“This Programme for Government will be impacted by Brexit, but it is not defined by it – instead it sets out how we intend to deliver on our vision of a healthier, wealthier and fairer Scotland.” Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland.
On Tuesday 4th of September the Scottish Government published its Programme for Government – these are the proposals it hopes to take forward over the coming year. It is a legislative action plan which means these Bills have to go through the Scottish Parliament’s procedures, committee stages, public consultations and reach agreement with other political parties because the SNP is running a minority Government.
Leader of the Opposition, Ruth Davidson, for the Conservatives attacked the record of the SNP in Government as being too slow in getting Bills passed. A somewhat strange response given that when the emergency Continuity Bill was being fast tracked through Parliament the Scottish Conservatives objected to the speed at which it was progressing.
Ruth Davidson in combative mood during the debate said:
“we have heard how much was promised but not delivered last year, we will be forgiven for treating this year’s programme for government with a gritter-load of salt. The Government has shown that it is very good on promises and consultations but a little bit less energetic when it comes to delivery and action.”
What did the Scottish Government actually deliver over the last year?
Bills passed since 2017-18 Programme for Government
Child Poverty Bill
Civil Litigation (Expenses and Group Proceedings) Bill
Contract (Third Party Rights) Bill
Domestic Abuse Bill
Forestry and Land Management Bill
Gender Representation on Public Boards Bill
Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) Bill
Housing (Amendment) Bill
Land and Buildings Transaction Tax (Relief from Additional Amount) Bill
Social Security Bill
Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses Bill
And there are Bills already progressing through Parliament
Bills already in Parliament
Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill
Children and Young People (Information Sharing) Bill
Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) Bill
Damages (Investment Returns and Periodical Payments) Bill
Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) Bill
Health and Care (Staffing) Bill
Human Tissue (Authorisation) Bill
Management of Offenders Bill
Scottish Crown Estate Bill
Vulnerable Witnesses (Criminal Evidence) Bill
The Scottish Household Survey was also published this week. Survey Highlights Scotland’s Inequalities
It is a good indicator of what people think about living in Scotland today. Looking back over a ten year span is useful in gauging the real progress in society of Government policies.
Scotland has 2 Governments producing legislation affecting how we live and the really important ones are still reserved to the UK Government. This means that the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament is limited in what it can and cannot do.
Social Security Scotland, Scotland’s new welfare system, will be responsible for the delivery of 11 devolved benefits to 1.4 million people a year, worth around £3.3 billion. Scotland’s Social Security System Takes Shape
It is already up and running making a difference which, however, limited is still very important to the most vulnerable in society. 201 Carers in Orkney to Receive Carer’s Allowance Supplement
A Scottish Government, limited in what it can do, can only help to relieve the deep rooted inequalities exposed in the Scottish Household Survey. Single parents and single adults will continue to struggle on low incomes, forced to visit Foodbanks for basic everyday products because every UK Government for decades has pursued policies of austerity.
The Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament support the 2 child benefit cap and the appalling rape clause. They oppose the universality of free prescriptions, free bus passes, free university tuition and the baby box. These are all rights we have in Scotland because successive Scottish Governments all attempt to mitigate the damaging effects of UK Government policies on Scotland. In A Time of Universal Deceit….
The Scottish Government’s Programme for the year ahead has put forward several Bills which will all have to follow due process. This is only right and proper that committees scrutinise them and that where necessary changes may be made before they are passed or rejected by the Scottish Parliament.
Bills for introduction in 2018-19
Biometric Data Bill
Census (Amendment) Bill
Consumer Protection Bill
Electoral Franchise Bill
Electoral Reform Bill
Family Law Bill
Female Genital Mutilation Bill
Non-Domestic Rates Bill
Scottish National Investment Bank Bill
South of Scotland Enterprise Agency Bill
Presenting the Programme of Government to the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:
” It ensures that we remain focused on delivering for today and investing for tomorrow. It continues and accelerates the major reforms that are under way in our health, education and justice systems, which are underpinned by our new progressive system of income tax.
“It seeks to make further progress on tackling inequality and reducing poverty. It sets out the next steps in the operation of our new social security system, and it builds on our work to support Scotland’s economy and encourage innovation.”
“I can confirm that the first payments of the new carers allowance supplement will begin next week. The supplement will benefit more than 75,000 carers, increasing their allowance by more than £400 a year. I can also announce that the new young carer grant, worth £300 a year, will be paid from autumn next year. In the coming year, we will provide enhanced assistance for those on lower incomes who are struggling with funeral costs.
“The year ahead will see us deliver the new best start grant. This will provide the most extensive support anywhere in the UK for new parents on low incomes: £600 on the birth of a first child, £300 on the birth of any subsequent child—with no two-child limit or abhorrent rape clause—and £250 for each child when they start nursery and again when they start school. The best start grant will benefit around 50,000 families each year.
“I said last year that the best start grant would be paid from summer next year. I am delighted to announce today that, assuming we get the required Department for Work and Pensions co-operation, the first pregnancy and baby payments will be made before Christmas this year—six months ahead of schedule.”
On the aspects of the proposed Bills which dealt with welfare and well being there was agreement amongst some of the opposition parties.
Labour leader Richard Leonard said:
“We welcome today’s announcement on mental health. It is something that the Labour Party has long campaigned for, and this morning’s publication of the latest figures on child and adolescent mental health serve as a timely reminder of how potentially important the announcement is.”
Patrick Harvie for the Scottish Greens said:
“I was also pleased to see progress on the young carers grant, which is something that the Greens pushed for in the 2016 election and which we have pushed for since. There were positive comments, too, about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but we will look closely at the detail of what is proposed in that regard. Will the convention itself be incorporated and become part of domestic law?”
Willie Rennie, leader of the Liberal Democrats, offering no solutions of his own, attacked the proposals. He said:
“when I received an advance copy of the programme, I thought, “This can’t possibly be it all.” It is so light in content that I thought that I must have been missing volume 2.
“No new announcement today, three years after the First Minister told me that mental health was her priority, can cover up for the failure of the Scottish Government on mental health. There was no recognition in the First Minister’s statement of the terrible figures on mental health waiting times for young people. There was not even a mention of them, and there was no note of contrition for the Government’s failure.”
In contrast to Willie Rennie, Gillian Martin, MSP, Aberdeenshire East, SNP said:
“We asked for financial assistance in an area that is close to many of our hearts: more spend on early intervention for mental health for young people at school level.
“I am delighted to hear that the First Minister has taken our views on board and committed the Government to putting counsellors in every secondary school.
“That is one of the most significant educational and health developments under the Government. On behalf of the many parents, teachers and teenagers who have spoken to me about the matter, I thank the First Minister for listening to their views.”
The Scottish Government will be introducing a Family Law Bill which will “ensure that the child’s best interests are at the centre of any contact or residence case or Children’s Hearing and that the voice of the child is heard”. The UN Convention on Rights of the Child already embedded into policies will be incorporated in Scottish Law. There will also be support in combatting Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) an issue we have covered several times in The Orkney News. Orkney Responds to Adverse Childhood Experiences Film Schools will be provided with counsellors and school nurses.
Much of what is in the Programme of Government is building on what was set down last year which was acknowledged by Nicola Sturgeon in her presentation. Opposition parties will be able to put forward other solutions as each Bill passes through its various stages. Looming over it all will be the great uncertainty posed by Brexit which is still on course to happen on March 29th 2019 and so far nothing has been agreed.
The legitimacy of the Continuity Bill passed overwhelmingly in the Scottish Parliament is being scrutinised by the UK’s Supreme Court and with it the legitimacy of the Scottish Parliament itself to actually exist and make decisions for the benefit of the people it represents.
Meanwhile the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament will continue to get on with its day job of mitigating Tory ‘welfare’ policies whilst looking ahead and investing in Scotland’s econominc future by establishing a Scottish National Investment Bank .
Reporter: Fiona Grahame