The Amazon in flames, temperatures soaring to record levels across Europe, glaciers disappearing—all stark reminders of a world in crisis, and real evidence of an emergency. That emergency requires an emergency response. This programme for government, the capital spending review and the early update to the climate change plan will build on what we have already done. They show clearly just how seriously the Scottish Government is taking the issue. However, responding to the global climate emergency is not just about Government policies or spend. Scotland’s response to the global climate emergency needs to be a truly national endeavour. It will require significant change in what we do and how we do it, in all aspects of our daily lives. By “we”, I really mean we—individuals, businesses, civil institutions, faith groups, the public sector and, indeed, Parliament itself. Everyone will have to consider carefully what more can be done.
Yesterday, the First Minister set out the key commitments in the programme for government. She also spoke about the context in which they are given and the political and constitutional emergency that is engulfing the United Kingdom. While a no-deal Brexit remains a threat, the Scottish Government will ensure that we are as prepared as possible while being honest about being unable to prevent all the damage that will ensue. Nevertheless, the Scottish Government cannot and will not simply ignore the needs of our country and the needs of the people of Scotland while the UK Government seems intent on propelling us towards a harmful no-deal exit from our friends and partners in the European Union. That includes responding to the need of current and future generations for us to combat the global climate emergency.
The programme for government is a statement of intent that starts to chart the path towards net zero in 2045 and a decarbonised, inclusive and innovating society. It is a vision of the Scotland that we want to become. As the Committee on Climate Change has noted, it is also a vision that we cannot achieve alone. It is welcome that the UK Government has followed our lead to legislate for a net zero target, but UK-wide policies still need to ramp up significantly. The Scottish Government has repeatedly called on the UK Government to act in areas in which we still do not have the powers to do what is needed.
There are bold commitments in the programme for government, such as the £500 million that we are spending on bus infrastructure to help transform how we use public transport and start the process of reducing congestion in our cities; our plans to decarbonise flights in Scotland by 2040, working with Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd to achieve the world’s first zero emission aviation region across the Scottish Highlands and Islands; and the commitment to increase our carbon sink, with an additional £5 million for afforestation and a total of £14 million this year to restore our vital peatlands.
Green finance initiatives will be crucial in achieving our transition and in maximising the opportunities of that transition. We have placed the 2045 net zero target at the heart of the remit of the Scottish national investment bank and we will create a £3 billion portfolio of projects to bring to market, ready for green investment. We will continue to prioritise the decarbonisation of our energy sources, investing £30 million in a low-carbon innovation fund for renewable heat projects.
We will support our farmers and the farming community as the sector evolves and explores new and exciting opportunities in organic farming and develops pilots to reduce greenhouse gases from agriculture. Supporting our farmers also means maximising our land use and enhancing the potential of every part of Scotland’s land, including that which is involved in agriculture and forestry, to contribute to the fight against climate change. At a national level, we will commission independent advice on options for changing land use patterns and practices in Scotland. We will develop proposals for implementing regional partnerships and frameworks, working to enable regional land use partnerships to emerge locally by 2021. That will help us to develop an integrated and strategic approach to sustainable land use.
We will also introduce the circular economy bill, which will advance Scotland’s ambitions for the circular economy, through measures that encourage the reuse of products and a reduction in waste and single-use items. A lot of people have been waiting for that for a while.
Leading by example, we will accelerate efforts to use 100 per cent renewable electricity in the Scottish public estate. I am proud to say that, by 2030, Scottish Water will produce three times as much energy as it consumes and that, by 2040, it will be net zero. That is a fine example for the rest of the public sector and our whole economy.
Biodiversity loss and the climate crisis are intimately bound together. We will make an additional £2 million available to fund further projects to address biodiversity loss and climate change. Many of the things that we need to do to help us reduce climate emissions have the effect of also helping us to combat biodiversity loss.
As well as providing a habitat for many species, our marine environment plays an important role in helping to absorb carbon. Next year, we will begin to publish results from our research programme into carbon capture and storage and we will establish a new virtual centre to co-ordinate marine climate change science and research in response to the global climate emergency.
The step change in behaviour and investment flowing from our response to the global climate emergency presents opportunities for us all. The programme for government is the next step in our journey towards a more inclusive society and a society that protects the planet and places the wellbeing and success of its citizens at its heart.
With the United Nations climate negotiations likely to be hosted in Glasgow next year, Scotland will be at the centre of the next critical conversation about global ambition on climate change. It will be the most important global conversation since Paris in 2015. As a nation, Scotland must lead by example. This ambitious programme for government reinforces Scotland’s status as a global leader in the fight against climate change. This Government’s actions will live up to our ambitions for a greener, fairer Scotland.
The debate occurs on a day when, as a result of spending decisions announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, an additional £1.2 billion in Barnett consequentials is coming to this Parliament. Let us hope that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work spends that money wisely to support our front-line services and that he does not squander the money when he still has a black hole to fill.
Yesterday, the First Minister did not inspire many people with her programme for government. At the outset, it was clear that the only thing that this Government cares about is independence. The first bill that the First Minister mentioned in her statement yesterday was the Referendums (Scotland) Bill. The programme for government mentions the word “independence” 13 times, and the word “referendum” appears no fewer than 25 times. It is the only thing that interests the Scottish National Party. Yesterday, the only time that SNP back benchers woke up was when the word “independence” was mentioned.
As the First Minister mentioned the Referendums (Scotland) Bill, let us look at what the experts have said about it. This morning, we heard evidence on it in the Finance and Constitution Committee. The bill has been slammed by the Electoral Commission, which says that it must have more time to assess any referendum question that is proposed in legislation and that it should not simply be set by Scottish ministers. It has been slammed by Dr Alan Renwick from the constitution unit of University College London, who says that he has found no well-functioning parliamentary democracy that gives ministers blanket authority to call a referendum via secondary legislation. It has been slammed by the Faculty of Advocates, the Institute for Government and the Law Society of Scotland. If that is the quality of the legislation that this Government is bringing forward, it needs to up its game.
Not just now.
When it came to the rest of the programme for government, we saw only a load of rehashed reannouncements and delays to previous programmes.
We have been promised a good food nation bill before. It was promised in the SNP manifesto in 2016 and promised again in the 2016 programme for government and in the 2017 programme for government. In January 2018, in answer to a question in the chamber, Fergus Ewing again set out his commitment to the bill . At the fourth time of asking, we look forward to seeing that legislation brought forward.
The Disclosure (Scotland) Bill was promised in last year’s programme for government, but it did not see the light of day. An electoral reform bill was promised last year, but it only saw the light of day yesterday morning. The national manufacturing institute was announced in December 2017, but it is only now that the Government says that work is to begin. It promised last year to introduce increased sentences for animal cruelty and to implement Finn’s law, but again those measures are only in this year’s programme for government.
The Government said that it would begin its parental employability support scheme last year, and it is doing the same again this year. It claimed that it would publish Scotland’s first ever national action plan on neurological conditions last year, and it is doing the same again this year. It has also delayed the delivery of its funeral support plan.
As I pointed out yesterday, the Government originally promised that it would sign the contracts for its R100 broadband scheme by the end of 2018, but now it says that it will not sign the contracts until the end of this year. Yesterday, the First Minister could give me no date by which that project would be completed. In the meantime, households across rural Scotland are crying out for the superfast broadband that the Scottish National Party promised would be delivered to them by the end of 2021. [
As to the detail in the programme for government, we look forward to scrutinising the bills that come forward. Action to promote the circular economy will, I know, be music to the ears of my colleague Maurice Golden, who can talk of little else. Proposals to decarbonise transport will be interesting, but where are the plans for bold infrastructure projects—for example, to extend our rail network? Where is the plan to reopen the direct Edinburgh to Perth rail line, which would have a transformative effect on transport choices for the whole north of Scotland? I would have thought that the cabinet secretary would want to take that forward, given her constituency interests.
There is a proposal to decarbonise internal flights, but we still have a policy commitment from the SNP to reduce air departure tax. If SNP members have a problem with ADT being devolved, why do they not look at devolving it direct from Westminster to local authorities? If they support local democracy, the Treasury has given a way forward for that to be done. That would be a way of empowering local government.
It was just to increase the sense of anticipation, Presiding Officer.
Mr Fraser is very keen to devolve powers to local authorities. Can he remind us how warmly he embraced the prospect of devolving responsibility to local authorities for a workplace parking levy?
I really think that the cabinet secretary could have picked stronger ground than trying to defend the hated car park tax. Even his own back benchers do not want the car park tax. He needs to think again.
We wait, after a long delay, for the Scottish national investment bank, although the Scottish growth scheme, which was supposed to deliver £500 million of investment, has delivered virtually nothing. I was interested in what the First Minister had to say about the Scottish national investment bank supporting the green economy. Will that mean that companies that are in the food and drink sector or which are involved in exporting will not be eligible for support? It would be good to get those matters clarified.
The programme is woefully thin. Where are the bold plans to grow the economy? Where are the plans to tackle the 30,000 additional—relative to the rest of the UK—economically inactive adults of working age in Scotland? Where is the action to tackle business rates and remove the large business supplement—the £65 million a year raid on retail premises? Where is the action to rejuvenate our town centres, and where are the plans to tackle productivity? If the SNP wants ideas on how to improve our economy, I can commend to it the interim report of our Scottish future growth council, whose 62 pages are bursting with ideas about how to take this country forward.
It was not the thin gruel in the programme for government that interested SNP members yesterday, because their interest was only in one issue, and that is independence. [
.] There we go—right on cue: the only time they wake up is when they hear that word. The reality is that this Government is out of inspiration, out of ideas, out of imagination and running out of time. It has only one thing left to cling on to and it will learn quickly that the Scottish people have no interest in going down that route.
As I reminded the First Minister yesterday, in last year’s programme for government we were told that
“Closing the attainment gap and raising standards in ... schools remains the Government’s overriding mission”,—[
, 4 September 2018; c 20.]
yet this summer’s exam results show that the pass rate for highers has fallen for the fourth year running.
Further, time after time, when I meet the parents of children with additional support needs, as I did a couple of weeks ago at the excellent Yard project in Edinburgh, I hear one experience after another of such needs not being met, of children and young people and their families being let down by the system, and of battles that have to be waged—some won, but far too many lost. I am sorry—although not as sorry as those families—but the £15 million of funding for ASN that was announced yesterday just will not cut it. We know—as does the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills—that, since 2012, there has been a rise of more than 80,000 in the number of pupils who have been identified as having such needs, yet the number of specialist ASN teachers has fallen by more than 400 over the same period. Where is the Government’s sense of urgency on and investment in additional support needs services?
Last year, it was also announced that there was to be new investment in child and adolescent mental health services, yet we know that, out in the real world, the pace of such investment has been way too slow. So far, only one fifth of the promised funding in school counselling has been released. Just last week, in Fife, I met a mother whose son had waited 20 months for a CAMHS referral. Yesterday, the First Minister could commit to putting in place the full complement of 350 counsellors in Scotland’s schools only a year from now, which means another year lost.
I raise those concerns not to score political points but because our young people are our greatest assets. Yet, they are being let down. I also raise those concerns because many such young people will not have a second chance. We have to get this right now, because if we can break the cycle of austerity and inaction and instead act and invest, we will change the very direction of their lives. The First Minister described the programme for government as “ambitious”. My question is: where is the ambition for those young people?
The Government’s rhetoric on climate change is good, and we in Scottish Labour applaud it, but it will be judged not by the volumes of strategies and plans that it publishes over the next 12 months but by its actions. Therefore I say to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform and to the Deputy First Minister that while we welcome the renewed emphasis on climate change, we ask why there is no permanent, statutory just transition commission, involving trade unions and workers, to guide it. We need that as part of a national action plan for the economy, not least because of the looming spectre of Brexit.
It is encouraging to hear the announcement of new investment for bus infrastructure. Last month, I visited Alexander Dennis Ltd in Camelon. It continues to be a success story under new ownership, but we need to ensure that that newly announced public investment in public transport brings a jobs dividend here in Scotland in factories such as ADL and in our fabrication yards and workshops. Scottish Labour has made no secret of the fact that we think that the best way to secure that is by putting passengers before profit and amending the Transport (Scotland) Bill to open the way for the return of buses to municipal ownership.
I say to those Government ministers who are here in the chamber that they cannot declare a climate emergency in April and then just sit back and allow a critical component of our public transport infrastructure, the Caledonian railway works in Springburn that has existed as a centre of excellence for more than 160 years, to close as it did in July. That made no sense. Those industrious women and men were let down in their hour of need by an SNP Government and a political party that, in the end, showed neither courage nor conviction.
It is not good enough for the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work to declare that Government intervention in the Scottish economy is done on a “case by case” basis. That is the SNP Government’s policy: “case by case”. What we need is not a case-by-case approach, but a comprehensive, proactive, forward-looking industrial strategy with a national economic action plan to back it up—one that puts together Lanarkshire steel and Highland aluminium with our engineering base, our renewable energy demand, our public transport needs and our public procurement policy. That is what is needed in the programme for government, not a divisive and unwanted referendum bill.
I began by talking about the treatment of our young people, which is a measure of the kind of society that we are. Another is how we treat our older citizens, so I am interested that the Government wants to develop a future vision for a sustainable care home sector. Over the summer, along with Alex Rowley, I went to Lumphinnans to visit what may be the already-existing realisation of that vision—a mini-village in a former mining village that combines modern, independent living with a warden service, communal spaces, a day centre and a residential care home. It is built and run by Fife Council.
It has long been my view that, with an ageing population, we need to plan and invest now in exactly that type of provision, and it is my long-held view that we cannot rely on the market, the private sector or indeed the voluntary sector alone to do it. We need to drive this through the public sector. We need the courage and the audacity of the 1945 generation, who had the foresight and the vision to establish a public national health service that is paid for out of general taxation and is free at the point of need. We need to make that kind of leap of imagination with our vision of care for the elderly—a publicly owned care service that is delivered by properly funded local government. Those are the radical ideas that we need to put into practice. Their time has come.
Over the next year, we will work with the Government when we can, we will hold it to account as we must, we will oppose and resist it when it is wrong, and we will challenge it inside this Parliament, but outside as well, in the battle of ideas and in the clash of values, to deliver what is best for the people of Scotland.
I start by broadly welcoming the programme for government. It perhaps sits in stark contrast to the utter chaos and dysfunction of Westminster. At least we have a functioning Government and, in many areas, from the fair work agenda to tackling child poverty, we have a strong consensus in this Parliament. Even on the biggest question that divides us, which is independence, the work to update the prospectus on independence will give us all a starting point to analyse and debate the vision and the technicalities of how an independent Scotland would work.
We also welcome the Government’s adoption of the language of the green new deal. It even gets a chapter heading of its own, with some old policies as well as some borrowed and some new. We might not yet be on the same page, but we are getting into a better place in this Parliament to debate issues such as the future of oil and gas, farming and transport.
I will be frank, though. What is in the programme is not a green new deal. I ask members to look at the original new deal, which transformed the US economy, and the bold green new deal that is currently proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US. A green new deal has to be transformative. It has to wield the power of the public sector to not just fix markets, but create entirely new markets for goods and services. It has to use every lever that is available to deliver investment. It is not simply some exciting rhetoric to wrap around an existing policy agenda.
A Scottish green new deal has to be the engine of a just transition, creating new, fairer livelihoods in our institutions, our businesses and our homes and on the land. We can no longer assume that sending policy signals from Government will be enough to nudge the private sector. It will require direct intervention from the state, and that means rebuilding the role of the state nationally and locally, in areas such as energy and transport, with bold, patient public finance investing in our common wealth for the benefit of future generations.
What should that mean, for example, for the homes that we live in? Heating accounts for half of Scotland’s climate emissions while a quarter of all our people live with the choice of heating versus eating. The programme for government contains some welcome policies, but they fail to address the sheer scale of the challenge.
The Scottish Green Party’s “Scottish Green New Deal”, which we launched last week, proposes greater ambition, including a programme of deep retrofits and the requirement for all new homes to meet net zero standards. The climate emergency demands an emergency response, not tinkering at the edges. In the Netherlands, the Energiesprong retrofit programme moves at pace, with armies of installers working street by street and community by community to transform thousands of houses to warm and affordable net zero homes. In its programme, the Scottish Government talks about having net zero heating by 2045, but Sweden will have net zero heating by next year—it will achieve a complete decarbonisation using district heating, heat pumps and biomass.
Yesterday, for the first time, the First Minister talked about support for the oil and gas sector being conditional on a plan for reaching net zero emissions. I welcome that shift in language. It is not exactly the position of Jacinda Ardern and the New Zealand Government, who, in ending exploration for new reserves, have been bolder, but it is a start.
However, the Government’s objective, which is shared by the industry today, remains maximum resource extraction. That involves a huge and costly gamble on the unproven technology of carbon capture and storage. Recently, when I met the operators of Mossmorran, which is the second-largest greenhouse gas emitter in Scotland, I learned that there have been no discussions between them and the Scottish Government about CCS, and there are no plans to invest in the technology. We have 10 years left to tackle climate change, so business as usual is just not an option.
We need to plan now for the transition away from oil and gas by reducing the demand and the supply side in tandem, which is what New Zealand is planning for. That is why it is so important that the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill provides for a statutory just transition commission. The oil and gas industry will not end in Scotland this year or next year, but unless we plan now for its sunset in decades to come, we will let down the communities that will remain utterly dependent on it right up until the last day of production.
As well as being at the front line of the impact of climate change, our land is uniquely placed to be part of the solution. The programme for government is meant to be the response to the climate emergency, but even at the higher rate of tree planting that the Government is aiming for next year, it would meet its target of 21 per cent of Scotland being forested by 2032, which is eight years late. At that rate, the target of 40 per cent that the Scottish Greens have announced—which is the EU average—would not be met for 150 years.
Rather than just topping up the forestry grant scheme, much of which ends up with large landowners, is it not time that the Scottish Government developed a radical plan to accelerate forest restoration everywhere and to encourage more community ownership? That would mean questioning why a fifth of Scotland is given over to driven grouse moors when much of that land could be reforested, creating rural jobs and locking up carbon. It would also mean putting climate change at the heart of farming subsidy support. The programme for government announces a rural support bill, but that appears to be more about resisting change until 2024 than putting the climate emergency at the heart of subsidy support today.
On transport, we welcome the £500 million for priority bus access investment, but that cannot go hand in hand with city deals that are looking to expand road infrastructure. We need to know where that funding will come from and exactly what it will be spent on. Today, we repeat our call for 10 per cent of the transport budget to go on walking and cycling. Just last week, an independent review advised the Scottish Government that that funding should double again. Those modest asks are being ignored while billions continue to be freely spent on new roads. For the £6,000 million cost of the A9 and A96 projects, the Government could buy 86 new rail routes such as the Levenmouth link. There has to be a better balance between those priorities in the capital budget.
Scotland can and must lead the way by transforming our economy through a Scottish green new deal so that it works for people and the planet, but if that is to happen, we will need to see a much bolder and more courageous Scottish Government and Parliament over the coming year.
I am very grateful to have the opportunity to respond for the Liberal Democrats to the programme for government that was laid out by the First Minister yesterday.
Naturally, we welcome a renewed focus on the climate emergency, but that is not really what the First Minister’s statement was about. Once again, Nicola Sturgeon spent the first part of her remarks on Scotland’s constitutional future. Therefore, so shall I.
Many questions face Scotland at this moment in our nation’s history, the answer to none of which is independence. Since the vote to leave the European Union in 2016, the First Minister has sought to set the constitutional debate in Scotland as an unambiguous choice between two unions. She intends to force that choice on the people of this country before the end of this session of Parliament, yet that choice has always been erroneous, and I will tell the chamber why. Several unassailable realities are fast emerging that will block Scotland’s seamless re-entry to Europe, and remain voters need to be crystal clear about the challenges for an independent Scotland seeking that re-entry.
First, there is the unanswerable question of Scotland’s finances. The Government’s own statistics, released last week, reveal that Scotland’s national deficit—the difference between our income tax receipts and our expenditure—stands at more than 7 per cent of our gross domestic product. Article 126 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union stipulates that accession states must have a national deficit no higher than 3 per cent. Just to get to the races and be considered for membership by the EU, we would need to hike taxes and butcher public spending, which would by necessity lead to an era of austerity max.
Naturally, Scottish National Party high command sought to spin the Government’s statistics as good news, suggesting that they proved that Scotland could just about afford all public spending and a welfare state at current levels, and could therefore go it alone. Oh really? Well, who is going to pay for the new embassies that we will need, or our trade missions, or our overseas aid budget? Who is going to bankroll the new Scottish armed services? And here is the big one. Where will we find more than £1 billion each year, which represents the 0.7 per cent of Scottish gross national income that the EU expects as a membership fee?
Like my leaders Jo Swinson and Willie Rennie and the tens of thousands of people who have joined our party in recent weeks, I am a passionate internationalist. We believe that Scotland is strongest at the heart of the UK and that the UK is strongest at the heart of Europe. Brexit broke my heart and, if we leave the EU, I will spend the rest of my life trying to get Britain back in, but I will not meet the loss of one international union that I care about by junking the other one, on the insubstantial promises of this Administration.
I am tired of this First Minister and her Government misappropriating my vote to remain as justification for another divisive independence referendum—[
It is the elephant in the room in every decision of this Government.
I will rewind, Presiding Officer. I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. I am tired of this First Minister and this Government misappropriating my vote to remain as justification for another divisive independence referendum. The choice between two unions has always been a false one and it has led to a paralysis of government that has starved all other policy considerations of oxygen—areas that should have front loaded the First Minister’s statement but which once again played second fiddle to her lifelong obsession with separation.
The statement of a responsible First Minister—one committed to the wellbeing of the people of Scotland—should have commenced with a laser-beam focus on the scandalous failures of public policy by her Administration: that the number of children waiting more than a year for first-line mental health support has trebled; that suicide in young people is up 50 per cent; that drug-related deaths in Scotland are the worst in Europe; that in the year of young people, this Government failed to meet the international minimum age of criminal responsibility, for which it was rightly criticised on the world stage; that passengers in my constituency still cannot get to work because of cancelled or overcrowded trains; that a hospital for children, seven years in the making, lies empty, unfinished and haemorrhaging money; that a publicly funded child care offer to parents looks unlikely to be deliverable next year; and that patients still receive letters saying that their operation will happen in 12 weeks by law, only to discover that the wait will be more like 50 weeks.
I could go on and on. That is a powerful index of incompetence and is symptomatic of a Government whose tactical focus has been exclusively on the same thing for 12 years and more.
That the false necessity of Scotland leaving the United Kingdom should be the first thing to leave Nicola Sturgeon’s lips in her statement yesterday represents a dereliction of her duties and the office that she holds. She used the statement to again stoke the fires of independence, just as control over Brexit was finally snatched from the Conservative Government. Boris Johnston’s defeat in the Commons last night suggests that the tide might be turning against Brexit and I am grateful for the co-operation that Nicola Sturgeon’s MPs have shown Opposition parties in that enterprise. Stopping Brexit in that Parliament should be the alpha and omega of the constitutional debate right now. The outcome of that struggle will not be determined in this Parliament, but the answers to the failures of her Government’s public policy will, and that should be the focus of our efforts.
Independence is not the lifeboat that the SNP would have remain voters believe, so I ask the Scottish Government to abandon this sideshow today. They must put their shoulders to the wheel on the catalogue of public policy areas that are crying out for their attention.
There is a muscle memory to these exchanges. For the party of government, the union is still the cause of all ills and independence is our salvation. On such occasions, Opposition members who want to retain Scotland’s place in the UK respond as I have done today. These debates are exhausting and not a single one of our constituents is any better for it. We were all elected to this Parliament because our communities put trust in us to act in their best interests, to meet the challenges and threats that they face and to build a society in which they can prosper. With every countless hour that is wasted reheating the debates of 2014, we fail to meet the tests of our constituents’ expectations.
At the start of my speech, I talked of the many questions that Scotland faces at this moment in history. If the First Minister and her party continue to present just one answer, which is wholly unsuitable to all the public policy challenges that we face, her Government deserves to fall—and fall it will.
I remind members that if they are disgruntled about another member’s speech, they must intervene. There is time for interventions. It is quite cowardly to just shout and not intervene to make your point. I say that to members of parties around the chamber. If you wish to say something, intervene; otherwise, we cannot hear what the member is saying.
We move to the open debate. We will have six-minute speeches and there is some time for interventions, which I encourage.
Among all the chaos and controversy from Westminster, it was a comfort to return to the normality and routine of our Parliament, where, on the first day after summer recess, we were back to business as normal, with the Government laying out its plans and members, in turn, having the opportunity to fairly and rationally question, scrutinise and debate. In other words, we have been getting on with the day job on behalf of our constituents.
It is clear to anybody listening that responding to the climate emergency is at the heart of this year’s programme for government. I am sure that the First Minister will not mind me pointing out to Mr Cole-Hamilton that she spoke at length yesterday about the climate emergency that we face.
I concede that environmental politics is not my hinterland; it is not where I started from. It was entering this Parliament 12 years ago and, if I am candid, all the engagement that we do with children and young people on the issues that matter most to them that opened my eyes.
I used to feel somewhat overwhelmed by the social, economic and climate chaos that will be unleashed if we do not roll back on our misuse of the planet’s resources. However, it is more visible than ever before that we now have a much more connected and collective approach to tackling the climate challenge. The fact that the programme for government is more task and investment focused gives me more hope, or at least makes me feel less powerless.
There are some important building blocks. There is the Scottish national investment bank, with its primary mission of helping us transition to a net zero economy. There is massive new investment in public transport, specifically buses, and energy efficiency will also benefit from £0.5 billion-worth of investment. Increasing the spending power of infrastructure investment is also important. On a constituency note, I was glad to see the £30-million low-carbon heat fund, given that Mitsubishi is one of the biggest employers in my constituency, where it manufactures air conditioning and heat pumps. It is also good news that, from 2024, new-build housing will be heated from renewable sources.
All of that—and more—is absolutely my political heartland of fairer work and more affordable and warm homes. Our new social security powers now benefit 90,000 people in Scotland, meaning that, along with the big ticket items—the best start grant and the child payment—there is real impetus and a sense that we are on the road to reducing poverty and inequality.
However, given the current United Kingdom environment, like many people, I worry about our future more than I ever have. I worry about whether we have enough powers to protect our democracy and about whether we have all the levers to meet all our ambitions, when one Government is giving and another is taking. All of that increases my resolve to work harder in making the case for independence—we live in a democracy and I am entitled to do that—and in finding ways to do more with our existing powers and resources.
On that point, I very much welcome the commitment to the good food nation bill. West Lothian Foodbank reports a 40 per cent increase in demand since the roll-out of Westminster’s universal credit. I hope that we can all agree that we will never be rich as a society until no man, woman or child has to rely on food banks. I support the calls by Nourish Scotland, the Scottish food coalition and the 1,400 respondents to the consultation on the bill for the right to food to be incorporated into Scots law. I entirely accept that it is far easier to legislate than it is to deliver rights in the real world, but we have to end hunger and poor nutrition in 21st century Scotland.
As well as hunger, we have a problem with obesity that we need to face up to. I support the Government’s work on healthy eating and the need to tackle multibuys and heavily discounted food with low, or no, nutritional value. However, I have concerns about potential unintended consequences, which the Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing was kind enough to discuss with me. Paterson Arran, which is in my constituency, employs 200 people and, as most people know, produces shortbread. Although I am not for a minute pretending that shortbread is anything other than a treat, it is worth bearing in mind that it contains 17 per cent sugar compared with the 52 per cent sugar that is in a Kit Kat, for example.
Big confectionary companies spend a huge amount of money on advertising, the regulation of which is reserved. Meanwhile, we propose to limit in-store promotion and free samples, which might disproportionately impact on small and medium-sized companies such as Paterson Arran, which are simply trying to sell more shortbread around Christmas and Hogmanay. I hope that we will consider the evidence and impact, and how that all fits with our food and drink strategy.
Finally, I am delighted to see progress on the elective treatment centre at St John’s hospital in Livingston, and I am delighted to endorse a programme for government that is getting things done and which has the courage to face up to, and set out, our long-term challenges and goals.
I will use my time this afternoon to set out key policy commitments that the Scottish Conservatives believe should be the education priorities of the Government.
I start with the good news, which was confirmed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon, that there will be significant Barnett consequentials as a direct result of the boost to schools spending in England and Wales. That boost will see £325 million come to Scotland for the 2021 financial year. I hope that John Swinney agrees that that money is not only very welcome, but can go some way towards restoring teacher numbers.
In recent weeks, we have seen some encouraging signs in some local authorities about improved teacher recruitment, but the fact remains that total teacher numbers are still down by more than 3,000 since the SNP came to power. In particular, we know that key shortages remain in certain subjects and, of course, in additional support for learning. Richard Leonard highlighted that earlier. Over the past 10 years, that has seen a 26 per cent decline across primary and secondary schools.
I am only too well aware that teachers cannot be trained overnight, but the additional money should help the teacher training process and address some of the retention and supply issues that our schools and local authorities have highlighted.
The recent complaints from teaching staff were not just about salaries—the cabinet secretary addressed that issue before the parliamentary recess; they were primarily about workload. Their workload has increased for lots of different reasons, but often because of teacher shortages in the system.
I challenge the cabinet secretary to tell us what he will do with the additional financial resources to address parents’ concerns.
Far from it. The Barnett consequentials have come as a direct result of the increase in education spending south of the border. Consequentials will go to the Scottish Government, and I am making the strong plea that that money should go to helping the teacher shortage situation. I do not see why there is a problem with that.
A month ago, we said very firmly that there is surely a genuine case to try to improve national 4s, which, as we all know, suffer from a lack of status. Employers have highlighted the point that too many young people leave school without the necessary exam-accredited qualifications to their name in basic literacy and numeracy. The Scottish Conservatives believe that we are very much on the side of parents and teachers when we call for basic exam-accredited qualifications in those areas so that all young people can read, write and count to a good standard and have good-quality accredited qualifications behind them that enhance their confidence and make them much more attractive to the job market.
No—far from it, but that is a fundamental part of it. The message that is coming back and the message that we have had several times in the Education and Skills Committee is that the national 4 qualification is not met with the credibility that it should have and deserves. That issue has been raised many times in the Education and Skills Committee, and we think that the cabinet secretary should be investigating it and taking it very seriously.
I come to the issue of subject choice and the Scottish Government’s plea that we should look not just at the exam passes that are gained within the individual years but at those that are gained within the entire senior phase as a three-year progression. As I have said before, there is some attraction in that theory, but the current practice is a problem, because the narrowing of subject choice in secondary 4 and the similar effects that that has on S5 and S6 are creating gaps in the well-rounded education that is on offer in our schools. If there was a properly thought-out progression and full articulation between different courses, we would not see schools’ reluctance to offer young people the chance to sit highers across two academic years, the two-term dash to highers and a diminishing number of pupils who are able to access advanced highers. As the cabinet secretary knows, the advanced higher is very much one of the shining lights in Scotland’s education and is much valued by people elsewhere.
Jim Scott’s on-going analysis of what is happening in subject choice is stark, and that surely concerns the cabinet secretary. It draws into question some of the structures under the curriculum for excellence. I hope that that will be reviewed very quickly.
Let me finish on skills participation and apprenticeships, which are crucial to the overall direction of travel. It is clear that some very good things are happening in that area, but they are not enough. That is why the Scottish Conservatives want to see much more commitment and support being given to young people to the age of 18. If they have left school and have not gone to college or university or to a job, surely it has to be beneficial if they are in a structured apprenticeship or traineeship.
We need to do much more to encourage our entrepreneurs, such as Jim McColl, in all their efforts to get more disengaged young people into structured training. I have focused on what I believe are the priorities of young people, teachers and the public, and those should be the Scottish Government’s focus when it comes to education.
Last night, like many people, I was glued to my television, watching the goings on at Westminster—or, as I like to refer to it, the series finale of the United Kingdom. In between the Prime Minister’s calamitous speech and the emergency debate on suspending the UK Parliament, some poor MP had a 10-minute rule debate to which next to nobody was listening. It was on air quality. The poor chap was bookended by high political drama and the denouement of three years of Tory Brexit civil war. What chance did he have to draw attention away from that to environmental issues in a place that has hardly passed any relevant legislation in the past three years, with a Government that has limped along doing next to nothing, particularly when it comes to tackling the biggest issue of our time: climate change?
What a contrast to yesterday’s scenes here, as the First Minister laid out her programme for government, which had tackling climate change at its heart. It is a 158-page programme of meaningful policy and legislation that will be enacted, and quickly. That is what a functioning Government and Parliament look like. It is easy to forget that such things exist if our eyes are fixed only on Westminster. As the convener of a committee that has spent the past year scrutinising the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill and producing a comprehensive list of recommendations on how to reduce emissions, I was delighted to see so many of our asks put into action yesterday.
For a long time, I have been convinced that the private sector must be incentivised to help us to reach our climate ambitions. Without it, we will simply fail. Therefore, the announcement of measures in the green new deal is big news and has real action behind it. The Scottish national investment bank will, as its priority, provide lending for net zero projects; the procurement of public contracts will be dependent on environmental criteria; and huge growth-acceleration funding and support will be available for emissions-reducing infrastructure.
Scotland has a chance to be a world leader not only in meeting the target of net zero by 2045 but in being a green innovation nation that creates technology that we can export to others as we undertake that journey. Yesterday’s announcement of a £3 billion portfolio of projects to attract investors in renewables, low-emission transport solutions, waste management and construction that locks in carbon rather than emitting it is of staggering significance.
Alongside the journey to becoming a net zero country, we have a huge opportunity to create thousands of jobs. The just transition away from burning fossil fuels is of particular importance to my area of Aberdeenshire, where so many of us rely on oil and gas for our living. I welcome the climate emergency skills action plan, and the scheme must have a firm foothold in my part of Scotland. The north-east already boasts the biggest concentration of transferable engineering and technical skills in the whole of Scotland, but we desperately need to provide the low-carbon career routes and skills for tomorrow for kids in schools in my constituency today. Their parents might have worked in oil and gas production and services, but the young people in Ellon, Inverurie, Turriff, Mintlaw and Meldrum academies right now could be the future hydrogen engineers who fuel our freight transport or the key to cracking the battery storage challenge for renewable energy.
As an animal lover, I welcome the proposed animal welfare bill. I want to mention a small part of it that has some particular resonance for my constituency. Tucked away on page 32 of the PFG is an announcement that it will be possible to rehome animals that are seized on welfare grounds without the need for a court order. That is in line with best practice in other northern European countries. This year, two constituents of mine were jailed after more than 100 dogs and their pups were seized from horrible conditions at an illegal puppy farm near Fyvie. The court action took two years and, during that time, the dogs were cared for in shelters. With the proposed new legislation, that will never need to happen again. Dogs will be rehomed or sold and will not live in limbo. I thank the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for its lobbying on the issue over the years, and the Government for its response. It means a lot to us in my constituency.
I also welcome moves to make bus travel infrastructure greener and more reliable. For those of us in rural areas, the expansion of the electric vehicle charging network and the low-carbon transport loan scheme means that ordinary people—particularly rural people—can think about purchasing a used electric vehicle rather than its being an unrealistic pipe dream. That meaningful step will enable a lot of us to move away from petrol and diesel and play our part in meeting the climate challenge.
Electrification of our existing railways is great news, but I will continue to campaign for the reopening of the Formartine and Buchan line in my constituency, to give my constituents more low-carbon public transport options.
When the First Minister declared a climate emergency, she promised that she would make the climate a Government priority, and she has delivered a programme for government that proves that she is true to her word. These policies will propel Scotland into a low-carbon future with huge opportunities for our people. They are in line with what the people of Scotland have asked us to prioritise and will ensure that no one is left behind in that transition.
Thank you, Presiding Officer—no pressure, then.
I am delighted to have the privilege of serving again in our Scottish Parliament. I put on record my thanks to Kezia Dugdale for her work in this Parliament. I am particularly looking forward to working with my Labour colleagues Daniel Johnson and Neil Findlay as we support our constituents across the Lothians. Over the past month, we have worked on affordable housing and health issues—particularly the uncertainty faced by families over delays in the opening of the sick kids hospital and parents’ concerns about access to mental health services for their children.
I said in May that I had unfinished business: addressing our climate change emergency and tackling poverty and the crisis in affordable housing in Edinburgh. When I worked with the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, I had the opportunity to see at first hand the quality of the affordable social housing that is being built across the country, the empowerment that comes from involving tenants in shaping their communities and, crucially, the economic benefits that come from not just building new homes but investing in existing homes to make them warm and energy efficient.
However, there is so much more that we need to do. In particular, we need to meet the challenge of eliminating fuel poverty so that no one has to suffer from the choice between heating or eating. A quarter of our children now live in poverty, a household becomes homeless every 18 minutes and we have a widening gap regarding health inequality. We need to make sure that tackling poverty is addressed with urgency alongside our climate emergency.
There is a huge amount to absorb from yesterday’s programme for government. Scottish Labour warmly welcomes the focus on tackling our climate emergency. It is an emergency, and it is not a choice but an absolute necessity that we invest in all our infrastructure to make it low carbon and resilient to deal with the challenges that even in Scotland—where we are not at the forefront of the climate difficulties that will come—we have to plan for.
I welcome the focus on ensuring that new procurement, investment and the work of the Scottish national investment bank will deliver zero-emissions investment. We need multiple benefits to be delivered, with more opportunity for apprentices, for decent wages and for communities benefiting directly from investment.
We need to tackle climate change and deliver quality jobs at the same time. A great way to do that would be a properly funded programme of retrofitting to bring all our homes, right across the country, up to the standard that was mentioned yesterday. Think of the local economic opportunities. We need much more rapid progress on renewables and heat projects that are based in communities across the country. There are lots of opportunities for community-based co-ops and community companies to deliver. We have good examples—Aberdeen Heat and Power Company, which has been not-for-profit since 2012; our Edinburgh Community Solar Co-operative, which is now working in partnership with the city council; and community renewables in probably every constituency across the country—but we need more. They deliver multiple benefits and must be factored into all our planning decisions, so that we get the low-carbon heat and power that we need now as well as reinvestment in our communities.
I also welcome the focus yesterday on investment in low-carbon transport, because transport is an area in which progress on reducing emissions has been nowhere near fast enough. Again, however, we need to go further and think about empowering our communities so that local people can access shared electric vehicles and do not all have to buy electric vehicles; so that we can have municipal bus companies again; and so that we can have high-quality, affordable public transport with more routes that reach out to areas where people do not currently have that opportunity. Crucially, we need to link healthier and affordable public transport choices with opportunities for active travel such as walking and cycling, including more electric bikes.
Our communities need to be at the heart of our low-carbon industrial revolution, which is why Labour welcomes the new just transition commission. However, as Richard Leonard said, it must not be a short-term group; it has to be there for the long term so that we always have a focus on the issue and always remind Government that investment has to deliver for people and our environment.
Our local authorities are crucial if we are to deliver the programme that was announced yesterday. I welcome the announcement of a tourism levy, although that is not a new idea—I worked on a member’s bill on it in 2016. Will ministers commit to the legislation being in place by the 2021 election? Our local authorities need that opportunity now.
Let me use the example of our capital city to show how hard local authorities are being hit by the reduction in funding by ministers. In the past five years, the Scottish Government has reduced funding per head in our capital city by 7.5 per cent at a time when the population has increased by more than 7 per cent. That means that there are cuts at a time when our communities need more investment. We are losing homes to Airbnb, even though new homes are being built, while the cost of land is increasing, which means that vital infrastructure and new homes are more expensive. We need more progress on community empowerment and the land reform agenda, and we need proper funding for local authorities and the communities that they serve. Local authorities have a crucial role to play, alongside the Scottish Government, in providing public sector leadership if the change that we need in every community across Scotland is to be delivered.
The coming months will give us the opportunity to test the detail of the plans that were announced yesterday and to scrutinise them in detail. I welcome the proposed circular economy bill and good food nation bill. We must ensure that the investment that comes forward tackles our climate crisis, repays us with wider benefits and addresses the long-standing and deep-rooted inequalities that should not be acceptable to us and that hold us back as a country.
There is much to welcome in yesterday’s programme for government, but, in particular, I welcome the commitment to invest £500 million in buses. The emphasis yesterday was on urban buses, which is absolutely right and fair, but there is also an issue with rural bus services. In my constituency, in villages such as Harthill, Glenmavis, Caldercruix, Plains and Salsburgh, and in Shotts, which is a town, the problem is the closure or running down of bus services. As part of the £500 million, I ask the Government to consider greater subsidy on a permanent basis for such services, because that is what it takes to keep many of them going and to reopen others.
Because of the distances involved in rural areas, the carbon savings from getting more people to travel on the bus are significant.
I have a specific proposal that I ask the Government to consider. Through the excellent MyBus service in Lanarkshire—the service exists in other parts of the country, but in Lanarkshire it is called MyBus—anyone over the age of 75 can get the bus to come to their door, pick them up, take them where they need to go and then bring them back to their door. The problem is that the scheme is restricted to people aged over 75. I ask the Government to consider lowering the age at which subsidy for that service becomes available. There is a lot of spare capacity on the buses. Given that they are subsidised, it seems a shame that we are allowing them to travel nearly empty. Providing a wee bit more subsidy and reducing the age limit or broadening the eligibility would tick a lot of boxes.
I agree entirely with what the member has said so far, but local government requires an increase in funding if it is to subsidise routes and develop projects. We have to end the cuts to local government and increase funding to enable the likes of North Lanarkshire Council to do that.
I envisage a fair chunk of the £500 million that has been set aside for buses, as announced yesterday, being channelled through our local authorities. Expansion of eligibility for MyBus is a good example of the service enhancement that could be made. A lot can be done, to the benefit of everyone.
I want to concentrate on the wider economy, because an issue that emanates from yesterday’s statement, to which Gillian Martin and Sarah Boyack referred, is the economic development and job opportunities that could come from the carbon reduction programme. It seems to me that there are opportunities to create many jobs and gain expertise not just locally but at national and international levels. Through Scottish Enterprise and similar agencies, we need to exploit to the maximum the economic opportunity that comes from the carbon reduction programme that was set out yesterday.
There is no doubt that the expansion of technology in all its forms, right across the board, whether we are talking about improved insulation in housing, improved efficiency of cars and electric vehicles or other technologies, many of which are being developed in Scotland, can not only reduce carbon emissions but create many new, well-paid jobs, which will have an international export market and will provide opportunities, particularly for young people.
Another priority that needs to be addressed is the skills shortage in a number of key industries. For example, it is estimated that every year in Scotland we need about 12,000 new information technology graduates, just to stand still. However, only 4,000 to 5,000 IT students graduate every year, so there is a deficit of about 7,000 IT graduates every year—just to stand still. There are jobs, and, if we closed the gap, there would be many more people—people of all ages, not just young people—who could fill them.
In the construction sector, there is estimated to be a shortage of about 12,500 people, primarily in the so-called wet skills. Again, there are huge opportunities there. We should be able to incentivise people in lower-paid, less skilled jobs to go up the skills ladder into areas such as IT and construction, where there are thousands of job opportunities and the wages are very good.
We have a shortage of train drivers, who I believe have an average wage of about 45 grand a year—I am thinking of applying for a job myself; I am sure that members will support me and give me a reference. That is another example of an area in which there is the opportunity for an ambitious skills ladder, to fill jobs that need to be filled and to give people in lower-paid jobs the opportunity to go up the ladder and develop their careers.
I am sorry; there are many other things that I would have liked to speak about, Presiding Officer, including the challenge from artificial intelligence, but I will leave them for another day, because you are about to tell me that I have run out of time.
I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.
It is right that climate change features strongly in the programme for government. As always, I welcome the ambition that the Scottish Government has shown in wanting to tackle climate change. That ambition has, no doubt, been spurred on by unprecedented public concern.
I am sincere in saying that it is regrettable that the SNP Government falls short of delivering on its ambition.
Last year, I highlighted a litany of failures in the hope that they would be given the attention that they deserved. Sadly, little has changed. For example, as things stand, the Scottish Government’s target of recycling 60 per cent of household waste by 2032 will be missed by 12 years. Its proposed 2021 landfill ban is wildly off target, and could end up costing Scotland more than £1 billion and see it having to ship waste to England or, indeed, abroad.
On biodiversity, there is more inaction, with 13 of 20 international biodiversity targets missed. A biodiversity baseline would help us to protect our wildlife. I raised the matter three years ago. The First Minister stood in this chamber in May and agreed with me, and yet we are still waiting for action.
Transport has also floundered, with emissions barely reducing in almost 30 years. The SNP has promised to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2032, but so far, just 1 per cent of Scotland’s 2.9 million cars are electric—not that the SNP Government has been setting an example for Scots to follow, as just 20 per cent of Scottish Government vehicles are electric.
We then have the proposed deposit return scheme, which also looks as if it will come up short. Despite its model never having been tried anywhere in the world before, the SNP claims that the scheme will be fully operational, with 90 per cent efficiency, in little over a year. More worrying is the lack of detail about the new system. On support for small businesses, the impact on kerbside services, access for vulnerable groups, compatibility with the rest of the UK and more, there is no detail. A deposit return scheme could cut waste and bolster recycling. For that to happen, the cabinet secretary must start to provide the public and businesses with the answers that they deserve.
If we are to achieve net zero emissions, transform to a circular economy and protect our environment, the SNP must focus on results. That can be done in partnership with the United Kingdom, which is decarbonising faster than any other major economy; a colossal £52 billion has been invested in renewables, 400,000 low-carbon jobs have been created, 50 million trees have been planted and protection has been given to an area of ocean that is the size of India.
Scotland has the ambition to match that, and the Scottish Conservatives have the policies to deliver, some of which, having performed a U-turn on them, the Scottish Government now supports. For example, reducing fuel poverty and giving everyone a warmer home by raising energy efficiency standards to energy performance certificate band C by 2030, is a measure that was put forward by the Scottish Conservatives.
Moreover, we supported climate action through public procurement measures, such as mandating the purchase of zero-emission vehicles where possible. It should not take a climate emergency to ensure that we get best value through Scottish Government procurement.
We have to tackle poor air quality with air quality monitors at every Scottish school. We also have to back our farmers with funding and technical support to modernise equipment and be greener. We have to ensure that renewables and decommissioning jobs stay in Scotland, and create new ones by ensuring that Scottish workers build the new deposit return scheme machines. We also want to turn plastic waste into an asset with a new plastics recycling plant, which would also provide jobs here in Scotland.
On some of those measures we share common ground with the likes of Friends of the Earth Scotland and WWF Scotland. I hope that the Scottish Government can find equally common cause with us, because together we can deliver the results that Scotland deserves.
Before I close, I want to say something about animal welfare. I welcome developments such as the increase in animal cruelty sentences to five years. I also welcome those sentences applying to cruelty to service animals, following our successful Finn’s law campaign. From working closely with the Scottish SPCA, Dogs Trust, the Kennel Club and others, I know that they want this Parliament to go further than it has.
Many members are passionate about animal welfare, and I share that view. The forthcoming animal welfare bill is an opportunity to deliver for Scotland’s animals. We should aim for nothing less than Scotland having the best animal welfare laws anywhere in the world.
I rise to speak of a tale of two cities. The performance of London’s Westminster Government could not be more in contrast with that of our Edinburgh Government.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.
The best of times is in Edinburgh, where we see a programme for government that will transform for the better the lives of our citizens. Opposed to that, we have the worst of times, with a Westminster Government that is obsessed with dragging Scotland out of Europe, inflicting untold damage to our economy, our social cohesion and our EU new Scots.
“the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness”.
The wisdom comes from the SNP Government’s intention to put the climate change emergency at the heart of all that it is doing to progress our society on behalf of the people of Scotland. The foolishness is the attempted proroguing of Parliament and the headlong hurtle off the Brexit cliff edge. Deal or no deal, there is no such thing as a good Brexit.
“the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity”.
Belief comes from measures to tackle climate change and poverty and to reduce inequality. Incredulity comes from months of stagnation at Westminster, as it is caught in the headlights of a constitutional crisis. The epoch of belief is also about measures for ending homelessness, initiatives to tackle holiday hunger, the early introduction of the Scottish child payment, grants from the Scottish welfare fund, schemes for period poverty and fuel poverty, discretionary housing payments, council tax reductions, the expansion of early years childcare, the creation of a new statutory body on poverty and inequality and, of course, a new Social Security Scotland agency that is built on the principles of dignity and respect. The epoch of incredulity concerns the fact that, while we are working hard to tackle poverty, we are forced to mitigate the punitive and degrading social security system from Westminster that has given us the bedroom tax and the rape clause.
We are facing a climate emergency. We need skills and we need collaboration. Scotland can be, rightly, proud of its record on tackling climate change. We have already exceeded our target of producing 50 per cent of our electricity needs from renewables by 2015—in 2018, 74.6 per cent of gross electricity consumption was from renewable sources. Investment in walking and cycling in Scotland has been doubled to £80 million a year. In tandem with continued investment in rail electrification and our comprehensive network of car charging points, that will greatly reduce Scotland’s carbon emissions and put us well on our way to phasing out diesel and petrol cars by 2032.
However, it is mostly the investment in people and skills in the programme for government that I take heart from. I welcome the Scotland’s future skills action plan that was published yesterday and the commitment to develop a specific climate change skills plan to ensure that Scotland is equipped to deal with the climate crisis and that we have the skills that we need to take on the new economic advantages that will come from investment in renewables. I also welcome the commitment to 30,000 modern apprenticeships.
As someone who, as a member of the Education and Skills Committee, has worked with care-experienced young people throughout my time in this place, I was particularly pleased to see the investment in care-experienced young people by the Government. The care-experienced bursary age limit has been lifted. There will be free dental care for care-experienced young people, along with 24/7 crisis support and access to discretionary housing payments for young people who are in receipt of a qualifying benefit.
Earlier in the summer, I visited the Who Cares? Scotland summer camp. I spoke to many young people there who were willing to share their concerns and experiences with me so that I could better understand their challenges as care-experienced young people. Therefore, I know the importance of the statutory presumption in favour of siblings in care being placed together, when that is in their best interests, and I know what that will mean to many young people in Scotland.
I thank Amy, who shared her poem at that event. It was poignant and heartbreaking and it helped me to understand better her challenges and the challenges that are faced by care-experienced young people. I am delighted that that presumption is part of the programme for government.
“the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness”.
The light comes from the many organisations that have welcomed this ambitious and important programme for government: Colleges Scotland, NUS Scotland, Who Cares? Scotland, Citizens Advice Scotland and the Poverty Alliance, to mention just a few. The darkness comes from the unknown Brexit black hole that we approach with trepidation. As I said before, there is no such thing as a good Brexit.
Whatever happens, we have major challenges ahead in our country. We do not have a clear vision ahead but thank goodness that independence offers Scotland a choice of the best of times.
I remind members that the protocol is that you stay for two speeches after your own, unless it is an emergency. Otherwise, you send a note in advance to the Presiding Officer, who will say whether it is okay for you to leave the chamber. You do not just send a note after the event. That is directed at one member, but the rest of you can tak tent as well.
If there was one thing that stood out in yesterday’s statement on the programme for government, it was the fact that the First Minister did not have very much to say about the NHS. The lightness of the programme really stands out in this Parliament’s 20-year history.
Given the SNP Government’s record of running our health service, it is little wonder that the First Minister did not want to attract attention to her time as Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing.
Over the summer, we saw yet more evidence that SNP ministers are incapable of providing the leadership required to improve the performance of our NHS. NHS waiting time targets continue to be missed. The 12-week treatment time guarantee, which has never been met, was missed again. For the quarter ending in June, more than one in four patients did not receive treatment within the 12-week target. The 18-week referral time was also missed, with only 79 per cent of patients seen within the referral to treatment standard during the month of June. The number of NHS patients in Scotland who have had to wait longer than they should for critical diagnostics tests has continued to increase.
Meanwhile, in August, an Audit Scotland report revealed that this SNP Government is still ill-equipped to help address Scotland’s general practitioner crisis now and in the future. It confirmed that the Government is struggling to recruit the extra 800 family doctors that we will need over the next decade. The report stated:
“The Scottish Government has not set out what impact these additional GPs will have or how the target reflects retirement rates or changes in working patterns. It has not provided an assessment of how policy initiatives will contribute to reaching the target, or identified what the risks are if it is not achieved.”
Given that a third of GPs are over the age of 50 and changing working patterns mean that more family doctors are working part-time, after 12 years of SNP mismanagement of our GP workforce, we are now looking at a GP retirement time bomb in Scotland.
Therefore, the Royal College of General Practitioners Scotland was right to call this programme for government a “missed opportunity” to tackle Scotland’s GPs’ concerns.
That is exactly why the UK Government has announced changes to take that forward and make a difference.
It is interesting that the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, who opened the debate this afternoon, is not here right now. Over the summer, a GP surgery in Bridge of Earn closed. Maybe she wants to get back to intervene in this debate.
This summer has demonstrated the real challenges that face our health service—from the unacceptable and shocking record number of drug-related deaths to the on-going crises across our mental health services.
In Lothian region, we have seen the on-going scandal and the last-minute cancelling of the much-advertised opening of the new sick kids hospital, which caused distress and anger among staff, patients and families across my region.
Despite SNP promises that a new children’s hospital would open in 2012, all these years later and following delay after delay, we now await the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport’s statement next week to find out when, at long last, we will see the safe transfer of patients and services to that much-needed facility. My constituents across Lothian want answers to why we have seen such mismanagement of that project. Next week has to be the point when SNP ministers start to provide those answers.
Just yesterday, we saw the publication of some of the worst-ever NHS workforce statistics and, sadly, nothing in the programme for government suggests that the SNP has any ideas on how to turn that around. Nursing and midwifery vacancies have broken the 4,000 barrier for the first time—a 28 per cent rise in the space of just three months. Today, there are 328 fewer nurses and midwives working in Scotland’s hospitals than there were in the previous quarter.
Consultant vacancies have reached their highest level, breaching the 500 mark for the first time. Of the 514 empty consultant posts that we have across Scotland, many have lain empty for more than six months. SNP ministers have been warned about the NHS workforce crisis for years now and their continuing complacency means that more and more patients in Scotland are waiting longer and longer for treatment.
Elsewhere in this year’s programme for government, we hear about the promised Glasgow and Edinburgh major trauma centres. Those have now been promised three times in different programmes for government. Similarly, we are promised again that this year Scotland will have the national action plan for neurological conditions. Patients and patient groups have been waiting for that for too long; we need to see progress this year.
If SNP ministers are to preserve any credibility, we need to see promises kept and not just re-announced year after year. The statement from the SNP that it will continue to fund the extension of Frank’s law rings very hollow in light of SNP-led South Ayrshire Council’s decision to use money allocated for that for other purposes.
I know that many of my constituents in Lothian, and people across Scotland, will be genuinely disappointed that once again the programme for government fails to set out proposals that will help to equip our NHS for the long term and meet the healthcare challenges that our nation faces. Scottish Conservatives will continue to work with our fantastic but hard-pressed NHS staff to develop the fresh thinking and new policies needed to safeguard our NHS in the future. After 12 years in office, it is clear that the SNP has nothing to offer to take forward our NHS.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. At a time when Westminster is consumed by Brexit and the Tories are playing out a political version of Jonestown, it is great to see the Scottish Government’s new and exciting programme for government published. The policy announcements, of which there are many, will make Scotland a fairer, more prosperous and greener country for all.
It is incredibly encouraging to see the range of different bills unveiled for the coming year. Due to my interest in eradicating sectarianism, I look forward in particular to seeing the hate crime bill’s progress through Parliament. An impressive 14 new bills are set to be introduced—nearly the same as the number of Labour shadow cabinet reshuffles over the past two years.
I said that those announcements will make Scotland a greener country and it is on that subject that I wish to speak. The programme for government builds on Scotland’s already strong, world-leading foundations on tackling climate change and cutting emissions. We were the first country in the world to declare a climate emergency, responding to the calls of youth climate strikers and scientific experts; our emissions have almost halved since 1990; we continue to outperform the UK and most western European nations in delivering reductions; and in 2018 nearly 75 per cent of Scotland’s electricity came from renewable sources.
As Lord Deben, the chair of the Committee on Climate Change said in May of this year,
“Scotland has been a leader within the UK with many of its policies to tackle climate change”.
However, as a party, we want to go further and end our contribution to climate change completely. Scotland’s transition to net zero will affect every part of society, from how we travel to how we use our land.
For example, in Scotland alone, around 9.5 million tonnes of CO2 are removed from the atmosphere each year by our forests, which is why an increase in tree planting is so important in the fight to tackle the climate emergency. I was, therefore, very pleased to see in this year’s programme for government the announcement of an additional £5 million to increase our tree-planting target from 10,000 to 12,000 hectares per year, starting from next year.
Regarding our travel habits and infrastructure, there are a number of exciting and ambitious commitments. Those include maintaining the doubled level of active travel investment; the target of decarbonising Scotland’s railways by 2035, five years ahead of the UK’s target of 2040; and the plan to change sections of the motorway network around Glasgow to better support high-occupancy vehicles such as buses.
The Scottish Government is taking those encouraging steps to address climate change, but Scotland cannot deliver net zero emissions through devolved policy alone. We require the UK Government to up its game vastly, we need the private sector’s support and we must also continue our partnership with the public sector, particularly local authorities.
As has been outlined in the programme for government, the Scottish Government will now put in place a green new deal, harnessing the power of the Scottish national investment bank, a £3 billion green investment portfolio and a green growth accelerator to attract green finance to Scotland. As a result, our local authorities will be able to invest further in emissions-reducing infrastructure for their areas.
Scotland and the Scottish Government are, quite rightly, seen as world leading in addressing climate change, but I also wish to pay tribute to the work of Glasgow City Council. In particular, I commend the work of Councillor Anna Richardson, who represents the Langside ward in my Glasgow Cathcart constituency and is also city convener for sustainability and carbon reduction. The city of Glasgow has made significant progress in reducing emissions, meeting its 2020 target ahead of schedule, and the council is undertaking great work to do more, much of which is on the back of previous programmes for government.
As members will be aware, the initial phase of Scotland’s first ever low-emission zone was launched in Glasgow last year. In the city centre, restrictions are now in place for certain buses, and a further phase is set to commence next year. Understandably, a positive and direct effect of the zone is the increasing demand for ultra-low-emission vehicles and electric vehicle charging points. At present, there are an estimated 100,000 electric vehicles in the UK, and that figure is expected to rise to between 1 million and 1.4 million by 2022, which would be at least a tenfold increase. As referenced in the programme for government, to support that expected increase, the Scottish Government has already delivered 1,500 new electric vehicle charging points and has assisted businesses and communities in buying ultra-low-emission vehicles. That has laid great foundations for Glasgow City Council, which has also been awarded £2.2 million by Transport Scotland to improve infrastructure for electric vehicle charging points.
Of course climate change is the biggest issue that humanity faces worldwide, but I have been very surprised that no one on the Government benches has mentioned the issue that I think must be at the top of the agenda in Scotland at the moment, which is the drug crisis on our streets.
Mr Dornan is a Glasgow MSP. I do not know whether he would have gone on to mention the drugs issue, but I sincerely hope that he would have. Every year, 1,200 people die on our streets, and there is an HIV epidemic in Glasgow. The £10 million of funding that was announced is nowhere near enough to deal with that. I hope that members who represent cities, as Mr Dornan does, will lobby the Government to increase that funding to address the carnage that is happening on the streets of this country.
No, I was not going to mention that issue in this speech, because I am working with others in Glasgow to do what we can to alleviate the situation. Clearly, there is a lot to be done, some of which relates to reserved powers. Members will know that the Westminster Government will not give us the power to establish safe drug consumption facilities, but the Scottish Government is already doing a lot. I am not, for one second, denying that the level of drug deaths is a huge issue, which all of us must look at and work on, but I will talk about it at another time. This speech is about what was in the programme for government, and I want to deal with that.
I am not sure where I am in my notes now—it seems so long ago that I started my contribution.
The present estimate is that there are about 1,000 electric vehicles in Glasgow. By maximising the availability of charging points to electric vehicle drivers in the city, Glasgow City Council, in partnership with the Government, will continue to support a low-carbon transport infrastructure and will facilitate the steady growth of electric vehicle users in the city. However, the Government has committed to going further still. It is set to provide an additional £17 million to support the demand for ultra-low-emission vehicles through the low-carbon transport loan scheme, while expanding that scheme to include used electric vehicles.
The climate emergency is embedded in almost every policy and strategy that is being taken forward by the SNP Government. This year’s programme for government, which builds upon the work that has already been done, will take massive strides towards our goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest—a target that is more ambitious than that of any other UK nation.
This is an ambitious Government that is going from strength to strength, in complete contrast to the Tories at Westminster. As a Parliament, we are debating a detailed and progressive programme for Scotland. The Tory Government cannot even control its own parliamentary business programme. If this week has shown our constituents anything, it is that no party other than the SNP has a positive plan for Scotland’s future.
As Scottish Labour’s health spokesperson, I begin by saying that the programme for government contains several positive announcements that are very welcome—investment in perinatal mental health support for new mums, a 24/7 system of support for young people who are experiencing mental health issues, a dedicated women’s health plan to reduce inequalities and the publication of the first-ever national action plan on neurological conditions. Those are all examples of steps in the right direction that will help thousands of people across the country.
Scottish Labour called for the establishment of a women’s health fund in the budget this year, so I am delighted to see ministers commit to bringing forward the plan. My question is this: what funding will be attached to that? The cross-party group on women’s health, which I chair alongside the group’s deputy convener, Alison Johnstone, has persistently highlighted a range of women’s health issues, from differences in women’s cardiac treatment and menopause stigma to the struggles that are faced by those with endometriosis, and lipoedema. Anne Henry has bravely spoken about her painful battle to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment for lipoedema; will the plan improve access to specialists for such conditions?
However, those glimmers of positivity do not offset the real and pressing issues that are facing our NHS and the health of the nation. Twelve years into government, SNP ministers must know that they are still falling short on too many fronts. The programme for government boasts of so-called “record levels” of spending and staff numbers, but the facts speak for themselves. The NHS workforce crisis is deepening, with figures this week revealing the highest rate of medical vacancies for 12 years. The current increase in training places will not do anything to fill the unfilled vacancies, putting pressure on services right now.
Thousands of children and young people are waiting for more than four months to be seen by mental health services, and many are still being rejected for treatment outright. On the setting out of standards and specifications on CAMHS to reduce rejected referrals, why has that not been done in the year since the rejected referrals audit? When will they be in place? What change is expected in CAMHS referrals and rejections?
Audit Scotland is warning that the financial stability of the NHS is increasingly unsustainable as boards are expected to make more and more cuts while dealing with seemingly ever-increasing demand, and there is a £900 million repair bill. Dedicated NHS staff are overworked and stressed, and we are expected to be 850 GPs short of where we need to be in 2021. What work has been done to address Audit Scotland’s concerns and criticisms and to determine whether the programme for government’s policies will achieve what they are intended to deliver?
The cancer strategy is being refreshed, but is a new strategy planned? If so, when will it be published? The cancer strategy was supposed to involve a £100 million investment, but the programme for government says that only £54 million has been spent so far. What will happen to the remaining £46 million?
In the real world, there is a disconnect between the rhetoric of SNP ministers and the tough experiences of many patients and NHS staff. If we take the drug deaths crisis that my colleague Neil Findlay mentioned, ministers assert in the programme for government that
“We are doing everything we can” to prevent further drug deaths. That is just not true, because we can and we must do much more. People who desperately need help now need so much more than a glossy document. They need action and urgency and a culture change spearheaded by the Government to boost services, reduce stigma and improve co-ordination between addiction and emergency mental health services in every single community in Scotland.
The Government is taking positive steps, but it must move more quickly. It is not good enough that the drug death task force, which was announced in March, is still to meet. I know that we will hear more from the Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing tomorrow. Meanwhile, more and more people are suffering from poor mental health and substance misuse. They cannot afford to wait any longer.
I turn to private sector failure in the NHS. The programme for government references the on-going debacle at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital and the new Royal hospital for children in Edinburgh, which Sarah Boyack mentioned. On both, Scottish Labour has consistently called for a public inquiry. It is a scandal that the safety of patients and hundreds of millions of pounds of public money have been put at risk.
It is not just the problems with those huge capital projects that are an issue. We have seen the hand of private profit damaging our health service in various guises in recent times. Let us take the case of Healthcare Environmental Services, which was based in Shotts in my region. That scandal has caused a clinical waste crisis that has resulted in tens of millions of pounds of extra costs for our NHS. It is disappointing that the Government dismissed outright proposals from Scottish Labour to bring that service back into public ownership, instead handing a 10-year, £100 million contract to a multinational private company.
Our health service and our NHS workforce remain in crisis. The programme for government does not fully address the scale of the challenges, nor does it offer the step change that is required to transform our health service. Services are under overwhelming pressure. The Government must go further and take bold, progressive action to support our NHS to tackle inequalities and falling life expectancy and to improve the health of the people of Scotland.
As Alex Cole-Hamilton observed at the outset of this afternoon’s debate, it did not take long for the First Minister yesterday to reveal what is at the top of her agenda. Nicola Sturgeon had hardly turned the first page of her statement before we had the first mention of independence and an assurance—to the surprise of nobody—that she is intent on separation, do or die. The truth is, though, that the answer to Boris’s nationalism is not more of Nicola’s nationalism.
That said, once we got beyond the inevitable demand for more constitutional division, many aspects of the programme that the First Minister outlined were worthy of welcome. For example, it was encouraging to hear her acknowledge the challenge that we face in meeting the climate emergency and the urgent, radical and cross-cutting action that will be required in response. Of course, the detail of that response will be crucial, as Mark Ruskell and Sarah Boyack highlighted in their thoughtful contributions. Scottish Liberal Democrats stand ready to work with the Government and members across parties to ensure that we meet that challenge.
I was particularly interested to hear the commitment to make air travel in the Highlands and Islands carbon neutral. I know that Loganair, which operates most of the routes in the region, has long held that ambition, and it appears confident that it can be achieved by 2040. However, we are talking about lifeline services, so it is imperative that, in delivering that commitment, ministers ensure that accessibility and affordability remain at the fore. People and businesses in communities such as Orkney, which depend on those routes, must not be left more isolated or disadvantaged. The ambition to make air travel in the region carbon neutral, along with the plans for hydrogen ferries in Orkney and making the A9 Scotland’s first electric vehicle superhighway, show the clear potential that exists for the Highlands and Islands to lead the way in reducing transport emissions.
Sticking with the transport theme, I could not help noticing that certain items appeared to have slipped the First Minister’s mind yesterday. I listened intently to what she had to say but heard no reference to a three-year freeze in northern isles ferry fares or a 20 per cent reduction in cabin costs. An urgent resolution to the problem of internal ferry funding for the northern isles was also conspicuous by its absence from the First Minister’s transport priorities. As for an increase in freight sailings, a long-term extension to the air discount scheme and the removal of car parking charges at Sumburgh airport, it was as if those promises had never been made by the SNP in the recent by-election campaign. However, the fact is that they were. Moreover, people in Shetland and Orkney were listening with interest, so they heard Nicola Sturgeon commit to sit down “in pretty short order” to see how those pledges could be implemented. They took careful note when Michael Matheson called the SNP candidate’s promises on transport “very reasonable”. They made the assumption that those were indeed commitments to Shetland and the northern isles, and not merely cynical bribes in the hope of persuading people to put aside their opposition to independence and vote SNP.
Surely now that almost every single member on the SNP benches has a new-found appreciation not only of the beauty of the northern isles but of how much it costs in time and money to get there and back, they will be happy to support delivery of all those transport promises to the communities that Beatrice Wishart and I represent.
It should concern every single one of us that in Scotland we lock up more people per head of population than almost any other country in the western world. The prison population last month stood at a staggering 8,267, with two thirds of our prisons at or well over capacity. That is unsustainable, unsafe and unacceptable. We have seen a 40 per cent increase in assaults in our prisons over the past year. The number of self-harm incidents has doubled since 2017, while attempted suicides are set to be three times higher this year than last. Meanwhile, back in July, the Scottish Prison Service announced that it was redeploying its entire throughcare team into general prison officer roles. How can that possibly help with the successful management of prisoners back into the community?
I visited Shotts prison during the recess and spoke to prison staff there about a range of issues. The one issue that they wanted me to take away with me was the pressures that they are under because of the lack of staff in prisons to deal with the day-to-day work. I hope that the member will join me in urging the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to address that urgently.
That is a very fair point. The concerns that staff are raising are not new and they are not confined to Shotts. They are a direct result of the spiralling increase in the prison population, which is putting pressure not just on prisoners but on staff.
Add to that the levels of incarceration of women and a lack of capacity in mental health support for prisoners, particularly our young people, and the picture is bleak.
I support moves by the justice secretary to increase the presumption against short sentences and extend the use of electronic monitoring, but I question whether the Government is alive to the scale of the crisis that we face. Moreover, there is still no sign of how ministers plan to transfer the resources into areas that will allow us to bring down the prison population by diverting people away from the criminal justice system. We know that that is more effective in reducing reoffending, in keeping our communities safe and in allowing every individual the best chance of making a positive contribution. It cannot be done cheaply, but the cost of continuing as we are will be much higher.
As Monica Lennon said, on drug deaths, too, we are at crisis point. There were 1,187 drugs deaths in Scotland in 2018—the worst rate anywhere in the developed world. Scottish Liberal Democrats believe that the response to that must be framed through the prism of health rather than justice, but something is not right when last year more people were imprisoned for possession of drugs for personal use than were given treatment orders.
Those are just some of the areas in which the Government and the Parliament have their work cut out, not just over the next year but well beyond. Those should be the priorities for action—they are priorities on which there is the prospect of strong cross-party agreement. We should be committing to those areas rather than reopening the divisions of independence.
It has been an interesting debate and, as ever, there have been lots of requests for additional detail. I start by commending a number of elements in the programme for government, the first of which is one that I think no one else has mentioned, which is the £2 million of additional money for the Gypsy Traveller community. I commend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, Kevin Stewart, for that. The Traveller community has been impressed with the significant engagement that has taken place. I welcome that.
I also welcome the introduction of the young carer grant, which is a Green policy.
My colleague Mark Ruskell talked about the heat networks bill. Unfortunately, the focus appears to be on regulation rather than transformational change. Transformational change can be significant, as is the case in Amsterdam, which has a heat network of 100,000 houses that is increasing by 8,000 a year.
Thank goodness that the good food nation bill is here. The original vision for the bill was cross-portfolio legislation. The intention was to improve access to healthy, affordable food, and to bring food into the health, environment and social justice agendas. Indeed, it was intended to be about the right to food. I heard someone say that they hoped that it would not be a watered-down marketing ploy. As someone else said, the issue of procurement—for example the idea of lorries driving past food producers to deliver processed foods to our schools—must be addressed.
It is welcome that quite some distance has been travelled in the few months since the chamber voted down the Scottish Green Party’s declaration of a climate emergency. This morning, the Scottish Trades Union Congress responded to the programme for government by saying:
“The current market approach to decarbonisation has failed”,
which is a valid position. All the other parties in the chamber have positively extolled the UK Government giving ever-increasing additional tax breaks to the obscenely wealthy oil and gas sector. That sector has today celebrated an increase in drilling activity. Apparently, more wells were drilled in the first seven months of 2019 than in the whole of 2018. The industry has argued that maximum extraction must continue and is compatible with net zero, thanks to carbon capture and storage. That is not quite how we see things.
The STUC went on to say:
“To be worthy of the name of a Green New Deal, there is a need to consider the role of publicly owned energy, transport and construction companies”.
Words are important. My colleague Mark Ruskell said that he welcomed the Scottish Government’s adoption of the language of the “Scottish Green New Deal”, adding that the programme for government is not a green new deal. He said that transitioning away from oil and gas by reducing the demand and the supply in tandem, as the New Zealand Government is planning for, is the way ahead.
As ever, there is modest, incremental change dressed up in grand rhetoric. The “Scottish Green New Deal” is different, with a publicly owned national bank and energy company. A new deal should be a transformational programme of building the public sector and redirecting massive investment into infrastructure. The programme for government is a long way from the bold and transformative change that we need, and we want a commitment from the Scottish Government to work with us to embolden the approach that is being taken.
Much has been made of the quoted sum of £500 million for improved bus priority infrastructure, which is one area on which we would welcome a lot more detail. Alex Neil talked about some of the implications for that. Apparently, it is
“to tackle the impacts of congestion on bus services and raise bus usage”.
Where is that money coming from? How will it raise patronage outwith areas with priority infrastructure? What will it do for residents in remote and rural areas? It will not make buses any more affordable or accessible to people. The Scottish Government has failed to address the decline in bus usage by expanding its concessionary travel scheme. The Scottish Green Party advocates fully free bus services. Although it is reassuring that some thought is going into it, it is disappointing that the Scottish Government is failing to take even the modest step of introducing free transport for under-26-year-olds.
I have tried to work out how that bus infrastructure money might be spent. Take, for instance, the city of Inverness, which has only modest bus prioritisation measures and whose council positively encourages the public to drive into the city centre, where the air quality is already poor, notwithstanding environmental impact assessments. That shows that co-ordination is needed, not only of local policy but between national and local policy.
We need local transport strategies. That is a key element of the workplace car parking levy, which would dovetail with national strategy.
What is the Scottish Government’s strategy for transport? It is to continue to not slow—let alone abandon—the £6 billion expenditure on two roads in the north. What the Government needs to do is re-examine all its existing policies. On page 92, the programme for government says that the Government will “embed sustainable travel principles”, but there has been a dearth of that.
Congestion is caused by vehicles, so their mode of propulsion does not matter, whether that is diesel, petrol or electricity. We need the Government to set traffic reduction targets. Earlier, I mentioned the requirement for public ownership, and that is required for our bus services, as well as our rail and ferry services. That could lead to better integration.
We are a maritime nation and we have a growing but ageing fleet. We have the current issue of the two ferries and we have a lot of ferries to replace. That provision cannot be left to the private sector. As I did yesterday, I urge the Scottish Government to nationalise the Ferguson yard.
In the short time that I have left, I note the lack of ambition in the programme for government. Where is the mobilisation of the public sector? Where are the new jobs? The active travel budget is frozen.
Do I have six or seven minutes, Presiding Officer?
We have an emergency. An emergency is a crisis, a disaster, a tragedy, a danger and a trauma. We have had warm words but unambitious targets. None of them suggests that there is a crisis at hand; none suggests that the disaster that has befallen our planet and our nation is being addressed; none acknowledges that we are already seeing the tragic effects of increased extreme weather; none acknowledges that we are in danger if we do not address the situation forcefully; and none acknowledges that we have to act on the trauma that is faced by our environment.
Future generations will judge us not on our words but on our actions. Sadly, the programme for government does not read like the response to a declared climate emergency.
As always, the test of a programme for government is the degree to which the reality matches the rhetoric—although, to be honest, this year’s statement fell pretty flat on rhetoric, never mind the reality. Indeed, this is probably the one and only time of the parliamentary year that I rather miss the First Minster’s predecessor, whose rhetoric on such occasions seldom failed to soar. I remember, of course, the Saudi Arabia of the seas. There was also the vision of Scotland one year as not so much cold, wet and dreich as the foremost hydro nation on the face of the planet. Of course, that was all rubbish. It was florid fantasy supercharged by high-octane hyperbole, but it was, well, a bit more entertaining than yesterday’s rather dull fare. [
There was, of course, some welcome stuff—not least the welcome agreement to the care review’s interim recommendations on health, childcare and education for care-experienced young people. That was very welcome indeed.
Welcome, too, was the focus on addressing the climate emergency. However, I am not sure that the programme actually contains an emergency response. In fairness, when opening today’s debate, the cabinet secretary made a better job of trying to demonstrate that it does. It contains an updated plan, an updated energy efficiency route map, a hydrogen plan and an offshore wind policy statement—those speak of bureaucracy rather than urgency.
Mark Ruskell eloquently debunked some of the Government’s rather vainglorious claims on climate change, and Sarah Boyack showed exactly why the return of her knowledge, expertise and experience in the area will be such an asset to the Parliament.
Meanwhile, in the critical area of public transport, the Government still fails to grasp the nettle of public ownership of our buses and railways. Though we may be electrifying our railways, and though three quarters of passenger journeys may be on electric lines, while we tolerate the cancellations, late trains and overcrowding that are ScotRail—which has today again defaulted on its latest improvement plan—passengers will not want to use trains. Today, my constituents in North Berwick found all their trains cancelled, yet again—and that is the experience of most of us, is it not?
As for buses, bus lanes and low-emission buses are very welcome. However, until we are prepared to extend subsidised or, indeed, free bus travel to other groups of passengers, passenger numbers will continue to fall. I say to Alex Neil that private bus companies will never resolve the issues around rural bus routes that he quite correctly raised. I come from East Lothian, where, when the private bus company moved out, a municipal bus company came in and transformed bus travel. That is the nettle that we must grasp.
Of course, the trouble with something being a programme for government priority is that that often turns out to mean very little in reality. Last year, we were still being told that the Government’s overriding priority was education: closing the attainment gap and raising standards for all. However, as Richard Leonard pointed out, higher pass rates fell again this year, for the fourth year in a row. In addition, although the Government asserts that the attainment gap has narrowed, it has abolished any sensible means of measuring it at all.
There was no new money in yesterday’s statement to restore the Government’s cuts to education. School budgets are £400 million less than they were in 2010. That includes the pupil equity funding, which is supposed to be additional, but is really backfilling cuts. The £15 million for additional support needs goes nowhere near restoring the cuts to funding—it is about a tenth of them—for those pupils over recent years. That is an emergency for those children, who have only one chance at school. The response is not adequate.
Last year, one of the flagship commitments—it is an important one—in the programme for government was the incorporation into Scots law of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, we are told this year that there will be no legislation. There is no explanation for the delay. Why cannot we get on with that important consensual move?
On the subject of rights, I agree with Angela Constance that the good food nation bill should contain the right to food. However, it does not. Why does it not? I hope that Angela Constance will argue with her Government that it absolutely should contain that right.
At the weekend, the First Minster promised a calm, considered and consensual programme. The truth is that, for calm, we got pedestrian, and for considered, we got unambitious. As for consensual, if the First Minister’s statement had climate change at its centre, she began and ended yesterday on independence, which is her one true passion. There is nothing calm, considered or consensual about wasting time on a referendum bill, seizing one constitutional crisis to try to stoke another, and sowing new division when healing is what our country and our communities need at this time.
In that, the programme for government is the same as every one of the past 12. It is not really about climate change, education, health or poverty; it is about independence, which is always the top and hem of the Government’s story, with patients, pupils, parents and passengers left behind.
I congratulate Sarah Boyack on her excellent first contribution in this parliamentary session.
The background to this debate is, of course, that we are now in the 13th year of SNP government. Surely that is enough time for any Government to show whether it can make a difference. What a difference the SNP has made to Scotland. There are declining education standards and international rankings in Scottish education, as Liz Smith highlighted; the NHS is in crisis, as Miles Briggs made clear; there is a low-wage, low-productivity and low-growth economy, as described by Murdo Fraser; and there is a dysfunctional transport policy, which has caused the insolvency of the last shipbuilder on the Clyde. It is no wonder that, earlier this week, a leading global shipping company accused the SNP of running Scotland like “a banana republic”. That is not a record to be proud of, as the First Minister claimed yesterday. It is a record to be ashamed of.
The programme for government will change nothing. It is a programme for government with the same old promises that never get delivered. The Scottish growth scheme promised half a billion pounds of investment in the economy. Three years later, as the First Minister admitted yesterday, only a quarter of that money has been invested. There was the promise to create a new publicly owned energy company to reduce energy costs. Two years later, that policy has not even passed the feasibility test. The SNP’s economic targets promised to take Scotland into the first division of productivity but, instead, they have seen us relegated to the third division. It is not just about productivity. The SNP has failed to meet every single one of its own economic targets. That is the reality of the SNP’s track record for the people of Scotland to judge. Targets have been missed, policies are undelivered, and promises have been broken.
It is a combination of the UK and Scottish Governments. [
.] I will tell members why. Under the UK Government, interest rates are at record lows. I will come on shortly to how the economics of independence would damage the Scottish economy.
Let me turn to some of the detailed policy announcements that the First Minister made yesterday and which have been debated today. As we have heard, the First Minister announced a new Scottish green deal that will lay the foundations for sustainable economic growth. To many, that might sound like the policy of a new incoming Administration, but we all know that the SNP has failed to deliver sustainable growth over the past 12 years. That was made clear earlier this year by the STUC’s report, “Broken Promises and Offshored Jobs”, which said that the SNP has failed to
“ensure that workers, businesses and Government in Scotland benefit from Scotland’s natural resources” and low-carbon economy. The STUC’s report also highlighted the negative balance of trade in the low-carbon sector in Scotland: we import £230 million more than we export in the low-carbon economy. Gillian Martin and Alex Neil said that the green deal will allow us to create new jobs and increase exports to other countries, but the reality is that we are subsidising the low-carbon economies of other countries, and we are not seeing the real economic benefits of Scotland’s natural resources.
I need to make some progress.
Yesterday, the First Minister announced that the SNP’s policy on taxation is aimed at encouraging business investment and economic growth. Again, the reality paints a very different picture. According to the Fraser of Allander institute, business investment in Scotland has been declining since 2015—long before Brexit. On taxation, the SNP has broken key manifesto commitments by increasing the basic rates of income tax and council tax, and, over the past 12 years, economic growth in Scotland under the SNP has been a full 6 per cent lower than growth in the rest of the UK.
What is most remarkable about the programme for government is what it fails to mention. In its 160 pages, there is not one mention of the state of Scotland’s finances. Let me remind members of the state of Scotland’s finances, as set out in Scottish Government figures from two weeks ago. Scotland has a record fiscal deficit of £12.6 billion, which is equivalent to 7 per cent of Scotland’s GDP. We now have the highest ever gap between the fiscal position of Scotland and that of the rest of the UK. We have the highest ever union dividend for the people of Scotland, as every single person in Scotland receives £2,000 a year as a result of Scotland being part of the UK.
No. I will make progress.
The union dividend will increase even further as a result of the record increase in public spending that was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer today. An extra £1.2 billion has been provided for Scottish schools, the NHS and other public services.
Yesterday, the First Minister told the chamber that the SNP is determined to deliver independence. What the First Minister did not say is that independence would result in £7.2 billion of cuts to public spending in Scotland, which is equivalent to half the entire NHS budget in Scotland. If this was a programme for government for an independent Scotland, the First Minister would not be announcing a transformational capital investment programme, because that is based on UK Government capital funding; a Scottish national investment bank, because that is being funded by UK Treasury financial transactions money; or extra NHS and education spending, because that is being funded by extra Barnett consequentials as a result of extra UK Government spending. Instead, the First Minister would be explaining to the people of Scotland why and how £7.2 billion was being cut from Scotland’s budget and what services would have to be slashed as a result of independence.
In the months ahead, we will outline an alternative approach to the 12 years of SNP failure. It will be one that will restore Scotland’s long-term economic growth to 2 per cent, restore standards in Scottish education, fix the NHS and other public services, and protect and enhance Scotland’s place at the heart of the United Kingdom.
I welcome to the chamber Beatrice Wishart, as the member for the Shetland Islands, and Sarah Boyack, as a member for the Lothians region. They are filling the vacancies that have been left by Tavish Scott and Kezia Dugdale. I wish them both well in their parliamentary experiences. Sarah Boyack, of course, has formidable experience, which was evident in her enormously thoughtful speech, to which I will come back later.
It was difficult to work out from a couple of contributions whether I had heard the same statement being delivered by the First Minister yesterday as Murdo Fraser and Alex Cole-Hamilton heard. From listening to them, the First Minister’s statement was exclusively, unreservedly, entirely and completely dominated by independence. However, Sarah Boyack, Mark Ruskell, Monica Lennon and Liam McArthur showed much deeper appreciation of the substance of what she said.
The First Minister, of course, set out the Government’s ambition for Scotland to be an independent country; it should not really be a surprise to anybody that the Government’s ambition is that Scotland be independent. With the powers of independence, we could tackle a wide range of issues that are currently outwith the responsibility of this Parliament. I do not see why the Government should be prevented from aspiring to deliver independence, because we believe that it will deliver the best outcome for the people of this country. When I look at the fiasco of Westminster, I am confident that the people of Scotland are coming to the same judgment on that important question.
We would make our choices in Scotland about the resources that are available to us. We would make policy choices to grow and expand our economy, we would make policy choices to invest in our infrastructure, and we would be able to reap the rewards in the process. That is not available to us under the United Kingdom system.
Clare Adamson did us all a great service by outlining a contrast of experiences. In the Scottish Parliament yesterday and today, we have taken forward the “calm, considered and consensual” programme for Government—I am glad that Iain Gray cited that, because there is no danger whatever that I would associate those three words with him. That is in contrast to the dire emergency situation that prevails in the House of Commons. It is supposedly under the leadership of a Conservative Government, but it looks, in how it is conducting itself, like leadership by a Brexit Party Government, with behaviour like that of Nigel Farage.
The contrast between the two Governments could not be greater, which brings me to the substance of the programme for Government. My colleague Roseanna Cunningham opened the debate by setting out the clear and emphatic programme of leadership that she is deploying in the agenda to tackle climate change. I am glad that many measures that have been set out in the programme for Government have been welcomed across the chamber. Of course, they will be the subject of debate and consideration with colleagues in this parliamentary year.
Angela Constance made the substantive argument that action on climate change cannot be taken forward in one compartment of Government, but must be taken forward across the policy spectrum. I assure Parliament of the Government’s determination to do exactly that.
Angela Constance went on, in that spirit, to make an important link comparing the welfare reform that the United Kingdom Government has inflicted on us—through which universal credit is making our citizens increasingly reliant on food banks to properly and effectively feed themselves—with the policy agenda of the Scottish Government, in making sure that a fair, civilised and respectful approach underpins the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People’s establishment of Social Security Scotland in order to meet our people’s needs in a supportive way.
The second major theme of the programme for government is education. I want to cover a few of the arguments about it that have been debated today. Members have questioned whether we are making progress in closing the poverty-related attainment gap, but I will demonstrate to Parliament that we are making progress.
At Scottish credit and qualifications framework levels 3, 4, 5 and 6, the gap in attainment between the most deprived pupils and the least deprived pupils is narrowing. It has reduced. At level 3, it has reduced from 5.3 per cent to 3.2 per cent; at level 4, it has reduced from 11.3 per cent to 6.1 per cent; at level 5, it has reduced from 33.3 per cent to 20.3 per cent; and at level 6, it has reduced from 45.6 per cent to 37.4 per cent.
Crucially, for school leavers, the gap between those from the most deprived communities and those from the least deprived communities has halved, from 14.6 per cent to 6.8 per cent, which means that more and more of our young people from deprived backgrounds are going on to the positive destinations that we want them to go to as a consequence of their education.
That is the evidence of the attainment gap closing, and that is why I am so pleased that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work has agreed to extend the Scottish attainment challenge beyond 2021, to at least March 2022, which gives funding certainty to the measures that are being taken throughout the education system to close the poverty-related attainment gap and to make a positive impact on the life chances of young people in our society. In doing that, we must be alert to the challenges of ensuring that all young people have the skills that are required in the labour market. Mr Neil’s point about the focus on IT and construction that is necessary in schools is a crucial element of what the Government must take forward in its future priorities.
The third major area that I want to concentrate on relates to the commitments in the programme for government that the Government has given to care-experienced young people, who are some of the most vulnerable young people in our society, and who face the greatest of challenges. We promised those care-experienced young people that we would not wait until the care review produced its report, and that we would take whatever action we could at the earliest available opportunity to address their issues.
I am therefore delighted that we have been able to remove the age limit on the care-experienced bursary to make it clear to individuals who are care experienced that there is a place for them in our further and higher education systems when they get to the point at which they can contribute in that way.
I am also delighted that we are able to remove the costs of dental care. That was something that care-experienced young people said matters to them, so we can put that in place as a consequence of the Government’s programme.
The last area that I want to mention is the link between housing and inequality, which Sarah Boyack raised in her excellent speech. The Government is undertaking sustained investment in social housing in Scotland. We are on track to deliver 50,000 affordable homes by 2021, including 35,000 for social rent, and that is backed by record investment of more than £3.3 billion. That is the type of commitment that is necessary to ensure that our housing infrastructure supports individuals and meets the challenges that they face in life. It will ensure that we provide housing for people who have drug addiction and who require support, not just in dealing with that addiction but with wider issues including housing, employability and other aspects of life, in order to ensure that they fulfil their potential.
Those are the measures of a rounded programme for government, which is represented by the “calm, considered and consensual” leadership of the Government, as the First Minister characterised it at the weekend, and those are the attributes that we will take forward in the coming period.
I have been struck by the willingness of Opposition members to attack the progress that the Government is making on our policy commitments. However, over the past year, we have delivered five different social security payments to support some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We have demonstrated the investment that is coming to expand early learning and childcare, with 20,000 children already accessing the expanded funded early learning and childcare. The work on the attainment challenge is now investing £182 million in our schools to meet the needs of young people.
There has also been increased funding of the national health service, including investment in major trauma centres in Dundee and Aberdeen. We have taken forward commitments to green transport, and commitments to fair work, and have embedded that in the work of the Government.
That is what the Government has achieved in the past 12 months. The programme for government builds on it. We will continue to deliver for the people who sent us here, in order to create a fairer and more prosperous Scotland.