Cabinet (Meetings)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 1st December 2016.

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

3. To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S5F-00558)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Matters of importance to the people of Scotland.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

Even though the Tory chancellor is in Scotland today to talk about Brexit with the First Minister, Ruth Davidson is too embarrassed to raise the issue in Parliament. In June, Ruth Davidson said that her priority was the European Union single market, but this week, her five tests on Brexit adopt the language of Nigel Farage about rekindling trade with the British empire instead. It is clear that the Conservatives will sign up to anything on Brexit, no matter how bad the deal is. It is a blank-cheque Brexit.

The Scottish Conservatives have given up, but we have not. When the First Minister meets the chancellor today, will she make the case for a United Kingdom-wide, Brexit-deal referendum, so that the public can have a say on the final Brexit deal?

The First Minister:

It is nice to hear Willie Rennie talk about the benefits of referendums for a change. I agree with the broad thrust of his question. It is increasingly difficult to distinguish between the Conservatives and UKIP. Anyone who is in any doubt about that need only look at this morning’s reports about what are said to have been Theresa May’s views on denying education in certain circumstances to children from certain other countries who are living here.

I am absolutely consistent on the question of the single market: the United Kingdom should stay in the single market. There is no mandate or economic, social or cultural justification for taking the UK out of the single market. I will make that point to Philip Hammond this afternoon, as I have made that point to the Prime Minister and others in the UK Government. I hope that everybody in the Scottish Parliament will get behind the position of the Scottish Government on that.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

Gently, I say that the First Minister did not answer my question. Momentum for a Brexit-deal referendum is building. I hope that, in time, she will come to support it. I am interested in what else she might say to the chancellor. Look at what we are facing: NHS boards are contending with unprecedented budget cuts and councils are facing a £500 million funding crisis. No doubt the First Minister will complain bitterly to the chancellor about that—and so she should—but what else will she do?

This week the First Minister gained new income tax powers. I have a plan for a transformational investment of £500 million in education, from a modest penny on income tax. Will the First Minister join me, or will she bitterly point the finger at the Conservatives? [



The First Minister:

I do not know whether Willie Rennie intended to turn First Minister’s questions into a stand-up comedy routine, but he has perhaps been more successful on that front than he is successful normally.

There are serious issues underlying Willie Rennie’s point and I should not glide over the fact that I agree with much of the thrust of his questions to me today—that is not something that I can say every week. The Government will set out its budget plans in a couple of weeks’ time, when the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution will set out the budget to the Parliament. That is right and proper.

We set out our income tax proposals in our manifesto and I remind Willie Rennie that we won the election on the strength of that manifesto. However, he is right that it is not acceptable that the Scottish Government’s budget will be reduced by £2.9 billion—9 per cent in real terms—by the end of this decade compared with when the Conservatives took office. I will make that point very clearly to Philip Hammond this afternoon. I hope that Willie Rennie, the Labour MSPs and the Greens will back me on that. I am pretty sure that they will. I hope that, with the exception of the Conservatives, everybody in this chamber will get behind me on that message.

During the EU referendum campaign, we were promised, were we not, that a leave vote would deliver £350 million extra a week for the national health service? We heard last week from Philip Hammond that there would be not one single extra penny for the NHS or for social care. It was absolutely disgraceful. All we heard about were more cuts, extra borrowing and a bleak outlook for living standards and the economy. That is the price of a Tory Government at Westminster.

The Presiding Officer:

There are a number of supplementaries.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

Leaked Cabinet letters suggest that the Home Office under Theresa May wanted children of illegal immigrants to go to the bottom of the list for school places. Is that a chilling insight into where an increasingly right-wing Tory Government wants to drag the UK?

The First Minister:

Unfortunately, I think that it is. I take a very simple view of this. There are debates around immigration and some of those debates involve legitimate issues that we have to engage with. However, the simple view that I think all of us should take on this is that children are children and when children are in this country, we should support them and we should ensure that they get access to education. I hope that everybody would agree with that on the basic grounds of morality and human rights.

Photo of Graham Simpson Graham Simpson Conservative

Over the past six years, Scottish Government funding for councils has fallen by 8.4 per cent in real terms. That is a choice that the Government has made.

Can the First Minister assure us that that trend will be reversed when the draft budget is published later this month?

The First Minister:

We will set out our budget when the finance secretary stands up in the chamber on 15 December. We will outline our plans then for local government and for our other areas of responsibility.

On the issue of local government funding, we live in tough times and I recognise how tough it is and has been for local government. However, this Government has treated local government fairly. The Accounts Commission report that was published this week shows that the decline in local government funding is broadly in line with the decline in Scottish Government funding overall.

Some interesting figures were published this week that the member, given that he is a Tory member, might want to have a look at. The Institute for Fiscal Studies, which published council-level figures from across the UK, found that reductions in local government funding in Scotland—and in Wales, for that matter—were smaller over the period that the IFS looked at than they were in England. Perhaps the member should have a word with his own colleagues before he stands up in this chamber and talks to this Government about funding when it is the cuts from his party to this Government that are causing so many of the problems.

Photo of George Adam George Adam Scottish National Party

Ruth Davidson said before the EU referendum that the leave campaign was based on lies. After the EU referendum, she still said that she wanted to remain in the single market. She has since sold out completely, demanding that the Scottish Government signs up for whatever hard-right Tory Brexit Theresa May decides upon. How will the First Minister ensure that Scotland is protected from the dishonest interests of Ruth Davidson’s Tory party?

The First Minister:

I think that Ruth Davidson’s shifting position on these matters shows that she is more interested in standing up for the Brexiteers in the Tory party than she is in standing up for Scotland’s interests.

It is only two years ago, remember, that Ruth Davidson said that voting no would protect our place in Europe. A few months ago, she said that she wanted Scotland and the UK to stay in the European Union. After the referendum, she wanted Scotland to stay in the single market. Now she has sold out on that as well. We are learning that Ruth Davidson’s position on these things, as is no doubt the case on many other things, is exactly what her bosses in London tell her it should be.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

Franz Ferdinand, the Stone Roses, Calvin Harris, Blur and Beyoncé are just some of the acts that have headlined T in the Park, Scotland’s award-winning music festival, which I am sad to say will not be a feature of next summer’s live music programme.

Will the First Minister join me in recognising the huge contribution that DF Concerts, headed by Geoff Ellis, has made to Scotland’s vibrant live music scene, not to mention the Scottish economy? What can the Scottish Government do to overcome the problems that are faced by the organisers, who say that there were many barriers that led to the event’s cancellation? Indeed, anyone who wants to organise a live music festival faces such barriers. Scotland should maintain its track record of being a world-leading location for live music festivals. I hope that the First Minister agrees.

The First Minister:

I welcome Pauline McNeill’s question. She was not a member in the previous parliamentary session; she should maybe have a word with some of her colleagues about the attitude that they took when this Government tried to assist T in the Park to continue to be the success that it was.

I pay tribute to the organisers of T in the Park. If it makes Pauline McNeill feel any better, I can tell her that I got some grief on Sunday from my 16-year-old nephew, who went to T in the Park for the first time this year; he was looking forward to going next year and is bitterly disappointed that he is not going.

The organisers have set out why they have taken the decision that they have taken. It is a break; it is not the termination of T in the Park. I am sure that we all wish the festival every success in future. It has been incredibly good for Scottish culture and the Scottish economy, and I hope that we see it back before too much longer.

Photo of Clare Haughey Clare Haughey Scottish National Party

Does the First Minister share my concern about this week’s comment from defence secretary Michael Fallon that United Kingdom shipbuilding needs rebalancing, which suggests that there is a risk to jobs in Scotland? What representations will the Scottish Government make to the Ministry of Defence, to ensure that it keeps the promises that have been made to workers on the Clyde?

The First Minister:

We will continue to argue the case for Scottish shipbuilding. The Clyde yards are—as I know from my past constituency experience—the best place in the whole of the UK to build ships. They have an expert and dedicated workforce, as well as world-class facilities.

The promises that were made to our shipyards during the independence referendum have been watered down since then, so the member is absolutely right to say that we cannot take for granted that the UK Government will look after the interests of our shipyards. We will have to continue to make the case, and this Government will certainly do that.

Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

I think that most fair-minded people agree with the First Minister in condemning the failed austerity of the Tory Government. Given the devastating impact that austerity is having on public services and communities up and down Scotland, will the First Minister think again about using the powers of this Parliament to protect the most vulnerable in our communities?

The First Minister:

We will use the powers of this Parliament to protect public services and the most vulnerable in our communities. That is why, for example, we will take a different position from that of the Tory Government at Westminster over a tax cut for the 10 per cent highest earners in the country. We do not think that that is the right use of resources at this time.

We also have to be mindful of the squeeze on people’s living standards. We learned from a report last week that we are about to see the longest period of wage stagnation in this country since the second world war. That is what the Tory Government is inflicting on people the length and breadth of this country.

We have to take a balanced view, protecting the vulnerable, as we have always done in our mitigation of welfare cuts, making sure that we protect our public services, which we are doing, for example, through record investment in the national health service, and making sure that we take action to protect the living standards of people across our country who are struggling to make ends meet.