This is the 12th Scottish National Party programme for government and it is the third under the current First Minister. It comes a year after last year’s programme for government when, following the general election, the First Minister declared a radical relaunch of her Administration.
Before turning to today’s offering, let us briefly summarise how that relaunch has gone. Last year, 15 new bills were promised but, of those, just two have been passed. One was the critically important and overdue Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Bill, which enjoyed unanimous support throughout the chamber. The other was the somewhat more technical bill making changes to property tax, which had no amendments at stages 2 and 3 and was so uncontroversial that even Murdo Fraser was forced to declare that he had “very little ... to say”.
Of the remainder of the bills promised in last year’s programme for government, only three have progressed past stage 1. Seven bills in Parliament’s in-tray have not even had a deadline set for the completion of stage 1, and seven bills from last year’s programme were not even published until the end of the summer term. It was the proverbial essay crisis. In fact, this programme for government has a total of 13 bills that are a hangover from last year. That is the highest that the figure has ever been under the SNP, even at the end of the previous session of Parliament or when major events such as the referendum crowded the public debate.
Those are the facts on last year’s programme. The SNP had great ambitions but remarkably little legislation has happened—it was not so much a relaunch as a retread. What did we have in the past year instead of that fresh new agenda? We had a fracking ban that was not a fracking ban; a new teach first system that excluded Teach First; and a new state-owned energy company that so far has not produced any energy. We had a railway police merger that was backed by almost no one and which has now finally been shelved. We had a new named person scheme that does not work and a new economic plan that is so streamlined it has 23 separate strategies. Of course, one thing that the Government managed to publish last year was yet another new blueprint for independence, courtesy of a growth commission report.
However, all of those failures were dwarfed by the real letdown from last year’s programme for government, and that was the climbdown on the education bill. This time last year, Nicola Sturgeon told us that the education bill would
“give headteachers significant new powers, influence and responsibilities, formally establishing them as leaders of learning and teaching. Our premise is simple but very powerful: the best people to make decisions about a child’s education are the people who know them best—their teachers and their parents.”
Just in case we were left in any doubt as to the significance of that bill, she said:
“A new education bill will deliver the biggest and most radical change to how our schools are run that we have seen in the lifetime of devolution.”—[
, 5 September 2017; c 13.]
She called it the centrepiece of her plan, but then what happened? A consultation was launched but, in June this year, John Swinney shelved the bill, and then said that he might think again. It is an unholy mess that is entirely of the Scottish National Party’s making, and the education of a generation of our children is at stake.
When Nicola Sturgeon claimed that education was her top priority, we were pretty sceptical, but we said that we would work with the SNP if it meant the right thing for our schools. We are not even asking the SNP to bring forward proposals that it does not agree with; we are just asking it to bring forward those that it argued for last year and that it said needed to be underpinned by radical legislation. I ask the SNP to bring back to the Parliament the proposals that it drew up on raising attainment and giving headteachers more powers, and on measures that it outlined to give parents more say on school improvements and policies, as we have argued for such empowerment of teachers and parents for years. We have the votes to get those proposals through the Parliament, and we will gladly cast those votes to get a better deal for our pupils.
I have just set out the fact that, by the end of this year, a new headteachers’ charter will deliver all those powers to headteachers. Is Ruth Davidson saying that, instead of doing that by the end of this year, she wants us to bring forward legislation to delay it by 18 months to two years? Is that really her position? Is it not most important that headteachers have the powers that they need?
I love the idea that the First Minister thinks that the people of Scotland are mugs enough to believe what she says. Having stood here 12 months ago saying that we needed a radical bill for the “ most radical change” to our schools to make them better—when, under her watch, their standards have gone down—she now stands here saying that that bill will get in the way. The people of Scotland are not mugs. The First Minister binned the bill because the SNP could not get it through and because it listened to vested interests. We are offering the SNP our votes. Bring back the bill and we will get through Parliament the parts of it that we have supported for years. The First Minister should not have stood there and said that she cared about the children of Scotland so much that she needed a radical bill and then ditched the bill and said that it did not matter in the first place. She should not dare say that.
We want to know why the Government thinks that it is right, when there are only 1,000 days or fewer until the next election, to come back to more backtracking and inaction. Because we have heard how much was promised but not delivered last year, we will be forgiven for treating this year’s programme for government with a gritter-load of salt. The Government has shown that it is very good on promises and consultations but a little bit less energetic when it comes to delivery and action.
Turning to this year’s bills, I will first say which of them have our support, so that we can get on with the job of scrutinising, improving and passing some legislation in this chamber. We welcome the Government’s adoption of Finn’s law, to increase the available sentences for the worst forms of animal cruelty, including attacks on police dogs. I pay tribute to my colleague Liam Kerr, who worked tirelessly on that issue, mobilised the support of thousands of Scots and welcomed Finn to Parliament before the summer recess.
On the wider mental health programme, I know that, in recent years, the sector has voiced concern about a mental health strategy that lacked ambition and a suicide prevention plan that was disappointingly late. The programme is overdue and the Government has some catching-up to do. However, it will have our full support in ensuring that treatment and support are there for those who need them. We have all acted for constituents who have waited too long for vital services; we have all seen a growing understanding in our communities and across our society about the importance of mental health; and we all have a chance now to give mental health the attention that it deserves. I believe that all parties will support the plan. Similarly, I expect broad support, and pledge that of my party, for measures to combat female genital mutilation and domestic abuse.
On welfare, we will engage positively and responsibly, as we did during the passage of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017. On the economy, it was the Scottish Conservatives who first introduced the policy of a separate enterprise agency for the south of Scotland in our 2016 manifesto. We were pleased when the Scottish Government picked up the ball and ran with it, and we support the proposed legislation that has been announced today that will underpin it. We also welcome the focus on increasing exports, including the establishment of two new Scottish Government hubs inside the British embassies in Dublin and Berlin. On electric vehicles, the new fund is welcome and necessary; roughly 1 per cent of our vehicles are electric, and at the current rate Scotland would not be all-electric for another 600 years.
The Scottish Government will receive £2 billion extra in funding through Barnett consequentials over the next four years, and we will wait to see a much fuller explanation of how that money will be spent. With regard to further information, there are measures here that either we cannot support or on which we and the Scottish public need a much greater level of detail.
Today’s programme states that the electoral reform bill will involve a consultation on prisoner voting. We believe that people who commit crimes and who are sentenced to incarceration surrender not just their right to liberty but their voting rights too, and we will stand against any attempts to change that. On European Union nationals’ voting rights, we support the First Minister’s commitments today, which mirror the commitment that the UK Government set out in December last year.
On the investment bank, we welcome any measure to help small business and we will scrutinise the legislation in good faith. However, from what we have seen so far, there is nothing new or bold about rehashed plans for an investment bank that broadly already exists in the form of the Scottish Investment Bank and which the SNP has, in essence, promised to do before. Last year’s programme promised a £36 million growth fund but, by the start of last summer, just £2 million had been distributed. The year before, the SNP promised a £500 million fund for loans and investment for businesses, but it turned out that that was mostly rebadging of existing funds and, last week, we found out that not a single penny had been given in loans. There is a pattern with SNP economic policy: big promises turn into small change. I hope that it will not be the same with the investment bank.
As for today’s red meat for SNP activists, we Conservatives do not believe that we should answer the questions that are raised by leaving one union by threatening to leave another that is worth more than four times more to Scotland in trade, and neither do the people of Scotland.
What is striking about this overall package is that SNP legislation seems to be finely tuned in terms of headlines but less honed when it comes to substance. It is a textbook example of knee-jerk, backside-covering just-in-time-ism. If we take the announcement on mental health that the First Minister has spent today loudly proclaiming, why has it taken until the day on which we have seen the worst-ever waits on record for children to receive treatment before the Government has acted? This morning’s radio round-up from the First Minister promised the country that she will invest more in hospitals, but why have we gotten to crisis point before action is contemplated? Why have we seen today record numbers of NHS vacancies? More than 3,000 nursing and midwife posts lie empty, which is almost six times the rate of seven years ago. Who was the health minister seven years ago who presided over a 20 per cent cut in nurse training places? It was the First Minster—the same First Minister who stands here looking for applause for last-ditch attempts to fix problems of her own making.
We have here a batch of measures that are long on spin and short on substance. I will speak directly to the Opposition parties. It is clear with a minority Government that Parliament can act with greater power. There are issues on which even parties that come from opposite ends of the political spectrum can find common cause. Because much of the proposed legislation is so vague in intent, we have the chance to make real changes. With regard to the Planning (Scotland) Bill, for example, I am not sure whether anyone knows exactly what the Government is trying to achieve. That is why it is so wide open to amendment and why Opposition parties have been able to make a real impact on the shape of the bill. Where legislation has failed to keep up with the technology—on short-term lets, for example—we are ready to work with all to get a fair deal for Scottish householders.
On the Health and Care (Staffing) (Scotland) Bill, safe staffing is of course necessary, but the bill is a legal nonsense if it is not backed up by policy. The bill that has been published shows how flimsy the thinking is. Opposition parties have the chance not just to improve the legislation but to radically alter it. On those issues and others, I call for us to work together to do just that. I make clear that I will work with Greens, Liberal Democrats and Labour politicians who agree on an issue-by-issue basis to move things forward. Increasingly, we are running out of patience.
Since the last election, it has taken the SNP up to 700 days to get a bill passed, and we now have fewer than 1,000 days until the next election. That means that, given the tortuously slow pace, there is not much time left. The record of past years is not much to look at, and the chances for this year seem little better. If the SNP is not going to get a move on, it is up to us to up the pace.
Although, for a wee while, I might not be here in person to push forward our agenda, the Scottish Conservative group will redouble efforts to campaign for change. We will seek greater rights for the families of victims who have been caught up in the justice system, so that they are no longer treated as an afterthought—we have warm words, but we want a commitment to introducing Michelle’s law in full. We will argue for the extra investment that we know is coming to the NHS to be used to support and maintain local services across Scotland; make the case for real and radical action on housing; support more action on vocational and technical education for young people who choose not to go to university; and above all, demand that the reality of the Scottish Government’s new thinking on economic growth matches today’s rhetoric.
We know that the Scottish Government’s own forecasts say that Scotland faces five years of subdued growth, which is the longest such period since the second world war. We believe that Scotland should be the most attractive place in the UK to live, work and do business in. We have the resources, the people and the industry—everything but the weather—but the Government has tarnished that ambition with its anti-business agenda. A Scottish growth rate that has been lower than that of the UK every calendar year since 2010 is not something for the Government to trumpet; it is something for it to remedy.
Come budget time, we will therefore campaign against the SNP Administration’s high-tax agenda. We will call for its confused and cluttered economic strategy to be redrawn and we will argue for a renewed focus on our world-class capability in oil and gas, food and drink, sustainable energy, life sciences and financial services. There is a good-news story to tell about the Scottish economy, and we intend to tell it.
In conclusion, the start of a new term is not the time to be overly cynical but, given the sclerosis of the Government’s record, it is wise to be sceptical when we see the SNP bearing legislative gifts. All too often in the past, gifts that have been promised have got lost in the post.
This year, the Scottish Conservatives will continue with the job that we were elected to carry out: to hold the SNP Government to account, to oppose vigorously where it goes wrong and to offer constructive opposition where we believe progress can be made. We wish old and new Government ministers well as they approach their task this year, but they should know that time is not their friend. The session is at its mid-point, there is much still to do and too much time has already been squandered. The country cannot afford the SNP Government to be distracted by either noises off or an unwanted rush to yet more constitutional division. It is a time for action and deeds. It is a time to stop chasing headlines and to get on with delivery.
I thank the First Minister for the advance copy of her statement.
It is the job of my party to ask difficult questions of the First Minister and to hold the Government to account, and the Parliament and the people who sent us here can rest assured that we will do that week in and week out. However, let me strike a genuine note of unity at the very start of this new parliamentary term. I begin by expressing the Scottish Labour Party’s full support to the First Minister in the fulfilment of her Government’s duty to thoroughly investigate and act on all allegations of sexual harassment that arise. Equally, I say genuinely to the First Minister that she also has our total backing in ensuring that the Scottish Government fulfils its duty of care to the women involved in all such cases and in providing them with all the support that they need when they need it. She has our full backing, and I hope that I speak for every member on that.
I also record that we welcome today’s announcement on mental health. It is something that the Labour Party has long campaigned for, and this morning’s publication of the latest figures on child and adolescent mental health serve as a timely reminder of how potentially important the announcement is.
This year alone, more than 2,500 young people have waited more than 18 weeks for treatment. The review of CAMHS, which was published in June after years of pressure, exposed a system that is simply not fit for purpose, with young people being rejected from treatment because they were not deemed suicidal. The system needs to change, and I hope that today sees the first step towards doing that.
I am bound to say that I also welcome the toughening of the rules on regional selective assistance awards, but we look to the day when the living wage is a requirement for all companies bidding for all public procurement contracts, and not just those receiving grants.
The First Minister has raised the issue, so I say clearly that we on the Labour benches oppose a second independence referendum and we urge her to drop any plans for it once and for all. Brexit throws into sharp relief the challenges of leaving one political and economic union. Let us be clear on this as well: leaving the United Kingdom would mean an unprecedented decade of austerity for the people of Scotland. That is not my analysis; it is the analysis of the SNP’s own cuts commission, published in May, whose members included the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work.
In the end, the real division that we face is not between the people of the four nations of the United Kingdom; it is between the rich few and the rest of us. That is the divide that the First Minister should focus on, not dividing the people of Scotland with another referendum.
Some elements are missing from today’s programme for government. In education, there is no mention of scrapping primary 1 standardised assessments. There is no mention either of the need to deliver a fair pay deal for Scotland’s teachers, or to raise the upper limit on the number of home-based students entering higher education.
In health, there is no mention of the compelling case for imposing a cap on spiralling agency costs in the national health service.
The First Minister talks of wealth and wellbeing but is silent on the distribution of wealth and wellbeing. The Government knows that the inequality gap is getting wider. It knows that because its own report, which it published last year, showed that the richest 1 per cent in Scotland now have more personal wealth than the whole of the poorest 50 per cent put together. The Government must know that that results in not just a huge imbalance of wealth but a huge imbalance of power. Although the First Minister and the Scottish Government may choose a vocabulary of radicalism and ambition, in reality they have emptied both of their real meaning. Worse, it is a vocabulary that has been appropriated not for the sake of meaningfully changing the lives of the people of Scotland but for the sake of the political management and positioning of the Scottish National Party. We are 11 years into the SNP’s time in office but where is the vitality? Where is the driving force? Where is the real radical vision in this programme for government?
Over those 11 years in office, the SNP’s ambition has simply not kept up with the growth in this Parliament’s powers. For our part, Labour will welcome the use of those powers and will always push for a more radical agenda. Although we welcome the commitment to pay the best start grant before Christmas, we will continue to campaign for an upgrading of child benefit for all the years that our children are growing up.
Over the summer recess, I visited communities and spoke to people across Scotland. I listened to the asylum seekers in Glasgow facing eviction and deportation and met the resilient community that is standing by them. I talked to tenants and residents in Alloa struggling with rising rents, witnessing a housing crisis and demanding new investment to bring about real change. I knocked on the doors of elderly people in Ayrshire, who told me that their GP service was cut back in spring this year. Those elderly people were in the village of Tarbolton, in the constituency of the new Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport.
I met business owners and trade unionists, all seeking certainty and firm economic planning and looking for a Scottish Government that not just promises a national investment bank in future but delivers a national industrial strategy now. Just last week, I listened to people in the fishing industry in Shetland, who are concerned that this Government does not have a plan for what happens if we crash out of the European Union next spring. I talked to club 365 food project workers in Coatbridge, where practical welfare action by the local Labour council is making a difference to the lives of bright kids who just want a chance in life. I listened to communities who have taken over the land where they live and work, from the Mull of Galloway to west Harris.
I met workers up and down the country who have had enough of their living standards falling year after year. Young workers who are exploited in the hospitality industry and workers of all ages are getting organised and getting unionised, because they know that the time has come to fight back. We are seeing a reinvention of citizenship, a new political engagement and a democratic renewal that is based not on national identity but on the universal values of solidarity and equality and a hunger for real and radical change.
In this next parliamentary year we will mark and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first elections to this Parliament—an event that awakened hope. We want to reawaken that hope by showing that we can take a different path—a path that is radical and ambitious and that will bring about real change, and a path that the people of Scotland deserve.
I thank the Government for the advance copy of the statement.
This year’s programme for government takes place in perhaps the most difficult context of any since devolution. The Brexit crisis continues to play out, with no hint of realism coming from the negotiations and the UK Government continuing to treat this Parliament with contempt.
Of course, this mess is not of Scotland’s making, but in the face of it, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament have a responsibility not only to defend Scotland’s interests against the multiple threats of Brexit but to ensure that the crisis does not prevent an ambitious programme of policy and legislation to address the needs of the people whom we represent.
Let me give credit where it is due and pick out a few positives from the statement. Electoral reform might not be the biggest headline grabber, but I flag up the commitment to see EU citizens’ right to vote protected and the commitment—which is not explicit in the statement but has been made clear in previous statements in Parliament and which I hope remains the position—that residence and not citizenship will be the test of voting right, so that non-EU citizens, including refugees and asylum seekers, should have the right to vote. I pick out electoral reform, not because it is the biggest headline grabber but because those commitments are strongly consistent with a Government that says that it wants to make a positive case for immigration and free movement. That is a principle that the Greens strongly share, and I was pleased to hear it.
I was also pleased to see progress on the young carers grant, which is something that the Greens pushed for in the 2016 election and which we have pushed for since. There were positive comments, too, about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but we will look closely at the detail of what is proposed in that regard. Will the convention itself be incorporated and become part of domestic law?
It is clear that the Government is more open than it has been in the past to commitments to the work that needs done to ensure that we have a public rail operator and a public energy company, but we will want to see more detail and a clear commitment on the timing of both measures.
Over recent years, the Greens have worked hard to do what we said in the last election that we would do, pushing the Government beyond its comfort zone and leading the change that Scotland needs. From community rail funding to protecting local services, and from safeguarding the marine environment to winning the case for a new and fairer system of income tax, our approach has got results.
However, it is clear that there remain parts of the programme for government on which we will need to step up the pressure for change. The First Minister is committing to increase capital investment year on year. I remind her that, in the budget concession last year, the Government has already committed to increasing the proportion of Scotland’s capital spending that goes to low-carbon projects. I hope that that will remain a consistent principle that will not be deflected by the wider increase in the capital budget.
The Scottish household survey that is just out today shows that, in 2017, 61 per cent of adults said that climate change was
“an immediate and urgent problem”.
That figure has gone up significantly since the previous year, and it is clear that the Government wants to be seen to be moving in that direction. However, in Scottish politics, it is still the case that although we are not dealing with the denial of the problem, we need to recognise that the scale of what is being proposed bears no relationship to the scale of the challenge. There is a missed opportunity to commit to a net-zero greenhouse gas target, but rather than focus on just the debate over the technical question of precisely which target to set, it is equally important to focus on the questions of how and what—what we will be doing to transform our transport system, for example.
Today, we have the statistics that the Government has just published, which state that bus use is down by 9.5 per cent and cycling is down by 7.5 per cent, while car use is up and two thirds of car journeys are made by single occupants. Installing more electric charging points will do nothing to change that. The increase in aviation remains entirely fossil fuel powered, and the everlasting growth that that industry seeks would leave our other efforts on climate change looking futile.
The problems are not just with transport. The wider transition to a post-oil age requires an acceptance that most of the world’s fossil fuels must remain unburned. Scotland must play its part in that, too. There is an overwhelming case for divestment from fossil fuels and instead building an economy that can provide lasting jobs for the future in industries that do not depend on exploiting finite resources. I am sad to say that it remains entirely unclear whether the Scottish Government understands the scale of that task.
There are some positive measures, such as the deposit-return scheme and banning cotton buds that are made of plastic. Those are fine—they are all well and good on their own terms. However, such measures are based firmly on placing the responsibility on individuals and not on transforming the wider economic context within which we all live. For example, there is the Government’s focus on support for business, on which the First Minister made clear some commitments today. The Government remains wedded to the idea of increasing gross domestic product and exports. However, in that section of the First Minister’s speech there was no word on ethics or on ensuring that public, taxpayer-funded support for the private sector is tied to commitments on the living wage, on ending tax avoidance or on divestment from the arms trade and the fossil fuel industries that the Scottish Government continues to support, just as the UK Government does.
When the SNP took office in its first term in government, parts of the national performance framework clearly suggested the beginnings of an understanding that GDP growth alone is the wrong basis for judging the health of our economy. That agenda appears to have stalled. The Greens will continue to make the case for a change.
The First Minister also asks us to welcome the idea of a headteachers‘ charter, because she wants to do some of what was going to be in her bill without actually bringing it to Parliament to seek support. She says that such a charter will put headteachers in control of decisions. However, will they also have the funds necessary to reverse previous years of decline in appointing teachers and other staff, or will headteachers be left in the lurch in being made personally responsible for ever more but without the resources and the back-up staff that they need to ensure that their schools can achieve what our society needs of them? The Government must accept that, in our education system, resources and not structural reforms should be the priority.
There are a number of other issues on which the Greens are keen to call on the Government to work with us. The Government has already indicated its intention to support my colleague John Finnie‘s bill on the equal protection of children from assault. I hope that that will also be true of Mark Ruskell’s work on 20mph speed limits and Alison Johnstone’s work on the need for a real ban on fox hunting.
However, it is on local government that we have our work cut out to push the Government beyond its comfort zone. The First Minister and the programme for government speak of a strong commitment to a strong partnership between central and local government. If that is the case, there is no reason in the world why we should not support COSLA’s call for local authorities to have the power to decide for themselves on issues such as a transient visitor levy—a tourism tax—to raise the revenue that local government needs.
That is a huge agenda. We have a huge opportunity to ensure that we have strong local government—as is normal in so many other European countries—that has the financial powers available to it to enable it to raise revenue fairly instead of hiking fees and charges or making cuts to valuable services.
I am afraid that I do not have time.
There is to be a bill on non-domestic rates, which will provide another opportunity to decentralise financial powers.
We will make it clear, as we have done since the most recent budget process, that we will begin to discuss the next budget only if the Government makes meaningful progress on the reform of local taxation and local fiscal powers. We will continue to push further for that, because we know that such powers and resources are urgently needed right across Scotland.
Of course there are sections of the Government’s programme for government that we can all support, and Liberal Democrat members will work constructively to deliver them. I welcome in particular the commitment to incorporation of the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
However, when I received an advance copy of the programme, I thought, “This can’t possibly be it all.” It is so light in content that I thought that I must have been missing volume 2. A particular highlight in the First Minister’s statement was the point at which she said that she would liaise this year, consult next year and deliver who knows when. That typifies the whole programme for government, which is so light on substance.
I suppose that every Government runs its natural course. Based on this year’s programme for government, the current Government’s sell-by date has been well passed. After 11 years in power, it is showing all the signs of being at the end. It is searching around for new ideas. The old ideas are being found out, the performance of public services is on the slide and, although the ministerial team has changed, there are still the same old policies. In fact, the former minister for recycling has himself been recycled, but the whole Government needs to be upcycled and repurposed into something that is fit for the future.
Because the Government arrived at St Andrew’s house with the single purpose of leaving the United Kingdom, there has been a special air of desperation since the independence referendum. Since then, the Government has struggled to discover any real purpose for its remaining time in office. The new programme for government tells us all that we need to know.
First, the First Minister grasped the topic of education, but although it was her overriding priority and her first objective, the Government has come up only with a series of damaging managerial changes. There is nothing positive or new in today’s programme for government, either.
Then, there was mental health. I stood on election platforms with the First Minister at three successive elections, when she told me that she really cared about mental health and that it was a priority for her, but today’s figures reveal the worst waits for young people. Just 67.8 per cent of children were seen within the 18-week waiting time target. That is down from 71 per cent, and from 81 per cent the previous year. The situation is even worse in some parts of the country. The health boards in Forth Valley, Grampian and the Borders all failed to achieve a level of 50 per cent—way below the national average—against the target, and NHS Tayside’s performance is disgraceful, with only 34 per cent of young people having been seen within the target period. How disgraceful is that?
No new announcement today, three years after the First Minister told me that mental health was her priority, can cover up for the failure of the Scottish Government on mental health. There was no recognition in the First Minister’s statement of the terrible figures on mental health waiting times for young people. There was not even a mention of them, and there was no note of contrition for the Government’s failure.
Then there is Brexit. Brexit was mentioned, but the only commitment was to consider what to do when the proposals come out. How bold and ambitious is that? The First Minister cannot even bring herself to back the one policy that could save us from Brexit’s damaging effects—the people’s vote. With unusual and curious modesty, she says that it is not for the SNP Government to lead the United Kingdom. What happened to the First Minister of 2015, who took the UK general election by storm, wowing the rest of the UK with her plans to change the whole United Kingdom.
The hunt for the new purpose goes on. Step forward Keith Brown, the new deputy leader. He told that oracle of integrity,
“A fresh case for independence is more vital than ever—and that is what we are working on in the national assemblies.”
The fresh new idea turns out to be the same old idea. It is the same Keith Brown who sold the dodgy Chinese deal to the First Minister. He sold so many bad ideas to the First Minister that maybe it is not a surprise that he has been told to sell the new case for independence to members of the SNP. It is independence first, last and always with the SNP. Nothing else matters.
Let me put forward in contrast some positive new plans. Instead of having damaging national testing in schools, let us empower teachers to shed the burden of tests and explore how best to utilise their skills and training. Most countries in the world would not dream of starting their young people in formal education at four or five years old: six or seven is the norm. In line with global best practice, let us embrace that new approach.
Instead of damaging long waits for people who require mental health treatment, let us adopt a new mental health improvement act that would give mental health parity of esteem with physical health. It would be backed up with a requirement for all public bodies to provide mental wellbeing support across the range of their services, and would accelerate improvements to mental health services.
Instead of hunting for ways to leave the United Kingdom, let us offer up a new United Kingdom co-operation act that would agree new dispute-resolution procedures with the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. Instead of demanding a veto, it would offer the hand of friendship and co-operation to resolve disputes over issues.
Let us put down the offer of co-operation with the UK Government, so that we can rebuild the relationship that our two Governments have worked so hard to undermine in recent years. We have seen the Westminster select Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee endorse the idea of a more modern framework. That sounds like federalism to me.
It is right to ask the Scottish Government to be part of the growing call for a modernised United Kingdom. Instead of dithering over the people’s vote, let us pledge our support for the United Kingdom legislation that is necessary to agree such a vote.
The First Minister should get out of her bunker and lead the charge on the campaign. With the weight of the Government behind her, it would give the campaign further momentum. Her current dithering is undermining the case for the people’s vote. Nicola Sturgeon needs to sign up today.
Liberal Democrats want a local government funding act that would look at a new land value tax and a tourism infrastructure charge. It would provide the necessary reforms required to empower local councils to deliver the services that they are responsible for. Just like Holyrood, local councils should have the power to raise the majority of the money that they spend. That would empower them in a way that has been prevented in recent years. If you control the purse strings, you control your destiny on your areas of responsibility.
Those are the fresh new ideas that this Government should have brought forward in its programme—but all is not lost; there is still time to change. The Government should stand up on education, on local government finance, on Brexit, on reforming the United Kingdom and on mental health.
Use the power. For goodness’ sake, use the power of the Parliament for the wellbeing of the country.
Presiding Officer, if I may reflect briefly, I will say that this is the first time in more than seven years that I have had the chance to address Parliament from the back benches. As anyone who has had the privilege of being a minister will realise, the job in many ways restricts opportunities to speak in Parliament often. Although there may be disappointment ahead for anyone who is hoping that any new sense of freedom on my part means that I now intend to go quite so far as to embrace my inner Kenneth Gibson, I look forward to having a chance to raise a wider variety of issues.
Today, the First Minister has laid out an ambitious vision for Scotland in this year’s programme for government. I want to say something about it from the perspective of Scotland’s island communities, some of which I represent. In recent years, we have seen the appointment of an islands minister, the islands deal, the Islands (Scotland) Bill and legislation on matters as diverse as reform of the Crown Estate and island proofing of wider policies. Those have been very welcome measures.
Certain issues will always feature at the top of the islands’ political agenda. The success of road equivalent tariff ferry fares and the doubling of the ferries budget since the SNP came to office have meant that there is now an ever-increasing demand for ferry services from both islanders and tourists.
Housing remains a complex problem in the islands although, happily, the recent offer from the Scottish Government of some £25 million for affordable houses in the Western Isles holds out the prospect of the largest house-building programme there in half a century.
Meanwhile, the multiple uncertainties of Brexit hold their own obvious risks for crofting communities and fishing communities. Perhaps most urgent of all is that we need to remind the rest of Scotland that good jobs are regularly advertised in the islands, that the islands are an outstanding place to live and that new people are needed.
The First Minister’s very welcome announcements about rural broadband link together many of those distinctive issues for Scotland’s island communities. In mentioning that, I hope that even the most atrophied Opposition heart will be able to acknowledge how far things have come. Only four years ago, my constituency had no superfast broadband at all and, what is more, there was no prospect whatsoever of its being supplied commercially. Today, after millions of pounds of investment by the Scottish Government, some 75 per cent of homes and businesses in the Western Isles have access to superfast broadband.
Before someone intervenes on that, I add that I am very conscious that that is, of course, no comfort at all to the other 25 per cent of islanders who have not yet benefited in that way. I can think of many communities and individuals who are in regular touch with me about this frustrating issue. I will not try your patience, Presiding Officer, by naming them, but I can think of people in Uig in Lewis, in many parts of South Uist and on the west side of North Uist, as well as on the west coast of Harris, among many others, who are keen to see where they now fit into the roll-out plan.
That is why the commitment from the First Minister to 100 per cent coverage by 2021 and to a new contract within the coming year for further work is very encouraging. We should all now work together to ensure the success of the R100 contract and to maximise the active involvement of communities in planning ahead to ensure that all islanders—indeed, all people across Scotland—enjoy the connectivity that most Scots increasingly take for granted.
It has been said before that the roll-out in our times of broadband in rural Scotland—particularly in the Highlands and Islands—will prove to be as transformative as the roll-out of telephone lines was in those parts of Scotland in the 1940s and 1950s. There is a new imperative that we should think about, which is that we are quickly coming to a point at which families will be as likely to move to a place without broadband as they would have been in past times to move to a place without telephones.
I believe that the programme for government is a commitment to a Scotland where all communities are included—not least our island communities—where all communities benefit economically, and where distinctive and differing needs are respected. I welcome the priority that the Government has given to ensuring that island broadband plays its role in doing all those things, and that our island communities are part of Scotland’s economic success in the future. I commend the programme for government as the way to achieve that.
The summer recess is an opportunity for us to spend some quality time in the constituencies or regions that we represent. Naturally, I spent mine in Glasgow. From all the meetings and conversations that I had during the summer, two messages stand out. First, under the SNP, Scotland’s economy is struggling, the nationalists are out of ideas and they even lack the commitment to drive economic growth in the first place. Secondly, voters are sick and tired of their politicians using Brexit for their own short-term political ends rather than getting on with the job of negotiating the best possible deal in the interests of the country.
Both those themes are wearily familiar in what we heard from the First Minister this afternoon. She could not even mention Brexit without banging the drum for independence yet again.
I will start with the economy. I make no apology for focusing my remarks on Glasgow, just as Alasdair Allan focused many of his remarks on the area of Scotland that he represents. Stewardship of the economy is one of the primary responsibilities of government at any level. We all know that, under the SNP, Glasgow’s economy is struggling. Business start-up rates, business survival rates, the female employment rate and levels of economic activity all compare poorly when contrasted with those of cities in the north of England, such as Manchester.
It is a gloomy picture, not least for the once iconic Sauchiehall Street, which is one of the most important commercial streets anywhere in Scotland, and one of Glasgow’s major retail arteries. It is no exaggeration to say that it is dying on the SNP’s watch. It was hit by two major fires earlier this year, and the SNP stood idly by as businesses went under and residents were locked out of their properties for weeks on end.
The SNP’s chronic mismanagement of the Glasgow city region deal is only making matters worse. In her statement this afternoon, the First Minister made great play of the importance of infrastructure investment, but in Glasgow infrastructure investment that was supposed to boost economic growth is having exactly the opposite effect. As Sauchiehall Street is turned into a building site, shoppers and consumers are given every reason to stay away and no reason to return.
Some businesses on that street are reporting takings this summer at one third of the level that they enjoyed 12 months ago. When Glasgow thrives, Scotland thrives. Glasgow is Scotland’s economic powerhouse, and Sauchiehall Street is a major driver of Glasgow’s retail and food and leisure economy, as well as its night-time economy.
What engagement has the SNP had with businesses in and around Sauchiehall Street to ensure that the city region deal infrastructure investment is being directed appropriately? When asked just that question in the House of Commons in July, the SNP leader of Glasgow City Council said:
“we don’t have yet in the Glasgow region a clear interaction with the business community.”
Does that not just sum it up? The nationalist leader of Scotland’s biggest city, a city that 18,000 businesses call home, proudly boasting that her SNP administration has no clear interaction with the business community.
No programme for government can hope to grow the Scottish economy while the nationalist leader of Scotland’s major city turns her back on business.
Perhaps Mr Doris would like to apologise for his leader’s remarks.
I apologise to anyone who has to listen to Mr Tomkins, because he is ill-informed about the Glasgow city region deal. It is worth putting on the record that the deal was not signed by Councillor Susan Aitken but by a previous Labour Administration. As the Local Government and Communities Committee found in its city region deal inquiry, the biggest problem was that the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council are trying with the city region deal to form inclusive growth projects to bring all society together, but that has been specifically rejected by the UK Government.
I am not quite sure what the question was, but I certainly did not hear an apology for the abject refusal of the SNP leadership in the city that Mr Doris and I represent for refusing to engage at all with the business community.
I turn to Brexit. This time last year, we stood with the SNP in insisting that Brexit must be delivered compatibly with our devolution settlement. We agreed with the SNP that the withdrawal bill that was then before the House of Commons failed to do that and needed to be amended. In time, of course, that amendment came—although the Scottish Government stood alone among the Administrations of the United Kingdom in refusing to accept it. Twelve months on, Conservative members are still of the view that Brexit must be delivered compatibly with devolution, but the SNP has now changed its mind about that. Respecting the devolution settlement means respecting that which is devolved and that which is reserved.
Among the matters that are reserved to Westminster is international trade, yet far from respecting that aspect of the devolution settlement, Scottish ministers propose to ignore it entirely. All new proposed trade deals should be subject to not one but five separate Scottish Government vetoes, according to the SNP: a veto at preparation stage, another if the negotiating mandate changes, a third at negotiation stage, another at ratification, and a final veto when the trade agreement is signed. Five vetoes for Scottish ministers on a reserved matter is not respecting the devolution settlement; it is taking a wrecking ball to the Scotland Act 1998. It is a naked nationalist power grab and it will be robustly opposed.
Starting back after recess is always a useful point at which to take stock of the year just gone and to compare last year’s programme for government with what was actually passed by this Parliament.
This time last year, the spin was ferocious. “Bold and ambitious” was the mantra that was splashed across the headlines—the contrast is telling. This year, it feels much more like damage control. Whether it is about testing primary 1 pupils, the British Transport Police, the tourist tax, or John Swinney’s flagship education bill, this summer has been punctuated by U-turns, knock-backs to council leaders and convoluted explanations for Government climbdowns.
The summer headlines should not have been a surprise, because last year’s programme for government was meant to be bold but has been defined by what was ditched rather than what was delivered. This Government needs to provide clarity and purpose. For too much of the past year, it was a case of carry on regardless, resulting in halts and U-turns.
There was of course one U-turn over the summer that I welcomed: the U-turn on the British Transport Police. I repeat my commendation to the new Cabinet Secretary for Justice for listening. His predecessor’s intransigence in the face of experts, staff, officers and academics, not to mention Opposition politicians and unions, was in a sense impressive; however, it was misguided and damaging. The dogmatic pursuit of full integration left him in a difficult position, especially as Police Scotland itself has now stated at the most recent Scottish Police Authority board meeting that the objective of full integration would not be possible for “years”. That is a direct quote from the board papers.
We need to find a way forward for the devolution of transport policing. The cabinet secretary needs to follow up his announcement. There needs to be clarity that full integration is off the table. It is only by seeking dialogue and consensus and by listening to officers, unions and experts that the cabinet secretary will receive our backing for his plans. He also needs to end the uncertainty that the refusal to reject full integration outright has created for staff and the people who use the service.
I very much welcome the announcement that there will be a focus on victims, whether that is in relation to giving evidence or the impacts of pursuing issues through the criminal justice system. All too often, our justice system retraumatises victims and addressing those issues is important.
Likewise, I welcome the announcement that the Government will be introducing a biometric data bill, which follows up on John Scott QC’s useful and instructive work. Likewise, on the disclosure bill and the defamation bill, it has been clear in the past year from the evidence that the Justice Committee has taken and from elsewhere that there is a need for reform, so we will look at the details of those proposals, we will engage constructively and we will seek to make sure that those bills deliver on the promises that have been set out.
However, there is business to be carried over from last year. The Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill looks at parole, electronic tagging and disclosure. It is fair to say that there has been disappointment about the bill’s lack of ambition. We can see that lack of ambition no more clearly than in the fact that the First Minister had to reannounce that the Government will be looking at transparency around parole. That could have been addressed in the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill, which is already looking at the Parole Board for Scotland.
Likewise, the First Minister announced that there will be an examination of remand. Again, that could have been covered by the bill if it was not for the careless language in its very title, which has caused issues. The Scottish Government had stated that it was no longer going to use the term “offender”, because the word stigmatises people who are going through the criminal justice system. That stigma can undermine attempts to break criminal behaviours and the chaotic lifestyles that lead to them.
When we look at the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill, we can see where the Government needs to improve. The Government must seek greater clarity and a greater sense of purpose if it is to improve its assessment this time next year.
I also want to mention hate crime. We welcome, from the First Minister’s statement, that there will be a new bill on hate crime. However, I urge the Scottish Government to come forward with further details on the timing and the scope of what it seeks to achieve with the bill. Lord Bracadale’s recommendations, which were published last year, are an excellent example of the clarity and purpose that I have spoken of in my speech.
Discrimination is appalling in all its forms, and hate crime continues to have long-lasting, hurtful and damaging effects for many people in Scotland. I understand that the new cabinet secretary wants to make tackling hate crime one of his top priorities, so we will closely scrutinise the bill and we look forward to seeing the detail. Where it takes on the recommendations of Lord Bracadale’s review, we will support it.
I will close by saying something on consensus, and I make these comments to members across the chamber. As I have done, the cabinet secretary will have spoken to experts and people who work in the field of criminal justice across Scotland. One topic of conversation has come up time and time again: the determination to preserve the political and social consensus in Parliament on the criminal justice system that we have enjoyed in recent years. That consensus states that crime should fall, that violent crime can be prevented, that the number of reconvictions is falling, and that imprisonment—and short sentences in particular—is not always the most effective way of reducing crime because of its impact and the fact that it can lead to reoffending.
I gently say to members across the chamber that there seems to be a changing mood. Some parties seem to want to break that consensus for party political gain. My party will hold the Government to account, we will say when we disagree, we will offer new ideas and we will criticise plans when they are not coherent or not thought through.
A test of any Government’s programme is the investment that it puts into infrastructure. As a result of real, tangible, visible building work, the economy can be stimulated, services can be improved, communities can thrive and everyday lives can be made better. Infrastructure spend continues to be the backbone of successive programmes for government from this Government.
Last Wednesday, I welcomed the Deputy First Minister to Inverurie in my constituency, where he was able to see how one of the latest projects in the Scottish schools for the future programme is coming along. The Inverurie community campus will provide a state-of-the-art educational environment for the pupils of Inverurie academy and St Andrew’s school. It will bring secondary school pupils together with pupils with additional support needs in a campus that is purpose built for all their educational, social and pastoral needs.
In the two years that I have been the MSP for Aberdeenshire East, I have seen the completion of three new school buildings: my former secondary school, Ellon academy; Markethill primary in Turriff; and Uryside school in Inverurie. By 2020, it will be four.
In my constituency, broadband has long been a major ask. Although that area is reserved to Westminster, the decision by the Scottish Government to intervene has been necessary to ensure that vast swathes of rural Scotland are not left behind. Without the intervention of the Scottish Government, most of my constituency would never have had access to superfast broadband. Before the Scottish Government’s commitment, the percentage of premises that were connected to fibre broadband in Aberdeenshire through commercial deployment, as predicted in 2012, was at just a quarter. After the Government’s intervention, the percentage stands at more than 91 per cent. By 2021, we will have 100 per cent access, and with the new contract it will not be the most remote who get access last.
Investment in transport infrastructure is crucial to any country’s economic growth. In the decades before an SNP Government, successive Governments served my area of the north-east badly in that respect. A bypass that would connect the north and south of Aberdeenshire and keep traffic out of Aberdeen city was mooted in the late 1950s. I would have thought that the importance of the oil and gas industry to the Scottish and UK economy would have made such infrastructure spend in the north-east a priority of Thatcher’s Government, but it did not. In the post-devolution situation, we all expected heaven and earth to be moved to make it a reality, but it took the SNP Government to take hold of the project and deliver it. All my colleagues know that the late Brian Adam MSP was instrumental in campaigning for it to happen.
The AWPR will make an enormous difference to my constituents. It will genuinely change our everyday lives. There will be less congestion, safer journeys and quicker commutes. Communities around Aberdeen will be vastly better connected to the city and to the rest of Scotland. The economic impact will be substantial.
The transport infrastructure spend does not end there. The first stage of the dualling of the rail track between Aberdeen and Inverurie is complete, with the Dyce to Aberdeen stretch now open. I tested it on my way down to Parliament. Next year, we will see a new station at Kintore and the doubling of the service between Inverurie and Aberdeen after investment in a new line.
With a new railway line, two new schools, the building of the country’s largest health centre, 100 per cent broadband coverage and the dualling of the A96, could Inverurie be an even more attractive place to live? New opportunities for infrastructure investment are opened with the Government’s announcement of the Scottish national investment bank.
Along with my north-east colleagues, I will continue to make the economic, environmental and social case for new rail lines to areas that do not have a rail option. I feel that a line from Dyce to Ellon would be a real benefit and my constituents agree. Of course, being in a rural constituency, we realise that cars will always be necessary for many of us who live away from public transport routes. Therefore, it is vital that we provide the infrastructure that is needed for the use of electric vehicles to be a realistic option. The announcement of the 1,500 new electric vehicle charging points makes my personal goal of making the jump from hybrid vehicle to a fully electric one in the next few years a real possibility.
However, I cannot sit down without mentioning the announcement that has made me happiest. At the end of May, in discussion with our back benchers, the Government asked for ideas to put in the programme for government. We asked for financial assistance in an area that is close to many of our hearts: more spend on early intervention for mental health for young people at school level. I am delighted to hear that the First Minister has taken our views on board and committed the Government to putting counsellors in every secondary school. That is one of the most significant educational and health developments under the Government. On behalf of the many parents, teachers and teenagers who have spoken to me about the matter, I thank the First Minister for listening to their views.
The programme for government is full of substance, realisable ambition and concrete delivery on manifesto commitments. It also has the flexibility to adapt to new policy. The Government is ambitious for Scotland, is tackling the many challenges that we face and listens to the country. Year on year, it delivers for the whole of Scotland. I see that in my area every day in bricks and mortar, new broadband cabinets, road crews, cranes lifting bridge supports into place, newly laid rail track and every journey that I take around my constituency of Aberdeenshire East.
The programme for government debate is always exciting and interesting and is one of the debates that many people look forward to. There is the anticipation and expectation of the SNP Scottish Government continuing to deliver for the people of Scotland. The fact that the Opposition parties have yet again moaned and groaned with little semblance of gratitude to the Scottish Government tells a tale of parties that are bereft of ideas and vision for this country. Instead of moaning, they should thank the Scottish Government for its many achievements and its consistent record of delivery. [
Thank you very much, Presiding Officer.
The Opposition parties should thank the Scottish Government for the major infrastructure projects that it has delivered and is delivering, such as the completion of the M8, the building of the Queensferry crossing, the building of the AWPR and the work that has started on dualling the A9, to name just four examples.
No, the member can listen a wee bit more.
Those are projects that previous Scottish Executives and, before the creation of this Parliament, the Scottish Office did not deliver, because of the lack of foresight, vision and desire on the part of the politicians in charge over those decades.
The Opposition parties should be thanking the Scottish Government for its record of building more than 72,000 affordable homes, including, most recently, homes in Bay Street and Slaemuir Avenue in Port Glasgow in my constituency. They should be thanking the Scottish Government for keeping commercial shipbuilding alive on the lower Clyde through its continued support and awarding of contracts to Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow. They should be thanking the Scottish Government for the investment of £120 million this year in the attainment challenge, with £9.3 million going directly to schools in Inverclyde over the past three years—and we should not forget the additional investment in the schools for the future programme, which, among other things, paid for half of the cost of the newly built St Patrick’s primary school in Greenock. They should be thanking the Scottish Government for the continued investment of more than £13 billion in the NHS as well as the £7.3 million that has been invested in the new Orchard View hospital, which is the Inverclyde adult and older persons continuing care hospital—that was yet another chapter in the long, drawn-out saga to replace the not-fit-for-purpose Ravenscraig hospital.
There are many more such examples, but time prevents me from continuing down that line.
On the issue of mental health, every member of this Parliament should welcome today’s announcement of additional finance and resources to help with early intervention in our schools and colleges. We have investment in additional school nursing to create around 350 counsellors in school education across the nation and to ensure that every secondary school has counselling services, which should be welcomed and supported; investment in an additional 250 school nurses across the country, which will help provide the response to mild and moderate emotional and mental health difficulties experienced by young people; investment in 80 additional counsellors in further and higher education over the next four years, which will also greatly help our young people as they progress through their educational journey; and an expansion of the range of perinatal support that is available to women, which will be greatly beneficial to society. Almost 20 per cent of women will experience mental ill health during their pregnancy, so that latter point is another example of doing the right thing.
Many concerns have been raised about the delivery of child and adolescent mental health services, and I am sure that the proposals in the programme for government will assist many people across the country. In addition to the extra counsellors, the proposals will result in parents having a much clearer understanding of the kind of help that is available, and of where and how to access it; children and young people having a much wider range of help available to them; and schools being better supported to deal with wellbeing concerns and more able to direct children to counselling services. They will also result in the development of services for community mental wellbeing for five to 24-year-olds and their parents in order to provide direct and immediate access to counselling sessions. That new support and investment will have a hugely beneficial effect on the mental health of our young people, and it is fitting that this announcement is made in this year of young people. It once again shows the commitment of the Scottish Government to the future generations of our nation.
I want to touch on the vision and direction of this Scottish Government, in comparison with the rudderless and chaotic nonsense coming from Whitehall.
When Jackson Carlaw stands up to try and lay the blame for his own party’s total incompetence elsewhere and then has the brass neck to try to get the SNP to support his party—although which party, or faction of it, he wants us to support is unclear—I think that we can say that he will win
’s next annual brass neck of the year award. The Tory civil war that has been taking place for months now is proof of the old phrase we use in Inverclyde: never trust a Tory.
Theresa May’s Chequers plan was slammed as the last person left the building. One side of her party is scrambling to cobble together some semblance of a narrative on the EU and the other side of her party wants the UK to go back to the Victorian era, with delusions that Britain is still a world power. All of that is in contrast to the united and growing SNP, which has now overtaken the Tories to become the second-largest party in the UK.
There is much to welcome in the programme for government, which builds on the social and business focus that the SNP Scottish Government has demonstrated, from the additional £2 million to tackle holiday hunger among children to the carers allowance supplement that the First Minister spoke about earlier. I commend the programme for government to the chamber.
I should remind Mr McMillan that the Edinburgh festival has finished; that comedy speech would have been up for a great award.
It is quite telling that the First Minister made a 40-minute speech and it took her only two minutes and 20 seconds to say her favourite word. Guess what it is? Independence. It is the driver of every policy, every strategy and every programme that emits from her Government and she knows it. [
To be fair, there have been some welcome ideas in the programme for government and Conservative members have been happy to support them. Let us look at legislation that Parliament has passed that we have worked on together. The
Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Act 2018
, the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018 and the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 are meaningful pieces of legislation. We have worked in the past with this Government on sensible legislation and we will continue to do so. When it comes to tackling important issues such as FGM, family law, domestic abuse and consumer protection, we will have the same constructive attitude.
Last week, the First Minister said in
“we must keep focused on moving forward with our domestic agenda”.
Those are warm words, First Minister, but words and actions are two very different things. This year’s programme for government contains the highest number of bills carried forward from previous years. Over the past two years, a raft of bills have simply failed to materialise. In 2016, it was the air passenger duty bill. It makes another cameo appearance this year, but there is no commitment to see it through. We do not know when and how it will be delivered.
What about last year’s programme for government? We made it through only two bills out of 15. Where are bills on criminal responsibility, warm homes, tissue donation or the management of offenders? Those are important issues that are still stuck in the machinations of this Parliament. What about the flagship education bill? It is lying in tatters, shelved and criticised, not just politically but by the sector itself.
The entire machinery of the Parliament was halted for nearly a month while MSPs were forced to debate, scrutinise and pass legislation that was not even within the competence of this Parliament. It is no huge surprise that there is a backlog of legislation that we are supposed to get through in the next two years.
This programme for government is like every other from the First Minister—full of jargon, action plans with no action, working groups, strategies and even the announcement of another new public body. A host of new bills will be left to collect dust on the tables of civil servants. Key pledges will be announced and then ignored, such as tackling drug driving, or Derek Mackay’s £36 million digital growth fund, which has had just £2 million allocated to it. What about the £500 million growth scheme? Only 5 per cent of that sum has been invested.
Another of the Scottish Government’s flagship projects, R100, was supposed to be completed by 2021; it will now be the end of 2021, and today we learn that contracts might be awarded some time in the next year, leaving little time to reach Scotland’s hardest-to-connect properties. Every year, this Government produces glossy 100-page programmes, but it is the everyday issues that matter to people.
Just yesterday, I received an email from a constituent in Saltcoats who had queued for 45 minutes outside her GP surgery in the rain trying to get an appointment. That is not a one-off; that is systemic long-term mismanagement of our NHS workforce planning. It is a shambles and it is shameful.
The unfortunate reality is that no matter what the Government says today—no matter what the First Minister promises—that will not change. This Government will still let down people in Scotland today, tomorrow and in the days that follow. People will still be told that they need to wait 17 months to see a specialist consultant. Why? Because there are record vacancies for them. Farmers will still be offered loans instead of the funding that is due to them. Why? Because of a botched information technology project, which is still not working. Commuters will still be left stranded because their ferry has been cancelled. Why? Because there are no vessels available and the new ones are a year late. Young Scots will still be denied a place at the Scottish university of their choice. Why? Because fee-paying students are preferred and pursued by universities. People will still hear the engaged tone at the end of the line when they try just to get an appointment to see their GP. Why is that? Have a guess. Where in today’s jargon-filled promises of working groups and strategies is there any hint or clue as to how the Government will address those fundamental issues?
The problem is that we have heard it all before. The First Minister mentioned infrastructure projects such as the A9, the Queensferry crossing, the M8 and the AWPR, but those were policies that we already knew about. There was nothing new or radical and there were no ideas.
How on earth does the Scottish Government think that it will eliminate petrol and diesel cars by just introducing 1,500 charging ports to meet the needs of 6 million people? Will that really generate the modal shift that we need?
The big elephant in the room, which I want to touch on, is this: the First Minister announced £7 billion of additional spend. If I stood up in the chamber and announced billions of pounds of spend, the first thing that would be asked of me would be how I would pay for it. Would it be through more taxes, more borrowing or spending cuts elsewhere? I ask the First Minister which it is, because the public have the right to know. It is not coming from economic growth, because the only EU country with slower GDP growth than Scotland is Greece. The finance secretary should stand up tomorrow and enlighten us.
I congratulate the First Minister on this programme for government, not only for the 12 bills that it outlines and the new commitments that it contains, but because it builds on last year’s ambitious programme for government, which was one of the most radical anywhere in the world.
It is a great contrast with the Government in Westminster, which has been so consumed by Brexit bickering that it often appears to have entirely abandoned the business of domestic governance. As Paul Johnson, director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, observed yesterday:
“South of the border, the whole political class is fixated on dealing with the fallout from the Brexit referendum. It’s taking up all available attention.”
By contrast, this programme for government shows that the Scottish Government has a vision for the future. The UK Government’s vision often appears to stop at Dover. Of the 191 divisions that were held in the House of Commons in the year following the 2017 Queen’s speech, 80—or 42 per cent—were on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill alone.
We witness a tale of two Governments. The UK Government is crippled by internal division, while Scotland’s Government gets on with the job of improving the lives of our citizens. Some examples of that from the past year include £120 million for the pupil equity fund; Scotland becoming the first country in the world to implement minimum unit pricing for alcohol; a comprehensive plan to eradicate child poverty; the £1 billion deal with councils to double early learning and childcare hours; the world-leading Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018; a plan for a national investment bank backed by £2 billion; the historic Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018, which has dignity and respect at its heart; and the connection of 900,000 homes to fibre broadband. On the latter, Alasdair Allan eloquently illustrated the transformative effect of Scottish Government policies on his constituency when he talked about how broadband had changed the lives of people in just the past five years.
The Scottish Government has been busy. Those examples were from the past year alone, and this year’s programme keeps up the pace. I particularly welcome the focus in the 2018-19 programme for government on mental health in general, and the provision for children and young people in particular. The focus on prevention and early intervention is absolutely correct, and the £60 million for 350 school counsellors and 250 additional school nurses is most welcome, as is the announcement of 80 counsellors across further and higher education. On top of that, the five to 25 community wellbeing service means that every young person will have access to the counselling and advice that they need, wherever they live.
The programme’s other major focus is the economy and a commitment to invest in our infrastructure, which is an area in which the UK lags behind the G7, as the First Minister pointed out. The pledge to increase capital investment by £1.5 billion in 2025-26 is exactly the sort of transformational approach that is so absent in Westminster, which, let us not forget, still holds the majority of fiscal powers over Scotland and its economy.
Sadly, measures such as that are another example of the Scottish Government being forced to clean up Westminster’s mess. We know that a no-deal Brexit will wipe £12.7 billion a year from Scotland’s economy by 2030 and cost each man, woman and child £2,300 a year. That research comes not only from the Scottish Government; it reflects the UK Government’s figures and independent analysis. Investment in infrastructure is the single most effective way to tackle recession—Mr Swinney used it effectively during the last recession, after the banking collapse in 2008—and, with a Brexit recession looming, it is an essential intervention.
Tearing us out of the single market and the customs union against our will means that, more than ever, we need to support Scotland’s businesses in their exporting ambitions. This programme’s export growth plan will see £20 million invested in a range of measures, including support for 150 businesses to increase overseas activity. I welcome the Scottish Government’s paper on trade, which was published at the end of last week. It emphasised the urgent need for the Scottish Government and the Parliament to obtain an enhanced role in the development of future trade policy. We must be able to influence the preparation, negotiation, agreement, ratification and implementation of future trade deals if we are to protect our devolved public services, ensure the highest standards of environmental and consumer protection in Scotland and help our export businesses.
I welcome the news that the first of our new social security payments in Scotland will begin this month, earlier than planned, and that the first best start grant for low-income mothers and babies will be paid before Christmas. In some ways, that news is the greatest contrast in this tale of two Governments. Theresa May, the Prime Minister who promised on assuming office to help those who were just about managing, has consistently cut in-work benefits. In April this year, her Government cut £2.5 billion from 11 million families across the UK as a result of the cash freeze on working-age benefits, the two-child limit, the roll-out of universal credit and the cuts that include family support. Although it is true that the UK Government has been bogged down by Brexit, it has not allowed itself to be distracted from its absolute priority, which often seems to be punishing the poor.
The programme for government is both aspirational and compassionate.
“on the progress of last year”.
There is no doubt that it is more of the same: more cuts to our vital public services and more excuses for not using the full powers of this Parliament to implement real change.
Nowhere is the timidness of the Government clearer than in the measures for Scotland’s broken transport system.
We have a railway system in which fares are rising above wages, passengers stand on platforms not knowing whether their train will even stop and new trains are running late before they have even been built.
We have a bus network that is slowly being dismantled by the SNP, route by route. Passenger numbers continue to fall, but bus fares rise and rise—by 47 per cent over the past 10 years. The programme for government that was published today pledges “stability for bus services” on the very day when the Scottish Government published transport figures that show a 9.5 per cent decline in bus passengers in the past five years alone. It is not stability that we need for our buses, but real change to reverse the decline under this Government.
That will not be delivered by the timid Transport (Scotland) Bill that is before Parliament. It fails to recognise that public transport has become detached from public service and public ownership and it reinforces a broken system—where profits, not passengers, are put first—by proposing a franchising model that is cut and pasted from the UK Tory Government and that will not allow the public sector to bid for franchises.
Whenever I challenge the Scottish Government to back public ownership of our railways, it refuses.
Whenever I challenge the Scottish Government—including Mr Yousaf—to back public ownership of our railways, it refuses to back that plan. It says that it supports a public-sector bid for the ScotRail franchise and the First Minister repeated that pledge today in her statement. That would not be full public ownership, but it would be a start. Why do the First Minister and the Scottish Government, in the programme for government, say that public sector bids for franchises are good enough for our railways but not for our buses?
Why is the SNP so determined to let its big bus company-owning donors cherry pick the profitable bus services to run while leaving local councils to pick up the bill for loss-making services? That is a bill that they simply cannot afford.
That is another statement from an SNP politician who again refuses to back full public ownership. We should bring our rail and our track together under public ownership, not keep them apart.
In Edinburgh, we have the successful Lothian Buses model. Lothian Buses is the best bus operator in Scotland. Its levels of satisfaction are the highest in the industry, and that publicly owned company recently returned £5.5 million to the public purse. Why does a Government that sits in the same city not allow that successful model to happen anywhere else in Scotland?
It is often said that the SNP pretends to be left, but acts right. When it comes to transport, the programme for government shows that it does not even pretend.
When the Scottish Government brings forward the Transport (Scotland) Bill, Labour will set out our alternative for real change. We will lodge amendments to that bill to deliver radical reregulation of our buses and proper municipal ownership so that the public sector can run services and not be banned from doing so. Our amendments will also propose that, when bus companies propose changes in bus routes, proper consultation with passengers and agreement by transport agencies will be required.
Our reregulation proposals will put a stop to rip-off fares, end the postcode lottery that exists, particularly when it comes to concessionary travel for young people, and drive forward multi-operator ticketing. Imagine the boost in bus passenger numbers if free bus travel was extended to young people, for example, starting with modern apprentices.
Labour’s amendments will also halt the race to the bottom in the way that staff are treated by proposing measures to work towards a collective bargaining model that drives up—not down—bus workers’ terms and conditions. The Government will then be left with a very clear choice: to work with Labour to end the dismantling of lifeline bus routes or to drive through its timid Transport (Scotland) Bill, with the help of the Tories, and continue to preside over not stability on our bus network, but its continued decline.
It is not just about our transport system. I hope that the Government will work with Labour to strengthen proposals in the timid programme for government in the areas that I shadow. As someone who has campaigned for 10 years for more support for the south of Scotland economy, I welcome the long-overdue legislation to establish the south of Scotland enterprise agency. Ironically, that is a decade after the Scottish Government abolished local enterprise agencies in Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders. However, that legislation must ensure that the membership of the agency is rooted in the south of Scotland and that it has powers to deliver real change both in enterprise and skills with a budget to deliver that change. It must be backed with investment and a Borderlands growth deal in this year’s budget.
In her statement, the First Minister pledged to eradicate holiday hunger. The sad reality is that children throughout Scotland go to bed hungry at night all year round. I am disappointed to see no mention in the programme for government of a good food nation bill and a commitment to introduce a legally binding right to food.
Finally, I will touch briefly on animal welfare. The proposal to create an animal welfare commission is a helpful step, action to strengthen the licensing and regulation of animal sanctuaries and breeding is long overdue, and the adoption of Finn’s law is welcome, but I hope that the proposals will be backed with an increase in maximum sentences for animal cruelty to five years, as campaigned for by animal welfare charities such as Battersea Dogs’ and Cats’ Home. Where is the commitment to a proper ban on hunting? Where is the pledge to end live animal exports? As Richard Leonard said earlier, where is the real, radical vision in the programme for government? It is more of the same, and that is a real missed opportunity.
I very much welcome the programme for government that the First Minister has presented and will pick out areas of particular interest to me.
I commend the Scottish Government’s infrastructure strategy with regard to housing. Let us place it in context. The Government has built 76,500 affordable homes since 2007, more than 52,700 of which are council or housing association homes. The current target is, of course, 50,000 within this parliamentary session, with a minimum of 35,000 for social rent. That has been a step change with a huge and, critically, multiyear budgeted financial commitment by the Scottish Government of around £1.7 billion over a three-year period.
In that context, I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to increase the annual infrastructure budget by 1 per cent of GDP by 2025. That could mean an additional £1.5 billion each year and an extra £7 billion over the period to 2025. I know that there have been many calls for that expenditure. Alasdair Allan gave a powerful reason for broadband infrastructure in his constituency: to allow it to connect better. However, it is important to maintain the strong high-level and multiyear budgets for housing, too. In Glasgow, the current affordable housing and multiyear budgets have given significant confidence to the local authority; I also see the difference in how the housing associations in the area that I represent carry themselves and act.
There is huge infrastructure development in the communities that I represent. Work is under way or about to commence in Hamiltonhill, Milton, Ruchill, Cadder, Summerston, Possilpark, Springburn and Germiston—and there are probably others that I have missed out. My call is that we find a way of maintaining that momentum because of the level of need. However, it is very welcome that action is being taken and the new infrastructure investment is an opportunity to go even further than the good work that has already been done. I ask the Government to consider that.
It is fair to say that mental health has been a challenging brief for the Scottish Government, so I very much welcome the announcement about 350 school counsellors and 250 school nurses, so that every school can have a proper, robust counselling facility within it. There will be 80 additional counsellors for further and higher education. I also welcome the report by the task force on children and young people’s mental health that is chaired by Dr Denise Coia. Although the full report has not been published yet—it comes out in the autumn—the First Minister has decided to take action. That is to be welcomed.
As well as the counselling service, the Scottish Government has announced the development of a community mental well-being service for five to 24-year-olds, among a variety of other things. I set that investment beside the £750 million attainment Scotland fund over the lifetime of this Parliament, and in this year alone the £120 million pupil equity fund, that are to be spent tackling the poverty-related attainment gap. There is clearly a direct correlation between the mental health, the wellbeing and the nurturing of our young people and their educational attainment.
It is in that context that I mention that I work closely with Home-Start Glasgow North, which focuses more on pre-five-year-olds. I commend the Scottish Government for its work on pre-fives, whether that is the baby box, the recent announcement of additional mental health support for new mums, the work on family nurse partnerships, the significant step change in childcare or the early roll-out of the best start grant.
There are lots of good news stories to tell, but there is a feeling that it is the five-plus age group that is getting the key attainment support. I know, however, that our Government is about early intervention, and always has been—I mentioned some of the work in that regard. I know that Home-Start is thinking about how the pupil equity fund could be used imaginatively to support pre-fives before they even get into primary 1. When we look at the superb progress that we will make on mental health in secondary schools, at the PEF monies in primary and secondary schools and at some of the other early interventions that there have been, there is a real opportunity to consider widening out PEF to pre-schools—not necessarily to nurseries, but to organisations such as Home-Start, which could carry out key initiatives in that area.
In my remaining time, I welcome the family law bill and I thank Annabel Ewing, the previous Minister for Community Safety. I raised concerns about family contact centres: they are unregulated and there is no quality control of how they perform the service that they provide to mums and dads. Some do superb jobs, but it is my experience that some simply do not and their recommendations hold powerful sway over sheriffs and courts. The Government must look at that area as part of the family law bill.
I welcome Ash Denham to her role as the new Minister for Community Safety. I know that she has a high degree of knowledge and interest in that area and I look forward to working in partnership with her. Progress has to be made.
I have picked out three things from an exciting programme for government where I think that we can deliver for Scotland.
I declare an interest, with respect to my work in the waste sector.
Tackling climate change is, rightly, at the heart of the decision-making process that influences all areas of policy. We welcome the Scottish Government’s ambition, but we are concerned by the lack of progress in a number of key areas. My comments today should be taken in that light and as constructive criticism, to help us to build a sustainable future—a sustainable future that is at risk from the SNP Government’s lack of action.
On waste, the only thing that the SNP is on track to do is to miss its household recycling target. Why is the SNP Government content to let Wales lead the UK on such an important issue?
The SNP Government’s environmental transport policy is in disarray. Just 1 per cent of journeys are made by bike, which falls far short of the Government’s target of one in 10 journeys. Indeed, the reverse is happening; almost one in 10 cyclists has switched to driving a car. The SNP Government’s attempts to speed up electric-car adoption have also hit the brakes, the flagship loan scheme having had fewer than 100 applications a year since its inception. I welcome the additional investment in the area, but it must be transformational.
Targets are being missed in everything from woodland creation to air pollution and peatland restoration, and the SNP’s environmental record looks increasingly poor. We must be ambitious if we are to realise Scotland’s full potential, but all too often this SNP Government cynically sets targets with no real idea of how to meet them.
For example, on the SNP’s goal of phasing out new petrol and diesel vehicles, there is no clear delivery path, the uptake incentive is stuttering and motorists and businesses will be under unnecessary pressure to adapt.
What about the SNP’s ban on sending food waste to landfill by 2021? The proposed scenario is ridiculous. The SNP seems to have no idea what to do with food waste once the ban kicks in, and it is now saying that if the waste cannot be buried it must be burned. The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform confirmed that to me last week in a written response that was a far cry from her words last year, when she said that Scotland is
“pushing against historic approaches with innovative and creative solutions.”—[
, 6 September 2017; c 20.]
Is overseeing a 600 per cent increase in incineration capacity the sort of “innovative and creative” solution that the environment secretary had in mind?
Here is a better solution. Let us create an infrastructure map utilising the bioresource mapping that I initiated more than two years ago to derive maximum value from all our biowaste, via solutions that really are innovative, such as converting vegetable waste to a high-value component in paint manufacturing and utilising anaerobic digestion as a backstop processing option.
The more the SNP’s environmental strategy is scrutinised, the further it falls apart. The circular economy investment fund—an £18 million funding pot—has given out less than £400,000 so far. If it is not used by December next year, match funding will be lost.
I say all that not to hector, but to offer to stand ready, where the SNP Government falls short, to help to drive Scotland towards a sustainable future.
However, let us be under no illusion: Parliament can act without this SNP Government. In last year’s programme for government, we heard about the SNP’s commitment to energy efficiency, but just eight months later the warm words had evaporated. It was then down to us—the Scottish Conservatives, not the SNP—to lead Parliament in bringing forward by 10 years the energy efficiency target.
There is the potential to see Parliament act as one in, for example, embedding the circular economy across Government departments, committing significant infrastructure funding to energy efficiency, finding alternatives to incineration, establishing urban transportation hubs and providing every school with air monitors. The opportunities are there. We just need to seize them.
Before I close, I must turn to the subject of animal welfare. I welcome the Government’s intention to establish an animal welfare commission, and I look forward to seeing the detail on that. I believe, after having led the campaign to ban electric shock collars, that we need to ensure that the guidance is transferred into an actual ban. I hope that the commission will review that at its earliest opportunity. There is support in Parliament for taking action, both on strengthening animal welfare and on delivering for our environment. I urge the SNP not to ignore that support, but to harness it.
As the First Minister said in opening her statement, the context of the debate is Brexit. However, as she also said, although the programme for government will be impacted on by Brexit, it will not be defined by it.
Nonetheless, Brexit is already a drag on our economy and is already causing great uncertainty and is damaging our international reputation. It will also be a challenge to the legislative programme of this Parliament. We do not know precisely how many Brexit-related Westminster bills will be brought to us, and we are only now discovering how much secondary legislation there will be. It is perhaps sobering to think that the cut-off date for that secondary legislation—which is, regrettably, required in case of a no-deal outcome, and about which I will say more next week—and for the Scottish statutory instruments that are to be considered during the period, will be 25 January 2019, which is less than five months from today. We will all have to work hard to progress and pass that burden of secondary legislation. However, that should not blind us to the politics of the situation, which is very clear.
It was noticeable that Ruth Davidson did not mention Brexit. It was virtually a throwaway line, because the fault for the situation—[
.] Even though they laugh about it, the fault for this situation is the Tories’, and Brexit is now almost exclusively a Tory project. In essence, it is a Tory leadership contest of which we are the observers. According to the polls, Brexit does not have majority support in any party but the Tory Party. It is favoured only by the majority in the south of England and the midlands. In Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, London and even the north of England, there is now a majority against Brexit. The Scottish Tories should recognise that, but such is their slavish devotion to their Westminster party that they have abandoned every principle and position that they took on Brexit just two years ago. Perhaps that explains why the Tories spend so much time trying to force the SNP to give up on its principles: they have abandoned all theirs.
However, here is the reality of the Tory position: the fight within the Tory Party is damaging Scotland and the rest of the UK. More than two years on from the referendum on leaving the EU, and with only six months to go until the day on which the UK Government intends to leave it, the terms of withdrawal and of our future relationship are unknown. That is the Tories’ fault. As each day passes, more and more evidence demonstrates that leaving the EU will have a profound and damaging effect on our economic prosperity. That is also the Tories’ fault.
The best thing that we can do is to be absolutely clear about that and about what would serve our interests. First of all, we remain clear that Scotland’s interests—those of the Government that will delivering the programme for government and of the people of Scotland—would be best served by continued membership of the EU, in line with the overwhelming wishes of the people of Scotland.
However, we are also pragmatists, so in December 2016 we were the first Administration in the UK to set out in “Scotland’s Place in Europe” a detailed policy blueprint that would minimise the damage of withdrawal. We set out how, short of remaining in the EU, continued membership of the single market and the customs union is the best solution for Scotland and the UK as a whole. We are determined to maintain a Scotland that is fair, prosperous, open and tolerant. We will go on insisting that Scotland be treated properly in the process.
During the summer recess, we saw the UK Government’s no-deal technical notices, which presented an extraordinary picture of what Brexit could mean in practice for businesses and the people of Scotland. We have a duty to prepare for all possible scenarios, but we cannot disguise the outcomes of some of them.
The process of Brexit also has profound implications and threats for the Scottish Parliament. We have already seen those threats in recent events—the UK Government proceeded with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, despite this Parliament’s having refused it legislative consent. As enacted, it gives UK ministers the power to change the powers of the Scottish Parliament without our consent. During the bill’s passage, we heard that the Scottish Parliament was against that happening, but it still happened. In July in the Supreme Court, the UK Government mounted an argument, which would, were it to be a success, extend the reservation of international relations.
Therefore, the threats are clear and obvious. We face centralisation in Whitehall and Westminster, the extension of readings of reservation, claims that are based on the widest reading of international responsibilities and, of course, the defence of the so-called UK single market. The Scottish Government will protect the Scottish Parliament and the devolution settlement that the people of Scotland voted for in 1997 from such threats.
There is a need to continue to change devolution. No one will be surprised to hear me say that the best way forward would be independence, but there is a need to strengthen the current arrangements for the conduct of intergovernmental relations across the UK. Indeed, that has been recognised by the joint ministerial committee and the UK Government, although they are doing precious little about it. I will try to help them along a bit. The experience of Brexit has shown that there are strong arguments for extending the devolution settlement—not limiting it. In areas that are of acute concern for Scotland including immigration, protection of employment and other rights, and the development of future UK trade arrangements, there is a need for change, which we will argue for in this and future years.
Much has changed since 1974, but that has not been recognised by the Conservatives. We set out a comprehensive assessment of the constitutional implications of withdrawal in “Scotland’s Place in Europe”. We made proposals on, for example, the granting of legal personality to allow us to secure international arrangements. There is now an urgent need to return to serious consideration of the constitutional implications of Brexit and the powers that this Parliament needs to protect, and to advance the interests of the people of Scotland, whatever our eventual constitutional position.
This year’s programme for government is impacted on, but not defined by Brexit, but the work of the Scottish Parliament over the next year will undoubtedly feel the effect of the Tories’ Brexit—the Tories’ internal dispute—which is damaging all of us.
The debate on the Scottish Government’s programme for government will continue tomorrow. I remind members that, if they have spoken in the debate, they should be present in the chamber for the closing speeches on Thursday.