I remind members that social distancing measures are in place in the chamber and across the Holyrood campus. I ask members to 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.
The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-00978, in the name of John Swinney, on the first 100 days—delivering for the people of Scotland. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak button as soon as possible.
On 26 May, the First Minister made a statement to Parliament outlining our ambitious programme to drive the nation’s recovery from the Covid crisis. Central to that programme would be the delivery of the commitments that we set out in our first steps plan during the election campaign.
In the 100 days since the First Minister was elected by Parliament, we have applied a clear focus to delivering 81 priorities in the programme that would materially improve the health, safety, security and wellbeing of the people of Scotland. That period ended on 25 August, and I confirm that the Government delivered 80 of those 81 commitments. That is a significant achievement and one that clearly demonstrates that the Government is committed to delivering on its promises to the people of Scotland.
Successful completion of those commitments required a co-ordinated, collective approach across Government and with our partners. I welcome the progress that has been achieved, and I thank all those involved in the delivery of those commitments.
Those targeted interventions will deliver positive change for the people, families and communities who need it most, and for our economy, public services and environment. They touch on every ministerial portfolio, will have an impact on communities the length and breadth of Scotland and will have a lasting benefit for years to come.
Our most immediate priority has been to lead Scotland safely through the pandemic and to steer a careful course back to the closest that we can achieve to normality by reopening communities in a safe and responsible fashion. That has been possible only because of the success of our vaccination programme.
Every adult in Scotland has now been offered their first dose of a Covid vaccine, and we expect everyone who is eligible to be offered their second dose by 12 September. Drop-in or open-access clinics are now offered in all mainland health boards for those aged 16 and over. In total, 91 per cent of adults have received their first dose and 83 per cent have received their second. That includes 92 per cent of healthcare staff and 94 per cent of individuals who are shielding due to clinical vulnerability.
Although enormous progress has been made, Covid remains a significant threat to our people, and the sharp rise in cases in the last two weeks is a cause for a high degree of concern. Ministers are carefully assessing the case numbers and the relationship with hospitalisation levels. The First Minister will update Parliament on those considerations in her statement tomorrow.
Last week, the Government took the necessary steps towards learning lessons and improving understanding and preparedness for future pandemics when we published a set of draft aims and principles for an independent public inquiry into the handling of Covid-19 in Scotland. That will form the basis of a process to listen to the views of those affected—especially the bereaved—on what they wish to see from an inquiry. We have already started engaging with bereaved families, who we want to put at the heart of the inquiry and its approach. We will ensure that the inquiry has the necessary scope to consider the breadth of impact of the pandemic on the population across what we would habitually refer to as the four harms—Covid harm, non-Covid health harm, social harm and economic harm—to ensure that the inquiry is able to explore the full range of the actions of the Government and our partners and to subject those and the decision-making processes involved to full and open scrutiny.
Our continuing move back towards normality would not be possible without a strong and sustainable health and care sector. Throughout the pandemic, our national health service and care services have worked tirelessly to deal with the increased strain of Covid on top of the other on-going health and care needs of the population.
In our 100 days programme, we recognised the selflessness of NHS and care staff by delivering on our commitment to implement the most generous pay rise anywhere in the United Kingdom for NHS Scotland agenda for change staff. That average pay increase of 4 per cent benefits around 154,000 employees.
We also took steps to grow our health and care services to meet future challenges. Last week, the First Minister launched the NHS recovery plan to meet our ambition of increasing in-patient, day case and out-patient activity by 10 per cent. The plan is backed by over £1 billion of additional investment to support the delivery of improvements throughout the five years of the parliamentary session. Among other things, it will increase primary care investment by 25 per cent and restore face-to-face consultations in general practitioner surgeries. It will reduce accident and emergency attendances by 15 to 20 per cent and will increase out-patient capacity by 10 per cent compared to pre-Covid levels.
As part of the 100 days commitments, we also launched a consultation earlier this month to seek the views of the public on a national care system. We have heard a great deal about the problems that people face in the current system and now we want to engage the public and all interested parties to build a better approach that meets the needs of the public throughout the country.
However, health and care services are only one aspect of how the 100 days commitments materially improve the lives of the Scottish people. We also took steps to further invest in our communities, our homes, our families and the connections that help us to thrive. For instance, we have begun development of a new five-year plan focused on tackling loneliness and social isolation head on. We saw those issues being experienced during the Covid pandemic—that was illustrated to us clearly and powerfully. We have backed the plan with £10 million over five years. We recognise that that will be the first step in tackling the intensification of the issue as a result of the pandemic. On 29 July we announced almost £1 million in funding to organisations tackling isolation and loneliness over this summer and into early 2022.
We are also working to better connect communities across Scotland. One of the specific measures in the 100 days commitments was the building of 14 new mobile phone masts in remote, rural and island areas. Eight of those have already been activated for 4G service, and the remaining six will be activated by November.
We are taking further significant steps to eliminate poverty and inequality in Scotland by beginning work to design and deliver a minimum income guarantee. That radical policy will help everyone to receive an income sufficient to live a dignified, healthy and financially secure life.
That is only a sample of how we are ensuring our collective future prosperity. Through the 100 days commitments, we invested in jobs and our economy to mitigate the harmful impacts of Westminster’s Brexit and help Scotland recover from the pandemic.
We know that those issues have been particularly hard on local businesses, tourism and hospitality. That is why, among other things, we allocated up to £62 million in direct financial support to taxi drivers and operators and £25 million to tourism, including holiday vouchers for unpaid carers and low-income families. We also launched the Scotland Loves Local campaign with a loyalty card scheme and a new £10 million fund to help revitalise high streets that were hit by the pandemic.
In addition to that immediate support, we are taking steps toward a long-term sustainable economic future. Our vision for Scotland is to create a wellbeing economy—a society that thrives across economic, social and environmental dimensions and delivers sustainable and inclusive growth for Scotland’s people and places.
It is not, in fact, 100 days or whatever— it is 5,234 days since the Scottish National Party came into government, and one of the stains on the record of the past 14 years is the record drug deaths. Will the Government commit to backing the Scottish Conservatives’ proposals for a right to recovery bill that will tackle the drug deaths crisis in Scotland?
I point out to Stephen Kerr that the Government has been elected on four occasions by the public in Scotland over the time period that he refers to. In relation to the issue of drug deaths, the Minister for Drugs Policy, Angela Constance, has made it very clear, and the First Minister made it clear in her statement, that the Government will consider all constructive suggestions, wherever they come from in Parliament. That does not guarantee that what is suggested will happen, because there will be many issues to wrestle with, but the Government will give serious consideration to the points that are raised in the proposed legislation that Mr Kerr refers to, because we are absolutely determined to put the necessary focus on the issue of drug deaths and on addressing that crisis, which I know that Angela Constance is doing.
As part of the wider approach to the 100 days commitments, particularly in relation to economic policy, we established an advisory council to shape our 10-year national strategy for economic transformation, which will be published later in the autumn. The strategy will set out the steps that we will take to deliver a green economic recovery and support new good green jobs, businesses and industries in the future.
If we are to secure that long-term sustainable future for our economy and communities, we cannot fail to address climate change and its impacts. We have worked with partners to ensure that the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—summit in Glasgow in November will be safe and, we hope, successful in relation to tackling climate change. To demonstrate Scotland’s commitment to tackling climate change, we have published our indicative nationally determined contribution based on our world-leading 2030 target to reduce emissions of all major greenhouse gases by at least 75 per cent. We have delivered on our commitment to establish the green jobs workforce academy to ensure that we can match the skills with the job opportunities that will drive our transition to net zero.
The Government has fulfilled all its commitments in the 100 days programme, but there will, of course, be other things in the Government’s manifesto that we are determined to take forward. We will do that as part of the measures that we are taking, for example, on transport decarbonisation with the bus decarbonisation task force, the steps to remove fossil fuels from public transport, where we are making £50 million available in 2021 to help drive a green recovery, and the successful completion of the extensive woodland creation programme, which includes 12,000 hectares of woodland planting. Those are just some of the measures that we have taken in relation to tackling climate change.
Included in the 100 days programme was the establishment of the cross-party Covid recovery group, on which I and other members across the chamber serve. On 28 June, I replied to the cabinet secretary’s private office email of the same date to ask when the next meeting of that group would be held, and I never received a response. It appears that ministers took time off during the recess while Covid rampaged through our communities. Why was the meeting not held?
We met extensively before the summer recess, and I think that we are meeting later this week, if my diary is correct. We will therefore continue the discussions that Jackie Baillie helpfully contributes to at all times, of course. I welcome her contribution in that process.
Within the 100 days commitments, we took steps to ensure that children and young people in Scotland will have the best start in life and that families will be supported to recover from the difficult period that all families have faced. We provided £20 million for a summer offer of activities for those children and young people most affected by Covid to reconnect, have fun and learn, and we introduced free school lunches for primary 4 children as the first step to delivering free school breakfasts and lunches for all primary school pupils. I am grateful to local authority leaders for their agreement to the approach that we have taken, which has meant that, at the start of the school year, primary 4 children have been able to benefit from that support. We have also made available funding to local authorities to increase teacher numbers by 1,000 and classroom assistants by 500 as part of our commitment to 3,500 additional teachers and 500 more pupil support assistants over the parliamentary session.
Since the start of term, on 18 August, we have supported all local authorities to offer 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare to all eligible children. Perhaps that is the most significant contribution that we could make to enhancing the nurture and support of our youngest citizens at the most critical time in their lives.
On supporting young people, I was very gratified to see in the NHS recovery plan an ambitious commitment by the Government to clear down child and adolescent mental health waiting times by 2023. Can the Deputy First Minister confirm to Parliament that that will not just involve parking young people on medication or offering them inferior online interventions and that they will each get access to talking therapy if they need it?
On the first part of Mr Cole-Hamilton’s intervention, my strong view is that it would not be satisfactory for the type of options that he suggested to be made available in all circumstances, because it is clear that that would not be appropriate. For the same reason, the latter part of Mr Cole-Hamilton’s question is a difficult point for me to commit to, because clinical judgment will be applied in that respect. However, I accept and recognise it as vital that any young person who is in need of specific mental health assistance is able to receive that. That is the commitment that the Government is making in relation to the NHS recovery plan that has been published.
The Deputy First Minister mentioned the things that have been done for young people during the 100 days. One thing that the Government has not done is double the Scottish child payment. We know that, if children are in poverty, it is very difficult for them to learn. All the things that the Deputy First Minister has described will therefore be at risk if the child poverty gap is not addressed. Will the Government commit to immediately doubling the Scottish child payment in the programme for government, and will it look at the fact that 125,000 children have missed out on the bridging payment that it has paid to children and young people while there is a huge delay in rolling that out to six to 16-year-olds?
The Government is committed to the earliest possible progress on the doubling of the child payment. The most immediate threat to the income of families is the removal of the universal credit supplementary payment, which the United Kingdom Government is about to embark on. I take this opportunity on my feet in the Parliament to commit myself to do everything that I can—my colleague Shona Robison is doing everything that she can—to try to ensure that the United Kingdom Government does not take that retrograde step. That is an immediate choice that is in front of United Kingdom Government ministers just now and which will directly do harm.
However, as part of our dialogue and discussions with our colleagues from the Green Party, who are soon to be confirmed as ministers in the Scottish Government as a result of the Bute house agreement, we will certainly be focusing on those challenges. I look forward to ensuring that we build on our 100 days programme, working in partnership with our Green Party colleagues to progress the agreement, which will influence much of our programme for government and much of the remainder of this parliamentary session.
The Government is focused on ensuring that we continue the delivery that we have achieved in the first 100 days and to deliver on the expectations of the people of Scotland. We have set out an ambitious agenda. We have delivered on it in the first 100 days and we intend to keep delivering on it for the remainder of this parliamentary session.
That the Parliament welcomes the delivery of 80 key actions within the first 100 days of the new administration that will have a positive impact on the people of Scotland by leading the COVID-19 recovery, supporting NHS and care services, tackling the climate crisis, backing economic recovery and creating jobs, supporting communities and helping children and families, and recognises these actions as the foundation of improved outcomes for Scotland’s people that will continue to be delivered through the forthcoming Programme for Government, the COVID-19 recovery programme and the shared policy programme agreed between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party.
I thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer, and the Presiding Officer, for your understanding about my not being able to remain for the whole of the debate.
Members have witnessed their fair share of poor speeches in the chamber, but the Deputy First Minister’s speech will rank highly. How can any self-respecting politician be on their feet for more than quarter of an hour and say how great their Government is and not realise what it has done over the past 100 days and how it has let down the people of Scotland?
John Swinney made a fool of himself when he introduced the term “vertical drinking” during the summer. However, I think that he has now come up with a new meaning for the word “delivery”. During the past 100 days, the Government has not delivered—it has failed time and time again. I will come on to explain just some of the reasons for that.
For the moment, I want to discuss the topic of this SNP Government-led debate.
The Government gets to choose the topic that will be debated for hours at a time. It could have chosen any subject that it wanted to. It could have chosen to speak about the NHS treatment backlog. It could have chosen to discuss how we get a strong economic recovery following Covid-19. It could have chosen to discuss the future of education. It could have chosen to discuss pretty much any issue of importance to the people of Scotland. Instead, the Government chose to pat itself on the back and say how great it has been during the past 100 days.
The Government is completely bereft of ideas on how to sort out the mess that it has made of this country. It would rather pretend that everything is great and hope that, if it says that often enough, people will believe it. However, everything is far from great.
Let us look at the areas that John Swinney did not mention. Apart from an intervention from the Conservatives, we got a couple of lines about Scotland’s drug deaths crisis. However, it was during the 100 days since the SNP was elected as the Government that the appalling drug deaths figures for last year were released. Yet again, there was an increase in the lives cut short and families left devastated.
Scotland remains the drug deaths capital of Europe but the Deputy First Minister had nothing to say about it. The situation is so bad that there are three deaths a day as a result of drug misuse. While John Swinney and his Government are celebrating how they have delivered during the past 100 days—and, indeed, since they were re-elected 117 days ago—more than 350 families have lost a loved one. The Deputy First Minister celebrates his Government. Those families grieve a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister, a friend or a loved one. It is shameful that we got nothing from him about that crisis.
The Scottish Conservatives have plans. As Stephen Kerr said, we have published our plans for a right to recovery. We will push those forward at every opportunity, to make sure that help is there for those who need it.
I wonder whether the proposed right to recovery bill will seek the devolution of drug policies, so that we can have the powers that we really need in this country if we are to do more to tackle the issue.
I thought that Emma Harper came from a medical background. Surely she should know that we currently have the exact same powers over drug misuse in Scotland as every other part of the United Kingdom has, but our drug deaths are more than three times higher.
The member asked about the Scottish Conservative proposals. Our proposals are backed by seven recovery groups. Instead of sniping from the sidelines, perhaps Emma Harper will join us to deal with the problem that the SNP has overseen for the past 14 years.
I was speaking about health because, during the first 100 days, we have had a recovery plan for the NHS that failed to mention long Covid, that was a rehash of the previous announcements and that is so underwhelming that it gives neither patients nor staff the confidence that the Scottish Government understands the massive challenges facing the NHS here in Scotland in the months and years ahead.
Maybe the reason that we have not seen much progress is that the health secretary was busy rolling out a Covid vaccination status app. No, he was not doing that either, was he? People in Scotland have suffered because the SNP Scottish Government wanted to do it differently. It could not work with the United Kingdom Government, like other devolved Administrations; it had to set up its own system. It is now delayed and costing taxpayers extra money, with holidaymakers finding themselves unable to access venues abroad and vital oil and gas workers struggling to get into Norway. What a mess, what a farce and, of course, all completely avoidable.
Let us move from health to transport—again, an area not covered by the Deputy First Minister—and the continuing crisis with Scotland’s ferries. Local people and tourists are forced to rely on ancient vessels that break down regularly. The transport minister has not been seen on a ferry since his appointment, but maybe he is too busy painting on windows to get ready for another launch event for Nicola Sturgeon to turn up to. It does not seem to matter whether the ferries actually work; the SNP just paints over the cracks and hopes no one notices.
What about education? Our young people continue to be let down by the Scottish Government. During the past 100 days, this year’s exam results showed that the attainment gap between our richest and poorest pupils, which John Swinney’s Government was supposed to be eliminating, has increased again. In addition, who could forget the First Minister having complete confidence in the Scottish Qualifications Authority at First Minister’s question time one lunchtime, before her Government announced, a few hours later, that the body would be scrapped?
As we heard earlier, Scotland’s economic recovery is at risk with new Green ministers, but it seems that the SNP was already determined to hold us back. My colleague Donald Cameron recently revealed that the SNP scheme to build affordable homes in rural areas has spent half its budget in the past five years. We have a housing crisis in rural Scotland and the SNP has again failed to deliver. From the response to a question from my colleague Miles Briggs, we know that 275 Scottish families have been living in temporary accommodation for at least three years. The Scottish Government response was to say, “These are concerning statistics.” It is far, far worse than that, and they are not statistics but families who are looking for support but who have been parked by the Government for years.
The new justice secretary is not here. Maybe he is reading his brief, because he has not fared well either. He struggled to get to grips with his new portfolio and incorrectly announced that the Inverness prison would be delayed for up to two years, only to be bailed out a few days later by his officials who confirmed that that was not the case. However, sadly, there has been no reprieve for people trying to get through to Police Scotland on 101 recently. More than 40 per cent of calls to 101 in June were abandoned. That is right. During one month—right in the middle of when John Swinney expects us all to believe that his Government was delivering for Scotland—more than 70,000 calls to 101 could not get through.
The SNP wanted today’s debate to be an exercise in self-congratulation. However, l have managed to use the time available to me only to scratch at the surface of the failures that the SNP has presided over since the election. The list of those can and should go on, and I am sure that other speakers in the debate will use the opportunity.
The fact is that, no matter how much this Government wishes to make the aftermath of the election a new beginning, it cannot escape its old failings and the new ones that it is creating. As we heard earlier, this is not day 100 or 117 since the election: this is day 5,234 since the SNP came to power. The SNP has already had 14 years in Government, but its record in the past decade is no better than its record since the election in May, and no supine parliamentary debate or coalition deal can change that.
Although I look forward to debating the SNP-Greens’ belated programme for government next week, I already know what is going to be the centrepiece. It is not going to be a plan to help children catch up from a year of disrupted schooling, it is not going to be a plan to support employers and businesses to deliver our economic recovery, and even with the SNP’s new coalition partners, it is not going to be a plan to give our nation the leadership it needs to meet our climate targets. It will be about a second independence referendum.
Even in the aftermath of a global pandemic, when families still face huge uncertainty over their future, when workers still do not know whether their jobs are secure, and when many public services have not returned to normal, the Scottish National Party cannot let its obsession go. It has no answer to the challenges of the day that Scotland faces.
This remains the same tired and stale Government, regardless of whether we are debating 100 days or 5,000 days. That is why the Scottish Conservatives, as the largest Opposition party, are getting on with the job of building Scotland’s real alternative. The more the SNP presides over failures, the more it lets down our country. The Conservatives cannot and will not stand back and allow that to happen.
I move amendment S6M-00978.3, to leave out from “welcomes” to end and insert:
“notes the failure of the Scottish Government to publish its Programme for Government in the week after recess, the first time that this has happened, outside of a pandemic, since 2014; further notes that this is not a new administration, but the same government that has been in power since 2007; notes the many failings of the Scottish Government since the election; believes that the Scottish Government’s agreement with the Scottish Green Party will be a disaster for Scotland’s economy, and calls on the Scottish Government to prioritise the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, not another independence referendum.”
Because I might forget later, I note that I have an amendment to move, too. It is important to reflect on where we are with our country coming through the pandemic; I will come in a moment to the 100 days—or, rather, the 117 days—since the election. Let us not forget that thousands of our fellow citizens have lost their lives. Almost every family across our country has grieved the loss of a relative or other loved one. Every child has been touched by lost education and by challenges with their mental health and wellbeing.
Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of our fellow citizens are waiting—I was going to say “patiently”, but they are probably waiting impatiently—for healthcare. There are huge backlogs in cancer diagnosis, cancer treatment and mental health support, particularly in child and adolescent mental health services. The backlogs were huge pre-pandemic and have all been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Tens of thousands of people are worried about whether they will have a job to go back to. We face a looming unemployment crisis coming through the pandemic. Every business across the country has fears and anxieties about what the recovery will truly mean for it as we head into the latest phase of the pandemic.
Justice delayed is justice denied. Tens of thousands of our fellow citizens have not had access to justice during the pandemic. There are huge backlogs of cases and large numbers of people have been on remand for an extended period, many of whom might ultimately be found innocent of what they are accused of.
All that pressure has been on our key workers, whether they be teachers, care workers, NHS staff, council workers, cleansing workers, retail workers or food delivery workers. All of that is a huge challenge, and layered on top of our national crisis with those issues from the global pandemic is the global climate emergency.
This is a huge moment for our country. It does not require more of the same and just rhetoric; it requires more than cheap soundbites and platitudes from the Government and the new coalition partners. It requires meaningful and deep action and bigger ideas than those that the Government presented in the previous parliamentary session. To be frank, a bigger idea than that of independence is needed. We need big ideas to deliver for people across our country.
The Deputy First Minister’s motion is filled with triumphant praise, but it will surprise no one who has followed the Government’s conduct in office to learn that things are not quite as they seem on paper. The truth is that, far from the 100 days being a period in which the SNP has transformed Scotland and started the important work of our national recovery, it has instead been a missed opportunity.
The challenges that we face in recovering from the pandemic are profound. Rather than rising to the challenge, the SNP’s “First Steps” document has been mostly a tick-box exercise. I have no doubt that ministers will be pleased with themselves and will pat themselves on the back for their achievements, but the document does not contain the big actions of a Government that is taking the big decisions that are necessary to tackle Scotland’s recovery. This is an unambitious list from a tired Government that has been in power for 14 years and has run out of big ideas.
The truth is that, while ministers should have been focused on our safe exit from lockdown and on kick-starting Scotland’s recovery, they have instead spent the summer on formalising their coalition of cuts with the Greens. When given a chance to step up and demonstrate a commitment to the national recovery that we all said during the election campaign would be a priority, the SNP predictably doubled down on its obsessions and on dodging parliamentary scrutiny. Scotland needs a Government that is focused on results and positive changes, not more of what we have seen over the past five years—indeed, the past 14 years.
No one wants a celebration of the appointment of a Government’s own ministers to be one of the most tick-box exercises possible, as a short-term solution to its problems. No one wants a self-congratulatory Government; they want big ideas. That is why Scottish Labour has called for an ambitious jobs guarantee scheme that would ensure that no young person who has experienced the economic scarring of the pandemic is left behind or left unemployed.
Instead of that, we have the SNP wanting to celebrate the appointment of a minister responsible for youth employment who is overseeing a young person’s guarantee that has no targets or meaningful measure of success and which will not actually give the guarantee that it claims to on paper—almost like that legal guarantee of treatment that results in the law being broken rather than people being given the treatment that they need.
There are 30,000 unemployed young Scots and 18,000 still on furlough. What they need from Government is ambition and delivery, not rhetoric and promises of something in the future.
We call for an NHS recovery plan to tackle the clinical backlog, support our front-line heroes and deliver a catch-up in our cancer services. Instead of promised fast-track cancer diagnosis centres being delivered, they have been late, and the health secretary has spent most of the summer either absent or denying that there is a crisis. For the third week in a row, we have the worst A and E waiting times since those statistics were first produced, in 2005, and the recovery plan, when it emerged, was barely a pamphlet. It displayed low ambition and was criticised by staff. Again, it was more about public relations and slick rhetoric than actually delivering for people on the ground.
Anas Sarwar is absolutely right about the lack of ambition on acute care. Does he recognise the work that members such as Jackie Baillie, Sandesh Gulhane and myself have done on the issue of long Covid? As many as 100,000 Scots face that devastating condition without the support that is available to sufferers in other parts of the United Kingdom.
The issue is serious and important. Long Covid has impacted many of our fellow citizens. The pandemic has not gone away. People are still getting Covid and are still being hospitalised. Sadly, people are still dying from Covid and getting long Covid. What is needed is direct action.
Today we heard lots of warm words from the First Minister about how she wants to be the great unifier, how she wants to have co-operation and how she wants to take on board other people’s ideas. I have heard people from across the Parliament talk about dedicated long Covid clinics since Parliament reconvened after the election, and we have still not had that backed up by delivery.
We can have warm words about co-operation, but co-operation has to be more than just saying, “Roll over and agree with what we want.” It has to mean genuinely listening to other people’s concerns. On the issue of long Covid, I whole-heartedly agree with Alex Cole-Hamilton.
I welcome the respiratory care action plan, but long Covid treatment is about more than just respiratory care. Further, action plans, consultations and working groups are fantastic at bringing people together and airing ideas but, to be honest, at some point, the Government has to get past strategy documents and action groups and start delivering action. I think that it was Willie Rennie who said that, if a job was created for every working group that the Scottish Government announced, we would have full employment. He was right about that. It is time to turn away from those working groups and talking shops and deliver for people across the country.
There is still time to take the urgent action that we need to tackle this crisis. Let us deliver a genuine jobs guarantee for young people and the long-term unemployed. Let us double the Scottish child payment immediately to confront child poverty. Let us remobilise the NHS to confront Scotland’s biggest killer—cancer—and back up the NHS with CAMHS support and long Covid clinics. Let us take urgent action to ensure that we do not have a repeat of the SQA exams fiasco year after year, and let us ensure that we are investing in our young people.
Let us not pretend that this is day 1 of a new SNP Government. It is day 5,233 and, after all that time, the people of Scotland need a Government that truly wants to bring us together, not pull us apart. They want a Government that will not only talk but deliver through action. Scotland needs this Government to do better.
I move amendment S6M-00978.2, to leave out from “welcomes” to end and insert:
“considers that the actions set out in the document, First Steps, lack ambition; notes the failure to implement a meaningful youth jobs guarantee, despite 18,000 young people in Scotland still on furlough, and the inadequacy of the Scottish Government’s NHS Recovery Plan to deal with the pressures that health services are currently facing; acknowledges that COVID-19 cases have risen to the highest levels on record, and believes that failure to bring the virus back under control will undermine Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic.”
I welcome Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie to their posts. Despite my earlier remarks and the opposition of my party, I recognise that today is a big day for them, and I wish them success in their new roles.
One hundred days is a long time in politics. However, it is even longer for someone who is suffering from suicidal thoughts but has not yet been seen by a psychiatrist, or for a drug user who has reached out for help and been told that it will be 10 days before they will receive an assessment phone call. It is longer for someone who is still waiting for a laptop to access online learning, for people who live in rural areas amid unmet promises on increased connectivity, or for those who have been waiting for ferries that have been allowed to rust in Scotland’s shipyards.
There have been discussions about the exact date when the Government’s 100 days fell, but, given the gravity of the situations that our constituents face, I will not waste precious time bickering about that. It is a false flag that has helpfully diverted attention from the Government’s record.
Last week, the Scottish Government published its much hyped and much called-for “NHS Recovery Plan”. We have heard that it is a rather thin document. Given the pressure that our health service is under, my team and I were anticipating a weighty tome full of evidence-based policies, new strategies and clarity for under-pressure staff on when they might expect some relief. Instead, we got 26 pages of repackaged and reheated promises. With accident and emergency departments more stretched than they have ever been before, and with 200,000 operations lost or deferred due to the pandemic, patients and staff deserved more than wafer-thin guarantees and recycled commitments. What they got was a vague and poorly thought out avoidance strategy. The plan’s answer to the crisis that the NHS faces appears to be to suppress demand and shift patients online.
I cannot decide whether the general practitioner recruitment target is for 2026 or 2028; it cannot be both, but the recovery plan suggests that it is. GPs are being asked to do more with less—with the same increase in capacity that was planned in 2017, which was pre-pandemic, so it does not add up.
During the election, the SNP promised a plan that would deliver 10 per cent more capacity. Based on the plan that was published last week, the only thing that the SNP looks set to deliver is yet more disappointment. Despite modelling that suggests that up to 100,000 people in Scotland could suffer from long Covid, the NHS recovery plan does not mention it—not even once. That is a disgrace.
Last week, I attended the long Covid cafe that is run by Long Covid Scotland. It was truly devastating to see people who should be in the prime of their lives laid low by the crushing condition. It was an eye-opener. It is not unduly unfair to say that they would be better off in England, where they would at least have access to long Covid clinics, which Anas Sarwar rightly points out have been talked about in the chamber since the Parliament reconvened after the election. Long Covid is perhaps the biggest disabling event since the first world war, yet many people who are suffering from the condition cannot even verify that they have it, because they were not tested for Covid in the early days—the first wave—of the pandemic. As such, they are left in limbo, without access to support or long-term sick pay. They are suffering awful symptoms such as air hunger, chronic fatigue and gastrointestinal issues, and they are not getting the support that they need.
As I said earlier, I am working closely with Jackie Baillie and Sandesh Gulhane to establish a cross-party group on long Covid. We are doing that because we recognise how important it will become to the work of the chamber. Professor Jason Leitch has said that the number of new Covid cases could be as high as 14,000 a day this week, yet test and protect is still understaffed and struggling. Positive cases will certainly slip through the cracks and more people will become infected and come down with long Covid as a result. I find it astonishing that the Government still refuses to properly engage with the threat that the condition poses to our communities. That complacency will be devastating—not least, to long Covid sufferers and those around them, especially women and young people.
Letting down young people has become symptomatic of the SNP Government. The 100-days pledge that we are debating today is no different. The one ray of hope that I would accept is in the bold commitment to clearing waiting lists for child and adolescent mental health services by 2023. I wish the Government well in that. That is needed so much: we cannot continue to have children waiting for two years for first-line treatment.
Children and young people in our schools need more support than ever. After a year of disruption, with soaring class sizes and staff shortages being a part of everyday life in most schools, there is a dire need for focus. It does not have to be that way. Permanent funding structures would give local authorities the confidence that they need to invest properly in their workforce. No teacher should be left without a job, but pressures on employment and a dearth of jobs mean that qualified teachers are being driven out of the profession. That is a workforce planning disaster. Giving laptops to every child in Scotland is not much use if there are no teachers in post to help them to learn how to use them.
Given the sheer scale of the disappointment that is felt after 14 years of SNP Government, such a self-congratulatory debate is infuriating. Six minutes is nowhere near enough time to explore the areas in which the Government has been found wanting. There has been a 10 per cent increase in the past year in cases of open homelessness. A and E departments have seen the worst waiting time figures since records began. Our planet is on the brink of irreparable damage. Alcohol-related deaths are 17 per cent higher than they were two years ago.
The Scottish Government could have used this afternoon to call for a debate on any one of those issues, and it could have invited colleagues from across the chamber to work constructively to address them. Instead, the cabinet secretary has lodged a motion that calls on Parliament to give the Government a pat on the back for all its successes. The plan, and its delivery, are not good enough.
I move amendment S6M-00978.1, to leave out from “welcomes” to end and insert:
“believes that events in the first 100 days of the new administration show that recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, protecting the NHS, reaching for the best education, valuing carers and those whom they care for, supporting businesses, protecting human rights and tackling the climate emergency must command the full focus of the Parliament; further believes that plans for the recovery of the NHS must include further details of how it will relieve the unsustainable pressure on staff and services experienced during the first 100 days, how the Scottish Government will meet the waiting times targets that were already being missed pre-pandemic and immediately establish a new coordinated and comprehensive action plan for long COVID; calls on the Scottish Government to increase the capacity of Test and Protect, in light of recent reports of fresh delays in contact tracing and the decision to scale back tracing activities, risking the spread of the virus, and commends the campaigning of teachers, which has helped secure new funding for permanent contracts, while urging the Scottish Government to reverse the casualisation of the profession and introduce a new teacher job guarantee because pupils need to get the full benefit of their talents.”
I am pleased to speak in the debate. I welcome the bold steps that the Scottish Government has taken since the election. In 100 days, the SNP has delivered 80 priorities that were set out by the First Minister in May, thereby demonstrating a commitment to taking the action that is required to make lasting generational change that will improve the lives of people across Scotland and in my Greenock and Inverclyde constituency.
The most urgent priority is recovery from the pandemic. I welcome the ambitious and transformative measures that the SNP Government has delivered thus far. Those are only the beginning; there is far more that we can and will do to build a fairer and more sustainable country, as we continue to drive Scotland’s recovery from Covid-19.
It will surprise no one in the chamber to hear that I believe that the full powers of independence should enable us to go even further, which is why it is essential that the people of Scotland have a choice about our future, once the Covid crisis has passed.
The independence referendum will come, but I will focus on what the Government has achieved for the people of Scotland during its first 100 days, which is in sharp contrast with what the Tory Westminster Government has delivered. It would take up my entire speech and more to list every achievement that has been delivered, so I will focus on some that I know will have a positive impact on my constituents.
First, there has been an average 4 per cent pay rise for NHS workers, including full back pay. That was on top of the £500 payment that was made to all health and social care staff earlier this year. In challenging economic times, the Scottish Government is making a point of ensuring that front-line NHS staff are recognised for their service and dedication.
Other commitments that have been delivered are the commitment to increase school clothing grants to at least £120 per primary school pupil and £150 per secondary school pupil and the commitment to abolish core curriculum charges for all pupils.
The SNP also provided a further £100 payment to families to coincide with the start of the summer holidays. That was in addition to the £100 that was paid at Easter and is part of the £520 support commitment that has been made to low-income families. We know that Covid has affected many people’s finances. That support will help many families in my constituency by putting more money in their pockets.
Pupils and families will also benefit from the abolition of fees for music and arts tuition in schools. As someone who plays a musical instrument, I recognise the positive impact that those subjects can have on a child’s development and enjoyment.
I disagree with Mr Mundell. He will probably not be surprised to hear that. If he looks at the financing that has come from consecutive Westminster Governments to the Scottish Parliament, he will understand—if he actually looks at the facts—that there has been a real-terms cut to Scotland’s budget.
Looking beyond the first 100 days, the Scottish Government has committed to doubling the Scottish child payment to £20 a week during the current session of Parliament. Figures from the Scottish Fiscal Commission indicate that around 2,500 children and families in Inverclyde could benefit from that payment, which has been labelled a game changer by child-poverty charities. With a combination of support including the Scottish child payment, the best start grant and best start foods, eligible low-income families with one child could receive up to £5,200 by the time their child turns six.
However, while the Scottish Government gives with one hand, the Tory UK Government takes away with the other. The removal of the £20 universal credit uplift will be devastating for many households across Scotland. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has warned that millions of households face an income loss of £1,040 a year. By extending the uplift, the UK Government could boost the incomes of 1.5 million people, including 300,000 children.
The UK Government rightly says that it wants to support people back into work as we emerge from the crisis, but research indicates that working families make up the majority of those who will be affected. Earlier, Douglas Ross moaned about the SNP-Green co-operation agreement, with nonsensical rhetoric about it adversely affecting hard-working families. However, if Mr Ross focused on one job, rather than on his multiple jobs, he might realise that working families make up the majority of the people who will be affected. [
I say to Mr Kerr that it is clear that multimillionaire Tory MP Rishi Sunak’s decision will create more in-work poverty, including for hard-working families, and will plunge more people into crisis. Rishi Sunak’s reputation will be forever damaged by his driving more people into poverty and desperation. That is in complete contrast with the actions of this Scottish Government, which is determined to reduce poverty and to make our society fairer, greener and more equal.
The list of things that we have done in the first 100 days goes on and on, but I will touch on just a few of them. We have opened three fast-track cancer diagnostic centres, secured a £10,000 bursary for Scottish student paramedics, invested £70 million in youth employment through our young persons guarantee, delivered £10 million to restore nature and improve biodiversity, increased funding for local heat and energy efficiency projects, and many other things.
We have seen the Scottish Government start the current session of Parliament with great speed and co-operation, instead of the absolute chaos that we see from the Tories at Westminster.
The first 100 days of a new parliamentary session, if not a new Government, is an opportunity to hit the political reset button—an opportunity to do things differently and take the country forward. Never has that task been more important than following the 18 months that the country has just lived through. However, to say that the first 100 days of this new session have been a wasted opportunity is an understatement. I cannot sum it up better than by referring to the lacklustre speech that we heard from John Swinney.
Far from the Scottish Government setting out an ambitious programme to take us forward, all that we see is the same old, tired thinking and obsession with the arguments of the past. Worse still, it does not even seem to have been possible to repackage that and cobble it together into a programme for government in time for the Parliament returning after the recess. What could be more depressing than the realisation that the priority for the Scottish Government’s Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery over the summer was not the wider interests of the people of Scotland, but the narrow political interests of the SNP?
Whatever happened to Nicola Sturgeon’s big, bold offer to work across the chamber? Like so many of the SNP’s promises, the answer is nothing because, rather than building a broad coalition and taking the whole country forward together, the SNP has focused on bringing on board a band of extremists to bolster its case for independence. If the case for breaking up our country in the midst of a global health pandemic already seemed dangerous enough, surely putting into Government people who want to shrink our economy, destroy jobs and condemn those who live in rural communities to being punished for their hard work growing our food and penalised for driving a car where no public transport exists hardly provides any confidence.
I will offer a little advice: that certainly does not move people from no to yes. After all, we should not pretend that the Greens are there in order to champion the environment. No—it is all about their extreme left-wing pet projects and their shared ambition to bring about the end of the United Kingdom as we know it. Today is, indeed, historic, but for all the wrong reasons.
Many will argue that this is the first time that a party has gone into Government in order to make a country smaller and poorer and to reverse the life chances of its citizens. Those who are less charitable might argue that that is what the SNP has been trying to do for the past 14 years. However, we have seen nothing yet. Against the backdrop of that coalition of chaos, the so-called achievements of the first 100 days look even more feeble—merely a placeholder to fill the vacuum while the deal was hammered out.
On education alone, it takes some doing for a Government to pat itself on the back for increasing teacher numbers when it has spent years arguing that its cuts to teacher numbers have had no impact on classroom learning. It is equally absurd to claim that having discussions about the distribution of laptops and iPads is the same thing as delivering them into the hands of the children and young people who need them. That is made even more ridiculous by the fact that some local authorities, such as Scottish Borders Council, and some individual schools managed to do that some time ago, when it made a critical difference.
As I asked after the election, during the 100 days education debate, where are the serious plans for catching up, after an average of 16 weeks of lost learning? Surely our young people deserved a little more than they got. Where are the big, bold ideas to restore standards in our education system? Where is the humility when it comes to admitting that the SNP has got it wrong? Where is the big vision? Why are we so heavily dependent on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s conclusions, when a number of Scottish educationalists and teachers have been sounding the alarm bells for years?
The answer is simple. This is a tired Government that has run out of ideas of its own. It is responsible for so many problems in Scotland—not because it happens to be in office today, but because its policy choices over the past 14 years have created them. The best that it can now do, after falling short on that all-important and expected electoral majority, is to draft in some new passengers for the Government limos. I suspect that, in the absence of any serious ideas from the SNP, we will find that Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater are in the driving seat when it comes to dictating Government policy. That is bad news for my constituents and, for that matter, the whole country.
What a way for a Government to end its first 100 days in office. To put it another way, imagine getting to 5,234 days in office and this being the best that it gets.
It is good to be back at Holyrood, making a start on the job that all members were elected to do: to push Scotland forward in building a better future for us all. To my mind, at least, that is long overdue. The Parliament needs to use its time and powers much more decisively and effectively. To do so is our duty not only to those who have elected us, but to the generations who fought to bring power here in the first place.
During the summer, I have been out regularly to speak to constituents. The most common question that I am asked—after “Why are you at the door?”—is a simple one: “What does the Scottish Parliament actually do?” I will be honest: in the first months of my time as an MSP, I have found myself asking the same question. The answer is, in short, “Not enough.”
It is a great disappointment that the Government’s plan and delivery for the first 100 days of government is, as usual, more than underwhelming. Although positive advances that are to be welcomed include an inquiry into the Covid crisis and £1 billion for the NHS, it is far from the radical template for a new country that the manifestos of the two governing parties suggested back in May. In reality, most of the plan is just recycled announcements that were already known.
The long-awaited NHS recovery plan unfortunately contains nothing of note for social care, which is at a catastrophic tipping point. It lacks a meaningful youth job guarantee, and we are still left with little to no detail at all on what is to be done to help people in rented accommodation in Scotland. I understand that that is part of a great many things that we will hear about later in the year—a promise that the public has gotten used to under this Government.
Reform of the rented sector is one of the key public concerns of our age. We often hear positive rhetoric about Scotland’s supposedly progressive approach to housing, but that does not stand up to even the most cursory bit of scrutiny. Although I am sure that many will welcome input from the Greens, it will need to be more than just another voice in the room. We are years behind on these reforms, and if we do not act now, with the added economic costs of Covid, it may be too late to get many renters’ lives back on track.
The saddest fact is that we all know that a great deal of the public do not pay much attention to what goes on in this building precisely because so much is consigned to reports, future plans or one-off payments, with no or little long-term purpose behind them. Perhaps this session will be different and my words of warning will sound hollow. I truly hope that that will be the case. However, if we have another five years of governance in Scotland in which decisions such as doubling the Scottish child payment or saying no to the Cambo oil field are not made, we will be back here again in 2026.
I warn that a greener Scotland should mean not simply having Greens in Government, but actively pursuing radical and transformative change. As noted by the world-renowned climate activist Greta Thunberg today, Scotland under this Government has done little to suggest that it is a world leader on climate change. With COP26 approaching, we could well become caught out in front of the world’s gaze.
Scottish Labour has said that we need to use the opportunity of COP26 to show leadership in tackling the climate emergency and deliver a just transition, with thousands of new green jobs across Scotland. Under this Government, the number of jobs directly in the low-carbon economy is at the lowest level since 2014, and the SNP’s new green jobs workforce academy amounts to little more than a new jobs portal. That is not good enough. Before they publish another plan to keep the press happy, my message to the SNP and the Greens during this important week is simple: you cannot stand up for Scotland by lying down.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate on the many remarkable achievements that this Government has already made, such a short time into office. The scale of those 100 days achievements is testament to our desire to repay the public for the faith that they put in us in May this year. I whole-heartedly welcome the co-operation agreement between the SNP and the Green Party, which will do a lot to build a fairer and more equal country.
Many of our achievements have already been talked about at length, including the well-deserved 4 per cent pay rise for our hard-working and heroic NHS staff—which was the largest increase anywhere in the UK—and the development of a national care service, the details of which I look forward to scrutinising in this Parliament to make sure that it can be as good a service as possible.
I was also really pleased to hear about the women’s health plan to tackle the inherent inequalities that we all know about. That announcement perhaps stood out for me more this year than it would have done before. As some members may be aware, over the summer recess, I became a dad for the third time—to a baby girl. I thought that it would be right to mention it in the chamber at this point, like I did when I became a dad the last time, so this is a shout out to baby Morna MacGregor, as it is my first speech since her birth. [
Although I have always known about those inequalities—as all of us in this chamber do—after the past few weeks, I perhaps now understand more keenly the challenges that she will face growing up, which her brothers and male peers will not face. I suppose that there is a wee bit about the knowing it and the understanding of it. It is my job, and all our jobs, to make sure that it is not the case that those inequalities continue, which is why I really welcome this policy development and others like it.
I want to focus on policies that are aimed at supporting children, young people and families—and achievements in that regard—which some members have mentioned. An issue that stands out is our making further strides to reduce the attainment gap, for example through pupil equity funding and the challenge authorities programme. [
.] I will not take an intervention now; I want to make progress, but I might come back to the member. In my constituency, Coatbridge and Chryston, there are areas of significant poverty and deprivation. I stood for election so that I could vote for policies that will directly tackle those issues, and I am glad that measures such as the ones that I mentioned do just that.
A related issue is the expansion of free school meals to children in primary 4, which is a positive step—although I say to the Government that I support universal provision of free school meals, for all pupils in Scotland. I hope that the expansion to P4 puts us on a path towards such an approach. [
.] I will not take an intervention just now.
I welcome the increase in the school uniforms grant. I note that in the draft agreement there is a pledge to produce statutory guidance for schools on school uniforms. Perhaps, when he sums up the debate, the Deputy First Minister will update us on where discussions have got to in that regard, because I am very interested in the issue.
The roll-out of 1,140 hours of childcare is a massive step forward, and the delivery of the policy in spite of the pandemic is an achievement. It will help many families. On a slightly different note, on Friday, Clare Haughey, the Minister for Children and Young People, will visit Auchinairn Afterschool Care & Forest School, in my constituency. I will be unable to join her but I thank her for the invitation. She will get a warm welcome from the people of Coatbridge and Chryston and she will be impressed by the forest school.
I want to mention a couple of related policies that have particular significance in my constituency. Play park refurbishment is a simple but fantastic policy. During the election period, I noticed that the issue engaged many people. My team and I are working on a survey of constituents to find out which parks in Coatbridge and Chryston they want to prioritise. We are asking about accessibility, too, because disabled access is an issue in a lot of parks.
The £20 million investment in summer activities has been a game changer for many people in our communities. Let me give a wee example. I came across the benefits of that policy at the weekend, by accident. I had booked my two older children and their cousins into the free planetarium event at Summerlee museum in Coatbridge, and when we got there one of the staff members who was setting up the event told me that it had come about because of the Government funding. It was a fantastic event: the kids learned about space and got to hold meteorites—my wee boys have been talking about it ever since. I know that similar events were held throughout Lanarkshire. It was great to experience, in an unplanned way, how the policy is working—I was not at the event as a local MSP—and I thank the Government.
I will not be able to take an intervention, so I apologise to the member who wanted me to give way.
I support the motion. The pledges on which we have already delivered are remarkable, but the biggest issue that we face is still our response to Covid-19. I have to say that I am becoming increasingly anxious about the rise in cases in recent weeks—it is getting to a stage at which I know quite a large number of individuals who have contracted Covid. The Government has responded well in rolling out the vaccine, prioritising schools and reopening gradually, and it will continue to have my support for whatever steps it thinks are appropriate as we try to curtail the virus and move out of this very difficult time in our history.
I welcome the debate on the first 100 days of this session of Parliament. While Covid cases continue to soar and our NHS is placed under increasing pressure, it makes sense to reflect on what has been achieved in the first 100 days and how much further we have to go before the pandemic is behind us and our health service can fully recover.
Although the Covid crisis is by no means over, it is never too early to begin learning lessons from the pandemic. I am therefore pleased that the Scottish Government has taken steps to establish a public inquiry. The Covid crisis has left thousands of people with long-term health effects and many have tragically died. We have witnessed this terrible virus devastate care homes, put our loved ones in hospital and change the way in which we live our lives. The Government’s handling of the pandemic must be thoroughly scrutinised so that we can establish how Scotland could have better prepared and ensure that we are in a better position to handle future pandemics.
It has been almost 18 months since the first Covid case in Scotland, and, during that time, healthcare staff have gone above and beyond to protect us from the virus while continuing to deliver emergency and routine care. Staff are exhausted and demoralised, and, as we make plans to help our NHS recover, we must avoid placing extra pressure on them. The NHS recovery plan must be accompanied by clear messaging from the Scottish Government. Ministers need to be honest with the public about what level of service the NHS can provide while it recovers and about how long the public will be expected to wait for routine treatment. It cannot be left up to already overburdened staff to deliver that message.
Just last week, a GP wrote to me about the negativity that practice staff had faced when explaining to patients that they could not access general practice in the way that they used to, saying that staff had often been in tears. The GP said that comments in the media when the plan was published about GPs opening up for face-to-face appointments were unhelpful. General practice has always been and remains open. Throughout the pandemic, GPs have held face-to-face appointments when clinically necessary. Due to rising patient demand, GPs are having to triage patients so that the most urgent cases are seen first. The reality is that that will continue for some time. We need to see leadership from the Government on that issue, and a public information campaign that clearly sets out how people can expect to access health services in the wake of Covid.
In order for our NHS to recover, recruitment and retention must be prioritised; attractive pay and conditions will be key to that. We know that some clinicians and trade unions have expressed disappointment at the proposed pay increases for NHS staff. The chair of the British Medical Association Scotland, Dr Lewis Morrison, has said that the 3 per cent pay uplift fails to address years of pay erosion and does virtually nothing to address low morale.
As we work to help our NHS to recover, another major focus of this Parliament will be social care reform. The Scottish Government’s consultation on a national care service has now been published, giving people the chance to have a say on how the service should be shaped. This is an historic moment, when we have the chance to transform the way in which people access social care, to improve choice and autonomy, to deliver greater recognition of unpaid carers and to design an ethical commissioning process, to name a few. That will be some of the most important work that we will undertake in this session of Parliament, and I look forward to working with colleagues across the chamber to ensure that we have a truly human rights-based, person-centred service.
There is also much work to be done to improve our existing public services in the wake of Covid. Rail strikes are growing across Scotland—swift resolution is needed, because we risk serious disruption at COP26, when hundreds and thousands of people will be travelling to Glasgow. Abellio has a duty to its staff and passengers to resolve the situation. It is a problem of the operator’s own making and one that it has an obligation to fix. Scottish Greens are strongly supportive of moves to bring ScotRail entirely into public hands. Discussion of what a people’s railway will look like when the franchise is taken over by the state needs to start now, and that should include consideration of how we achieve timetables that work and reduce journey times rather than increasing them.
This is the year of COP26, and this Parliament’s response to climate change is rightly under increased scrutiny. The citizens assembly on climate change has produced groundbreaking recommendations and given the people’s consent to transformative change. We must rise to that challenge. In response to last session’s climate change plan update, the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee set out a series of recommendations. It is vital that we see a meaningful response to those in the run-up to COP26. While reflecting on the past 100 days, it is worth stating that the next 100 days will also be crucial. Our ambitions and decisions in the run-up to COP26 can make a significant difference for generations to come.
Despite the best efforts of the SNP spin machine and the wording of the Government motion, we do not have a new Administration with bold new policies and a fresh ministerial team to take Scotland forward. Talk of delivering for the people of Scotland in the first 100 days is ridiculous when we look at the serial failure to deliver in the previous 5,000 days during which this Government has been in power.
The Government’s motion talks about creating jobs and delivering a green recovery. The same Government promised to deliver 130,000 jobs in the renewables sector, but the reality is that, today, 20,000 jobs—15 per cent of that target—have been delivered.
Let me make a bit of progress first, Mr Ruskell.
The same Government said that Scotland would become a world leader in low-carbon and renewables manufacturing—the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy. However, today, Scotland has a negative balance of trade in the renewables sector. We import £230 million more in renewables equipment than we export. That is not delivering sustainable recovery for Scotland—it is a monumental failure to deliver on Scotland’s natural resources and the massive opportunities that are available in the sector. [
I am sorry—I will not take an intervention now, as I want to make a bit of progress.
In 2017, the SNP promised to deliver a publicly owned energy company that would address fuel poverty, reduce energy prices and help to meet climate change targets. Four years later, after spending £500,000 of taxpayers’ money on feasibility studies, there is no energy company. A policy that was announced by the First Minister to great fanfare was quietly dropped over recess.
The Scottish National Investment Bank, which was first approved by the Parliament three years ago, was supposed to deliver transformational change to Scotland’s economy and meet the objectives of net zero, with a promised initial budget of £500 million. Three years later, less than 20 per cent of that money has been invested.
Before the pandemic struck, the Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee published a report covering the first 12 years of the SNP Government, which concluded that the Scottish Government had failed to meet every single one of its own economic targets. During the pandemic, we all saw the repeated failure of ministers to deliver the support that was desperately needed to save small firms across Scotland, leaving it to the UK Government to save 800,000 jobs and more than 150,000 small firms in Scotland.
There is absolutely no reason to believe that this Government’s inability to deliver economic recovery will change. We saw that during recess, with the usual announcement of pointless new quangos and advisory groups. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy announced a new council for economic transformation, presumably because most of the previous Council of Economic Advisers quit following criticism of the Government for not understanding how business or the economy work. We all know that the Greens do not believe in economic growth, and in that respect they have found the perfect coalition partner in the SNP.
I will back any policy that promotes sustainable economic growth. The point that I have been making is that that has not been achieved after 14 years of SNP Government, and the coalition with the Greens will make it even less likely to happen.
It is not only in economic terms that Scotland has suffered under the SNP. As other members have highlighted during the debate, the attainment gap has increased, NHS waiting times are at record levels, environmental and climate change targets have been missed, and drug deaths are at a record high. We also have a ferry network that is beyond breaking point—the situation is getting worse and is nothing short of a national scandal. We have two ferries that are still under construction that are now five years overdue and £100 million over budget. We have a ferry network that relies on vessels that are operating years beyond their lifespan, with constant breakdowns causing disruption. If the Government cannot get the construction of two ferries right, how can we expect it to deliver on the complexities of climate change or Covid recovery?
The SNP likes to blame Westminster whenever things go wrong, but I make it clear that all the policy failures to which I have just referred have been 100 per cent within the devolved powers of the SNP Government.
Let me conclude by coming back to the Government’s motion on the first 100 days. It is clear from listening to ministers’ speeches today that the only real action that the Government has taken in the first 100 days is to enter into a coalition of chaos with the Green Party. That coalition highlights the SNP’s true priority for the parliamentary session—once again, it will prioritise constitutional division at the expense of Covid recovery, the health service, education, drug deaths and jobs.
It is not a new Administration—far from it. It is a Government with a long track record of failure to deliver. The addition of the Greens to the Administration will only make matters worse.
The actions that the Scottish Government has taken since its re-election in May have made substantial inroads in delivering the manifesto commitments that we put to the Scottish people at the start of the year. They are tangible actions that prove that the SNP does what it says it will. That is important because it repays voter trust, which is something that responsible Governments do. Ultimately, it will improve the lives and opportunities of millions of Scots, including those of us who live and work in the north-east.
The energy sector in the north-east is vital to the nation, and what happens in that sphere is particularly crucial for the people of my constituency of Aberdeenshire East. Many parts of Scotland rely on oil and gas for jobs, but in the north-east it is an overwhelming percentage of our workforce, so we must have a just transition to a sustainable energy sector in our area. I am delighted by the creation of the post of Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work. My friend and north-east colleague Richard Lochhead is a superb choice for the role. I look forward to working with him to support the existing skilled workforce of the north-east and the next generation of workers who will build sustainable careers in our part of Scotland.
We have just voted in Lorna Slater—a woman with a great deal of relevant expertise—as minister with responsibility for skills in that area. As I campaigned for re-election, a particular concern of many of the people I spoke to was the issue of the pathways to reskilling and upskilling for the existing oil and gas workforce. I look forward to welcoming Ms Slater to my area in due course so that she can hear at first hand what the current barriers are. They need to be removed and we have no time to waste.
I welcome, too, the additional financial support that has so far been provided by the Government to help businesses and innovators. [
I will take an intervention.
I am not one for cherry picking things out of context and levelling them at people. It has been done to me in the past and I do not like it when it is done to others. Something else that I do not like—and I am not accusing Mr Kerr of this—is the fact that there has been a bit more of an attack on the female new minister today. I am getting a distinct whiff of misogyny—not from Mr Kerr, whom I respect, but from some of his colleagues.
I will get back to my speech. I am very pleased about the £16.5 million support for the Net Zero Technology Centre in Aberdeen, the £20 million fund to upskill and retrain people for new careers and the £25 million fund to help businesses to enhance their digital capacity—[
I have already taken an intervention.
We have a highly skilled and innovative workforce, and initiatives such as those—[
Presiding Officer, the noises off are really annoying. I wish to continue.
I hear too often about oil and gas workers paying through the nose for retraining and still not getting through the door when they apply for renewables jobs. Over the summer, I launched a survey on that issue and received comprehensive testimonies from 559 workers. I am currently collating the responses and will deliver a report to all relevant Government ministers within the next month. I will be pleased to add Ms Slater to that email recipient list.
As someone who represents towns such as Inverurie, Mintlaw, Turriff and Ellon, I am very pleased about the £10 million Scotland loves local fund to help transform towns and neighbourhoods.
I am always gratified to see a focus on the rural economy of Scotland, and a recognition of the role that our farmers and land managers perform, and must continue to perform as we move towards net zero and a sustainable economy. Our agriculture sector is vital, and was hit by Covid-19 just as badly as other sectors, while also having to navigate through the chaotic Brexit that Boris Johnson’s Tories steered us into.
I must mention the Scottish Government’s £715,000 pig producers hardship fund, which opened yesterday. After the closure of the abattoir in Brechin following a Covid-19 outbreak in March, I was contacted by the north-east NFU Scotland for help. I pay tribute to former cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing, who not only listened to me but committed to that support almost immediately. His successor, Mairi Gougeon, opened the fund this week, and I know that it is hugely welcomed by pig farmers in my area, many of whom were struggling financially due the implications of the outbreak. I look forward to working with my good friend Ms Gougeon, who understands the challenges of the rural economy.
Our young people have been affected particularly harshly by the implications of Covid-19, and many of the actions taken by the Scottish Government in the first 100 days will have a positive impact on young people, such as the investment of £70 million in the young persons guarantee, funding colleges to deliver 5,000 more industry-focused short courses, the provision of free bus travel for all under-22s, the removal of dental charges for all those under 26 and the increase in funding for affordable homes. Those will all make a big difference to young people who are starting out in life. I am sure that families will welcome the provision of free healthy school lunches for more than 90,000 pupils. I am also delighted that Aberdeenshire has one of the pilot projects to offer free bicycles to children who cannot afford one.
There is so much more to mention, but interventions have used up a lot of my time, so I will end now. The depth and breadth of the work that has been carried out so far is an illustration of the seriousness and responsibility with which the Scottish Government is navigating our country through one of the most challenging periods in our country’s history.
We have already started to see in the debate the truth about the first 100 days of this Government. The commitments that were contained in the SNP’s first steps document were not those of a new Administration ready to tackle Scotland’s recovery but those of a tired Government that has run out of ideas. Many of the key actions in the 100 days plan are either recycled announcements or feeble promises that prioritise rhetoric over the substance of delivery for the people of Scotland.
It is worth reminding members that the first 100 days of the current Scottish Government ended nearly 14 years ago. Positioning the Government as something new and bold would be comical if the reality were not so serious in our health service, schools and communities across Scotland.
Just as the Government is recycling its first 100 days rhetoric, it is also recycling policies, pledges and promises. I note the congratulatory tone of the Government motion, but what have those 100 days really been marked by? Health services are struggling to cope with pressures on A and E and ambulance services. Covid cases are rising, vaccinations are stalling and people are now struggling to access testing. Teachers, pupils and parents are worried about the return to school and the lack of action over the holidays to improve ventilation. Councils are once again facing cuts in the midst of hugely unprecedented times when services and hard-working staff are stretched to breaking point.
Is it not the case that the priority during those 100 days has been formalising the new coalition with the Greens, which formalises what councils have known over the past five years—that budgets will continue to be cut and services, communities and jobs will suffer as a result. I want to focus my remarks on local government in particular, and I declare an interest, Presiding Officer, as a serving councillor. I have seen at first hand how the cuts passed down from the SNP Government and voted through by the Greens have gutted our councils and forced councillors and hard-working staff to make decisions that we never wanted to make.
I am arguing that local government funding has consistently been cut by the Scottish Government and that the added pressures that have been placed on local government have created a perfect storm. The fact of the matter is that people in councils are having to make decisions that are unthinkable—I refer to the example of libraries in the member’s city of Glasgow. The fact is that there are choices to be made.
Not nearly enough has been done to ensure that councils have the money they need to deliver the services that are so relied on.
I am sure that SNP members will be keen to stress—they already have—that local government has been supported in the first 100 days through eye-catching policies such as those on the refurbishment of every play park in Scotland and free bikes for children who cannot afford them. However, what is the reality of the delivery of those policies? There is not nearly enough funding, and local government is making it clear that it needs flexibility and no further cuts to environment budgets just to keep play parks safe and open.
With only £60 million promised, it is clear that that is not nearly enough money to fulfil the pledge. It is plain to me that the Government is disconnected from what is happening on the ground in councils. What was the reality of the pledge on free bikes for children in Scotland who need them? A pilot, when councils are struggling to find funding to support physical activity programmes in schools and communities.
At the heart of local government is its workers. After all the work that they have put in to support our communities throughout the pandemic, they should be treated with decency. The Government should therefore have started the session with a promise to properly fund local workers with a fair pay rise and £15 an hour for care workers. We have already heard that the Scottish Greens used to support that and pledged to it in the election.
The truth of the matter is that the Government has tripled austerity for councils between 2013-14 and 2021-22, and we have seen non-ring-fenced local government revenue funding cut by £937.3 million in real terms. It is disingenuous of SNP members to claim credit for funding music tuition, core curriculum charges in education, increased school uniform grants and refurbishing play parks, as their cuts have caused those needs in the first place.
As we promised at the election, Scottish Labour will focus on providing real alternatives that address our national recovery, protect the NHS and properly fund local government to ensure that all our communities have the support that they need to come through this difficult period and recover fully. Beyond yet another self-promoted historic 100 days and another historic deal with the Scottish Greens, Labour members will focus on speaking up for our communities, which are being badly let down by the Government.
Please accept my apologies for my lack of understanding of protocols at the beginning of this debate, Presiding Officer.
As Scotland and the wider world continue to tackle Covid-19 and the many varied challenges that it presents, I welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has started this parliamentary session on the front foot and is focused on the delivery of its manifesto commitments. In only 100 days, the Government has already taken significant strides to improve the lives of people throughout Scotland. My fellow members have already mentioned several of those.
The SNP made a clear commitment that, if it was re-elected, the people of Scotland would have chosen a First Minister and a Cabinet that would prioritise their safety in moving towards the relaxation of restrictions and recovery. The success of our vaccination programme, which has been administered by the incredible NHS, was critical to that. The success of the vaccination programme has taken hard work and determination. First doses for all over-18s who attended their scheduled appointments by mid-July have been completed, we are well on track to offer second doses to all adults by mid-September, and 16 and 17-year-olds have begun to be vaccinated. That puts Scotland significantly ahead of the majority of other world nations.
With many of our everyday activities restored, it has been an incredibly emotional time for constituents everywhere, and for constituents in Glasgow Kelvin in particular. They—notably the service users of the Annexe healthy living centre in Partick—have reached out to share their thanks. That community resource rallied round during lockdowns, and it has been heartwarming to see that its programme of activities is back up and running, with classes every week.
The move beyond level 0 has been hard earned, and the sacrifices that everyone has made over the past year and a half can never be overstated. However, the increasing case numbers should make us all pause for thought. That is why I continue to be grateful to the Government for being measured and ensuring that public health remains central to its decision making during an on-going and complex challenge.
Of the many achievements so far, it will come as no surprise that I welcome the announcement of the additional support that is being offered to children and families. The additional £50 million that has been targeted to fund the recruitment of new teachers and pupil support assistants has been warmly welcomed across the teaching profession in its efforts to support—[
.] No, I will not give way. The profession welcomes the funding for its efforts to support the education recovery. That honours yet another Government commitment.
In addition, the £65.5 million of annual funding that has been permanently allocated to councils from 2022-23 will help remove barriers to councils employing additional staff on permanent contracts and meet the local needs of children and young people.
At this moment, I am taking the opportunity to talk about the funding in teaching and education, and I will continue in that vein.
The funding has gone a considerable way to reassuring those teachers in Glasgow Kelvin who have corresponded with me, who were quite rightly concerned about their employment status, which they wanted to make permanent.
It is welcome news to hear the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills announce that the Scottish Government and local authority leaders have agreed to increase the national school clothing grant to a minimum of £120 per eligible primary school pupil and £150 per eligible secondary school pupil. That will be supported by almost £12 million of additional funding to local authorities, which will go a significant way to removing an often hidden but substantial burden to families. The Government’s efforts on clothing grants, along with the expansion of the provision of good-quality free school meals should be warmly welcomed by all in the chamber.
As the MSP for Glasgow Kelvin, I was delighted to receive confirmation from the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care that hospital parking charges are finally set to end permanently in Scotland. At long last, the remaining sites will come into public hands, which will help to phase out the legacy of the private finance initiative in hospital car parks across the country.
Lastly, I will take a moment to celebrate our creative industries in Glasgow Kelvin, particularly the musicians who call the constituency that I represent their home and place of work. The Government’s recently launched touring fund for live music will make a marked difference to the lives of many in Kelvin. Musicians, bands, artists and venues will be able to apply to the fund to bring new and additional concerts to venues and festivals in Scotland next year. As musicians are one of the groups hit hardest by the pandemic due to the nature of live performance, I am sure that they will support further efforts from the Government in that area.
Having tried to take interventions, I see that my time is up. This first 100 days has reiterated to me, as a new MSP, what the Parliament can achieve. It has also left me excited for our nation at the scope that the Parliament could have with full powers, once we achieve our independence. One thing for certain is that—this has been evident throughout the pandemic—the Government has never taken its eye off the day job. I warmly welcome the Government’s motion.
I will start where Kaukab Stewart left off. She mentioned that the Government’s record in the first 100 days of office shows the Parliament working well. I fundamentally disagree with that assessment.
The concept of the first 100 days is an American import, dating back to 1932 and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s election to the presidency in the teeth of the great depression. FDR set out to make quick and significant changes in economic and social policy. On taking office, he summoned the United States Congress back for an emergency session of three months, during which he passed no fewer than 76 new laws, most of which were aimed at easing the effects of the depression. By any measure, the SNP should be ashamed to seek comparison on such a level.
First and foremost, the measure of a civilised society should be in the care and protection that it offers its people. However, in the 14 years that the SNP has held office, warning lights have been blinking across the dashboard of public policy in this country: on the climate change emergency, the waits for child and adolescent mental health services and the threadbare state of our police force; the list goes on and on. However, where FDR passed 76 acts of Congress in his first 100 days, this Scottish National Party Administration in its first 100 days passed just one act, which was on the further extension of emergency powers that it has since expressed interest in keeping in perpetuity. It says a lot about the legislative priorities of this Administration that the only act to have been sent to the Queen is one on a law that again seeks to extend the reach of the Administration’s centralising grasp.
I want to start my role as the leader of my party by seeking consensus where I can find it, but in this debate I really struggle. I am grateful to the Deputy First Minister for the assurances, in his opening remarks, on loneliness and isolation. I have several times used the quote from the French novelist Honoré de Balzac that
“Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.”
That is an important reflection on the human condition. Isolation was a problem in Scotland before any of us had heard of either Wuhan in China or the coronavirus. Many vulnerable citizens would go days without any human contact and spend Christmas alone. I know many people, who saw more of those whom they care about when they were bubbled with people who were either on furlough or had more time to give them during lockdown, who are now dreading the full return to normality and work because of the loneliness that will come through the severance of those ties. I am glad that the Government is taking that matter seriously.
I am grateful for the assurances on child mental health, but talk is cheap. That is a massive issue, because we have thousands of children waiting more than a year for first-line assessment who, in some cases, then join a secondary queue if the issue is autism or another neurodiverse condition. There must be real, targeted interventions, rather than parking people on medication or referring them to the internet.
I echo Douglas Ross’s words on the drug deaths emergency. A number of us attended a moving event this afternoon with Peter Krykant to mark international overdose day. The theme that came out of that was not a party political one but the fact that it is a particularly Scottish problem. It is not a deficiency of the Scottish devolution settlement or a factor of UK Government policy. If it were, things would be as bad in Gloucester as they are in Glasgow, but they are not. The problem is nearly four times as bad in Scotland as it is in any other part of these islands. Scotland needs radical solutions for the problem, but that is only because things have got so bad. It also needs a new Government to deliver the solutions, because the SNP has shown itself wholly unequal to the task.
Anas Sarwar raised the important issue of remand, which has been a problem not only throughout, but before Covid. The delays in remand are perverting the course of justice in this country, with those facing charges pleading guilty to crimes that they did not commit because they know that they will get a shorter sentence by doing so. I am also grateful to Anas Sarwar for his words on long Covid.
Stuart McMillan started well, but then connected to the unavoidable umbilical cord that links every SNP back bencher’s speech to the mothership. There is a muscle memory to Government back-bench speeches: independence is still the land in which
“death shall have no dominion.”
However, I do not think that even they believe what they are saying any more.
I am grateful for that
intervention, but there has been a paucity of achievement by the Scottish Government over the past 100 days, because of its overwhelming focus on the constitution, which is not doing my constituents any good and is not doing your constituents any good, Presiding Officer. It is probably time to just dispense with the rhetoric. We know that you guys want independence: just go and shut up about it.
Oliver Mundell made an important point about the delivery of laptops to children after the fact, and he was right to point out the SNP’s absence of humility in that regard. Getting things people things that they need, in good time, is an aspect of good government, but that has not been delivered. Carol Mochan touched on that in her passionate call for reform in the rented sector.
I congratulate Fulton MacGregor on his new child and Paul O’Kane on his big life event in the summer—he got married. It is always good to recognise such things.
Presiding Officer, I know that my speaking time is up, but I will go back to where I started. In his first 100 days, FDR recalled Congress in the grip of a national crisis and passed 76 laws to effect immediate change. This country needs immediate change, but we have been found wanting under the Scottish Government.
I will leave aside the obvious confusion of a Government that has been in power for 14 years having a document that is entitled “First Steps” when it is clear that these are not the first steps, never mind the first 100 days, for the SNP. I will also leave aside the debate about when the 100 days started, as ministers were in charge throughout the election period.
Given those facts, the promises for the 100 days lack ambition and have glaring omissions. I will focus on the substance of what is before us and the context in which it lands. Given that we are still in the middle of a pandemic—cases have been at their highest-ever levels in the past week and the pressure on our NHS is reaching crisis proportions—the NHS recovery plan fell short of expectations and of what is needed.
Covid-positive case numbers have been rising and, following the return to schools, they are at the highest recorded levels. On Saturday, more than 7,500 cases were recorded. The numbers who are in hospital are increasing, too—the figures are more than 50 per cent higher than they were a mere week ago. Test and protect is struggling to cope. Polymerase chain reaction testing kits ran out for days on end in Helensburgh because of a surge in cases, and I know that people from Greenock were being sent today to Helensburgh or Irvine because no more appointments were available locally.
The vaccination rate has slowed—200,000 people are due their second dose but have not received it yet. Contact tracing can deal with only the highest-risk cases; the service has all but stopped identifying close contacts because it is overwhelmed.
It is particularly disappointing that second doses are overdue, given that we know how important vaccination is in protecting people from Covid. I urge quick action from the Scottish Government on that. Scottish Labour has repeatedly called for drop-in clinics and mobile vaccination clinics and has suggested creative ways of encouraging young people to take up vaccinations, but the Scottish Government has been slow to act. There is no joined-up substantial action on long Covid, as many members across the chamber have said.
I will look at the pressure on the NHS. I very much agree with Gillian Mackay’s comment about GPs. They and their staff have worked tirelessly to support colleagues in secondary care. GPs need to return to doing work in primary care, but to suggest that they have not been working is entirely wrong, and I regret that the Scottish Government has given that impression.
Waiting times in A and E are at their longest for six years. Despite the best efforts of staff, who deserve our praise and thanks, more than 1,000 people have waited more than eight hours to be seen, and hundreds more have waited more than 12 hours, and yet fewer people are attending A and E than before the pandemic. Clinicians are seeing more complex cases that failed to be diagnosed during the pandemic, which require hospitalisation. Many health boards, including NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde now, have cancelled elective surgery. Such is the crisis that they face that they are escalating code black measures almost daily.
The Scottish Ambulance Service is under huge strain, too. Waiting times are soaring as the service cannot keep pace with demand. Seriously ill people have waited for hours and hours before an ambulance has arrived. In my constituency, one man died in an ambulance after waiting four and a half hours for it to arrive; it had never left his driveway. That is not the fault of staff; it is down to a lack of resources from the Scottish Government.
Turnaround times at A and E are far too long, and that stops ambulances being available for their next call. Anyone who takes a quick trip to the A and E at the Queen Elizabeth university hospital will see ambulances queued right around the block, waiting to drop off patients. This is all before the winter flu season starts piling even more pressure on the NHS. There was not much in the recovery plan that addressed those immediate pressures.
Measures to improve workforce planning are welcome, but we had at least three workforce plans in the previous parliamentary session, and not much has changed—in fact, things have got worse. Today, we see from Scottish Government figures that more than 600,000 Scots are on NHS waiting lists, some for diagnostics, others for treatment. Yes, having a recovery plan is better than not having one at all, but I remind the chamber that, in December 2020, Jeane Freeman announced a remobilisation plan for the NHS, which we welcomed. She set up a remobilisation working group to deliver on the actions that were outlined and it met every month. Then along comes Humza Yousaf, as the new Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care. Meetings were cancelled and the group has met only once since. That does not really suggest that the issue is a priority for the cabinet secretary or the SNP Government. No wonder the First Minister reportedly had to send the plan back, with publication being delayed for a fortnight.
I am running out of time, so I will touch on one glaring omission in the 100 days plan: social care. Where is the remobilisation plan for social care? Where is the restarting of respite care, the restoration of care packages and the support for carers? Where is the rewarding of care workers with a wage rise to £15 an hour? Scottish Labour was proud to campaign for that at the time of the budget, but the SNP and the Greens voted it down. Where are all the services to support and enhance the dignity of our older people and those with disabilities?
The 100 days plan is a mixed bag. Things are missing and other elements are seriously underwhelming, but there are elements to welcome, such as the Covid public inquiry. However, in all this, it is implementation that counts and the impact that it has on the people of Scotland. On that count, the SNP will be judged. So far, I have to say that the people of Scotland deserve much better than this.
I start by congratulating Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie on their appointment as Scottish ministers. Although we may have the odd political disagreement from time to time, I nevertheless acknowledge that it is a great honour to be appointed as one of the Queen’s ministers. I congratulate them on that appointment and wish them well in it, and I hope that they will advise her well in their new roles.
Of course, the appointment of those two ministers means that we have the biggest and most expensive Government ever in the history of devolution, so I hope that it is worth all the money that is being devoted to it.
Alex Cole-Hamilton gave us a history lesson with regard to the concept of Governments’ first 100 days in power. There is nothing scientific or magical about a 100-day period; it is a measure that politicians set themselves to judge progress. However, given that the SNP Government itself made a number of claims about what it would achieve in the first 100 days, it is only reasonable for the Opposition to test what was said against what was actually delivered and, against that test, the SNP Government has been found to be wanting, as we have heard throughout the debate.
This week, we should have been debating the programme for government. We do that every year in the first week back after the summer recess. However, that debate has been delayed for a week, meaning that we, and the rest of the country, are still waiting to hear what the Government’s priorities are for the coming year in terms of its legislative programme and other initiatives. The unrelenting focus on Covid recovery that we have been promised by the First Minister was somewhat lacking in the speeches that she made earlier this afternoon.
Despite all the spin that we have heard from those on the SNP benches this afternoon, the document that the SNP Government published setting out its plans for the first 100 days of this session made promises that the Government has failed to deliver. It has failed to remove unnecessary elements of coronavirus legislation that it promised to remove—for example, it retains the ability to release prisoners early. It promised to vaccinate all adults, but has failed to do so. It has failed to deliver fair results for pupils, given the issues that we have seen with this year’s SQA awards. Further, it has failed in its promise not to push for another independence referendum, as we know that that is the centrepiece of its agreement with the Scottish Greens.
Earlier in the debate, Douglas Ross set out a list of the Government’s policy failures: the worst set of drugs deaths figures in Europe; an education attainment gap that is wider now than in any year since 2017; and huge and growing waiting lists in the NHS for operations, vital treatments and, shamefully, mental health. People are still waiting to see a GP face to face and, as Anas Sarwar and Alex Cole-Hamilton reminded us, there is a lack of support for people who are crippled by long Covid.
In the justice system, there are tens of thousands of unanswered 101 calls to the police, community sentences are not completed or followed up on, and there is an enormous backlog in the courts system, with justice delayed for too many victims of crime. That is the record of the SNP Government after 100 days.
One thing that the SNP has achieved is the deal with the Scottish Green Party, but it is causing a great deal of concern across Scotland. It is causing concern in the business community, as we now have at the heart of government, for the first time in Scotland, people who not only do not believe in economic growth but are actively hostile to it. It is a party whose co-leader supports the nonsense that is modern monetary theory, which says that it is not possible to run out of money—I am sure that Kate Forbes is very interested in that theory. It is a party whose policies would cause devastation to people whose jobs depend on the oil and gas sector, particularly in the north-east of Scotland—the Scottish Green Party pursues a slash-and-burn approach to that industry.
Concerns have been raised by representatives of the farming and fishing communities and rural industries about the impact that Green policies would have on them. They have expressed their dismay at extremists being brought into government, as Oliver Mundell reminded us.
Questions have been raised in the Highlands and in the north-east about what the Greens in government will mean for vital road-safety projects such as the dualling of the A9 and the A96. Despite the best efforts of Graham Simpson, we received no clarity from the First Minister on that question earlier. The Greens claim that they have secured a shift away from road building. A whole host of other local road projects that are absolutely necessary to save lives, prevent accidents, reduce congestion and pollution, and assist economic growth could now be at risk thanks to the Greens being in government.
In my home area of Perth and Kinross, one good example of that is the cross-Tay link road project, which is not just essential to unlock the economic potential of east Perthshire but vital to reduce congestion and air pollution—already at dangerous levels—in Perth city centre. The project depends on financial assistance from the Scottish Government, and we know that the Greens are actively hostile to it. We read Mark Ruskell’s press releases on the subject—he is never done condemning it. Will that vital project be sacrificed on the altar of the SNP-Green deal or will it be allowed to proceed? There are many similar questions to which we await the answers. We need to know whether many other vital road improvement projects across the country will go ahead.
Against that backdrop, it is little wonder that so many members on the SNP benches in this Parliament are concerned about the direction in which the deal is taking them and Scotland. We know what the deal is all about. It is about trying to bring forward another unwanted independence referendum. According to the draft shared policy programme that was published on 20 August, it is the intention of the SNP and Greens to bring forward the referendum within the first half of the five-year parliamentary session. At a time when we should be focusing on Covid recovery—and at a time when the First Minister promised that that would be her unrelenting focus—the Scottish Government is making its real priority the breaking up of the United Kingdom within the next two years.
Instead of the promotion of division, we could have had a consensus here. We could have had an agreement on what Scotland needs to do to rebuild our economy, to create jobs to replace those that have been lost, to restore our public services such as health and education and to start investing in our vital transport infrastructure. Those should have been the priorities of the first 100 days in government, but, instead, the Scottish Government has gone down the route of jumping into bed with a party that wants to take Scotland backwards and not forwards. It is a Government that Scotland did not vote for.
I said earlier that Alex Cole-Hamilton had given us a history lesson. Perhaps the most famous 100 days in history were in 1815, after Napoleon Bonaparte arrived in Paris following his escape from exile on Elba. Within 100 days, he had been defeated by the forces of Britain and Prussia at the battle of Waterloo and sent back into exile. The First Minister will hope that she has more success than Bonaparte did, but in doing a deal with the extremist, anti-business, anti-growth Greens she is sowing the seeds of her own Government’s destruction.
I understand that he has given notice. In accordance with parliamentary protocol, I would not normally refer to a member if they were not here, but I feel that I must do so because he opened the debate. I want my intentions to be clear in his absence.
Douglas Ross and Murdo Fraser were on opposite sides in the debate. Douglas Ross led the charge in saying that the debate should not be happening; Murdo Fraser led the charge in saying that it was an opportunity to scrutinise the Government. In the opening debate of a new year of Parliament, the Conservatives are facing in opposite directions. According to Murdo Fraser, the debate is an opportunity to scrutinise the Government; according to his leader, it is a debate that should not be happening.
I do not find that comment at all relevant. It is clear that Patrick Harvie, Lorna Slater and I will never agree on certain issues, but we have agreed to co-operate in the spirit of the new politics. There has been a lot of discussion of the new politics today. Douglas Ross, Oliver Mundell and Murdo Fraser will not get anywhere on the subject of the new politics with the language that they have used to describe fellow members of Parliament today. Their language has been fundamentally disrespectful.
That is also relevant to the question whether the debate has been about 100 days or 5,234 days. Stephen Kerr marshalled the argument that we have had 5,234 days. That has obviously been part of the Tory script: they have all used it—Dean Lockhart, Murdo Fraser, Oliver Mundell and Douglas Ross all churned it out. The inconvenient fact that they miss is that this Government has been elected to serve the people on four occasions during that time.
The language, style, rhetoric and argument that have been piled upon us by the Conservatives today have been the same bile that they put out in 2011, 2016 and 2021, but they are over there in opposition and we are over here in government for the fourth time.
I gently advise the Conservatives that their approach to the debate gets them nowhere. They piled out this argument in 2021. It was to be the end of this Government. They threw absolutely everything at us in the run-up to the 2021 election but gained not one seat in this Parliament. We gained a seat and came back with 64 members and our colleagues in the Green Party gained three seats in Parliament. My advice to Oliver Mundell, before I accept his next intervention, is to point out that the vile strategy that he and his party have pursued has got them absolutely nowhere and they must think again.[
I thank the Deputy First Minister for giving way. I am pleased that SNP members think that shouting and clapping are a substitute for ideas to take our country forward. After everything that the SNP has thrown at its campaign for independence and its divisive attempts to break up our United Kingdom by stealth, does he not reflect on the fact that there was no majority in Scotland for an SNP Government that wanted to hold a second independence referendum?
I remind Oliver Mundell that the Conservatives lost the election and that they lost the 2019 general election in Scotland when they told us that indyref2 was on the ballot paper. Jackson Carlaw—a man consigned to the back benches—led a campaign in 2019 telling us that indyref2 was on the ballot paper and that everyone had to come out and vote to stop it. What happened? The SNP hammered the Tories once again. The Tories lost half their seats.
I would simply say to the Conservatives, “The strategy is not working.”
Perhaps we can calm the Deputy First Minister down and return him to the subject of this debate. I tried to intervene on Kaukab Stewart—someone whom I have personal respect for—to ask her a question that I will now put to the Deputy First Minister in the hope that he might address the substance of policy and delivery. During the summer, it was disclosed in a parliamentary answer to me that one in eight teachers in Scotland is on a temporary contract. That is shameful. Will this Government take steps that underpin the commitment to fund those places through local authorities so that they can give those teachers permanent contracts?
If Mr Kerr had been paying attention, he would have found that we had reached a financial agreement with local authorities over the summer to do exactly that, as well as extending the teaching profession. If he did his homework before he came to Parliament, it would be nice.
A lot has been said in the debate about the agreement that we have reached with the Scottish Green Party. I will make no apology for an agreement that focuses on taking the necessary action on tackling climate change, delivering economic recovery in the aftermath of Covid and tackling endemic child poverty, which will be made worse if universal credit cuts are delivered by the Tory Government at Westminster, or an agreement that gives the people of this country the right to decide on their constitutional future when they chose their members of Parliament to enable that. Seventy-one members were elected to this Parliament who are committed to an independence referendum, and I believe that the people of Scotland should have the right to have that referendum.
I think that everybody in the Parliament believes in a just transition in the oil and gas sector. We all recognise that there has to be a move away from hydrocarbons. That is the way that we have to tackle climate change. The difference between this Government, of which my colleagues are members, and the Conservatives is that the Conservatives were prepared to throw people on a scrap heap of industrial decline in the 1980s and this Government will not do that.
The final thing that I want to mention is that Douglas Ross made a big thing of the fact that the debate had to focus on the reality of the day. I have tried to do that with my comments—in my earlier speech and this one—about Covid recovery, about some of the challenges that we face and about the accomplishments that the Government has delivered. However, in his entire speech to Parliament earlier today, Douglas Ross made not a single mention of the havoc that has being created and inflicted on our society by Brexit. Farmers in my constituency are unable to harvest their product or take it to market because there is not the capacity in the supply chain to handle it. Fish producers cannot take their product to market because of the ludicrous—
I will, Presiding Officer.
Our partnership agreement is committed to a buoyant future for Scottish agriculture. That is being challenged by the lunacy of Brexit that is forced upon us by the Conservative Party. There has been no word of apology or explanation for the chaos that is now inflicted on the people of this country, who cannot get the access to basic foodstuffs that Michael Gove promised that we would have after Brexit. Maybe a little too much time in the nightclubs of Scotland and not enough in the day job is what has gone wrong with Michael Gove.
The Government has undertaken a significant programme of work to achieve the commitments that we made in our first 100 days document. We will continue to pursue that approach for the remainder of the parliamentary session in a spirit of partnership with our colleagues in the Green Party. If the Opposition wishes to engage in that process, it will be welcome to do so, but I suggest to the Conservatives in particular that the tone of their contribution has to change significantly before anyone will take them seriously.