I am pleased to confirm to Parliament details of the wide-ranging co-operation agreement that has been reached between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party and endorsed overwhelmingly by our respective party memberships.
In nature, scope and intent, the agreement is genuinely ground breaking in Scottish and United Kingdom politics. It represents a new and, I hope, better way of doing politics. Although the agreement is the product of much negotiation and some compromise, it is also a leap of faith for both parties, but it is one that we are taking willingly and for the common good.
The challenge and discipline of working together, and of not allowing the issues on which we disagree to obscure those on which we do agree, will undoubtedly take us out of our comfort zones. Although the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Greens are joining together in Government, they are and will remain distinct entities with different identities and points of view. The agreement is, however, founded on shared convictions and common principles. Above all, it is based on our recognition that the times that we are living through render a business-as-usual approach simply not good enough. Scotland, like most of the rest of the world, faces significant challenges and many opportunities in the years ahead, and many of those are deeply interrelated.
We must tackle the latest surge in Covid cases while leading and supporting the country’s economic and social recovery from the pandemic; we must ensure that the recovery is green and sustainable; and we must address with urgency and determination the climate and nature crises that threaten the planet and the security of this and future generations.
We must, unfortunately, address and mitigate the consequences of Brexit, which are becoming more serious by the week, as labour scarcity and interrupted supply chains lead to shortages on supermarket shelves and elsewhere. Such shortages should be unthinkable in a country such as the UK, and we should make no mistake that they are a direct and shameful result of the Brexit disaster.
We must defend our Parliament against the UK Government power grabs that are undermining the very principles on which it is founded and, as we do so, recognise that the best way of protecting Parliament from Westminster and equipping it with the full powers that it needs to build a fairer, more prosperous country is to make it independent of Westminster—[
.] That is why fulfilling our democratic mandate to let the Scottish people choose our own future is a key strand of the agreement.
Those are the inescapable challenges that confront us, and how we respond to them will shape Scotland now and for the decades ahead. In the face of the magnitude of those challenges—and we all bear a share of the responsibility for this—our politics can too often seem small, polarised, divided and focused on self-interest rather than the national interest—[
.] Perhaps I am seeing evidence of that today.
If we are to meet the moment, we must all try to do politics differently. In this agreement, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Greens are accepting our responsibility to do that. Genuine disagreement, honestly and respectfully debated, and resolved through the ballot box, is the essence of democracy. However, we also have a duty to reach beyond our disagreements and, in the interests of progress, maximise the consensus between us. That is essential if we are to find the solutions that are needed to solve the big problems confronting Scotland and the world.
In my view and experience, instead of division and acrimony, people want to see much more co-operation and collaboration from their politicians. That spirit of co-operation and consensus building is very much in keeping with the founding principles of our Scottish Parliament. Arguably, it has never been more important for us all to live up to those principles, and that is the motivation for reaching this agreement. It is not a full coalition—our parties will retain distinct voices and independent identities—but it sets out processes of co-operation and consultation that will establish a firm foundation for the delivery of our shared and transformative policy objectives and the Scottish Government’s wider legislative and policy programme.
As part of that, for the first time in UK politics, the agreement will see Greens enter national Government as ministers, working in a spirit of common endeavour, mutual challenge and collective responsibility to deliver for the people we serve. To that end, I look forward to seeking Parliament’s approval later this afternoon for the appointment of Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie as Scottish ministers.
Such an agreement would not be seen to be in any way remarkable or unusual in other parts of Europe, but it represents an important landmark for politics across the UK. Most important of all, the agreement provides a strong foundation for bold and decisive action throughout the parliamentary session. After all, as with any arrangement of this kind, its ultimate test is not about how well the signatories get along but about what we deliver.
There is—rightly—a strong environmental theme to our shared policy agreement. We recognise the urgency of the climate and nature crises and the challenges inherent in tackling them. We also appreciate that, with the right approach and a commitment to climate justice, the transition to net zero will create economic opportunities and improve the wellbeing of us all. We are determined to seize and realise those opportunities.
During the current session of Parliament, we will do more to decarbonise our transport network and support active travel. We will dedicate at least 10 per cent of the Scottish Government’s overall travel budget to active travel—cycling, walking and wheeling. We will significantly increase investment in public transport. We will work to cut the sector’s emissions and make public transport accessible and affordable, with a commitment to free bus travel for young people, for example. We will bring ScotRail into public ownership.
All those measures will help us to reduce car kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030, which is vital if we are to meet our climate targets and improve the environment in communities and neighbourhoods the length and breadth of our country. We will support the essential transformation in how we heat our homes and buildings. This parliamentary session will see investment of at least £1.8 billion in energy efficiency and renewable heating.
We will do more to protect our natural environment. We will designate a new national park, plant more trees, including more native species, and protect more of our seas.
We will work across the economy to support a just transition to net zero, with just transition plans for all sectors and regions, and a new green industrial strategy with investment in skills at its heart.
As part of that, we will support and accelerate the necessary and inevitable transition from fossil fuels to renewable and low-carbon energy sources. Under the agreement, we will deliver a package of stronger support for marine renewables and offshore wind, and significantly increase our onshore wind capacity. We will establish a 10-year £500 million just transition fund for the north-east and Moray, to ensure that the jobs and communities that depend on our oil and gas sector are not left behind and that we instead use the sector’s considerable infrastructure, skills and expertise to help to drive and speed up the development of cleaner alternatives.
Our agreement will also help to make Scotland fairer. It will tackle child poverty and deliver stronger rights for tenants, including an effective rent control system, so that housing in the rented sector is more affordable and more secure, especially for families and young people. We will make the investment in the current parliamentary session to support the delivery of 110,000 new affordable homes between now and 2032.
We will reform our public services, including through the establishment of a national care service, which will perhaps be the biggest public sector reform that Parliament will ever have undertaken. There will also be improvements in mental health and work to improve education and close the poverty-related attainment gap.
Finally, as I indicated earlier, the agreement confirms our intention to give people in Scotland the choice of independence. The mandate for that is undeniable: between us, the SNP and the Greens won 72 of the 129 seats in Parliament, and each one of us was elected on a clear commitment to holding an independence referendum. However, just as the mandate is undeniable, the reason for a referendum is just as important. As we emerge from the pandemic, the kind of country and society that Scotland is and will become, and the decisions that will shape our society, our economy and our place in the world, must be determined, democratically, here in Scotland, and not imposed upon us against our will by the Government at Westminster.
The agreement that we have reached offers a clear vision of the sort of country Scotland can become: a greener, fairer and—yes—independent nation. It also recognises and puts into practice an approach to politics that sees parties try to work together for the common good. I firmly believe that that is what most people in Scotland want to see. I hope that, as we move now to implement it, the agreement will demonstrate that, when we step out of our comfort zones and embrace co-operation, we enhance our ability to deliver the ideas and practical policies that can meet the scale of the challenges that we face.
Of course, the agreement is novel in terms of UK politics, but across Europe and in many countries around the world, arrangements like this are commonplace and based firmly on the idea that co-operation, rather than confrontation, will lead to better outcomes for people across our country. The Scottish Parliament has undoubtedly secured some significant achievements in the past two decades, and all parties can and should take credit for that fact. However, especially in recent years, there have also been times when our politics has been toxic and polarised—that is not unique to Scotland—and, because of that, we have sometimes seemed to be collectively incapable of properly living up to the expectations of those we serve. Just as we can, and should, all take some credit for our successes, we must all bear some responsibility for our shortcomings. I believe that we all have an obligation to make positive change. The agreement represents a renewed commitment from the Scottish Government to do so.
While the agreement is, at the political level, an agreement between the SNP and the Greens, I sincerely hope that, over time, it can and will encourage greater co-operation between all parties in the Scottish Parliament. There are issues on which we disagree profoundly and passionately, including, and perhaps especially, the constitution. I suspect that that is unlikely to change, although perhaps we should all make an effort to disagree more civilly even on those fundamental issues. However, as we recover from the pandemic and address the climate emergency, there are many other issues where I believe that acres of common ground can be found if we are willing to find them, while still acknowledging and respecting our disagreements.
Despite all the risks that are inherent in any decision of two parties to co-operate more closely, and with a full appreciation of the compromise and the ups and downs that such an agreement will entail, the SNP and the Greens are choosing to work together because we believe that, in a time of great challenge, a better, more collaborative politics is needed so that a better Scotland can be built, and we are resolving to spend the next five years working together to build it. As we do so, I make an open and sincere offer also to work with others across the chamber whenever and wherever possible. I hope that that offer will be accepted.
The agreement is a milestone in Parliament’s progress. It sets out how the SNP and the Scottish Greens will work together as the Scottish Government. It demonstrates our commitment to a new and better way of doing politics and it provides the strong platform that is needed to deliver the transformative policies that will build a greener, fairer country and make people’s lives across Scotland better. For all those reasons, I enthusiastically commend it to the chamber.
The Presiding Officer:
The First Minister will now take questions on the issues raised in her statement. I intend to allow around 40 minutes for questions, after which we will move on to the next item of business. It would helpful if members who wish to ask a question could press their request-to-speak buttons now.
Finally, the SNP-Green deal has done something for the environment, because Nicola Sturgeon has just spent the past 15 minutes recycling the exact same speech that she gave last week. She used the exact same speech to try to convince everybody that this coalition is not actually a coalition. I know that Nicola Sturgeon lectures us all about how she speaks with a higher level of intelligence than everyone else, but trying to claim that the deal is not a coalition is quite simply a joke, even by SNP standards. It is a nationalist coalition with one overriding goal: to separate Scotland from the United Kingdom. Yet again, a divisive referendum has come first, as it always does with this Government.
It is a simple fact that Nicola Sturgeon made this nationalist deal her priority over a programme for government, which should have been announced today, as it normally is at the start of a session. She made the deal a priority over a flimsy national health service recovery plan, which was more of a public relations pamphlet.
Once again, the SNP has got its priorities all wrong. It has turned its back on jobs, our economy, the oil and gas industry and car drivers. It is not a deal for hard-working Scotland. The coalition will hammer everyone who works hard, runs a business or owns a vehicle. It is not a deal that works for Scotland—it is one that works for Nicola Sturgeon. She failed to get a majority, and the deal is a consequence of that. The deal is one that nobody—not even the Greens—wanted. In Lorna Slater’s own words, spoken before a promotion was dangled in front of her, an SNP-Green deal would be a “terrible idea”.
The First Minister’s Green colleagues say that there has been a “significant change of direction” in her approach to oil and gas, so I ask the First Minister this: how many of Scotland’s 100,000 oil and gas jobs will be put at risk by that change of direction?
Given that she is appointing ministers who do not believe in economic growth, will Nicola Sturgeon now admit that her financial case for Scottish independence is based on harming Scottish businesses and cutting Scottish jobs?
It seems that rising to the challenge of doing politics better, or even vaguely competently, is, for the moment, beyond Douglas Ross. Hopefully, as the parliamentary session progresses, that will change.
In his barely coherent set of questions, Douglas Ross really misses the point. We face big challenges—[
It is incumbent on us all not to disregard our disagreements, but to work beyond them to find the areas on which we can agree, and to work together for the good of those whom we represent. That is how we on the SNP benches will proceed in this session. In response, other parties in the chamber have a choice: they can join us and respect our disagreements but try to work together, or they can push themselves more and more to the margins of Scottish politics and simply hurl insults from the sidelines.
Before I come on to the two questions that Douglas Ross posed, I will say that, given the scale of the challenges that we face and the responsibilities that we all bear, Douglas Ross’s rhetoric is not only deeply inappropriate but deeply ironic. Right now, across this country, there are shortages of food on our supermarket shelves. In England, at least at the moment, the health service is being told to ration blood tests due to a shortage of test tubes, and children are being told that there might be shortages leading to a lack of toys at Christmas—all because of Mr Ross’s party’s obsession with Brexit. Is it not about time that he took some responsibility and recognised the importance of coming together to try to address those challenges?
Turning to oil and gas, I recognise that we must meet the climate emergency and I take that responsibility extremely seriously. That means making a rapid enough transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy in order to meet that challenge. I do not want to see jobs in the North Sea lost, which is why at the heart of the agreement is a just transition deal of £500 million specifically for the north-east. That is so that we can harness the skills, infrastructure and expertise of that sector and use it to drive the development of the alternatives.
Here is a suggestion: in the spirit of consensus and co-operation, perhaps the UK Government might agree to match the Scottish Government’s commitment to a transition deal for the north-east and Moray. Let us hear some substance in place of Mr Ross’s rhetoric.
Finally, on the question of independence, Mr Ross and I fundamentally disagree on the future of Scotland. My vision of the future of Scotland is of a prosperous, fair and green country. I believe in democracy and in the right of the Scottish people to decide their own future. That is the prospectus that I put to the Scottish people in May and, as I said, between us, the SNP and the Greens won 72 of the 129 seats. Democracy demands that the Scottish people get the right to decide. Only a politician who fears the outcome of such a choice would seek to block the right of the Scottish people to make it.
This coalition agreement—for that is what it is—simply formalises the agreement of the previous parliamentary session, when Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP hammered our public services with cuts and the Greens simply nodded them through. If we cut through the spin and the now-typical boasts about historic moments, we can see that it is not a new Government or a clean start, but a deal that is more about the constitution than the climate.
I am all for common ground being found and co-operation on issues that parties agree on. However, the deal is not about delivering greater accountability and transparency in the Parliament, but about the opposite: it is about greater control for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP rather than co-operation.
The Greens cannot pretend to be in Government and Opposition at the same time. At this time of acute economic, public health and climate crisis, Scotland needs a Government that is focused on bringing our country together and addressing the urgent issues at hand. Unemployment, child poverty, drug deaths, clearing the NHS backlog and the climate emergency are the urgent issues that our country faces.
Does the First Minister understand that bringing our country together means more than just working with people who agree with her on the constitution? Does she understand that our national recovery must truly be our collective national mission? It must be more than just warm words—it must be ambitious action, too.
Finally, will the First Minister confirm which ministers will be losing their jobs for the appointment of two new ministers?
I spent an election campaign hearing Anas Sarwar talk about the responsibility on us all to focus on what we agree on rather than the things that we disagree on, and we have heard more of that today. I agreed with him and commended him during the election campaign for striking that tone. The problem is that, so far, there has been nothing from Anas Sarwar to suggest that that has any substance and is anything more than rhetoric.
All the challenges that he has alluded to today are exactly the challenges that the agreement sets out concrete actions, investments, plans and policies to address—not in rhetoric, but in substance. The SNP and the Greens have agreed to do that notwithstanding the disagreements between us. Both parties have been prepared to compromise, cede some control and come together in order to do better for the country.
In the days after the election, as Anas Sarwar knows, I invited Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater in to talk about how we could co-operate. I also invited Anas Sarwar in to talk about how the SNP and Labour might co-operate. The difference is that the Scottish Greens took that seriously—they went away, thought about it and came back to try to work towards an agreement.
I say to Anas Sarwar that it is not too late to be part of that consensus. There is a strategic choice for the Opposition parties in the face of the agreement. I am fairly certain which choice the Conservatives will make, but which choice Labour will make is perhaps more of an open question. I suspect that it will define much of Anas Sarwar’s leadership of his party, because the choice is whether to come with us to try to find common ground while respecting our disagreements, and to work together to meet the challenges that we face, or to move more and more to the margins of politics along with the Conservatives.
I again make an open invitation to Anas Sarwar to work with us, co-operate and be part of that consensus building, because I agree that that is what the country needs. However, it takes courage and boldness to do that, and a willingness to do it in substance and not just in empty rhetoric.
The £500 million just transition deal is vital not only for making the transition from oil and gas to renewables but for doing so in a fair and just way. We will set out in the period ahead the detail of how the fund will operate and the objectives that it will support. We will work with partners, communities and other stakeholders to take it forward. It is intended to accelerate the transition of the region and support the role of Aberdeen and the wider north-east as a centre of excellence for the development of new technologies and the transition to a net zero economy. The scope, timing and design of the fund will be developed in consultation with stakeholders and set out to Parliament as soon as possible.
I want to press for clarity on oil and gas. Patrick Harvie has bragged that the Greens have changed significantly the First Minister’s position on the future of our oil and gas sector and the tens of thousands of jobs that it supports, and Lorna Slater has stated that she wants to shut the industry down within the next four years. Does the Government support new oil and gas exploration and production, or Lorna Slater’s closure plans?
The agreement sets out exactly what we agree on and, as far as my view on new exploration is concerned, I set that out in a letter to the Prime Minister. Just as it is the case that new licences for exploration have to be assessed against the climate emergency, so too should existing licences be, before production goes ahead. We face an inescapable climate emergency and we have to recognise that it is no longer consistent with tackling that climate emergency simply to assume that we can go on and on with unlimited extraction of fossil fuels.
However, we must support a fair and just transition, and the oil and gas sector recognises that. The responsibility on Government is to make sure that we provide the support and investment to do that. Parties such as the Conservatives will no doubt go on burying their heads in the sand in the face of the climate emergency, but we will not do that. We will provide the leadership to make sure that Scotland meets its targets on climate change and the transition to net zero by 2045 and that we take the jobs, expertise, skills and infrastructure that have been built up over decades in the oil and gas sector and use them to drive the alternatives that we need.
I hope that other parties will be part of that, because we all have an inescapable duty to meet the climate emergency head on.
I acknowledge the Scottish Government’s commitment to prioritising the Covid recovery, but, as the First Minister said in her statement, it is right that the people of Scotland have a say on what that recovery looks like in the long term. Will the First Minister outline how the agreement between the SNP and the Greens strengthens the democratic mandate for an independence referendum and ensures that, as we rebuild from the Covid pandemic, we also build the fairer and greener Scotland that we all want?
I have a duty as First Minister to continue to lead the country through the on-going Covid crisis, and I will make a statement in Parliament tomorrow on the latest Covid situation and the steps that we need to continue to take collectively to tackle the increase in transmission.
As we come out of the acute crisis and recover our economy, our society and our whole way of life, we have big choices to make about the kind of country that we are recovering to. We are not alone in that regard; countries across the world are asking themselves those questions. I believe that the answers to those questions should be shaped and decided in Scotland by our democratically elected Government and Parliament, and not imposed on us by a Westminster Government that, as we see so powerfully with Brexit, is intent on taking us in a direction that the majority do not want to go in.
The question is not whether we, in the Parliament, all agree on the question of independence. It is clear that we do not, and that is perfectly legitimate in a democracy. The question is whether we are all prepared to agree on the basic principle of democracy that election mandates should be honoured and questions about the future of our country should be taken not by politicians but by the people of our country. The arithmetic in the Parliament is clear: there is a mandate for an independence referendum. That should be honoured, and I am determined that it will be honoured and that the people of Scotland will decide the future of this country.
In February 2021, the Greens supported Scottish Labour’s demand for a minimum of £15 an hour for social care workers in the budget. Less than two weeks later—having clearly been nobbled by the SNP—the Greens abstained on the same demand. That appeared in the Greens’ manifesto but not in the SNP manifesto. Try as I might, I can find no reference to it in the SNP-Green agreement. When will social care workers get £15 an hour—or have the Greens sold out?
Jackie Baillie has been in the Parliament since its inception and she is very well aware of the constraints on ministers when it comes to planning applications. I am quite surprised that she asked a question of that nature when she knows how ill founded it is.
On the other question, I say to Jackie Baillie that any member in the chamber will be able to find lots of examples of where the Greens and the SNP do not agree and have not agreed in the past. However, what we have done—this is the whole point of what we are doing—is come together to focus on where we agree but also, crucially, to work together to find ways of achieving the things that we agree on.
On the question of pay for social care workers, yes we want to achieve that. To their great credit, the Greens have decided to come into government to be part of working out, through our budgets and our decision making, how we can deliver that, rather than simply standing on the sidelines shouting for something to happen with no consideration at all of how to make it happen. It is the difference between achieving nothing in opposition and achieving lots by having the guts to go into government and take the decisions required.
This is thin gruel for the Green Party. The SNP Government has barely had to budge. Take education, for example. In the previous parliamentary session, the Greens worked with us to reform education. However, every single education policy in the agreement document was existing Government policy before the negotiations began. The Greens have not moved the dial at all. In fact, the deal takes us backwards on education.
In 2018, all Opposition parties voted to halt the national testing of primary 1 pupils. There was a parliamentary majority that was backed by teachers and parents to that end. The SNP Government chose to roundly ignore that. The First Minister told us that testing would not lead to league tables, but there are now league tables in the national press. Will national testing of four and five-year-olds finally be abolished, or have the Greens surrendered the parliamentary majority that existed in support of that abolition, as well?
I have to say that it is a bit rich for the leader of a parliamentary group—I congratulate Alex Cole-Hamilton on his election as leader—that no longer qualifies as a parliamentary group because it lost ground in the election to criticise a party that increased its presence in the Parliament and is intent on trying to achieve change for the people whom it represents. Over all the years in which I have been in government, the Greens have, through co-operation and constructive opposition, achieved more than the Liberal Democrats have, and they will achieve even more in government.
Excuse me, members; I am sorry. There are a lot of conversations going on. I understand that we are all very pleased to be back in the chamber, but we can catch up later. Members should focus on the business, please, and ensure that we can hear those who are speaking at any point in time.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I am absolutely delighted to be back in the chamber. I am enjoying it very much indeed so far.
I am sure that the Greens will achieve a great deal in government through collaboration and co-operation and by being constructive in getting things done.
I say again to the Opposition parties that the offer is there for all of us to try to come together to find the areas on which we can agree. The question is who is prepared to do that and who is not. The Greens, to their credit, are prepared to do that. It remains to be seen whether anybody else is willing to work in that constructive way.
The agreement between the Green Party and the Scottish Government is welcome, particularly at a time when others in the chamber seem to be shying away from working collaboratively to address with urgency the impacts of the climate emergency. Will the First Minister expand on how the agreement will bolster the Government’s work to achieve our ambitious net zero targets?
At a very basic level, the agreement will make sure that those of us who have been in government for a long time accept and embrace fresh challenge, because we need fresh thinking, bolder ideas and action to meet the climate emergency. There is no escaping that. We must make sure that we accelerate the transition. As we do so, we must ensure that we are harnessing and realising the massive economic benefits that are there to be won, but which we have not always been as good as we should have been at harnessing in the past.
Through the agreement, which focuses on specific areas—how we change the way in which we heat our homes, how we decarbonise our public transport system and how we protect our natural environment—we can see how we can take forward those responsibilities. However, the very nature of the co-operation agreement is to demand compromise from all of us and to demand consensus building. I hope and believe that we will challenge each other to go further and faster. I believe that that is what is needed and, indeed, wanted by a majority of people across the country.
At the recent election, the Scottish Greens said that we need to move away from traditional economic policies and abandon the endless focus on economic growth. Business, virtually every economic policy body in Scotland and the banking sector are all adamant that economic growth is vital to our recovery from the pandemic. Indeed, that seems to be the view that the Finance and Public Administration Committee expressed at this morning’s meeting. Whose side is the First Minister on when it comes to economic growth?
I believe in economic growth that is sustainable. The Greens and the SNP have a difference of opinion, which is set out openly in the agreement, about the role of gross domestic product as a metric for that. I believe that GDP is an appropriate metric, but not the only one on which we should rely. I believe that we should widen our measurements of economic success—I have believed that for a long time, which is why this Government is one of the founding Governments of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance. A growing number of Governments across the world are now involved in the alliance and are saying that the health, happiness and wellbeing of a population should also matter in our judgments of economic success and that the measure of success should not simply be GDP.
At the heart of our agreement is an agreement to develop the metrics of how we measure our success as an economy and society. I think that more and more people in Scotland, and more and more people and Governments across the world, are recognising that. It does not surprise me, but it disappoints me, that the Conservatives continue to sit outside that. I hope that we will see that change during this parliamentary session.
The agreement between the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Government is historic. It is a new model of politics that responds to the code red for humanity on the climate, while building a fair recovery from Covid. The agreement has a bold and far-reaching programme, which will accelerate a just transition, double the size of the wind industry that was previously butchered by the Tory party at Westminster, invest £1.8 billion in energy efficiency and renewable heat, and invest £500 million in a just transition fund for the north-east. Does the First Minister agree that the programme will help Scotland to grasp the economic opportunities of the just transition by creating new fair jobs while tackling the climate emergency?
Yes, I do. That is one of the biggest challenges that we face. Notwithstanding the impressions to the contrary from some members today, I hope that there is unanimous agreement in the chamber that tackling the climate emergency with urgency and determination is not seen to be an option. I genuinely hope that we all agree on the need to do that.
One of the big questions is how we do that. Do we achieve it in a way that is just and fair, and which seizes and realises the massive economic opportunities? Being candid, I note that, although we have had exchanges about that in the chamber on many occasions in the past, we have not been as successful at it as we should have been. Subject to parliamentary approval later, Lorna Slater will have a key role to play in driving a new green industrial strategy so that we meet our obligations on reducing emissions, and do so in a way that creates new jobs and industries for the future. There is a big challenge in relation to climate change, but there is a massive opportunity as well, and the agreement will help us to seize that. For that reason, I think that all of us and people right across the country should be genuinely enthused, inspired and excited by it.
It has been more than a decade since national park designation for the isle of Harris had to be abandoned, despite more than 70 per cent of residents backing the move in a plebiscite that had a turnout that was higher than 70 per cent. There was limited support from the local authority, however, which contributed to the bid being rejected. The shared policy programme commits to at least one new national park being designated by the end of this parliamentary session. Can the First Minister say more about the process by which a new national park will be chosen?
The process will follow the National Parks (Scotland) Act 2000, which includes a detailed process of consultation of communities, local authorities and other stakeholders. The criteria for designation include the area being
“of outstanding national importance because of its natural heritage or the combination of its natural and cultural heritage” and having
“a distinctive character and a coherent identity”.
In the agreement, we make it clear that we believe that national parks should be designated only in response to local community demand. We therefore encourage community stakeholders and local government to come forward now with proposals.
I will just quote from the coalition agreement. It states:
“The current plan is to fully dual the A96 route between Inverness and Aberdeen.”
It goes on to talk about having a “transparent, evidence-based review” to
“include a climate compatibility assessment.”
Can the First Minister say whether or not the A96 will be fully dualled?
Graham Simpson should probably quote more fully from the agreement, but I will do that, and I will focus on what it agrees in terms of enhancements to the A96, which includes dualling from Inverness to Nairn; bypasses in Nairn, Keith, Elgin and Inverurie; road safety improvements between, for example, Fochabers and Huntly, and Inverurie and Aberdeen; the development of an A96 electric highway; a nd, of course, enhanced public transport improvements in north-east Scotland.
There are a range of improvements, including looking at a rail link between Dyce and Ellon and further north to Peterhead and Fraserburgh, and reviewing the A96 corridor, with a view to implementing bus priority measures.
Yes, the agreement does say that the current plan is for full dualling; however, as with any major road development, environmental assessments and impact assessments have to be carried out, because, in this period of having to address the climate emergency, no politician with any credibility would suggest that we do not assess all our policies against the climate imperative. We therefore set out clearly our priorities and the process that we will take to make sure that people across the north-east have the transport links that they need in order for the economy to thrive.
For the majority of members in this duly elected chamber the most important step that we can take to empower the Parliament and the people of Scotland and be able to make the changes that we need to be an independent country. With Westminster’s continuing refusal to recognise the clear democratic mandate that was delivered by the people of this country when we were elected to the Parliament in May, where does the First Minister think the coalition agreement leaves us constitutionally? What options are available as we seek to provide the people of Scotland with the ability to determine our own future?
There is a basic question of democracy here. We have disagreements in the chamber about what future Scotland should choose. There is nothing wrong with that, because it is the essence of democracy. I believe fervently, and have done for all my adult life, that Scotland should become an independent country like the 200 independent countries across the world, so that we can work in partnership with other countries, but also have the ability to determine and shape our own future. People are entitled to disagree and say that Scotland is better remaining within the Westminster union, but the people who should decide that question are not us, as politicians: it is the population of Scotland who should decide that question. [
Conservative members say that that happened in 2014 but, since then, Scotland has been ripped out of the European Union against our will. People across Scotland are struggling to get basic food supplies in supermarkets because of the Tory-imposed Brexit.
The Scottish Government fought the election on a commitment to give the people of Scotland a choice in a referendum and the Government won with historic vote shares and many other record-breaking results along the way. Let us have the rigorous debate about Scotland’s future, but let us accept the central tenet of democracy that it is the people of Scotland—and only the people of Scotland—who should decide.
On the day that the deal was announced, ScotRail unveiled a consultation on timetable changes that would cut 300 rail services. The SNP Minister for Transport seems to accept the cuts; one wonders whether the Green ministers do, too.
Given what the First Minister said about investing in public transport and tackling the climate emergency, will she stop the cuts to rail services? If not, how can the Government justify record ministerial salaries and more ministerial cars and bicycles when cutting rail services for everybody else?
The commitments in the agreement are about investing in our rail services, bringing them back into public ownership—nationalising ScotRail—and ensuring that people in every part of our country can rely on services, that fares are affordable for travel and that we cut emissions in our rail network.
Will there be difficult decisions to make along the way? Of course there will, but there is a determination to come together to take the decisions so that our transport network is capable and fit for the purpose of transporting people across the country for work and leisure, and so that it meets our imperative on the climate emergency.
I welcome input and engagement from members across the Parliament. The question is whether Labour members are prepared to work on that basis. I hope that they take up the invitation.
I very much welcome the agreement between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party. This is a fundamental moment in the continued progression of devolution that will lead us to the normal status of independence.
What benefits will the agreement bring to local authorities across Scotland?
The agreement has many positive elements for local government and democracy, such as work to increase voter registration and participation, particularly among underrepresented groups, and the commitment to undertake an independent review of the Scottish welfare fund, which is important to many families and individuals across the country.
The shared programme contains a variety of policies on which we will work collaboratively with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, such as commitments on community wealth building, planning, active travel, work on education reform and the establishment of a national care service. All those policies will have an impact on local authorities, so engagement and joint work on them will be important.
We will seek a strategic discussion with COSLA’s leadership on the agreement and the upcoming programme for government. We work collaboratively with COSLA, and the agreement will enhance the measures whereby we help local authorities to deliver their services for people across the country.
There is concern that the agreement ignores rural communities. I was delighted when the First Minister visited my constituency during the election campaign and shared my pledge to reopen Insch community hospital. She went further and said:
“We are prepared as a government, if re-elected, to make the funding available to the health board, not just to reopen it but to do work to give it a long term, sustainable future.”
I wrote to the First Minister about that more than two weeks ago but have yet to receive a reply. Will she confirm to the Insch community that her commitment is not in jeopardy from her Green agreement? Will she set out the timescale for delivering her promise?
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Insch during the election campaign and I stand by the commitments that we made on Insch community hospital. When I set out the programme for government at this time next week, we will set out our ambitions for capital investment across the health service estate, as we take the decisions to ensure that it is fit for purpose.
I am sure that our Green colleagues will be as enthusiastic about developing community health facilities as well as elective treatment centres and more specialist services over the period that is ahead. I look forward to saying more about all those things in the programme for government statement next week.
There is a pressing need for action on climate change, and a growing number of Scots believe that independence will unlock the powers necessary to ensure a just transition to a greener society. How will the co-operation deal further our collective fight, promote sustainable economic change and advance Scotland’s journey towards independence?
Within the devolved context, the agreement contains a number of commitments that will help deliver a just transition to net zero, some of which I have already touched on, such as the transition deal for the north-east and Moray; the national strategy for economic transformation, which is vital in terms of building the economy that we need for the future; the green industrial strategy; and just transition plans for industries, sectors and regions across the country, to help our supply chains create high-quality jobs.
Within the agreement—within our devolved powers—the plans are ambitious and wide reaching. However, it is a fact that, if we are to reach our full potential and build that greener, fairer Scotland, the full range of powers over tax and social security are necessary. Therefore, ensuring that the mandate to give people a choice on independence during this parliamentary session is honoured is a key part of ensuring that we meet the challenges that lie ahead.
The additional two ministers and two special advisers will cost Scotland’s taxpayers £1 million. In its 2007 manifesto, the SNP promised the Scottish people
“a smaller, better focused ministerial team”.
So, is the First Minister proud to be leading the largest and most bloated Government in the history of devolution?
What I can say with absolute certainty is that every Scottish Government minister is fully occupied and working hard every day to deliver on the commitments and policies of this Government.
I believe that Scotland is overgoverned and that there is some—to use Stephen Kerr’s word—bloating in the governance of Scotland. Some people call that the Scotland Office, but perhaps Stephen Kerr has some other name for it.
Let us have more streamlined government. Let us abolish the Scotland Office through Scotland becoming independent. While we are at it, perhaps the House of Lords could be dispensed with as well, so that all of the politicians that we have working for us are fully occupied doing real jobs and delivering day in and day out for the Scottish people.
I welcome the agreement between the SNP and the Scottish Green Party. Can the First Minister give an assurance that, in addition to green transport projects such as the potential for the rail links from Dumfries to Stranraer and Stranraer to Cairnryan, the co-operation agreement will not prevent improvements and upgrades to the A75 and A77, which have long been lobbied for, particularly with regard to safety aspects of the roads, when the strategic transport projects review 2 is finally published?
We have already published the south-west Scotland transport study, which emphasised the importance of a connected, safe, resilient and high-quality strategic transport network for people travelling in the region. Of course, the recommendations for targeted road improvements to the A75 and A77 are now subject to more detailed appraisal as part of the STPR2 process, and that is the overall process through which we have agreed to direct future transport infrastructure investment.
“sleepwalking into an incineration nightmare.”
I sincerely hope that that did not harm his ministerial chances.
In the spirit of working collaboratively with all parties and listening to our communities that are under threat right now, will the First Minister work with Scottish Labour to introduce an urgent moratorium on new large-scale incinerators? Further, in case I missed the First Minister getting off the fence, can she clarify whether the SNP-Green Government that she leads now supports the stop Cambo campaign? Yes or no?
On the first question, as I am sure Monica Lennon knows
, we have committed to a process of review to consider the role of incineration in how we deal with waste. I understand that the process of the review will be set out imminently in the next couple of weeks and I am sure that Monica Lennon will have an input into it.
The difference between being in government and being in opposition is that, in government, we have to deal with issues in detail. There are big questions over whether we should continue with new exploration in the North Sea, which would include the Cambo development. That is why there should be a process. Licences are granted, but there should be a process before production approval is given—a process of checking proposals against the climate emergency. That is the right way to go, because we cannot carry on with business as usual in terms of energy, any more than it is business as usual right across our society. I am prepared to challenge my long-held views to ensure that we do the right thing, and I encourage everybody to do likewise.
There is a lot to look forward to in the new agreement, particularly in terms of addressing the climate emergency that we all face and in securing a more sustainable future for Scotland. However, it is understandable that many people outwith the central belt and city centres are eagerly waiting to hear how a greater focus on active travel and public transport can benefit them. As a region that is currently widely dependent on car travel, can the Highlands and Islands expect improvements in rail infrastructure, perhaps including doubling the Highland main line and the Inverness to Aberdeen line and improvements to the far north and west Highland lines, as a result of the deal?
That is a fair question, and the answer to it has to be yes. We have to develop public transport and active travel options across the Highlands and Islands, not only as much as in the rest of the country but more so, given the geographic challenges and the overreliance—for understandable reasons—on car use.
As members will be aware, rail improvements are being considered as part of the STPR2 process. The rail decarbonisation action plan, which was published last year, is aligned to that. For example, the action plan commits to developing potential options to serve the west Highland line by hydrogen or battery trains, as well as considering the partial or full electrification of the Highland main line. Those are longer-term projects that will contribute to our commitment to decarbonise passenger services by 2035.
At the core of the question is the inescapable fact that, if we are to meet the targets around reducing reliance on car use for all of the country and some parts of the country in particular, it will depend on developing the alternatives. There is a seriousness of intent to do that around the Highlands and Islands.
The Presiding Officer:
That concludes the First Minister’s statement on the agreement with the Scottish Green Party. I remind members that social distancing measures are in place across the chamber and the Holyrood campus. Please take care to observe the measures, including when entering and exiting the chamber. Please use the aisles and walkways only to access your seat and when moving around the chamber.