When we published our national performance framework in June, we set out a significant ambition for improving the wellbeing of the people of Scotland. Public services are central to that ambition and I welcome this opportunity to set out in some small measure how our programme for government will continue to work to meet those ambitions.
Our nation’s economic health and wellbeing depends on the health and wellbeing of each and every one of us. We are living longer lives, but we are not yet living healthier lives. That brings the inevitable consequence of increasing demands on our health and social care services.
Our national health service staff are the heart of our health service. Their dedication to caring for the people of Scotland is tremendous, and I want to put on record my thanks for the care that they deliver to all of us. E nsuring that we have the right number of staff with the right skills to meet changing demand is clearly a challenge. T here can surely be no doubt anywhere in this chamber that Brexit makes addressing that challenge harder. It makes it harder, but adds further impetus to our need to take action.
Our programme for government demonstrates our commitment, and our approach is clear. We are building on the work of recent years: hard, productive work that has driven innovation, such as the Scottish patient safety programme, now in its 10th year, which has led to reductions in sepsis and surgical mortality, both by more than a fifth; work that drives our integration of health and social care to bring the right care to people in the right setting and will see the delivery of Frank’s law by April next year.
That work values all our workforce, with all those earning under £80,000 seeing a pay increase of at least 9 per cent for agenda for change staff over the next 3 years, and a 3 per cent increase in salaried NHS doctor and dentist pay this year, and has delivered the new general practitioner contract in partnership with the British Medical Association, putting our GPs where they belong—as our local lead clinicians.
All that and a great deal more is delivered day in, day out by professional NHS Scotland staff—dedication that earns them the justifiable 83 per cent satisfaction rate in the most recent Scottish household survey. I know only too well that there is more that we need to do, but I also know that we tackle those areas where performance must improve from that strong foundation.
Mental health is critical to our wellbeing, but we know—as members across the chamber have said—that our configuration of mental health services and their accessibility needs to improve, especially for our children and young people. While we have asked Dame Denise Coia to look at where and how improvements should be made, we know that people who need that support should see action from us now.
That action should provide the right support at the right time and in the right setting, so our programme for government sets out a comprehensive package of investment and reform, with a quarter of a billion pounds of additional investment all designed to improve services, including more wellbeing support for women before and after birth; 350 more counsellors and 250 more nurses in our schools, giving us one counsellor in every secondary school; 80 counsellors in further and higher education; increasing support for teachers; enhancing community-based mental health and wellbeing services for five to 24-year-olds; and fast-tracking for people who need specialist services. That is a comprehensive package that rightly demands collaboration across Government and public services.
I am interested in the money that is going to provide counsellors in schools. Will those schools that already have counsellors lose their share of that potential funding, or will it support what they are already doing and allow them to use the current money for something else?
We would have that discussion with those schools. We certainly have no intention of taking away services and support, so we need to look at what more we can do in a school that has already made that provision. We will have that conversation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and education leaders.
Elsewhere, we will see a trauma centre opening before Christmas in Aberdeen, and from early next year work will begin on our expanded elective centre services, which are critical to maintaining sustainable improvement in waiting times. In a few weeks, I will set out in detail the additional work that we will undertake to focus improvement action and improve waiting times in a number of board areas and specialties.
We have spoken before of the significant benefit that the NHS has brought in enabling more and more of us to live longer. We are addressing the challenges, as described in the programme for government and elsewhere, but we must not lose sight of the need to ensure that young generations now and in the future not only live longer but live more healthily than we may have done. The programme for government focuses on the health of those generations, which means delivering on other fundamental issues such as diet and obesity, supported by an investment of £42 million to tackle type 2 diabetes.
The baby box, our work on the best start grant, the early delivery of that grant and our young carers grant all indicate our focus across Government on helping families, children and young people. I am delighted to say that we will continue to do the work that we need to do to consider the necessary improvements in terms of further income support.
This year is the 70th anniversary of our national health service, and we have rightly recognised and celebrated that achievement. However, our health service shows us that celebration does not mean complacency; it means inspiring more ambition and challenge. That is at the heart of our programme for government’s vision for public services—it is a programme for government for the whole of Scotland to flourish.
Over the summer recess, I met many of our outstanding nurses, doctors and other NHS workers to hear their views and ideas. As we start this new term, and as the cabinet secretary has just done, I again put on record my party’s gratitude for all that those staff do each and every day of the year to care for people across Scotland.
I welcome the cabinet secretary to her position. I am sure that she will have an in-tray the size of Arthur’s Seat, most of which probably consists of letters and questions from me, but I genuinely welcome her to her position and look forward to working with her in the role.
The Scottish National Party Government has been in power for 11 years and, as such, has been in complete and total control of our NHS. It is therefore legitimate for all of us to consider and assess the SNP record on Scotland’s NHS and how it compares to the performance that the SNP inherited in 2007, when it first came to office. Sadly, when we do so, we find far too many examples of things not only not improving, but actually worsening for patients across Scotland on this Government’s watch.
Accident and emergency waiting times have deteriorated, with fewer people being seen within the four-hour target. Indeed, the target has not been met since July 2017 and, last winter, performance dipped to a record low. On the 18-week referral to treatment target, the percentage of patients being seen within that timescale has declined and is regularly worse than when SNP ministers first put the policy in place in 2007.
Early cancer diagnosis and detection rates are falling and waits for key diagnostic services are lengthening. As has been reported in the papers during the summer recess, it is a national crisis that drug-related deaths have doubled since 2007, with 934 of our fellow Scots losing their lives last year because of drug abuse. On delayed discharge, which is supposedly a key priority for the Government—the First Minister has said repeatedly that her Government will get on top of it—the number of patients who are ready to leave hospital but who have to stay there through no fault of their own has increased significantly, adding to capacity pressures on already busy hospital wards.
I am sure that Mr Briggs will acknowledge that I have said repeatedly that I completely accept that there are areas for improvement. He will also acknowledge that he and I have discussed the importance of recognising the NHS’s successes as the foundations on which we build. Will he also recognise that, despite rising demand, nine out of 10 patients in A and E continue to be treated within the target, which is a target that NHS England has completely abandoned?
I always take the opportunity to praise our staff in the NHS and A and E. I have visited A and E units across Scotland and seen the pressure that they are under and how they are working to achieve the target. However, Audit Scotland confirmed last autumn that only one of the key NHS performance targets—which the SNP set for itself—was met in 2016-17. The former cabinet secretary made no great claims that they would be met this year.
This summer, we have seen many more examples of problems in our local health services that are a direct result of this Government’s abject failure to put in place a long-term NHS workforce plan. It should have been established years ago, and I welcome that the cabinet secretary said today that it is her real priority. Scotland’s GP crisis shows no sign of abating, as thousands of patients at Rosemount medical practice in Aberdeen know only too well, following this summer’s news that the practice will close next January. Meanwhile, the crisis in radiology services means that the NHS in Highland has lost its last interventionist radiologist and has to rely on locums or sending patients to Tayside and Grampian.
The workforce issue simply must be a priority for the new health secretary; we are happy to work so that it is the priority that it should have been 11 years ago. In my region, Lothian, the paediatric unit at St John’s hospital has remained closed, with hundreds of in-patient overnights sent to the Royal sick kids in Edinburgh. I am sorry to say that the mismanagement of our NHS workforce has become the hallmark of this SNP Government. For our dedicated NHS staff, it is becoming ever clearer that this SNP Government is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
On child mental health waiting times, we discovered on Tuesday that Scotland now has the poorest child and adolescent mental health services waiting times on record. I welcome the announcement on CAMHS funding, which Scottish Conservatives have been calling for for years. However, I am absolutely clear that this crisis in our mental health services, which affects young people and families across Scotland, is because they have been failed by the SNP Government, which has failed to put in place the resources that are needed.
We may have a new health secretary, but the evidence so far suggests that there are no new ideas to tackle the problems facing our NHS. More of the same simply cannot be good enough for Scotland’s patients and its under-pressure NHS. That is why the Scottish Conservatives will bring forward our proactive policies and I am happy to work with the minister if she is willing to take forward our ideas. Over the next year, the Scottish Conservatives will continue to scrutinise this Government as necessary, and to work for our health service. We will carry on working with NHS professionals and experts to develop the new policy ideas and fresh thinking that are required.
“It is our responsibility as a Government to ensure high-quality health services that are delivered as close to home as possible, with the right balance between hospital and community care. We must do more to improve health and tackle the grotesque inequalities that still scar our nation. We need a sharper focus on prevention and on supporting people to take greater responsibility for their own well-being.”—[
, 5 September 2007; c 1384.]
Those were the words of the new health secretary—now First Minister—Nicola Sturgeon in June 2007. After 11 long, tired and distracted years in office, this SNP Government seems further away than ever from achieving those outcomes. I hope that I am proven wrong and that this Government will work to improve our health service. However, it must focus on doing that and not on separation.
Thank you, Presiding Officer, for pushing me forward in the speakers’ list, to let me get away early.
Miles Briggs got one thing right: he will be proved wrong by the positive legacy that this SNP Government will leave for Scotland, when eventually there is another party in this Parliament that the people of Scotland consider to be fit to run the country.
It is a pleasure to be back at the Parliament and to take part in this year’s debate on the programme for government. This is a challenging time for Scotland as we continue to try to grow the economy, preserve and protect public services and ensure a fairer Scotland for all. We do that with austerity biting massive chunks out of our budget and Brexit causing ever more social and economic uncertainty. I was delighted when our First Minister rolled out such a positive, forward-facing and outward-looking programme for our Government and the people of Scotland. It is clear that this is a Government that is serious about building on our strong foundations to create a more equal, fair and progressive Scotland.
Over the past year, the Scottish Government has undertaken a number of steps to make Scotland a better place to live, work and grow up in. From the introduction of the new, fairer income tax system, which sees 70 per cent of people paying less tax now than last year—a policy and outcome so disliked by the Tories, of course—to the passing of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, we have achieved a lot in 12 months.
As a humble back bencher, I take this opportunity to voice my thanks to the members who recently left their roles as ministers for their tireless work in championing last year’s programme for government. I have had the good fortune to work for a minister and I know just how hard they work. I also wish the new cabinet secretaries and ministers good luck in their new portfolios.
One of the crucial areas in the programme for government is communities and local government. The SNP Government is increasing our commitment to tackle the food insecurity that many of our children across Scotland face. The additional £2 million of funding that is being made available will make a considerable difference to many families that have been left behind by Tory welfare cuts or the shameful benefits sanctions system that is an affront to all of us in a caring and compassionate country such as Scotland.
The other aspect that I wish to mention in that area is the plans to eradicate homelessness by building on the important work that has been undertaken by the homelessness and rough sleeping action group in partnership with the Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee. I should mention Bob Doris and the other members of the committee, who have done a fantastic job there. Again, we have a social disgrace that is exacerbated by an unfair UK-designed benefits system that, we should remember, gave us the bedroom tax.
Joint working with organisations such as the Glasgow Homelessness Network and others will show what partnership working between Government and the third sector can achieve. I welcome the additional £21 million of funding that is being made available for that approach.
Over the start of the current session of Parliament, I decided that it was time to be honest about my mental health. As politicians and as men, there is still a preconceived notion that we should be “strong”, but now I realise that, for me, being strong is being honest and saying when I am not okay. I hope that that will allow others to say when they are not okay. I have struggled with bouts of anxiety and depression for most of my life, and it is difficult for me to pinpoint when it really began. What I do know is that I have been profoundly lucky that, even within my role as an MSP, I have been able to meet and work with mental health organisations such as breathing space, which has given me a better understanding of my health and how I can deal with it, and how I can take that knowledge to others throughout my constituency and further afield if required.
However, I cannot help but wonder just how much better my mental health could have been over the course of my life, benefiting me and many others, if there had been early intervention when I was younger. I was therefore absolutely delighted when the First Minister put mental health improvement at the top of her agenda, taking on the challenge of tackling poor mental health from the cradle onwards with a £250 million investment and more support for perinatal and postnatal mental health for new mothers, which will include better and more accessible counselling and support services. Groups in my constituency such as the southside PANDAS will welcome that news with open arms and be delighted to work in partnership with the Government to ensure positive outcomes for both mothers and babies.
My office has been doing some research into adolescent mental health that has led us to become very aware of adverse childhood experiences. We are now aware that ACEs can not only harm a child mentally but, as many studies have shown, severely stunt their ability to learn. It is therefore of monumental importance that every member of this Parliament backs the Government’s ambitious plan to have a counselling service available for every high school in Scotland to identify, treat and provide each and every child across this country with a fair and equal start. I have no doubt that I would have benefited from that or that many people I knew when they were young would have benefited. We are, after all, only as strong as the future that we are creating.
I started my speech by noting how positive and ambitious the programme for government is. There are so many plans that I would love to touch on because they will have a profound and positive impact across my constituency. However, that is impossible in the allotted time, so I take the opportunity to urge members to work with the Government to achieve those targets. Sometimes we should put partisan politics aside for the benefit of the people of this country.
This Parliament is here to work for the people of Scotland and to invest its resources to benefit the people who live here. It is our job to improve people’s lives across the many constituencies. I look forward to working with our Government throughout 2018-19 for the people of the Cathcart constituency and the people of Scotland.
There was a time when programmes for government had some kind of story to bind them together into a narrative. Who can forget, for example, “the Saudi Arabia of the seas” or “the first hydro nation on the planet”? We might even once have been promised the “new Scottish enlightenment”. That was gratuitous and grandiose guff, of course, but it was more entertaining than this year’s interminable managerialist list of reheated, recycled and regurgitated announcements—a tired, timid and turgid programme from a Government that is bereft of vision, strategy or ambition for our country.
Let me welcome a couple of things, however. Incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is a welcome step. It is the right thing to do and it sends an important signal. It would have been good to have some legislative detail or a timescale, but it is absolutely the right thing for us to do.
Counselling in schools is great, too. It is a sensible early intervention approach, as Mr Dornan just eloquently and powerfully argued. England and Wales legislated separately for the right to counselling years ago. Labour has argued for the measure in our manifesto and in Parliament—not least at First Minister’s question time, four times. It is just a pity that it took the worst children’s mental health statistics that we have ever seen to prompt that welcome action.
Above all, let me welcome the great gaping hole at the heart of the programme, where the education bill was meant to be—the flagship, the sacred duty, the engine of the reforms on which the First Minister and her Government were to be judged. Unlike the Tories, I come here to bury the missing bill, not to praise it. It was always a wrongheaded and unwanted attempt to centralise control of our schools in the education secretary’s hands, and to undermine local democratic decision making about schools.
I am glad to see the bill go, but the Government has wasted two years on so-called reforms that would only have created more bureaucracy and would have done nothing to improve standards in our schools. After two years, it has convinced no one that the reforms are a good idea—except, perhaps, the Tories, which really should tell it something.
Parents, teachers, educationists and local councillors are all delighted to see the bill go. Alas, the evil that men and bills do lives after them. The Government has promised only to waste another year ploughing on with structural tinkering, which is not what our schools need.
Headteachers still fear being swamped by managing their schools rather than by learning. Schools already see a regional layer of bureaucracy demanding plans, strategies, time and staff from them. Pupils are still sitting national tests that teachers tell us are a waste of time in educational terms, and councils are still threatened with potentially losing the right to decide their own schools’ budgets. It is still “mince”, as Larry Flanagan of the Educational Institute of Scotland said at the Education and Skills Committee meeting yesterday.
The real hole at the heart of the programme for government is the lack of an initiative to address the substantive issues in our schools—the lack of teachers, support staff and resources. Where is the funding to restore at least some of the over 20 per cent erosion of teachers’ salaries? Where is the plan and the money to reverse the loss of additional support needs provision in every school in the land? How will the Government fill 800 teacher vacancies at the start of the school year, now that its social media adverts and new routes to teaching have failed to fill them?
Absent from the programme is any acceptance of the real problem, which is the fact that the SNP Government is spending, in real terms, £400 million less on schools now than it was in 2010. I repeat—£400 million less. The spending includes the pupil equity fund, which is supposed to be extra. Take that out, and we see that the Scottish Government has cut half a billion pounds a year from core spending on our children’s education.
That is the problem in our schools, but where is the response to it in the programme for government? Nowhere. Where is the policy to reverse the downward trend in the pass rate of the gold-standard higher? Nowhere. Where is the measure to reverse the 34 per cent drop in attainment in nationals 4 and 5, compared to standard grades? It is nowhere. Where is the guaranteed income that was promised in the student support review or the raising of the cap on university places, which frustrates so many Scottish would-be students? They are nowhere.
This week, we saw that since Nicola Sturgeon first declared education as her top priority, satisfaction with schools in Scotland has plummeted by 10 percentage points. There is nothing in the programme for government that will change that story of drift and decline.
It is always a pleasure to speak after Iain Gray, because he is always so cheery in what he says. He started off by saying that there is no theme to the programme for government. To be fair to the Labour Opposition, I note that there are two themes running through Labour. First, its seats in the chamber are empty and, secondly, when its members are in them they are hopeless, helpless and heading for oblivion. There is no lack of a theme over there.
I welcome the 12 bills and other measures that have been announced by the First Minister in the programme for government. I welcome in particular the focus on improving the economy and public services.
This afternoon, I want to address two areas that must be given priority. The first is child poverty. I have been in Parliament for 19 years and have lived through many speeches about child poverty. We can all agree on two things. We can agree first that the level of child poverty in Scotland is unacceptable and, secondly, we can agree that the rate at which child poverty is rising as a direct result of the UK Government benefit cuts is equally unacceptable. I fully recognise the huge financial pressures on the Scottish Government’s budget that are a result of the austerity budget that is being pursued in London. I also recognise that we cannot keep using our scarce resources to mitigate the ill effects on Scotland of UK Government policy.
However, at the end of the day, tackling child poverty has to be a top priority. Indeed, we cannot fully achieve our ambition to reduce health inequalities, reduce the education attainment gap or reduce inequality more generally, when Scotland has such a high level of child poverty. Tackling child poverty is a prerequisite to achieving those other laudable aims.
We also know from the research that the overall costs to the public purse of preventing child poverty are a lot lower over the piece than the costs of dealing with the dire consequences that result from child poverty. I wish that the UK Government would take that on board. I therefore urge the Scottish Government to do all that it can to introduce at an early stage proposals for reducing child poverty in Scotland, rather than waiting until next June for a progress report. That is a prerequisite to success in a wide policy area.
I will turn to the second area. I may have been in Parliament too long—some people would certainly say so—and I remember Henry McLeish, when he was First Minister, telling me when I was convener of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee how frustrated he was that he had allocated a substantial additional amount of money to deal with problems in literacy and numeracy, and had instructed that it be delivered in a certain way, only to find out many months later that his instructions had not been followed. One of my concerns is that the good work and policy intentions of the Scottish Government can sometimes be undermined by how policies are carried out by the Government’s own agencies at local level.
As an example, I highlight NHS Lanarkshire’s total mishandling of the proposal for a new hospital to be built to replace the existing Monklands hospital by the mid-2020s. The Government says that it will commit £0.5 billion, provided that the business case stacks up. However, I regret to say that NHS Lanarkshire’s handling of the situation has been dreadful: it has been totally unaccountable and has flown in the face of local opinion. The board has based its case on facts that are not facts at all—to say that it has been economical with the truth would be the understatement of the year.
The total lack of involvement of local patients in the scoring exercise to decide where the new hospital should be built is a democratic outrage. Only 16 patients took part in the exercise and, to date, NHS Lanarkshire has been unable to confirm whether even one of those patients lives in the Monklands catchment area, even though patients who live in the area will make up 75 per cent of the people who will use the new hospital. While only 16 patients were involved in the scoring exercise, 34 NHS Lanarkshire employees took part, four of whom were members of the project team that is supposed to provide independent advice to the board on the location of the new hospital.
NHS Lanarkshire says up front in its document that one of its key aims is to use the facilities of the new hospital to reduce health inequalities, but it has made a recommendation on the new hospital’s location without having in any way undertaken an equalities impact assessment of the location. Local people regard the decision as a total stitch-up. The level of incompetence is beyond belief.
A few years ago, we had to fight Lanarkshire NHS board on shutting our accident and emergency provision. Now we have to fight it over its promise that the new hospital would be in the Monklands area. This is not a nimby argument; it is a rational argument. Such big decisions must be made based on reliable evidence, but nothing that NHS Lanarkshire has produced so far inspires any confidence whatever.
The Government needs to ensure that its intentions, strategy and policies are carried out and that the new hospital is located in a place where the evidence takes us and not in a place to which vested interests are trying to railroad us. The Government’s policy here is bang on—it is absolutely the right thing to do—but all that could be wasted because of a body not doing what it is supposed to do.
I am not saying that NHS Lanarkshire is the only example, nor am I saying that such situations are a universal truth in the public sector. However, where it is happening, particularly in relation to strategically important projects, I urge the Government to look at projects very carefully. The Government needs to ensure that, at the end of the day, the right decisions based on evidence are made not just on the location of the hospital but on all other aspects of the hospital development. That would be a tremendous service, yet again, by the SNP Scottish Government to the people of Monklands.
This time last year, when the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills told us very forcefully that the new education bill was an essential component of raising standards in schools, unlike Mr Gray I chose to believe them. A year on, with the bill having been ditched, the problem is not the SNP’s ability to recognise what factors need to change—so stark is the evidence in that regard—but its complete failure to put into practice the policy decisions that are necessary to remove the barriers that prevent Scottish schools from moving back up the international league tables.
The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills should not be surprised by that, because the warning signals were contained in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s report of three years ago, which said that, despite many good things happening in our schools, Scotland is not fulfilling its potential.
Let us stand back a bit and see the situation through the eyes of parents and young people. What do they want from our schools? They want three things. They want good and sufficient teachers in our schools, they want good progress in basic literacy and numeracy, and they want more opportunities for their families—whether that means better subject choice, better quality vocational training or greater diversity in extracurricular activity.
What have they got? We know that total teacher numbers are down by 3,500 since 2007 and that permanent vacancies are rising. In the past couple of weeks, we have all read the reports in newspapers across the country about local vacancy situations at the start of the new term.
Current trends are what matter most. For example, in modern languages there were 1,662 teachers in 2008, but only 1,335 in 2017. In French and German, the reductions in teacher numbers were 30 per cent and 45 per cent respectively. It is, perhaps, little wonder that fewer and fewer pupils are taking those two subjects. Indeed, in broad general education, out of 269 secondary schools, only 161 are carrying out the full 1+2 policy, and a large number of schools are not even stating what their modern languages policy is.
However, John Swinney—or perhaps it was his civil servant—told me in a recent parliamentary answer that more pupils than ever are studying modern languages. I can assume only that the cabinet secretary was counting short taster courses in primary schools, because if we speak to our modern languages teachers, they tell us that they are in serious trouble in secondary education.
The lack of teaching and support staff is real, and there are the additional worries that a growing number of teachers are leaving the profession early, and that many families are being disadvantaged by an absence of teachers.
In this year’s Scottish Qualifications Authority results—with the exception of the advanced higher, which was good—how worrying was it to read SQA markers’ comments about “disappointing basic numeracy” in key exams? That is embarrassing and is further evidence of the fundamental failings in the delivery of curriculum for excellence and its accompanying qualifications. It is crystal clear to everyone that we are not making nearly enough progress in literacy and numeracy, or in testing those skills, and that by taking Scotland out of key international measurements of literacy and numeracy, the SNP is itself failing.
It is not just basic literacy and basic numeracy that are worrying families; the narrowing of subject choices in many schools is also an increasing worry. We have seen Jim Scott’s evidence on that. I know that the cabinet secretary will come back and say that level 6 qualifications show an improvement, but the cabinet secretary should look at when that growth actually occurred, because it was before the new qualifications were implemented.
Some subjects—I am back to modern languages again—have suffered badly as a result of narrowing of subject choices. The cabinet secretary should also look at the drop in the number of level 5 qualifications. Despite the fact that there are lots more vocational qualifications, the level 5 qualifications have a knock-on effect on highers and advanced highers.
We should not forget that this is happening at the same time as there is deep-seated concern among parents that many of them cannot get their children into Scottish university courses because of the iniquities of the SNP’s capped-places policy. It is no use telling those students that a record number of Scotland-domiciled students are at university, or that more are coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Both those things are true, but the fact remains that students cannot get in despite being well qualified, having worked their socks off to get good grades. They cannot get on to courses that have places available because of the capping policy.
This time last year, we were told by Nicola Sturgeon and by John Swinney that the education reform bill was the biggest opportunity that we had to change schools for the better—I believed that, and I still believe it—especially when it came to addressing the attainment gap. I had substantial differences of opinion with John Swinney about what should be in the bill, as did many councillors of all political persuasions, but we were willing to work with him.
After numerous statements in the chamber, in committee and in the media that the bill was an essential component of reform, it disappeared, and we have been told, after all the hype, that the bill actually was not necessary—although John Swinney says that the bill will be kept ready until it does become necessary. That is not a credible state of affairs when it comes to the SNP’s stewardship of education.
I am convinced that Scotland can lead the world again when it comes to schools, but it will not unless there is a major shift in culture in order properly to free up our headteachers to get on with the job of deciding what is best in their schools. It is not all about money and resources, although they are important. It is also about the decision-making process and where lines of responsibility and accountability lie. What this summer has shown is that parents want more teachers, more progress on basic literacy and numeracy, and more choices for pupils to take different subjects. Under the current Government, they are not getting any of that.
When this Parliament meets for a programme for government statement or an annual budget statement, we are often starkly reminded of the differences between choices made here in Holyrood and those made 400 miles down the road at Westminster. For me, nothing quite signals the difference in values between this SNP Scottish Government and the Tory Government in London better than the announcement that the First Minister made on the settled status of European Union citizens working in our public services.
One thing that we can all agree on across this Parliament is the immense contribution to our communities, economy and public services that EU citizens make every day. In my view, it is utterly unacceptable that such people may face Home Office fees in order to secure their settled status when we crash out of the EU in March next year, following a referendum that they were excluded from. Simply put, our national health service would cease to function as normal if we were suddenly to lose such an important cohort of people. The same is true of the countless other public services that EU citizens help to ensure are delivered day in, day out.
More important, covering the costs of any settled status fees for EU citizens working in our devolved public services sends out a clear message that, despite the rhetoric that has consumed the debate at Westminster, EU citizens are welcome here in Scotland.
This is their home, as it is for all of us, and we value their contribution.
In a similar comparison, the early delivery of the best start grant will help to deliver the Scottish National Party Government’s vision of making Scotland the best possible place in which to grow up. The grant, which is given to parents at a crucial stage of a young child’s life, will support families and help to ensure that everyone gets a fair start in life, no matter their background. There will be no cap on that grant, and the dreadful rape clause will not apply. There is a difference between what happens here and what happens at Westminster.
I represent a constituency with a large rural area and population, and some parts of the remote and rural communities that I represent still do not have the benefit of being connected to reliable broadband services with decent speeds. The announcement that the reaching 100 per cent programme contract will be awarded this coming year is good news for those communities. It means that we can now focus on the remaining percentage of premises that are not yet connected to fast broadband. Reaching 100 per cent of premises across the country with faster broadband, I am proud to say, is the most ambitious policy of its kind anywhere in the United Kingdom. Again, that shows a clear difference in approach between what happens here in Scotland and what happens at Westminster.
I turn to the most important announcement that the First Minister made in her statement on the programme for government, which relates to mental health. Recently, contact with my constituents about access to mental health services—particularly CAMHS—has increased. I have had meetings and discussions with officials from NHS Forth Valley on their proposals to improve services to my constituents. To its credit, the board has attempted to increase the number of appropriately qualified specialists and redesigned its mental health services in an attempt to drive forward change. That said, as all members should acknowledge, the increasing demand for mental health services as a result, in part, of the removal of stigma makes it all the more difficult for the board to deliver the level of service that it is determined to achieve.
That is why I was delighted that the programme for government contained the significant announcement of an additional £250 million for mental health. I am pleased that much of that new resource will be aimed at taking a more preventative approach and ensuring earlier intervention on a person’s care journey. I strongly support the Government’s proposals to provide 350 counsellors and 250 additional school nurses, thereby ensuring that every secondary school has a counselling service, and an additional 80 counsellors working across further and higher education. However, most important by far are the plans to fast track young people with the most serious mental illnesses to specialist services.
The volume of negativity coming from some Opposition politicians over the past few days has been disappointing, to put it mildly. We have heard bewildering chuntering and—I say to Iain Gray—some performances of which Private Frazer would be hugely proud. The Tory economy spokesperson took to Twitter to decry the Scottish Government for having run out of ideas on the economy in response to news that Scotland had outperformed the rest of the UK on growth—you could not make it up. That is without mentioning the package that was announced in the programme for government that will stimulate Scotland’s economy and ensure that it reflects the outward-looking nation that we are proud to be.
Following eight years of austerity that have been imposed on Scotland by a Tory Government for which we did not vote, the programme for government builds on the progress that we have made as a country and reaffirms Scotland as an outward-looking and confident nation.
The programme for government includes some welcome announcements—for example, additional funding for rape crisis centres and to tackle holiday hunger. Access to school-based counselling in all secondary schools, as other members have said, is also very welcome. Scottish Labour has campaigned for all those measures, as have others, and I take that as a positive sign that the Government is prepared to adopt good policies, regardless of where they come from.
However, on local government and our communities, I am disappointed that the Government’s programme is light on new content. That is all the more striking because, on the day when the programme was published, the Scottish household survey revealed that public satisfaction in public services had plummeted to the lowest level in 10 years. We cannot escape the fact that SNP Government cuts to the tune of £1.5 billion in the past seven years are making it impossible for councils to deliver the full range of public services that our communities need. Communities are watching important public services, from libraries to public toilets, disappear.
Earlier today, I met Shelter Scotland to discuss Scotland’s housing crisis. More than 137,000 people are on council waiting lists and Shelter highlighted to me that families spend on average more than six months in temporary accommodation. It told me that there is a growing crisis in Scotland and that councils are underresourced and under increasing pressure to respond.
That made me think about what the situation must be doing to staff morale—to the council workers who came into public service to make a positive difference to the lives of others. They are under increasing pressure to do more with less. A Unison survey found that half the people in the workforce are thinking about leaving their posts for less stressful jobs.
Monica Lennon is fairly addressing the housing challenge that we face, but would she welcome the multiyear commitment of £1.8 billion to housing and a commitment that is on track to deliver 50,000 new affordable homes? If that is not the right direction of travel, what is her suggestion?
I welcome the cabinet secretary’s intervention. The discussion that I had today with Shelter Scotland reflected some of the good commitments and the work that is in progress. However, I have to say to the cabinet secretary that what is important is the pace of that change and the longer-term commitment. I would not want colleagues to knock Shelter Scotland. I think that we can have a conversation after today’s debate. [
.] The Deputy First Minister is making a comment. I am happy to take an intervention from him.
I think that I will just make some progress. I will let the Deputy First Minister intervene later, if he wants to.
The programme for government should have been brimming with new and radical action to reinvigorate local economies and local public services. However, it is lacklustre and I, like many of us, believe that our communities deserve better.
There is a frustration around the fact that the Scottish Government says that it is focused on growth. To that end, it makes no sense to short change local government, because well-resourced public services strengthen communities and are ultimately good for the economy.
Having spent my early working life in local government, I know that, with the right resources, powers and people, councils can deliver transformative change in partnership with communities.
Given everything that Monica Lennon has said, how would she explain the fact that East Ayrshire Council, the local authority in my constituency, has successfully built more social homes in the recent period than previously, has what I believe is the highest record in Scotland for community involvement and asset transfer and has more PAMIS toilets, which we want across all authorities? That is an SNP-led council that is managing, despite the financial pressures that it faces in common with this Government, to deliver services for local people and to continue to be successful. Is it, as I believe, an exemplar, or is it unique? Is it simply a well-run, well-managed local authority?
I am impressed by the amazing work that I have seen in all local authorities—I think that they are all doing their best with limited resources. On the point that the cabinet secretary makes, it is important to celebrate such best practice when we find it. However, we have to listen to COSLA, which speaks with one voice and talks about the extreme funding pressures that all local authorities face. All too often in this depressing austerity era, councils struggle to prevent and mitigate local economic shocks, to plan for the needs of an ageing population and to prepare for the challenges around Brexit and beyond.
At the start of my remarks, I gave the Government credit for taking on policy ideas from other parties and people outside Parliament. However, the tourist tax idea did not benefit from such good will. It beggars belief that SNP ministers continue to deny councils the powers to raise much-needed revenues in that way, especially when there is consensus across local government and COSLA has made an excellent case.
Scottish Labour champions the tourist tax because we believe that it is a win-win for visitors and communities. I therefore appeal to ministers to stop standing in the way of councils that want to do what is right for their communities.
Cash-strapped local authorities are facing real dilemmas now. I am glad that the cabinet secretary mentioned the importance of PAMIS toilets but, this week, Disability Equality Scotland spoke out about the dwindling number of public toilets and the negative impacts of that on disabled people and other groups.
The squeeze on public services, whether it comes from Westminster or Holyrood, is forcing more and more people into poverty. I hope that we would all agree that the Labour administration in North Lanarkshire Council is doing brilliant work to poverty-proof our schools. Club 365, a scheme to tackle holiday hunger, is a shining example of the difference that councils can make.
I was exceptionally proud of North Ayrshire Council when it became the first local authority in the UK to offer period products in all its public buildings. I congratulate Councillor Joe Cullinane and his officials on the speed at which they are rolling that out. I am also grateful to the Scottish Government for its commitment to end period poverty. There is more work that we can do together on that.
I believe that all councils want to do more for their communities. Scottish Labour is extremely disappointed that the programme for government puts limits on their ambitions.
The Scottish Government said in its programme for government document:
“The success and the wellbeing of our communities, is rooted in the strength of our relationship and partnerships with local government”.
We appreciate that sentiment, but there must be a genuine commitment from the Scottish Government that is backed up by action, because it is only by providing high-quality public services that can be readily accessed by the many and not just a privileged few that our communities and economy will truly begin to thrive and flourish.
I am pleased to take part in this debate on the exciting programme for government that the First Minister announced on Tuesday. I want to focus on two areas: the further measures that were announced to tackle the attainment gap and the measures to support children and young people’s mental health.
The work that the Government has undertaken to address the attainment gap through pupil equity fund moneys, which really help schools across my constituency, is already showing results. I am pleased that there will now be even earlier intervention to tackle the issue.
The announcement that the best start grant will be introduced before the end of the year is very welcome. It will give children from families who are struggling a better start in life. With families already benefiting from the baby box, the Scottish Government is focused on giving every child born in Scotland the best start possible. A key point in relation to the best start grant is that the policy is that there is no limit to the number of children that mothers can have to qualify for that support. That is unlike the Tories’ two-child policy, which brought with it the unforgivable rape clause.
Let us fast forward a few years to children preparing to start school. A big worry for parents is the cost of school uniforms. The finance secretary recently announced that the Scottish Government will make additional funding available to councils to pay a minimum of £100 to parents who qualify through the school uniform grant. That is a fantastic measure that will support those who need it most to ensure that their children are ready to start their education.
Unfortunately, that is not always enough. Just as the use of food banks is becoming more common as a result of right-wing Tory policies, so too is the use of uniform banks. I pay tribute to Julie O’Byrne and her team at cool school uniforms in Coatbridge, which is in my constituency. They have just finished their busiest time since they started out just over a year ago, and they have helped hundreds of families to prepare children and young people who are starting or returning to school.
On the topic of attainment, I want to mention the fantastic club 365 initiative, which Monica Lennon also mentioned. It ensures that all children and young people in North Lanarkshire receive a nutritious meal every single day. That amazing initiative was, of course, piloted in Coatbridge. Monica Lennon failed to mention that it was Labour and SNP support in North Lanarkshire that saw it through—I suppose that it is unsurprising that the Tories tried to block it. It was largely funded by the Scottish Government. I look forward to seeing more feedback on that project and seeing it rolled out further.
Food poverty is a big issue in my constituency. I highlight the fact that Coatbridge food bank is totally out of supplies; if anyone can help, they should please do so. Presiding Officer, you will forgive me for saying that I was surprised at the weekend to see Conservative Party canvassers in Coatbridge who had ironically—and probably obliviously—positioned themselves metres from that food bank, which has run out of supplies.
I want to talk about mental health and young people. It is hard to ignore the fact that mental health—particularly the mental health of young people—is one of the biggest challenges that we currently face as a society. Some, such as the Scottish Youth Parliament, even refer to mental ill health as this generation’s epidemic.
In light of that, I held a children and young people’s mental health event for Coatbridge and Chryston just last month at which I brought together local and national charities and organisations as well as young people from schools and members of the Scottish Youth Parliament. The event provided them with an opportunity to discuss what they felt the challenges were in addressing young people’s mental health. I am pleased to say that I have had some really good feedback from that event. There were interesting and lengthy conversations to be had, and it was good to see that taking place non-politically in a very mature and constructive environment.
Overall, it was widely agreed that CAMHS should be a last resort—not the first port of call—for those in immediate need of treatment and that the issue should be tackled through a more efficient buffering system in place between schools, general practitioner services, CAMHS and the third sector to ensure that, wherever possible, mental health problems are identified at the earliest opportunity and the most appropriate action is taken.
Tools such as healthy coping mechanisms, mindfulness, making use of exercise and access to counselling services and cognitive behavioural therapy are not the answer to all mental health issues, but they would certainly provide support and early intervention to those in need of care.
We need to ensure equality of opportunity. At the event, it was mentioned that young people aged 16 to 18 are unable to access CAHMS unless they are in education. It should be recognised that the cause of school dropouts at a young age could be adverse childhood experiences, trauma and other experiences that have the potential to cause mental health problems. The gap in provision concerns me and clearly needs to be addressed. Although such young people are able to access adult mental health services, we should consider whether it is appropriate for them to be referred to adult services simply because they have been, for whatever reason, unable to remain in education. For those who are referred to CAMHS only to be referred on, that rejection has the potential to adversely affect mental health further.
I was pleased when the issue was raised today with the First Minister, who confirmed that the expanded community mental wellbeing services will be designed to include age-appropriate services for young people, who will be able to access the healthcare that they need when they need it regardless of whether they are in education. I welcome that approach—in addition to having a counsellor in every school, which has been widely talked about today—and consider that community provision is the best way forward, along with a commitment to resources, staff and budgets.
As Gillian Martin tweeted the other day, the approach shows that this Scottish Government is a listening Government. Mental health is an area in which I and many other MSPs, including Gillian Martin and Clare Haughey, who is now the Minister for Mental Health, have campaigned. I am making the point to other parties that there are a lot more ways to effect positive change than just constantly undermining and badmouthing Government decisions for the sake of headlines in newspapers that can be held up here in the chamber.
There are too many things in the programme for government for me to mention, but I particularly welcome the announcement that the principles of the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child will be incorporated into Scots law, as well as the further measures to support care-experienced young people, including access to affordable credit.
I am looking forward to this new parliamentary year and supporting the proposals to become a reality.
I am delighted to be able to contribute to this very important debate on the SNP Government’s agenda for the next year, although I am less excited by the content of that agenda because, frankly, the programme for government does little to get the juices flowing. It is full of glossy pictures and nice graphics and it is replete with general principles that many would be hard pressed to disagree with, but when it comes to the detail, regrettably, it is very uninspiring.
As Ruth Davidson said on Tuesday, we are now halfway through this parliamentary session, yet we have a programme for government that lacks ambition, avoids difficult subjects and backtracks on old promises. It is also noteworthy how commentators across the political spectrum have likewise been disappointed with the programme in the days following its launch. It is striking that no one is prepared any longer to give the SNP the benefit of the doubt. Why should they? The SNP has been in government for more than a decade, yet the programme for government reveals just how tired its administration of Scotland has become.
I cannot be alone in feeling that the programme for government is a missed opportunity. It was a perfect chance for the First Minister to reboot her Government, to set the agenda and to announce bold and dynamic measures that would benefit the people of Scotland. As we approach the date when the UK is leaving the EU, it was an opportunity for the First Minister to set out her stall and to describe her vision for what a post-Brexit Scotland should look like and what her political priorities would be.
Hang on a second.
We all acknowledge that this is a time of political volatility and disruption, but that is precisely why creative thinking and bold policy choices should be undertaken.
We want to achieve a deal that works for Scotland and Britain. [
Let us return to the topic at hand. [
.] I am not surprised that the SNP does not want to talk about its own programme for government, because it is little more than a mix of rehashed or reannounced policies from the past.
There are elements that we welcome, some of which were Scottish Conservative ideas or campaigns originally. Take the south of Scotland enterprise agency, which my colleague Oliver Mundell has been agitating for, or Finn’s law, which my colleague Liam Kerr has been battling for. Other colleagues have welcomed various bills that we support. However, in the time that I have left, I want to focus on what I think is one of the biggest omissions, which is the lack of a clear and ambitious plan for Scotland’s rural communities. I refer to my crofting, farming and forestry interests in my entry in the register of members’ interests.
With Brexit only months away, the SNP Government had a perfect opportunity to provide Scotland’s farmers and crofters with certainty over what kind of tailored system Scotland would have in place, not just in terms of subsidy support but in terms of a wider programme of specific policy.
Instead we have the offer of a rural economy action plan and a commitment to work on a crofting bill, both of which contain very little detail. In a programme of nearly 120 pages, the few pages dedicated to the rural economy reveal how far down the list of SNP priorities our rural communities lie.
By comparison, members will be aware that today the UK Government has announced the creation of a new pilot scheme that will provide 2,500 seasonal migrant worker visas to non-European Economic Area workers to support soft fruit and vegetable farmers. NFU Scotland described that this morning as
“a step in the right direction”.
What a stark contrast with the failure of the Scottish Government to effect real and material change for Scotland’s agricultural community.
In last year’s programme for government, the SNP promised to
“put the CAP payment system on a secure footing and complete full digitisation of the application process for payments”.
This year’s programme for government is silent on that. Instead, we know from a recent freedom of information request that there are still 340 businesses waiting for their payment for 2017, and even one business in the north-east still waiting for its 2016 payment. Although I am not entirely surprised that the Government chose to omit a similar commitment in this year’s programme for government, it yet again highlights the SNP Government’s inability to get to grips with this long-running saga.
Similarly, Scotland’s fishing communities will be less than impressed with the five paragraphs afforded to them in the programme for government, none of which mentioned post-Brexit policy. Instead, the SNP Government intends to bring forward another consultation paper—another consultation document, and absolutely no concrete action, notwithstanding the fact that it is over two years since the UK voted to leave the EU.
So there you have it—a programme for government that is devoid of creative thinking, a programme for government that retreads old policies and a programme for government that delivers no certainty or peace of mind for farmers and crofters. All of that is from an SNP Government that is quite simply letting down Scotland’s rural communities.
The First Minister blames Brexit for what is essentially a timid and shallow programme for government, but the reality is that the SNP Government is a busted flush, and the people of Scotland deserve better.
I start with a confession. Perhaps because of the long summer recess, I decided not to prepare any extensive speaking notes, because I was expecting this afternoon to hear a raft of ideas and initiatives and policies from the Opposition parties, which would present an opportunity for engagement and dynamic debate. Alas, all we have heard is the tired dirge and plaintive cries of “SNP bad”.
What has been missing so far in the debate is a modicum of context. We live in extraordinary times. We have a situation where the director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the United States is describing the US President’s actions as “treacherous”. We have an expansive and growing China seeking to establish a new authoritarian world order. In Italy, we have the upper house of the Parliament taking away compulsory vaccinations for children. In the UK, we have seen a Conservative Party engulfed over the summer, attempting to define what it means by Brexit, to the extent that the deputy leader of the party has taken to social media to beg SNP MPs to block Mr Johnson and Mr Rees-Mogg. Meanwhile, the Labour Party has spent the summer trying to work out what the definition of antisemitism is.
Given the turmoil in both those parties, the use of expressions such as “tired” or “managerial” is a bit of a compliment, because what it means in practice is that we have a mature, serious, grown-up Government that is focused on delivering for the people of Scotland instead of internal squabbling.
We are debating a substantive, impressive and important programme for government. I start by congratulating the Government on its commitment to expand its investment in infrastructure. The fact that investment in infrastructure will be £1.5 billion per annum higher by 2025-26 is a substantial achievement. Such investment is necessary.
We have come a long way in the past 11 years. When the SNP Government was first elected, the M8, the M80 and the M74 were not complete and there was no Queensferry crossing, no Aberdeen western peripheral route and no Queen Elizabeth university hospital. There has been substantive investment across a range of areas.
My colleague Alasdair Allan spoke about the transformation in digital connectivity that has taken place over recent years in his constituency. Across Scotland, 95 per cent of homes and business premises are connected. That is an outstanding achievement, and I am delighted that the contracts for the reaching 100 per cent—R100—programme are to be awarded imminently.
There is far more infrastructure investment that I could mention. More than 750 schools have been refurbished, 76,500 affordable homes have been built, a commitment has been made to supply 750 new, extended or refurbished nurseries and a roll-out of electrification is under way on Scotland’s roads and highways.
There are many other aspects of the programme for government that I would like to talk about, but I am limited by time, so I will pick out just one or two. Something that has not been spoken about in any great detail in the debate is the commitment to have an older people’s framework by March 2019, which will seek to maximise the contribution that our older people make across Scotland. In my constituency of Renfrewshire South, I recently met ROAR—reaching older adults in Renfrewshire—which does incredible work with older people in the community, including improving digital literacy and tackling loneliness and isolation. I look forward to the roll-out of the older people’s framework and to finding out how it will support my constituents.
I also want to welcome the commencement of the carers allowance supplement. In this job, with the sparring and the back and forth of political debate, it can be easy to forget that the decisions that we take in Parliament have a significant impact on our constituents. On Monday morning, I returned to my constituency office after a meeting to find that my staff were elated. A gentleman had come to my constituency office to see me. He had been disappointed to find that I was not in, but he wanted to relay a message. The previous week, he had read in the Johnstone
Gazette a press release that I had put out to announce the commencement of the carers allowance supplement. He had been unaware of that, and he was ecstatic to learn of it, as it will make a significant impact on his life. Of course, for now, I am quite happy to let him believe that I was personally responsible for that. It is an example of the difference that policies that are adopted and decisions that are made by the Scottish Parliament can make.
My final point relates to an issue that my colleague Bruce Crawford picked up on—the commitments to cover settled status fees and to legislate to ensure that EU citizens retain the right to vote. I think that those commitments speak to who we are as a nation and to our values as a country. I condemn any politician of any party who would suggest that that is some cynical ploy to distract from other issues. What a miserable attitude to take.
I welcome the programme for government and I look forward to supporting the legislative programme as it advances through Parliament in the coming year.
This debate on the Scottish Government’s programme for government and public services comes at a time when many local public services are struggling under the continued austerity of a Tory Westminster Government. I acknowledge at the outset that it is a bit rich for the Scottish Tories to keep demanding that more money should be spent on public services while supporting continued austerity and proposing tax cuts for the richest in our society.
However, this programme also comes at a time when the Scottish Government has control of a budget of more than £40 billion and is failing to stand up for and protect vital public services. The fact is that the Scottish Government controls and funds most of Scotland’s public services. Politicians can make claims and counterclaims and blame each other, but when it comes to public services the general public of Scotland do not need to listen to politicians; they can see for themselves daily the impact that cuts are having on local services.
Why, then, is the SNP in such denial about the state of public services in Scotland? Yesterday, I read a quote from the Deputy First Minster, who said:
“We are determined to do more to ensure that our public services deliver for communities and major reforms are under way to improve systems and tackle inequalities.”
Is it not incredible that after 11 years of being in government and in charge of our public services, the SNP seems to think that the problems are with systems? It is not systems or structures that are causing the problems in local services; it is the fact that £1.5 billion has been taken out of local budgets over the past eight years.
The SNP says that it wants to empower people and put more power into the hands of the people. I see that as code for more cuts and fewer services—a kind of do-it-yourself approach to public services under the guise of community empowerment.
Let me take one example from the programme for government, which says that it will
“invest up to £4 million” across all of Scotland
“to ensure headteachers have the skills, support and expertise they need to be the key decision-makers in the life of their schools”.
Never mind the whole of Scotland, if we look at just one authority, Fife, and just one service, education, we see that more than £4 million is being taken out the Fife education budget in this year alone. Fife’s secondary schools are taking a hit of more than £2 million over two years. The SNP says in the programme for government that it wants to empower headteachers. I ask myself, “Empower them to do what?”, because it seems that it wants to empower them to make the cuts.
The Courier recently reported that the head of Balwearie high school in Kirkcaldy is faced with the prospect of cutting subjects and guidance teachers as the school aims to make savings of £346,741 over the next two years. One parent is quoted as saying:
“I am distressed and angered that our school is facing this additional massive financial hardship.”
The Fife branch of the Educational Institute of Scotland has warned that the cuts to many of the region’s secondary schools will damage the delivery of services. The programme for government states:
“We want Scotland to be the best place in the world to grow up and that means ensuring every child has an equal chance to succeed.”
I agree with that, but for headteachers, teachers, parents and pupils in Fife secondary schools, that just seems like rhetoric, far removed from the reality that they are facing right now with the budget cuts in those schools.
So, although there are many initiatives to welcome in the programme for government, when it comes to public services there is too much rhetoric. The reality for headteachers and teachers across Fife is that they are consulting on how to cut hundreds of thousands of pounds from their school budgets, this year and next.
A former United States education secretary once said:
“Even in a time of fiscal austerity, education is more than just an expense”.
Is it any wonder that dissatisfaction with public services in Scotland is growing, when those kinds of cuts are taking place in Fife secondary schools? Education makes up more than half of most councils’ budgets, so the SNP cannot continue to cut council budgets and pretend that it is having no impact on the education of our children. That just does not stack up and parents know that to be the case.
I call on the Deputy First Minister to look at the depths of the cuts that are being made in Fife schools and to get into dialogue with the council to find an alternative to the unacceptable situation that is being faced by teachers and pupils across the kingdom of Fife. I urge the Government to stop the cuts to local public services, stand up for Scotland’s communities and invest in Scotland’s greatest asset: its people.
Last year’s programme for government contained radical and ambitious policies that have been widely praised in Scotland and beyond. The public sector pay cap has been lifted in Scotland; income tax is fairer; Scotland has become the first country in the world to implement minimum unit alcohol pricing, which has the potential to save 121 lives a year; Scotland is the only part of the UK with statutory child poverty reduction targets; and we have committed to ending rough sleeping and transforming how we prevent and tackle homelessness. Of course, we also passed the landmark Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018.
Now is the time to build on those ambitions and achievements. This year—this month, in fact—the first major new public service to be created since devolution, Social Security Scotland, will make its first payments, with the carers allowance supplement being paid to Scotland’s carers. There will be a 13 per cent increase in the carers allowance, which will bring it into line with jobseekers allowance. During the summer, I met carers in Irvine and heard at first hand about the challenges that they face and the difficulty and indignity that they have experienced at the hands of the Department for Work and Pensions.
Where we have the power and responsibility, we can and will do better. When we discuss social security-related issues, from child poverty to disability rights, the regrettable reality is that Scotland is, more often than not, acting with one hand tied behind its back and with UK Government policies taking things backwards as we legislate to move forwards. We must remember that 85 per cent of welfare powers will remain at Westminster and that even the powers that have been devolved are impacted by cuts at UK level. However, even where we do not have powers, we continue to protect people from the worst excesses. I think that we can do better than that. Just imagine what we could do with the full powers returned through Scotland regaining her independence and with all that time, energy and resource directed to moving forward and not simply to mitigation.
In the meantime, our new Scottish social security system, with dignity and respect at its heart, will deliver 11 benefits, including best start grants for low-income families, which will begin by Christmas, six months early.
Best start grants will be paid for every child in a family—there will be no draconian two-child cap and no repugnant rape clause in our Scottish system. Folk who are in need of help will be supported and not demonised. Our Scottish social security system will be run for people and not for profit and, most important of all, every person, with no exception, will be treated with dignity and respect.
To be a more successful country, we need an overall improvement in our population health and, of course, mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing. I welcome the additional £250 million to reform the way that we treat poor mental health in children and adults, which will deliver 430 new school, college and university counsellors and fast-track specialist treatment systems for those with serious mental illness.
Good perinatal maternal mental health is vital in improving outcomes for mothers and their young children. Poor maternal mental health can impact significantly on child development outcomes if untreated, with an impact on a child’s emotional, cognitive and even physical development. Although that is not inevitable, the consequences can be serious and potentially lifelong. We know about the importance of early development in a child’s life. Intervention and support at the earliest possible stage can have a positive impact by preventing or mitigating issues later on. The Scottish Government’s announcement that it will substantially expand the range of perinatal support available to women is good news. The work to provide more counselling support for less acute issues and better specialist support for moderate to acute problems will ultimately prevent unnecessary suffering for women and families, while improving children’s early experiences and removing future pressures.
There is an obvious human cost of undiagnosed and untreated perinatal mental illness. If perinatal mental health problems were identified and treated quickly and effectively, serious and sometimes life-changing human and economic costs could be avoided.
There has not been a lot of cheer in the chamber this afternoon, so I want to share some of the praise that the mental health reforms have received from outwith our party. The Richmond Fellowship approves of the reforms, as do Graeme Smith of the Scottish Trades Union Congress; Inspiring Scotland; Barnardo’s Scotland; Stephanie Fraser, the chief executive of Bobath Scotland; Alastair Ross, the head of public policy at the Association of British Insurers; the president of NUS Scotland; and Billy Watson, chief executive of the Scottish Association for Mental Health.
That positive response for our programme for government from civic Scotland has been phenomenal and demonstrates people’s confidence in our SNP Government to deliver for Scotland. These are ambitious but achievable proposals and I look forward to contributing to the delivery of them for the people of Cunninghame South and Ayrshire, and for Scotland.
The devolution of social security powers to this Parliament is the largest devolution of powers since its inception. Although I welcome the Scottish Government’s announcement that the carers allowance supplement is being rolled out this month and that the best start grant will be delivered six months ahead of schedule, metaphorically speaking, we have only just entered the woods. Carers allowance supplement and the best start grant will affect many people, but let us not forget that there are far more challenging benefits yet to be delivered.
Although the First Minister says that the delivery of the best start grant depends on the “required DWP co-operation”, it is worth remembering that the DWP will continue to deliver the largest benefits alongside Social Security Scotland. Disability living allowance, personal independence payments, heating allowances, the best start grant and funeral expenses will all be administered jointly with the DWP until 2020. Scotland’s social security agency may be open for business, but it will be a while before it stands on its own two feet.
On Tuesday, the First Minister was kind enough to provide us with this year’s schedule, but, as the remainder of her timings on the welfare programme are unknown, we are still in the dark. Carers allowance supplement is perhaps one of the easiest benefits to deliver—it is relatively small compared to, say, PIP. However, by 2021, Social Security Scotland will be making more payments a week than it currently will in a year. A careful and accurate roll-out is important, but my fear is that we will reach 2021 with PIP, DLA and the winter fuel allowance being rushed to delivery. As Audit Scotland pointed out in its infamous March report, the Government will have to be careful not to fall behind as budgets tighten and deadlines loom.
I was disappointed to see in the programme for g overnment that independence was once again at the forefront of SNP policy. The Government was unable to deliver the bulk of its pledges from the last programme due to its constitutional wrangling. I would like the focus to be on delivering things such as social security and I fear for the smooth delivery of the benefits, particularly once Social Security Scotland removes its stabiliser wheels and goes it alone.
The timetable proposed by the First Minister on Tuesday raises other concerns. The work of any Government must be scrutinised, yet for social security there is currently a blind spot. Carers allowance supplement will be delivered from Monday, yet we do not have a Scottish commission on social security to hold the Government to account.
I am sure that colleagues will forgive me, but I cannot sit and listen to much more this, given my knowledge. Will Michelle Ballantyne accept that this Government established a brand new public service within two years and had the unanimous support of the entire chamber for the legislation that underpins it and drives the delivery plan? Will she at least cede that, being a relatively new member of the Social Security Committee, she might want to get a briefing from her colleagues and read some of the background minutes? She might then perhaps understand exactly how confident we are, and will be, about the delivery of social security in Scotland. The DWP role is absolutely critical, so perhaps she could turn her attention to helping us to help it to sort itself out.
I am absolutely delighted that the cabinet secretary remains confident about delivering the service, but the point here is that it is about confidence at the moment, not about actually having done it. If the cabinet secretary takes my comments in the spirit in which they are meant and if she listens to the rest of what I have to say today, perhaps she will start to think about how we work together, rather than making this a battle.
The timetable proposed by the First Minister on Tuesday—where am I? I have done that bit. Sorry—I have lost my place, which is probably what was meant to happen.
Neither is the charter in place. This Parliament legislated that the charter will contain the core principles of the system as well as an obligation for ministers to report on any progress that is made on their commitments. With carers allowance coming into action and the best start grant on the way, the charter is still on the horizon. The principles in the charter are meant to guide our system, so it is worrying that the Government does not deem the charter to be essential before it starts work on the delivery of the actual benefits.
I was struck by Stuart McMillan’s words on Tuesday. Mr McMillan told the chamber:
“Opposition parties should be thanking the Scottish Government”.—[
, 4 September 2018; c 54.]
That is also what the cabinet secretary is asking for. I say to Mr McMillan that, when it comes to Scottish social security, it should also be his party thanking the UK Government. It is, after all, the UK Government that devolved the powers, making our social security system possible. It is the UK Government that contributed £200 million to the cost of implementing the new powers and it is the UK Government that is forecast to spend upwards of £2.9 billion every year through the block grant.
No. I am going to make some progress now.
I remind the Parliament that if, as the Auditor General and the Scottish Government’s own financial memorandum suggest, our demand-led system begins to run over budget, there will be only three options left to the Scottish Government. The first is to cut services, which it would not want to do and we would not want to see. The second is an adjustment to the block grant, letting the UK taxpayer pick up the bill. The third is an increase to taxes, hitting Scots again with a tax rise. For a social security system to have the unanimous support of the people of Scotland, we must bear in mind that fairness applies to claimants and to taxpayers. We have an obligation to both.
Social security is a topic that reaches far beyond the remit of its brief. I am firmly of the view that social security should be a springboard, not a safety net. There is a correlation between the state of our economy, schools and health services and the size of our social security budget, so we need to get them all right. The most successful Governments are those that are, first, able to recognise and acknowledge their countries’ problems and challenges, and then willing to address them by building consensus across the political chamber. If this Scottish Government is serious about getting social security right and eliminating poverty, maybe it is time to change some of the rhetoric and language in this chamber.
As someone who has just left the Social Security Committee, I feel that I have to comment on some of what has just been said in the chamber. The Smith commission was an agreement between two Governments about the devolution of powers to Scotland. It was not gifted to us and we should not have to be thankful for it, nor should we be thankful for a UK Government whose welfare system includes sanctions, assessments of people with lifetime conditions and the rape clause—a system that has dehumanised our citizens. That is why it was so important that, when we put through the Social Security (Scotland) Bill, it included dignity and respect at its heart, because that approach has been sadly missing in the UK Government. We will thank it for none of that.
The final back-bench speakers in a debate that has lasted three days—of which I am one—are always concerned that they might repeat some of what has been said before. I am glad that that will not be the case for my speech this afternoon, because there has been so much to talk about.
Far from being a tired presentation, this is a tried and tested presentation from a Government that has been tried and tested by the Scottish people and continues to have their confidence when it comes to delivering for the people of Scotland.
So many mentions have been made of some of the great and ambitious work that is coming. We started the week with Dr Alasdair Allan channelling his inner back bencher of choice, but today I want to channel my inner Tracy Chapman, because today I will be talking about a revolution. That revolution is the fourth industrial revolution—a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, the way we work and the way we relate to one another. The transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.
In the 1700s, we had the steam, water and mechanical equipment revolution; in the 1800s, we had the division of labour, along with electricity and mass production; and in the 1960s, electronics, information technology and automated production came to the fore.
However, the next challenge—the next revolution—will be the cyber-physical systems revolution, described as the fourth industrial revolution. It is about big data, the internet of things, artificial intelligence and bioengineering. It involves the concept of blurring our world with the technological world. Like all technological developments, it offers both opportunities and challenges. The fourth industrial revolution is already here, whether it is self-driving cars, drones, virtual assistants or the decision-making and learning software algorithms that are used in many walks of life, including the stock market and the design of new drugs.
We now have digital fabrication technologies interacting with the biological world; we have engineers, designers and architects who are combining computational design with manufacturing. It is about a symbiosis between microorganisms, our bodies, the products we consume and even the buildings we inhabit. It will transform our lives. That is why I am so glad that this programme for government is embracing data-driven innovation.
Scotland already excels at the use of data to improve public services. We are well placed to become a global centre of excellence. That is an opportunity in the fourth industrial revolution that we should be grasping now, for the future. It is an opportunity for highly skilled, highly productive employment, building on the investment that has already been made by the Government in our centres of excellence. In particular, I think of CENSIS, the innovation centre for sensor and imaging systems, which plays a key part in developing innovation landscapes around Scotland and enables industry innovators and university researchers to collaborate at the forefront of that technology.
The £6 million digital network launched by the Scottish Government as part of the programme for government is the most advanced internet of things network in the UK. The new network, loT Scotland, will provide a wireless sensor network for applications and services to collect data from devices and send that data without the need for 3G, 4G or wi-fi. It will support businesses to develop new and innovative applications, changing the way that they work. It will enable businesses to monitor the efficiency and productivity of their assets and equipment and schedule how a building operates from day to day, at busy times and quiet times. The network could monitor office environments and lower costs by saving energy, reducing the building’s carbon footprint.
The internet of things will transform every sector of our economy, from agriculture to manufacturing, and it presents an exciting opportunity to revolutionise the way that businesses and the public sector across Scotland work.
“It is forecast that there will be 25 billion IoT devices connected by 2025 and only a small number will be connected to the internet using 3G, 4G or WiFi.”
He added that the new low-power wide area network, developed as IoT Scotland, will become increasingly important. It has the potential to disrupt the way we live today as much as the internet has changed the way we do business.
This is an exciting opportunity; it has its challenges but we look forward to seeing how the Government will embrace the fourth industrial revolution.
Before we move on to the last speaker in the open debate, I remind members that everyone who has participated in the debate over the past three days should be present for the closing speeches, unless they have been given explicit permission not to be here. I am giving those members a six-minute warning, wherever they are.
Thank you for that warning, Presiding Officer.
I am delighted to be back making a speech in the chamber and even more delighted to be discussing the programme for government that was recently unveiled by our First Minister. It is no secret to anyone in the Parliament that I love my constituency and being Paisley’s MSP. It was great to spend so much time back in my hometown during recess, meeting constituents and catching up with everything that was going on. However, it is equally exciting to look at the year ahead of us, to take control and plan for the kind of Scotland that we all want to live in. That is exactly what the programme for government does. It looks towards the future and sets out plans for continuing to make Scotland a sustainable, prosperous and, above all else, fair place to live. For me and my constituents in Paisley, that is extremely important. Having the ability to make our constituents’ lives better is why we are all here.
Something that I constantly take into account, and something that is a major part of the programme for government, is the fact that we are making children’s lives better, too. I know that you will be shocked to hear it, Presiding Officer, but I am a grandparent. It is important to me to see how we can make things better for our grandchildren.
One of the things that the Tories keep talking about and then do not want to talk about is Brexit. The First Minister was right to say that all our plans hang on the back of Brexit, which is only 204 days away. That is just 204 days for them all to decide to get everything organised.
The Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, was at the Justice Committee today. He gave the committee no facts but said things like, “I would like”, “I hope”, and “there may be a case that we might be in a position to do something”. I want St Mirren to win the Scottish Premier League—that’s no gonnae happen.
So says the Greenock Morton fan over in the corner.
The reality is that we need to look at the situation and at everything that the Scottish Government and the First Minister has put forward against that backdrop.
It is the Scottish Government’s commitment to people that sticks out the most. It can sometimes be easy to get bogged down in petty party politics and disagreements, but surely we can all agree that our role as parliamentarians is to do our best for our constituents and the people of our country. That is where the programme for government stands out. People are at the heart of it every step of the way—with dignity and respect firmly at the top of the agenda.
This time last year, the First Minister set out an ambitious plan to build an inclusive, fair, prosperous and innovative country that was ready and willing to embrace the future. This year, she is continuing to build on that vision.
During the passage of the landmark Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018—the biggest, most revolutionary act since the inception of the Scottish Parliament—thousands of people across Scotland took part in sessions to ensure that everyone felt represented and listened to. It was clear that the Scottish Government was committed to helping hard-working families and ensuring that every child and young person in Scotland had the best possible means and opportunity to thrive. Scotland became the only place in the UK with a statutory child poverty reduction target, and the act set out the best start grant to begin the process of tackling that target.
This week, the First Minister announced further plans to combat child poverty. The programme for government outlines an additional £50 million child poverty fund. We also heard that the first payments of the best start grant will be delivered by Christmas—a full six months ahead of schedule—giving parents on low incomes £600 on the birth of their first baby and £300 for subsequent children to buy family essentials. On top of that, we had the introduction of the baby box. That all ensures that our young people are supported, which is a key pillar of “Delivering for today, investing for tomorrow”.
The idea of delivering for today and investing for tomorrow is why I am so delighted by the announcement of a new commitment to address child mental health. The programme for government includes details of a massive £250 million health investment package that will go towards delivering 350 dedicated mental health counsellors in schools, 80 additional counsellors throughout further and higher education, extra training for classroom teachers and a further 250 school nurses to offer emotional and mental health support and provide more advice for young people and their families who are dealing with mental health issues. That does not seem like a tired Government; that is a Government leading from the front. The only tiredness is in the patter and nonsense from the Opposition parties.
Tackling mental health issues head on in schools, colleges and universities is of the utmost importance. However, I should also mention the Scottish Government’s commitment to adults with poor mental health. More than ever before, adults are opening up about experiencing poor mental health and recognising their right to be helped. The programme for government acknowledges that our approach needs to change to meet the demands of modern Scotland and ensure that support for good mental health is easily accessible and embedded into our public services and culture.
I am certain that this is a programme for government that really has Scotland’s best interests at heart. We are living in a time of uncertainty and, as the implications of Brexit remain unclear and outwith our control, it is important that we take bold steps to protect and advance what we can control. The programme for government does just that and ensures that we are prepared for the future.
As we move to closing speeches, there are six members who have spoken in the debate who are not in the chamber. Luckily for them, I do not have time to list them all. We will write to them—we cannot do any more than that. They were well warned to be in the chamber for closing speeches, and their absence is really insulting to other members who have spoken in the debate and to those making closing speeches. We will make that plain to them.
It gives me great pride to close for my party.
I start with a couple of notes of good will—it is important to start the new term in that way. I thank the ministers who will deliver the programme for government, some of whom I worked with over the summer months. I thank Joe FitzPatrick for giving access to the deliberations on the future of HIV Scotland; I hope that we are coming to a successful conclusion on that. I thank also Clare Haughey, who has delivered a suicide strategy that, while late, has been well received and is important. I am sure that her tenure as Minister for Mental Health will be defined very much by the success of the strategy.
In particular, I thank the First Minister for her proclamation about the willingness of the Government to incorporate the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law, which is something that I have been fighting for all of my adult life. The language around that matters. Only incorporation of all 42 articles of that treaty into Scots law will give our children access to justice. I invite either the First Minister or the Minister for Children and Young People to intervene now to confirm that we will indeed incorporate all those articles and not just the principles. Maybe another time. It is welcome progress nonetheless.
This summer, I got insight into some of the fresh talent in the ministers who were appointed before the summer. Fresh talent it may be, but in the pages of the programme for government there is the whiff of decay. It is a programme characterised by thin, technical measures—a programme that neither makes admission nor offers contrition for the failings of past public policy. It is a programme that in many ways represents the thin gruel of managerialism. That word is particularly apposite if the weather vanes of opinion polls and unforced errors by this Government show that it is indeed managing its own decline.
We can judge the effectiveness of a Government by the way in which it deals with empirical evidence of failure and how it responds to expert and overwhelming criticism. On both counts, the Government has failed. Drug deaths are once again the worst in Europe—twice as bad as those in England—and yet there was not one single word or pledge of new money in the First Minister’s statement or the programme for government.
Clamour against the compulsory testing of four and five-year-olds is met with dogged intransigence, to the point where, at First Minister’s question time today, when the First Minister was asked whether, if Parliament votes against the tests—which it is likely to do—they will be removed, still the answer was no.
There was nothing about the discredited treatment time guarantee, which is visited on every member in this chamber week after week by patients, sometimes in abject pain, clutching letters that promised them that their treatment would begin within 12 weeks. When those 12 weeks are up, they phone their consultant to find out that they have a further 40 or sometimes 50 weeks to wait. This is not about denying that we have a problem with capacity in our health services; it is about being honest with people and managing expectations about how long they will have to exist with that pain.
There is no new commitment to workforce planning, particularly around social care or the wider NHS. I have talked many times about the interruption in flow that is caused by diminished capacity in our social care workforce, which sees people who are well and ready to go home being prevented from leaving hospital because of the absence of adequate social care around them.
I am grateful that the First Minister has made mental health the centrepiece of the programme for government. It should be the centrepiece of anybody’s programme for government. However, there is no acknowledgement of or contrition for the fact that, this week, Scotland posted the worst child and adolescent mental health waiting times on record. In truth, the new money is welcome but it is a quarter of what we have asked for in every budget negotiation since the Parliament first sat.
Is that backed up by the necessary workforce planning? Fast tracking is welcome—it is vital—but if someone is fast tracked into a tier 4 bed that is not staffed, and the referral is turned away, it is not worth the paper that it is written on. We need a trauma-informed approach in all our front-line workers. That would answer the call of the former chief medical officer, Harry Burns, whose review of targets said that we are not measuring the one thing that we should be measuring—adverse childhood experiences. We need to capture them and direct support to the young people who have suffered them from that point in time.
I certainly welcome the group; I am a co-convener of the cross-party group on ACEs. I am talking about getting the Government to take the issue out of Parliament and make it real in answering the call of Harry Burns.
I want the Government to be bolder. If it is in decline, I say to the First Minister that it should start building its legacy. It should transform the provision of mental health care from cradle to grave, with money and with workforce planning and training for the front-line workers who will deliver that care in the services that people depend on. The Government should give parity to teachers through a McCrone 2 and listen to them and to parents and children on testing. It should give local authorities the power to raise more of their own money.
I come to the thing that has overshadowed everything in this debate and which overshadows all aspects of public policy—our position on the precipice of Brexit. The hour is late but there is still time for the First Minister to swing her party behind a people’s vote. As a people, we sometimes make bad decisions. Sometimes we elect Governments that harm us. However, when credited with the facts, the Liberal Democrats believe that the people who first started this process are the only people who can finish it, so please, once and for all, the First Minister should back a people’s vote.
The Scottish Government has to deliver for the people of Scotland in the face of many challenges: climate change; an ageing population; Brexit; austerity; and UK welfare reform, including universal credit, which is leaving thousands of Scots unable to feed themselves without emergency food aid, which is far from the springboard that Michelle Ballantyne supports. Every one of those challenges impacts on the demands that are placed on our public services.
Those challenges and demands, and how the Government intends to react to them, have been discussed at length throughout the three days of this debate, and I would like to highlight a few during my time today.
The programme for government’s extra £250 million for mental health services has rightly been the subject of much discussion in the debate, and indeed it is very welcome. The First Minister stated that, as the stigma around mental ill health reduces, demand for services is rising. Reducing stigma is a good thing—it is a great thing.
I thank James Dornan, who today demonstrated that being open about our mental health encourages others to do so. We know that poverty increases the risk of mental health problems and can be both a cause and a consequence of mental ill health, and I welcome the First Minister’s comments on the need to do more to support positive mental health. We have to address all the factors that contribute to poor mental health in this country. We need to look at the economic and social causes and consequences of lives with less cash, too little money, more stress, more demands, less time to rest, recharge and spend time with family and friends, and less time to spend with our children and young people. Those demands do not support good mental health, and we can and must do more to challenge that.
That points towards the broader economic transformation that Greens have been calling for, and it is not delivered in this programme for government. The three days of debate have seen much discussion of the challenges facing our NHS and rightly so, as they are considerable. We have only recently celebrated 70 years of the NHS and we must always bear in mind the thousands of health professionals in each and every one of our constituencies and regions and the invaluable work that they do every day.
I want to draw attention to the work of Dr Margaret McCartney, a Glasgow GP and
BMJ columnist. In her final column, published this week, she summarised some four years of articles in a list of 30 points. They are well worth a read. For example, she writes:
“Political in-fighting over the NHS wastes time, money, and morale. We should seek cross party cooperation”.
There is a challenge for us all. It is well worth a read, as is her writing on poverty medicine and more.
Of course, when it comes to health, access to good-quality food is absolutely key. As Liam McArthur and Colin Smyth mentioned, the shelving of the good food nation bill is disappointing. In 2014, the Government’s policy paper stated:
“there is consensus on the key concept areas; health and wellbeing, environmental sustainability, local economic prosperity, resilient communities, and fairness in the food chain.”
That vision, and the opportunity for radical, world-leading legislation on food, has been gradually eroded, and in this year’s programme for government it has been watered down to nothing more than a branding exercise for the Scottish food and drink sectors.
On transport, the commitment to expand the electric vehicle charging network is a welcome step. Yes, electric vehicles are better for us and our planet than diesel and petrol vehicles are, but they are only part of the solution. Although an electric car traffic jam generates less air pollution, it does not cut congestion in the way that investing properly in the greenest mass public transit would, so we must tackle falling bus numbers. Let us ensure that everyone in Scotland has access to the service that we here in Lothian enjoy. We need more of that quality and we need it quickly.
Electric cars do not tackle obesity and inactivity in the way that really investing in active travel would. Doubling the active travel budget last year was a step in the right direction, but surely that cannot be the end of it. On Tuesday evening in this building, three cross-party groups met jointly—the groups on cycling, walking and buses, on lung health and on heart disease and stroke. There were many notable experts gathered in that room, and one of them noted that if the active travel budget was 10 per cent of the transport budget—my own party’s policy—it would currently be £200 million.
As Alex Cole-Hamilton mentioned, enshrining children’s rights is hugely welcome, but I and many in the children’s sector want to know whether the Government intends for it to be binding. Will the Government incorporate into law the substantial articles and the optional protocols of the UNCRC itself, not just the principles? We would like information on the timescale. Will it happen within this session of Parliament?
Like others, I welcome the establishment of an animal welfare commission, to provide expert advice on the welfare of domesticated and wild animals in Scotland. Such a body is badly needed. Had it been in place last year, perhaps we would not have reintroduced tail docking, for no good reason whatsoever, in the face of expert veterinary evidence. With policy that is based on scientific evidence backed with political will, we might end the culling of mountain hares on Scotland’s grouse moors, the granting of licences to kill ravens and live exports. Of course, we have all the evidence that we need to ban fox hunting properly now. In fact, the Parliament thought that it had done that in 2002. While the Government hesitates in the face of overwhelming public support, I will continue my work with all who share that aim to achieve it.
Greens will continue to be critical where criticism is just and fair. We will be constructively critical and look forward to continuing to work with colleagues where we have common ground.
I welcome Jeanne Freeman to her new role. Over time she and I will, without doubt, have robust debates.
The future of our NHS is central to Scotland’s future—to how we tackle inequality, to how we improve the lives of our fellow citizens and to the wider message about the society and country that we want to Scotland to be. The values to which our NHS speaks are about much more than the day-to-day care and treatment of patients, so I make it clear that I and Labour members will work with and support the new cabinet secretary and her team wherever possible to deliver an NHS that is fit not just for the challenges of today, but for the challenge of delivering a health service for the future.
We welcome and support large parts of the programme for government. The First Minister’s adoption of Labour’s policy of having mental health counsellors in schools and school nurses providing mental health support is positive. I also welcome the proposal that teachers have mental health first aid training—but that must be seen in the context of the Government’s failure on child and adolescent mental health services, which is a national scandal that is failing a generation of young people. I also welcome the First Minister’s announcement on community wellbeing services for young people.
For some time, we have been raising the urgent need for the Scottish Government to wake up to the crisis in mental health services. One example of that comes from just before the recess, when we worked with the Government to instigate a review of mental health services in NHS Tayside. We look forward to seeing an update on that work, and we hope that the review will have lessons not only for NHS Tayside but for mental health services throughout Scotland.
Welcome as those announcements are, I am sad to say that the programme for government represents nothing more than a sticking-plaster approach. It is a timid affair that fails to address the big issues that are at the heart of the crisis in Scotland’s NHS and the future of Scotland’s wider public services.
The most up-to-date figures show an NHS that is struggling to cope despite the efforts of our amazing NHS staff. The minimum standard on detecting cancer early is not being met. Cancer treatment waiting times are not being met and are getting worse: one cancer patient in six waits longer than they should for treatment. That means that we are failing not just cancer patients but their families. On the SNP’s flagship treatment time guarantee, patients have been failed and things are getting worse month on month and year on year.
On the referral-to-treatment standard, patients have been failed and things are getting worse—performance has been on a consistent downward spiral since 2014.
Sickness absence rates are on the up, but is it any wonder that, in the face of increased pressures and having too few colleagues alongside them, staff are paying a heavy price for the pressures that the Government heaps upon them?
The vital signs are not good: the patient is in urgent need of help. Scottish Labour has the right prescription for the NHS. We should use the Scottish Parliament’s tax powers to raise more money for our NHS, because asking health boards to make more than £1 billion of cuts over the next four years will not reduce waiting times. We need a cross-government approach: we should have a health inequality assessment of every policy at every level of government in order to ensure that policy will have a positive impact on health outcomes.
Above all, Scotland’s NHS needs a credible and deliverable workforce plan. It needs to learn the lessons from the devastating effect of the First Minister’s having cut training places when she was health secretary. We also need to have urgent accident and emergency style services for mental health patients if we are to have a generational shift in attitudes towards, and in the treatment of, mental illness.
Patients also need access to life-saving medicines. I hope that, in this parliamentary year, we will not have patients standing outside Parliament telling their intimate stories for publication on the front pages of newspapers, or protesting outside Parliament in order to get the vital medicines that they need. Access to such medicines should be a fundamental right.
To build into the next generation a culture of health and wellbeing, Labour would deliver free access to sport and a bold obesity strategy so that we could prioritise prevention and promote good health and wellbeing.
As Alex Rowley and Monica Lennon have said today, we cannot continue to protect public services in the face of huge cuts to local government budgets, because the pressure on our hospitals is now heaping even more pressure on our social care sector, which affects tens of thousands of our fellow Scots. We still have the shame of the 15-minute care visit in some places—in some places, the visits are even down to 10 or 12 minutes.
There is a generation of children—Scotland’s future—in classes that are growing in size and in schools in which pass rates are falling and teachers are in short supply, which was raised by Iain Gray today.
How we invest in and care for the NHS and our public services more generally speaks to our values as a nation. What we had hoped for from the programme for government was not just a continuation of the sticking-plaster approach, but a fundamental rethink not only of how we can properly fund our public services, but of how we deliver our public services to meet the needs of our fellow citizens, to fight inequality, to fight poverty and to create prosperity across our country.
Where is the vision for our economy that will provide the wealth to fund our public services and enable people to live the lives that they want to live and bring up their children as they want to in our Scotland? Where is the vision to unite our country behind our shared values and shared principles, when the principles of unity no longer seem to be politically fashionable? That is what we needed from the Government and from the programme for government—not just more repeated announcements and regurgitated press releases from the First Minister.
What did we hear from the SNP? We heard lots of members asking why Opposition politicians were not thanking them and why we are not being cheerleaders for the programme. The reality is that there are enough SNP cheerleaders on the back benches; what we need is opposition to and scrutiny of a Government that is running out of ideas and running out of time.
The sad reality is that the Government has missed the opportunity to transform Scotland. In reality, there is only one party that is offering the real change that this country needs: there is only one party with the bold and radical policies that are needed to transform our public services and the economy of this great country, and that is the Scottish Labour Party.
It has been my duty to listen with all care and attention to each and every contribution over the past three afternoons. I wish I could report that it has been an unalloyed joy—no, I will be positive: it has been an unalloyed joy; it has been the highlight of my summer.
More prosaically, on Tuesday, we returned from a long summer recess in a year without a national election. Holyrood should have been fizzing with anticipation as Nicola Sturgeon announced a programme for the year ahead. After all, she was surrounded by carefully placed new ministers who, only two months ago, she said represented the refresh of her Administration that had been promised a year earlier. SNP MSPs should have been bouncing with energy and vigour. I can recall earlier programme for government announcements by Ms Sturgeon’s predecessor that were interrupted by cheers and boisterous, even bumptious, applause, from which accusation I should say that John Mason specifically asked to be recused during his speech yesterday—not his style, he said.
In any event, that was not the case on Tuesday. Almost from the minute that the First Minster got to her feet, the energy seeped out of the chamber. As her voice tired with an obvious lack of interest in her own announcements, so too did the reaction from behind her. Conversations broke out, eyes glazed over and wandered and her MSPs concentrated elsewhere.
This was the address of a First Minister running out of passion, steam and, crucially, time, lacking the ability of her predecessor, Alex Salmond—still revered by many around her as a nationalist prophet—to generate momentum, announcing a programme this year after failing to deliver her programme from just a year ago, with bills that were announced by her then as vital being abandoned or struggling to progress past the first stage, and a record number of paralysed legislative priorities.
Guess what the first and only robust applause from the subservient acolytes ranged behind the First Minister was for on Tuesday afternoon. Yes—it was for the i word. Whatever the day, the hour or the circumstances—whether national disasters and challenges or internal allegations of sexual misconduct—Nicola Sturgeon incorporates the i word into each and every statement. It really does transcend everything.
After a long time in politics, I was puzzled on Tuesday afternoon by a memory from the past of a former Prime Minister—one of the giants of UK politics—in the final months in office, like Nicola Sturgeon. Members of her party still applauded her loudly even while they knew on the doorsteps—just as the SNP knows now—how polarising she had become. They rushed to chuck insults at their opponents even as the public embraced the truth. By the next election, Nicola Sturgeon will have been First Minister for almost as long as Alex Salmond was. Between them, they will have exhausted 14 years of the public’s patience.
On Tuesday, I heard Humza Yousaf attack Willie Rennie from a seated position. He said, “But we’re ahead in the polls.” That is the final refuge of the complacent minister. Being ahead in the polls is no guarantee of electoral triumph, as any student of the past two years should know.
We should be in no doubt that, despite the typically bravura performance that I expect from John Swinney in a few minutes, the Government is a Government of yesterday’s women and men that is drifting in search of a purpose beyond the i word, struggling to account for an increasing record of failure, and offering Scotland a programme of fancy rhetoric, but ultimately offering spin over substance with a despairingly poor record of delivery under the First Minister.
Throughout all of Tuesday, I searched for Derek Mackay, who was finally spotted sitting so far back in the chamber that he was almost in the public gallery. Yesterday, I understood why. He was putting clear distance between himself and the front bench, as he had a leadership bid speech to make. Sporting an ice blue-white tie to match his increasingly ice blue-white coiffure, Mr Mackay opened yesterday with more energy and zest than all the SNP members before and after him.
The leader of the Labour Party spent much of his speech recalling his tour of different communities of Scotland in the summer recess. Sadly, that did not include a visit to the Jewish community in my Eastwood constituency in the west of Scotland, in which some 40 per cent of Scotland’s Jewish community live. Mr Leonard’s deference to the ever-evolving, but consistently disgraceful record and ambition—
On Tuesday, W illie Rennie tried to revive matters with some bad but passable jokes, which I am sure he felt deserved more appreciation. However, his speech was less about the Government’s programme than about his people’s vote. As a midwife to referendums—I recall the crucial support for the EU referendum in the votes in the House of Commons from the Liberal Democrats, and Labour for that matter—Mr Rennie wants another. Having failed to accept the vote in the first one, he wants another and no doubt another again if he is not given the answer that he demands.
That, too, was the import of Mr Russell’s speech. He said barely anything about the Government’s programme.
“Democracy depends on ‘loser’s consent’.”
It was for precisely that principle that, when I was asked in 2014 on a BBC programme, with, I think, Bob Doris, who spoke in the debate, alongside me, what I would do if Scotland had voted for independence, I replied without hesitation that, however I had voted, if that had been the result, I would have manned the barricades with the SNP—the phrase was recalled by Alex Salmond later—to secure the best possible deal for Scotland leaving the UK. I would not have liked it, but loser’s consent would have dictated my duty.
I do not imagine that Alex Salmond would then have asked me to lead those negotiations or to have a veto over them, or that the SNP would have spoken well of me if I argued against all that it sought or tried to undermine that negotiation, but that seems to be the hand that Mr Russell and Nicola Sturgeon have chosen to play. Instead of working with every endeavour to support the achievement of the best possible outcome, the SNP has been aggressively frustrating our joint preparation and participation. I get that it does not want to leave—neither did I—but as SNP members’ former colleague Marco Biagi stated, democracy depends on all working together to achieve that deal, particularly all those who seek a pragmatic negotiated withdrawal and not a hard, deal-less Brexit.
Elsewhere in the debate there were impressive speeches. Daniel Johnson, who made an articulate and forensic speech, demonstrated that promises made about justice by this Administration are simply not being delivered, but it was Liam Kerr who welcomed a commitment to Finn’s law, which he has championed, who welcomed the U-turn on the British Transport Police for which he has led the campaign and who spoke in support of Michelle’s law, on which he led a debate earlier today. Maurice Golden demonstrated the failure of the SNP to meet nearly all the environmental targets that it has set itself.
The best of the new ministers proved to be Jeane Freeman. John Mason gave a thoughtful speech, which I enjoyed. His analysis challenged all sides on certain issues in a way that I consider deserves reflection. Today, we have had strong speeches from Iain Gray, Miles Briggs, Alex Neil and Liz Smith.
The clock is ticking. The First Minister is no longer new to her job and is certainly not new to Government. Increasingly, hers is a record of poor delivery. Even in the opening paragraphs of her introduction to the published programme for government document, she dwells too often on the achievements of her predecessor in past Administrations and not on the current one that she leads.
This was meant to be a refreshed front bench; it already looks and feels just as tired as the one that it replaced. A year after the SNP lost a record half a million votes—not in an opinion poll, but in a single election—and saw the greatest-ever number of MPs defeated such a short time after their initial election, it is a Government whose time looks over. It is a Government that is celebrating yesterday.
Twelve years ago, the SNP slogan was “It’s Time”; today, it is “Time’s Up”. It is time to make way for those who can deliver the change that we increasingly seek as a prosperous and dynamic Scotland within a prosperous and dynamic United Kingdom.
I will make two observations on Jackson Carlaw’s speech. First, in nine minutes there was not a single constructive idea that would take Scotland forward. Secondly, it was just a bundle of abuse churned out about one speaker after another. The worst was when he accused Willie Rennie of telling “bad but passable” jokes. Coming from Jackson Carlaw, that is an insult of the lowest level to Willie Rennie, and I will not have it.
There has been a lot of characterisation about the pace, enthusiasm and energy of this debate on the programme for government and of the Government. That characterisation was best put into context by Ruth Maguire and George Adam. They said that the Government came to Parliament last year with a radical programme to transform some of the fundamental issues that our country faces today and that this year’s programme for government sets out the further steps to be taken to implement that progress.
I will respond to that in a few words. We are getting on with implementing the policy intention of the bill. That is exactly what we are doing. I thought that people were supposed to pay attention in this Parliament. Yesterday, I spent an hour at the Education and Skills Committee explaining that very point to Liz Smith to the exhaustion of the committee’s patience, yet she still has not managed to get it. We are implementing the policy of empowering schools. That is what the Government is doing in our education agenda.
That is not the only issue that has been taken forward from the programme for government. Last year, as Alex Neil mentioned, we started the application of the statutory child poverty reduction targets, which are a huge initiative to safeguard the wellbeing of and the opportunities for some of the most vulnerable children in our society.
We have taken forward the establishment of the Scottish national investment bank to contribute significantly to building on the very strong investment record of the Government in transforming the infrastructure of the country.
Tom Arthur made a very strong contribution to the debate, going through what has happened to the infrastructure of this country since the Government came to office—the completion of the motorway network between Edinburgh and Glasgow, the upgrade of the M74, the electrification of numerous rail links the length and breadth of the country, the enhancement of the capacity in the rail network, the achievement of 95 per cent broadband connectivity and the commitment to complete that task in the course of this parliamentary term.
On the schools investment programme, literally every week of my period as Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills I have been seeing the development of investments in new and refurbished school infrastructure the length and breadth of the country. When we came to office 11 years ago, 61 per cent of young people were educated in schools that were good or satisfactory, and that figure is now 86 per cent, thanks to the investment of this SNP Government.
A substantial amount has been achieved, but of course there are always further challenges that the Government has to face and address. I want to concentrate on three of them in my remarks today.
The first is the measures that we are taking to support young people and to advance their opportunities. There is a series of measures, starting as we announced in the programme for government today with the expansion of perinatal care services and support to pregnant mothers. There is the delivery of the baby box, in which we are now seeing huge participation around the country. From what I can see, there is also an appreciation and a valuing of the commitment that is shown to every child when they are born by giving them some support from the state—from the country. It says to every child that they are equal and valued and precious. That is at the heart of the idea behind the baby box, symbolising our attitude to ensuring that every child has the best start in life.
The measures include the expansion of early learning and childcare. This morning, I was at an early years centre in Edinburgh that is already operating 1,140 hours seamlessly. That is a fantastic transformation. The staff are saying to me that access to early learning is transforming the opportunities of individual children.
We then move into investment in pupil equity funding and the attainment challenge, which is focused on ensuring that the children and young people who have the greatest challenges in life can receive the best additional support to enable them to overcome the burden of poverty. I accept that, as Mr Rowley said, poverty is an obstacle and a challenge for young people in what they have to face. We are putting in targeted resources to help them to overcome those challenges.
Then there is the education reform programme. In 2016, we committed ourselves in our manifesto to empowering schools. Parliament said to us, “Go out to the communities and engage and discuss.” We reached an agreement with local government about how to empower schools, and how to put in place a headteachers charter that would empower schools quicker, earlier and faster than waiting for legislation. Which education secretary would turn down the opportunity to deliver reform faster than could be delivered through legislation? That is exactly the option that I have taken.
We are making investment across Government, whether it is in Jeane Freeman’s portfolio, Aileen Campbell’s portfolio, Shirley-Anne Somerville’s portfolio or Humza Yousaf’s portfolio to tackle the consequences of adverse childhood experiences. We recognise those to be central to determining some of the impacts that young people and adults will face throughout their lives. We as a state will have to wrestle with them, making sure that we have got cross-cutting Government activity.
The Deputy First Minister touched on child poverty and cross-cutting interventions. Jenny Marra raised the point today that there have been 1,000 drug deaths. If those deaths were from flu, meningitis, measles or something else that is contagious, it would be a national emergency with cross-cutting interventions, money and working groups. Why are we not doing that, and why are we not declaring the issue to be a national public health emergency?
I am in agreement with Mr Findlay on the significance of the issue that he raises. I contend that the Government is working across portfolios to do on drug deaths exactly what we are doing about adverse childhood experiences—to ensure that we have across the policy spectrum measures and interventions that are designed to be complementary in achieving their objective. Aileen Campbell is leading that work to encourage cross-portfolio activity, and I give Mr Findlay the assurance that objectives of the type that he fairly raises will be pursued right across Government.
I appreciate the commitment to work across portfolios. Before the reshuffle, I wrote to three different cabinet secretaries, including Mr Swinney, about the number of children and young people in Scotland—51,000—who are affected by alcohol harm in their families and the many more who are affected by drugs. I have not yet heard about any commitment or any practical steps that will be taken to address that issue in a cross-cutting way, and I would like it to be kept on the table.
My comments are just as relevant to the issue that Monica Lennon raises as they were to the one that Neil Findlay raised. I accept that poverty, alcohol, neglect and drug use are all impediments to young people fulfilling their potential in the education system. If they do not fulfil their potential in the education system, that will have consequences for them in later life.
The Government is working across portfolios. On Tuesday night, I delivered a lecture to Apex Scotland that set out the cross-cutting work that the Government is doing on adverse childhood experiences, and the thinking behind that work and the rationale for it apply to many of the questions that Monica Lennon raises.
I want to touch briefly on the two other major issues that form the radical substance at the heart of that agenda. On the impact of mental ill health, Mr Dornan made a speech of outstanding personal honesty and integrity. The Government is pleased that the measures that have been set out in the programme for government to ensure that we support people’s mental wellbeing have been widely welcomed. On the national infrastructure mission, the commitment by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work to increase capital expenditure to £1.5 billion above 2019-20 levels by the middle of the next decade is a clear indication of the importance—especially in a post-Brexit climate—of investing in the capital estate of the country. That is an investment in employment and productivity in the Scottish economy.
I have two final observations about speeches of members of the Opposition, both of which are about things that the Conservatives told us. Miles Briggs had the nerve—the total brass neck—to demand that the Government spend more money on something, while simultaneously arguing for tax cuts. Mark my words: the Tory party will be hounded on that point, because it is hypocrisy of the lowest level to call for more money while demanding tax reductions for individuals.
The cabinet secretary will be aware of the £2 billion in extra funding that is coming to our health service and how that can make a huge change.
I spent time back in Perth, where I grew up, meeting Mr Swinney’s constituents and they told me what has happened to their health service in Perth. Under Mr Swinney’s watch as the local MSP, emergency surgery and weekend general practitioner out-of-hours services have been cut from Perth royal infirmary, the maternity ward has been closed and paediatrics and pathology have been cut. I will take no lectures from the SNP, given its centralisation of our health service.
And I will take no lessons from the Tories, given their scaremongering and hypocrisy. Mr Briggs’s colleague Murdo Fraser was caught wondering where the talk of removing accident and emergency cover from Perth royal infirmary had come from, only to find that the source of that ridiculous scaremongering story was Murdo Fraser himself.
My final delicate observation on the day—my last moment of unbelievable lack of self-awareness from the Conservatives—was Donald Cameron telling us that what was missing from the programme for government was the First Minister’s explanation of a post-Brexit vision for Scotland. We are terrified by the post-Brexit vision for Scotland because of the farce that the Tory party has inflicted upon us and this country, and for Jackson Carlaw to say that we have not tried to come forward with positive suggestions about how the UK—[
They laugh, but how about continuing membership of the single market and continuing membership of the customs union? The First Minister and Mr Russell have exhausted every conversation in Whitehall, trying to get somebody there to open their ears and listen to something sensible, but the Tories are so divided and so damaged by the whole issue that they are going to take the country down with them. The Tories should be ashamed of their shocking contribution on that issue.