It has been an awesome couple of weeks for positive progress for folk throughout Scotland, thanks to Bills introduced or passed at Holyrood, and a court victory for the Scottish Government.
In a fortnight that included my appointment as Minister for Childcare and Early Years – a new challenge that I am already relishing – I am particularly delighted to have seen the unanimous passing of the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, which will make Scotland the only part of the UK with statutory targets to tackle child poverty.
With one in four children living in poverty we need to take urgent action – both to help those children who are living in poverty now, and to prevent future generations of children growing up in these conditions.
Setting statutory targets is in stark contrast to the action being taken by the UK Government, which has abolished its child poverty unit and child poverty targets.
Meeting these ambitious targets will be challenging, and it will seem like an uphill battle in the face of UK cuts that are set to increase UK child poverty by around one million. But we intend to take positive action to address child poverty and tackle these deep-seated generational inequalities.
We want to work with local authorities, health boards and the third sector to ensure Scotland’s children have the best possible start in life.
In another move aimed at our younger generation, Parliament unanimously backed plans forcing all school buses to be fitted with seatbelts. Currently legislation leaves it up to local authorities to decide whether or not buses taking pupils to and from school need seatbelts. Just around half do.
My SNP colleague Gillian Martin introduced a Member’s Bill in February to make seatbelts a legal requirement. There was cross party support for the proposals, with many MSPs surprised that it wasn’t already the law. The bill was passed by 102 votes to 0.
[Editor’s note, all school transport in Orkney is fitted with seat belts]
As an advocate for equalities, I was really pleased to see Nicola Sturgeon apologise wholeheartedly to gay men wrongly convicted under historical discriminatory laws. As Kezia Dugdale said, an apology offered “in the spirit of love and inclusion”. The Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) Bill will also enable men to have convictions for same-sex sexual activity that is now legal removed from criminal conviction records.
Scotland is an open and tolerant society, committed to respecting, protecting and implementing human rights and demonstrating equality, dignity and respect in everything we do. It is only right that we address this historic wrong, which criminalised people because of who they loved. This bill is an important step towards correcting that injustice.
I was also absolutely delighted by the strong and decisive ruling by the Supreme Court that minimum unit pricing has been upheld. I’ve long been aware of the potentially destructive nature of problem drinking in Scotland, being a health professional I know what an incredible difference this pioneering and life-saving alcohol pricing policy will have. I’ve never met anyone in Mental Health who didn’t support it.
This policy will no doubt still have its critics, but it is a bold, clever, targeted, evidence based policy, that I know will work. Given the clear and proven link between consumption and harm, minimum pricing is the most effective and efficient way to tackle the cheap, high-strength alcohol that causes so much damage to so many families. I did a wee dance of delight when it was announced!
This is a regular column by local MSP Maree Todd, SNP