Nine short months
The clock ticks on, the page turns, we face new challenges.
This week saw the announcement of the Programme for Government for
the final session of the first term of the SNP Government. In fact,
it’s the final year of the first term in which Scotland actually had
a Government. The first time that Ministers in Holyrood had the
courage to act like a Government.
With only 34 weeks left until the Scottish people go to the polls
again to tell us what they think of how we’ve done, nine months for
the electorate to weigh the performance of the SNP Government and
the prospects for the future of the SNP Government against the might
of the Labour benches and what’s being offered from that elevated
perspective. They’ll be weighing Alex Salmond against Iain Gray;
Kenny MacAskill against Richard Baker; Nicola Sturgeon against
Jackie Baillie; John Swinney against Andy Kerr; SNP against Labour –
one or other of us will provide the First Minister and Government
after the election. SNP or Labour, Salmond or Gray.
Well, we’ve seen the colour of the SNP ambition this week, the plans
that the current Ministers have come up with, that the current SNP
Government put forward in the plans for the next wee while. There
are 10 bills planned –
# Forced Marriage etc. (Protection and Jurisdiction) Bill – to
protect people, often very young or vulnerable people, who are or
might be forced into marriages against their will and to provide
third-party support for them. It will also make the legal remedies
easier to access.
# Health (Certification of Death) Bill – to clear up the differences
in how deaths, cremations and burials are handled and recorded and
to provide better health information to help direct resources.
# Public Records Bill – create a new framework to ensure that
records are kept properly (comes from the recommendations of a
report into abuses of children in care).
# Double Jeopardy Bill – so that prosecution can be reopened where
substantial new evidence is brought forward about a case which has
been disposed of.
# Local Electoral Administration Bill – Holyrood has just taken over
responsibility for local government elections from the Scotland
Office and we’re putting legislation in place to make sure we don’t
have a fiasco like the 2007 election.
# Long Leases Bill – reforming Scottish property law so ultra-long
leases can be converted in ownership with appropriate compensation
from tenants to landlords.
# Private Rented Housing Bill – to tackle unscrupulous rogue
landlords who operate outwith the law and make life a misery for
tenants and their neighbours, destroy communities and tarnish the
reputation of the many good private landlords in Scotland.
# Reservoir Safety Bill – for some bizarre reason only the biggest
reservoirs in Scotland are regulated under the legislation that was
passed in London in 1975, leaving people beside the smaller ones
without any protection. This Bill will change that and offer
appropriate protection and regulation.
# Budget Bill – well, we do it every year and it’s always good fun
with a minority government!
# Scottish Water Bill – to enshrine Scottish Water in public
ownership and to give it the flexibility to deliver its services in
accordance with future needs.
On top of that, we’re in the middle of some other legislation which
will have to be completed:
* Alcohol Etc. (Scotland) Bill
* Autism (Scotland) Bill
* Children's Hearings (Scotland) Bill
* Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill
* Criminal Sentencing (Equity Fines)
* Damages (Scotland) Bill
* Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill
* End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill
* Forth Crossing Bill
* Historic Environment (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill
* Housing (Scotland) Bill
* Legal Services (Scotland) Bill
* Palliative Care (Scotland) Bill
* Patient Rights (Scotland) Bill
* Property Factors (Scotland) Bill
* Protection of Workers (Scotland) Bill
* Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill
But that’s just the legislation; there are also the current
strategies, current work and plans about to be implemented:
* 40,000 training
places, including 20,000 modern apprenticeship starts and 5,000
flexible training opportunities
* completing the M80 Stepps to Haggs upgrade
* completing the M74
* finishing the Airdrie to Bathgate rail link
* getting on with the Forth replacement crossing
* a new child poverty strategy (anti-poverty, of course)
* continuing to support the armed forces and veterans community
* implementing the curriculum for excellence
* regulations to establish a maximum primary 1 class size of 25
* continue to pursue the perpetrators of serious and organised crime
* create the community payback order
Iain Gray’s first comments in response were that these plans for the
next nine months were “not substantial” but he didn’t actually talk
about any alternatives that he might have in mind. He did say that
he would have built the Glasgow Airport Rail Link (I imagine he
didn’t mean that he would have built it personally) but he refused
to say what he would have cut to build it – he didn’t say anything
about what should be done now.
We only know of two ideas from Labour – the first is the idea
they’ve been bouncing about for a couple of months now, they think
that Council Tax should go up, that the freeze should be abandoned
(it’s be an increase of somewhere like 14% just to cover what the
Scottish Government has pumped in so far to keep the freeze on); and
the second one began today as Labour started saying that we should
impose the 3% tartan tax (on top of all the other tax we have to
shell out for) so we can cover some of the shortfall in public
spending caused by the incompetence of the Labour Government under
Gordon Brown. That’s Labour’s problem, they always think that
someone else will pick up the tab for them and it’s always us, the
people who pay taxes. It’s a burden enough for people like me who
are on a good wage but increases like that would just bury some
people, really hurt people who are just getting by just now. I’ve
actually had a couple of people telling me about the difficulties
they already face and how even a small increase in Council Tax just
would not be sustainable for them, how they struggle just now on low
wages but do what they can to give their children decent lives.
Labour would impose that Council Tax rise and send these families
into freefall and then add to that with income tax rises.
Higher Council Tax and higher income tax from Labour but not one of
these tribunes of the people ever has the courage to call for a
progressive taxation system, not one of them dares to suggest that
we should have fairer tax, it never even enters their heads that
people who are better off (like those of us on an MSP’s wage) should
pay a bit more in local taxation than people who have less money –
that would be a local income tax and they don’t have the guts to
call for something that is fair.
Well, the ground is laid out, the election is coming in 34 weeks –
who do you think is putting forward plans to take Scotland forward
and who do you think is trying to remember the motions so they can
go through them? It’s not going to be a pretty election, we’re not
going to be blessed with flowing oratory and the interplay of great
wit, we’re not going to hear principles pitched against each other,
we’re going to be laying out our plans and defending our record, I
don’t expect any great ideas from Labour but I do expect the
political equivalent of a Neanderthal grunt and the whine of “it’s
no fair” to float across from them.
I look forward to laying out the SNP case and I look forward to
carrying our banner. There’s a long, hard road to travel and we’ve
already set out. Let’s make this Scotland’s election!
Christina McKelvie MSP