budget and, rather than lose 17,000 front-line officers as had to happen in England, we are maintaining police numbers. The sum of £11 million still requires to be culled from the budget. I know that Opposition parties have only one member each at Westminster, but I say to Opposition members that more than £40 million in VAT receipts from Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is retained. That money could come back here and cover those cuts. The Police Service of Northern Ireland is exempt from VAT, and exemption has been extended to the London Legacy Development Corporation, although it started out as a London charity. I ask Opposition members to say to their colleagues at Westminster that that is an injustice to the Police Service and the Fire and Rescue Service in Scotland.
Issues remain for Police Scotland, though. I think that the Government has recognised that, because one man—or two—was not the fault. It is a matter of scrutiny. The SPA had no doubt lost its way and did not seem to know what it should be doing. I welcome the fact that that will be reviewed.
It is essential that there is a rebalancing between national and local priorities and in the perception of those priorities. Accountability appears to have shifted too far to the centre; I welcome the fact that it will come back, although, as the First Minister has said, access to major facilities is nationwide now. If somebody goes missing in the Borders or the Highlands and Islands and a helicopter is needed, that helicopter will be sent as a matter of necessity and not because someone has put in a bit of paper and made a request. The facilities that are available are much better.
I am glad that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary is reviewing call handling. I regret the fact that, to some extent, that has been prompted by the recent tragic events on the M9. However, we must not pre-empt that review. We do not know what went wrong there. I am loth to comment until we have the facts before us.
I am glad that there will be a statutory code of practice on stop and search. Perhaps there will be clarity on that issue, as young people are sometimes stopped and searched because there is a child protection issue. They may be carrying drugs or alcohol, and the police stop and search them for their own safety. If the police are searching a buggy, pushchair or pram, it may be because an adult has secreted an offensive item there. The issue is not black and white, which is why we require statutory guidance.
The Justice Committee today began its scrutiny of the Community Justice (Scotland) Bill. The focus on community justice is important. It sounds like a strange and drab thing, but it is to do with stopping reoffending, which is bad for society, for victims and for the people who are involved and their families, and it costs an arm and a leg. I am glad that we are considering that issue.
The proposed abusive behaviour and sexual harm bill is important and will bring us into line with developments in technology. People can be unaware that they can be blackmailed or humiliated by private images and what we might call revenge porn. We must put a stop to that. That is something that everybody in the chamber would welcome.
I unequivocally support our public services. I have worked in housing and education and was a councillor for nine years, and I have seen the way in which high-quality services change people’s lives for the better.
However, our public services are under pressure like never before. In the NHS, problems pile higher and higher each day. More GPs are closing their doors to new patients. Hospitals rely on bank, agency and private sector staff. Over the summer, the children’s ward at St John’s hospital had to close its 24/7 in-patient service again. I am glad that the local constituency member and the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport are here. In Lothian, one in seven hospital beds are taken up by people who are well enough to go home and who could go home if the social care system could cope with them.
In local government, which is the front line in the fight against poverty and inequality, budgets are not being cut to the bone—we are way past the bone and are now deep into the marrow. The impact of that is all too evident in our communities. Jobs have been lost. Roads and the environment are in decline. There have been cuts to community education, to support for the elderly and to disabled services. We see bus fares rising, schools with fewer materials and fewer support staff, and cuts to housing budgets. My council in West Lothian—UK council of the year in 2006—has had to cut £89 million from its budget.
At the same time as that has happened, we are supposed to go on and cheer as a centralised Government dictates that councils have to reward the well-off most with a freeze on local taxes. The Government cannot claim to oppose austerity and its consequences with such a regressive approach to local government.
In education, it appears that after eight years the Scottish Government has realised that there is an attainment gap. Of course, if the Government removes classroom assistants and cuts teaching equipment budgets; if people cannot get an appointment with an educational psychologist; if a child returns home and their mum, dad, brother or sister cannot access mental health support or drug or alcohol counselling; or if someone is a young carer or is in care when social work and education budgets are slashed, is it any wonder that the education attainment gap widens?
For many young people who want to bridge the attainment gap after leaving school, college is their destination, and yet here we see fewer staff, reduced teaching time, student support cut and more than 100,000 places lost. That is not the way to reduce the attainment gap.
If we are serious about addressing inequality, we have to be serious about redistributing wealth and power. If we fail to levy or collect taxes and if we provide tax cuts or freezes for the rich while the poor are forced to attend food banks, we will never address Scotland’s real shame of inequality. The education attainment gap is a manifestation of that inequality.
We know that the Tory Government exists to make the country more unequal. The growing gulf between rich and poor is meant to happen under its system of austerity. It absolutely practises redistribution—of course it does—but it is redistribution from the poor to the rich, and it attacks anyone who challenges that agenda. That is why it has brought forward the Trade Union Bill, which is an unprecedented attack on the right to organise in the workplace. Trade unions exist to fight for better wages, health and safety, pensions and gender equality. The bill wants us to return to the 18th century master and servant view of industrial relations, where corporate power is entrenched by a legal system that prevents collective organisation.
No worker ever goes on strike lightly. The staff at the national museum of Scotland who were out for a whole week last week because of inactivity to bring that dispute to an end did not take that option lightly, but of course there was no mention of that in the First Minister’s speech.
I hope that the leader of the Conservative Party will join the First Minister and the leader of the Labour Party in agreeing to oppose the Trade Union Bill at Westminster. I will most certainly give way to her now if she wants to confirm that she will.
Ruth Davidson indicated disagreement.
Absolutely no chance—I did not think so.
I hope that we in this chamber will put aside our differences in order to defeat what is simply an offensive, bigoted, politically sectarian and nasty piece of legislation. I will work, and we will work, with anyone who is serious about opposing the bill and preventing its implementation across the UK.
I commend the Government for agreeing with us to end the charging of employment tribunal fees, which is a welcome announcement.
I am pleased to see that, two years after the Government took over my proposed lobbying transparency (Scotland) bill, we now have legislation coming forward, although I sense that it is done with little enthusiasm.
Recent cases involving Ineos, the Government’s relations with Qatar—
—T in the Park, the First Minister’s recent New York rendezvous with Mr Murdoch and the moves by a number of political operators with influential contact lists into the public affairs sector show why we need a robust lobbying register that shines a light on our democracy.
I look forward to discussing all those issues in the weeks and months ahead.
One of the things that I always do during debates on the programme for government is look at exactly how the programme is likely to affect the people of Aberdeen Central, who I represent. In Aberdeen at this moment, there is some worry about the downturn in the oil and gas sector.
One of the first things that the First Minister said today was that the Government
“will continue to support” the
“oil and gas industry.”
I am really pleased that our energy jobs task force has been extended for a further six months.
I hope that the Government will continue to lobby the UK Government to ensure that we get an exploration tax credit. I am convinced that that will lead to more discoveries such as the Culzean discovery, which was given the go-ahead this week, and will continue to ensure job security for people in the oil and gas sector.
Another thing that jumps out at me from the programme for government is the establishment of the £48 million growth fund for small and medium-sized enterprises. As I went around my constituency during the recess, I visited a number of businesses, including Wool for Ewe in Rosemount, thanks to the Federation of Small Businesses. I have heard from folks that there is often still a difficulty in getting finance from banks. I think that the growth fund will be welcomed by businesses in Aberdeen and throughout Scotland.
I have asked the Government to look at housing. The private rented sector in Aberdeen is very expensive and I am pleased that the Government has put money into social housing. During the summer, the housing minister opened Spencer Court in my constituency, and money has been put into Craiginches housing for key workers, which is extremely welcome. However, we need to look at rent controls. I am pleased that the Government has announced that the bill that it is bringing forward will include provisions for rent controls in rent-pressure areas. That will be welcome in my constituency and beyond.
For me, one of the First Minister’s key statements was:
“We will do everything that we can to mitigate welfare cuts and restore dignity to our social security system”.
The dignity aspect is important, because we have seen Tory attacks on the most vulnerable and the poorest in our society. That is an absolute disgrace, as far as I am concerned. It is not only about folks on benefits; over the summer, since George Osborne’s budget, we have seen an attack on this country’s working poor. We have seen the withdrawal of tax credits from 197,200 families in Scotland. A total of 346,000 children will be affected, which is absolutely shameful. Our children are paying a particularly heavy price for that right-wing Tory ideology. I am afraid that we will have to bear that, but we will continue to fight against it.
Many members have spoken about the attainment fund, which will benefit Riverbank school in my constituency. However, if we are truly serious about bridging the gulf in attainment, we will not only have to invest in education; we will have to change the way in which we deal with poverty in this country.
The only way in which we can defeat poverty is by all powers over taxation and welfare coming to the Scottish Parliament so that we can ensure that our children have a brighter future.
The challenge for any Government in bringing forward its programme is to promote economic growth; ensure that we have a strong and secure health service; provide opportunities in education; and ensure that there is adequate local government funding so that we can protect communities. Although aspects of the programme are welcome, such as the proposed introduction of rent controls, the SNP Government’s approach undermines its ability to tackle the fundamental issues that we must address in Scottish communities.
At times, the Government has a problem in taking responsibility for some of its actions in devolved areas. We saw that over the weekend, when an official was put up as a spokesman in response to NHS Lanarkshire’s staff shortages and 130 unfilled positions. We also saw that with incidents relating to Police Scotland over the summer. The Government has not wanted to speak out on the issues. It is almost as though it wants to separate itself from them.
Patrick Harvie is correct. We have heard Government ministers answer questions numerous times by saying, “That’s an operational matter.” How many times have we heard that response at portfolio question time? It is almost as though they are saying, “I’m a Government minister. You don’t expect me to answer questions about things that I’m responsible for.”
No, I will not give way.
Over the four years in which this Government has been in power, there has been too much emphasis on the constitution and not enough on the issues that affect people in local areas. There has also been a tendency to blame others rather than to take responsibility. Unfortunately, as a consequence, some fundamental issues have not been addressed.
I agree with Kevin Stewart that, when members look at the programme, they look at how it affects their constituency. The issue of GP shortages came up over the summer in my constituency. The figures show that, in 1999, there was a GP practice to cover every 5,080 patients. That has gone up to 5,668 patients, so the position has deteriorated by almost 600 patients. Why has that happened? When people look at the figures, they look for the evidence. It shows that investment in GP funding has been cut by £1 billion since 2006. There has also been a 5 per cent cut in medical student support. Therefore, it is no wonder that we have a GP shortage.
The Government’s allocation to South Lanarkshire Council over a three-year period has been reduced by £80 million. When it comes to the budget discussions in February, I invite MSPs such as Christina McKelvie, who spend much of their time criticising the local council, to introduce a proposal to fund local government properly.
I appeal to the Government that it is time to take responsibility. If it wants to deliver for Scotland, it should use the powers that are at its disposal to change people’s lives and to stand up for people throughout Scotland.
I, too, congratulate the First Minister and all the Government team on an excellent programme for a stronger Scotland and, in particular, the support to tackle many of the social ills that are in our society.
There are a number of proposals in the First Minister’s statement and the Government’s programme that I want to touch on. Let me start with food and drink. The industry is an important source of employment in my constituency. We are the home of excellent beef and lamb, and fishing is a strong industry in the north-east of Scotland. We have seen oilseed rape move from being simply a commodity that puts nitrogen back into the soil to delivering first-class extra-virgin oil, which is used in the best kitchens in these islands and beyond. We have seen the north-east of Scotland become a centre for garlic production—we are exporting garlic to France. We are innovating and we are continuing to improve.
There are challenges for the food and drink industry, and I hope that the Government, in supporting the industry, particularly through funding for small and medium-sized enterprises, will look at how we can improve branding for SMEs. Some of the recent troubles in the fish-processing industry in my constituency are based on the inability of even quite large firms to control their own destiny to an adequate extent. Firms do not own the brands but are doing work for others, on short-term contracts, and when the contract moves the effects can be devastating. Firms also do not control the sources of supply of the raw materials for many of the products that they produce. I would like to think that the Government could give support, through the enterprise agencies, to enable companies to develop branding and more robust channels of supply of raw materials. We produce some of the best food and drink in the world, but we can do more and we need more support.
The Government said that it will look at the planning system, which can also touch on the subject of food and drink. When we grant planning consent, be that at local government level or at Government level, we are granting a privilege to the commercial companies that have applied for consent, so we should perhaps be more ambitious about what we seek to get in return. For example, when we are giving planning consent to supermarkets, which exercise heavy control in the food and drink sector, planning consent conditions that require local sourcing could be a part of national policy, which would be implemented by local councils and elsewhere. Under European law, “local” is likely to mean “within Europe”, but we could say that produce must come from small and medium-sized enterprises. We can perhaps create the opportunity for such companies to grow by operating the planning system slightly differently.
The document “A Stronger Scotland: the Government’s Programme for Scotland 2015-16” talks about digital infrastructure to some degree. During the recess, our week away was in Plockton, which was an absolute delight. The town has 6 Mbps broadband, an airport and a railway station—three things that I do not have at home. We even had a 2G phone signal, which I do not have at home. The UK Government’s programme for new masts and phone coverage does not do terribly well; there is not a single new mast in Scotland. I hope that the excellent results that we are seeing in the delivery of better broadband across the Highlands will take us to near universality. For those rural dwellers on exchange-only lines, like me, who cannot be connected to superfast broadband, I hope that some priority will be given to the development and implementation of solutions.
We are making terrific progress and we are ahead of where we might have expected to be some time ago. The programme for Government is excellent, and I commend it to all members.
It has been mentioned a few times this afternoon that the Government has been going for eight to nine years. That is longer than the wartime coalition of Asquith and Lloyd George, the Administrations of MacDonald and Baldwin and the national Government that followed. It is longer than Chamberlain’s Administration and the coalition that saw us through the second world war. It is longer than the great reforming Administration of Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson’s Government and Edward Heath’s Government. In fact, only the Administrations that were embarked upon by Churchill in the 1950s, by Thatcher and by Blair lasted longer, and yet we are told that this is a Government that has laid the foundations for the next decade and set out a bold vision for the next 10 years.
Is this a Government whose performance is matched by either its rhetoric or its longevity? “Yes”, some will say, and in the speeches of Linda Fabiani, Mark McDonald, Fiona McLeod, Rob Gibson, Kevin Stewart and Stewart Stevenson we saw evidence of the 600-year-old monk’s statement that it is possible to fool some of the people all of the time. At the moment, in electoral terms, it even seems possible to fool most of the people some of the time, but this Government will not fool all of the people all of the time. In its record on education, on policing and increasingly on health, it is an Administration that is failing Scotland and failing the very services that were devolved to this Parliament.
I am going to talk specifically about health and what is not in the programme that the First Minister announced this afternoon. First, on Thursday, the advocate general of the European Court of Justice will give his opinion on minimum unit pricing. I will not go any further, Presiding Officer—
—other than to say that I hope that the Government will come to the chamber immediately to tell us how it intends to respond to that ruling.
Secondly, before we went into recess, the Government appointed an emergency team to restore credibility at the new Queen Elizabeth hospital. We do not know who is on that team, what it has done, what its remit is, what its recommendations are or what improvements have been implemented as a result. I hope that the Scottish Government will come to the chamber urgently and tell us exactly what has happened at the Queen Elizabeth hospital, because over the summer the performance of its accident and emergency unit has continued to lag behind that of accident and emergency units across the rest of Scotland.
Thirdly, more people are employed in the health service today than in 2007. I support and congratulate the Scottish Government on that, but today we learned that nursing and consultancy vacancies are up yet again. Each year, we have a remedial programme from the Scottish Government about how it is going to address the issue, and each year we come back and nursing and consultancy vacancies have increased further yet again. What is the Government’s programme to address that? It is not in the document.
Fourthly, a constituent came to see me this week who is a long-term survivor of prostate cancer. He has been going to the Victoria hospital for his routine checks. This time, he was told that the checking of cancer has been privatised and he is to go to Ross Hall hospital in future. I have no particular objection to the independent sector having these services contracted out—it was Weight Watchers before; maybe it is now cancer services—but it goes against the Scottish Government’s claims that it was going to freeze out the independent sector and that there was no role for it in the Scottish health service. Is it the case that routine cancer check services are now contracted out? Can the health secretary confirm that?
The answer is, “No, they are not.” Of course, in individual cases where the person needs to be seen urgently, if there is a need to use the independent sector rather than the person having to wait, that is what will happen, but unlike Jackson Carlaw’s Government down south this Government will never privatise the NHS.
But that is just what the Government has done. This is not an emergency case; his routine annual check has now been contracted out to Ross Hall and the independent sector. The cabinet secretary needs to check her facts.
Fifthly, there is nothing in the programme about plans for the winter this year. We have gone through two relatively mild winters in which the NHS has been under enormous pressure. I have looked through the programme; the issue is not addressed.
Sixthly, the Government says that it is going to invest in primary care. I welcome the increase of a further £41 million for the provision of health visitors, but the Government has now talked about an all-party, consensual approach to health for two years. [Interruption.]
The Government’s idea of an all-party consensus is that every member in the chamber agrees with what the SNP Government says. Time is running out. If we are going to have an all-party consensus on health, we need an all-party approach to it, and that is sadly lacking in the Scottish Government’s programme for health.
For one moment, I thought that Jackson Carlaw was going to tell us that he was part of the national Government during the war. [Interruption.] I know—the old ones are the best.
In recognition of Patrick Harvie’s appeal for education not to be used as a political football, I will start my remarks by making a considered effort in that regard. I thank Fiona McLeod for all the work that she has done, in her role as acting children’s minister, in relation to kinship care. [Applause.] We will say more next Thursday about how the Government will support the equalisation of funding between the kinship care allowance and the foster care allowance. I also welcome Aileen Campbell back from her maternity leave.
Although Kezia Dugdale is not in her seat at the moment, I welcome her to her new role. I know that her commitment to looked-after children is genuine, and it is shared across the chamber. I also recognise her passion for tackling gender inequality. However, I do not agree with her about the need to introduce a special qualification for teachers who work with disadvantaged children in disadvantaged communities. Just as I believe that looked-after children are all our bairns, I believe that everyone in every part of the education system has, at heart, a moral responsibility to ensure that Scotland’s poorest children get every chance to succeed in their education.
I agree with Ruth Davidson that more time should be spent on literacy and numeracy in the initial teacher education. The Education and Sport Committee and other members have raised the matter with me, and I am pursuing it with the providers of initial teacher education, recognising that they are part of autonomous higher education institutions. I also agree with Liz Smith that delivering equity does not mean providing the same to all children, as some children need more support than others.
A lot of really important issues need to be addressed as we move forward with our ambition to deliver over 1,000 hours of free early learning and childcare. There are three things that we need to do. As well as increasing the number of hours, we need to maintain the quality of provision and find ways to improve the flexibility. As we move forward, we will lay out in more detail how we intend to address those three important principles of increasing the number of hours, maintaining the quality of provision and increasing the flexibility.
I struggled most to find consensus with Willie Rennie. I say to him that I looked very closely at the pupil premium but the evidence of what happens south of the border just did not back it up. I was also particularly disappointed that he misrepresented and tried to blister the debate around the draft national improvement framework. Following the First Minister’s statement this afternoon, Larry Flanagan, the general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said:
“EIS is encouraged to see that the First Minister has been listening to us, and others, and is not advocating a return to the failed high-stakes testing regime of the past, which we would have opposed resolutely. The Scottish Government’s intention to create a Scottish-designed bank of standardised tests to support teachers’ professional judgement would appear to be designed to build on the ethos of curriculum for excellence rather than undermining it. It is essential, however, that the mistakes of the past are not repeated and that safeguards are put in place to avoid the misuse of data generated through the proposed assessment changes.”
I say to Mr Rennie that this is not about harking back to the past but about looking to the future and ensuring that every child and every community has every chance to succeed.
Although we know that nine out of 10 school leavers go into positive destinations, I want our education system to work for the remaining one out of 10, and the purpose of the national improvement framework and other aspects of the programme for government is to improve outcomes for children. In that regard, we will always move forward on the basis of the evidence.
Unlike some of our colleagues across the floor of the chamber, we are not interested in ideology.
The First Minister has outlined an ambitious programme for government that builds on the strong foundations that have been laid in the past eight years. It looks to the future and acknowledges the challenges that lie ahead, which we will address from a position of strength and a position of hope.