Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]
Meeting date: Thursday, September 7, 2023
Agenda: General Question Time, Anniversary of the Death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, First Minister’s Question Time, Alcohol Services, Motion of Condolence, Portfolio Question Time, Professor Sam Eljamel (Update), Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete, Programme for Government 2023-24 (Opportunity), Business Motion, Decision Time
- General Question Time
- Anniversary of the Death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Alcohol Services
- Motion of Condolence
- Portfolio Question Time
- Professor Sam Eljamel (Update)
- Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete
- Programme for Government 2023-24 (Opportunity)
- Business Motion
- Decision Time
Programme for Government 2023-24 (Opportunity)
The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-10347, in the name of Neil Gray, on opportunity within the 2023-24 programme for government. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak button.16:06
I am pleased to open the debate and speak to the motion in my name, which is supported by colleagues, on how we seize the opportunities of an economy that is fair, green and growing—a wellbeing economy that helps our people and businesses to thrive through a just transition to net zero while addressing the twin climate and nature emergencies. By seizing the opportunities of the transition to net zero and growing our economy, we can reduce poverty and fund the high-quality public services that we rely on.
We are bringing forward this programme for government in challenging economic times. High inflation and rising interest rates continue to ramp up costs for both individuals and business trading conditions. Although the headline inflation rate is beginning to fall, economic growth has weakened this year and many businesses are having to change their business model in the light of the challenging economic conditions. Our businesses face a cost of the union crisis, with the cumulative impacts of Brexit on trading and labour supply, sustained high inflation and interest rates and the on-going high energy costs in energy-rich Scotland.
We are doing everything possible within the limited powers that are available to us and tight fiscal constraints to support businesses as well as households and to transform Scotland’s economy.
Whether members accept the premise of what Neil Gray just said about the cost of the union, that does not explain why Scotland lags behind other parts of the United Kingdom in terms of future business activity or equity investment. The data is clear that we are lagging behind parts of the UK such as the north-west on those two measures.
Of course, if we look at gross domestic product growth since 2007 per capita, adjusting for population share, we see that we are ahead of the rest of the UK, with near double the growth rate since then. In addition, we have record levels of inward investment, as Daniel Johnson will have seen and welcomed over the summer. Yes, there are challenges in what we are facing and, when comparing the position that Scotland is in as part of the UK with that of our European neighbours, who are richer, fairer and more socially just, we have to ask, why not Scotland? It is because we are being held back by the broken economic model that is being offered to us by Westminster.
The cabinet secretary has mentioned inflation. I do not know whether he has looked at inflation figures for other western economies. He has mentioned interest rates. Interest rates in the United States of America are higher than interest rates in the United Kingdom right now. Is that the fault of the Conservative Government?
That will be cold comfort to the businesses that I have seen and interacted with over the summer, and I am sure that Murdo Fraser will have had such interactions. Those businesses are feeling the pain of the energy cost crisis, which has not been resolved by the poor market conditions that have been delivered by the UK Government or the inflationary pressures that have been driven up by the Truss-Kwarteng budget that crashed the economy. Murdo Fraser’s points will be cold comfort to the businesses that are struggling to trade right now.
With the powers of independence, we could do so much more. Our “Building a New Scotland” series of papers shows that independent European countries that are comparable to Scotland continue to outperform the UK across a range of economic and social indicators. They are wealthier, more productive and innovative, and fairer and more equal. Why can Scotland not be like that? The reason is that we are bound to a failed UK economic model and do not hold the financial levers that are required.
Supporting economic growth is central to the programme for government—not growth for growth’s sake, but growth with a purpose. That is one of the best ways to push forward our anti-poverty agenda, deliver fair work and sustain high-quality public services.
Growing the economy is not something that we can do alone. We must do it in partnership with businesses, and that will require listening to the business community. We will keep doing that through the new deal for business group. The programme for government commits us to making progress on the implementation of the group’s recommendations, particularly on regulation.
We understand the challenges that businesses face, especially the impact of cumulative regulation, and we have committed to a programme of reform. We will work with businesses to improve the way that we develop, review and implement regulations, and we will relaunch the regulatory review group and improve the business and regulatory impact assessment toolkit process.
Realistically, there will always be regulations that are not universally welcomed by the businesses that they apply to, but that makes it even more important to involve business in the conversation early, so that their voice is heard as part of the policy development process. When a good case is made for it, we are open to removing regulations and will develop a process to do that systematically as part of our reform programme.
Although where decisions are made will be a matter for the budget, we will build on the on-going work of the new deal for business sub-group on non-domestic rates to ensure that we give businesses and communities the best support that we can that they need. To support small business in particular, a dedicated unit will be established in the Scottish Government.
Businesses of all sizes tell me that they have difficulties in recruiting a skilled workforce. Recognising the impact of the UK Government’s post-Brexit immigration policies on the labour market, we will launch a talent attraction and migration service, but it would be so much easier if we were not held back by the hostility to migration of both Labour and the Conservatives, or if we had the powers of independence that would enable us to ensure that we could have a migration system that was tailored to the needs of Scotland, our economy and the people who wish to come to Scotland to contribute to our nation.
Innovation and entrepreneurship are key strands of the national strategy for economic transformation, and we will invest £15 million to help to unleash talent from all walks of life in all parts of Scotland. That includes the provision of greater backing for proven initiatives such as Scottish EDGE and the Scottish ecosystem fund. As well as helping start-ups to scale up, that will help to build clusters of innovative businesses in growth sectors, and it will put our world-class universities at the heart of our economic future.
The package includes delivering the vision of the pathways report by Ana Stewart and Mark Logan, whom I thank for their work, through the launch of pre-start centres and pop-ups to encourage and support women and other underrepresented groups to become entrepreneurs.
Earlier today, I was pleased to announce that the pathways pre-start fund is open, which will make £1.5 million available for organisations to support more people into entrepreneurship and help to close the unacceptable gender gap in entrepreneurial participation. Grants of up to £100,000 will be available, and details on how to apply can be found on the Scottish Government website at gov.scot.
Yesterday, I met a group of incredible women who are members of the black social entrepreneurship programme. That discussion demonstrated to me why that funding support is so important. We need to break down the barriers to women and people from black, Asian and minority backgrounds and give them the confidence, the skills, the contacts and the support network to start their own businesses. It was inspiring to hear their stories, and to hear about the opportunities that I hope that we can give them.
Investment in high-quality digital connectivity is also helping to transform our economy. Our provision of more than £600 million for the reaching 100 per cent programme is delivering full-fibre gigabit-capable connections and helping to make up the gaps in delivery in that UK Government policy area.
Our rural delivery plan will set out actions to build vibrant rural economies, and our regions will be empowered through regional economic partnerships.
As well as having a growing economy, we need a green economy that supports a healthy planet to allow us not only to meet our own climate targets while securing a just transition but to become a magnet for inward investment. Scotland continues to be the most attractive location outside London for inward investment and we can do even better. We are at the forefront of the clean energy transition. We have the people, skills and resources and must make the most of those strengths. We will build on our forthcoming and final energy strategy and just transition plan to launch a green industrial strategy by next summer and will work closely with business, industry and trade unions during its development. The strategy will set out how the Scottish Government will help businesses and investors to realise the enormous economic opportunities of the global transition in key sectors such as offshore wind and hydrogen.
Will the cabinet secretary accept an intervention?
I am really sorry, but I am pushed for time. I will try to come back to you later.
We will support workers in the oil and gas industry with our green skills passport and will support the economy of Aberdeen and the north-east with our £500 million just transition fund. We will drive investment in a new generation of onshore wind, establishing a sector deal with the industry that will cut the average determination time for section 36 applications by half, to 12 months, where there is no public inquiry. We will also drive forward offshore wind skills development, focusing on the opportunities for diversification and skills transfer from our oil and gas sector, in line with that just transition.
Mobilising private investment will be a priority and a dedicated investment unit will be established to take forward the forthcoming recommendations of the First Minister’s investor panel.
The final component of a wellbeing economy is fairness, because poverty and inequality inhibit greater growth and prosperity, as Nicola Sturgeon outlined in her contribution yesterday. When Scotland’s businesses succeed, so do our people; when our people succeed, so do our businesses.
We pledge to work with employers to promote shared prosperity by boosting wages and continuing to increase the number of organisations paying at least the real living wage. That will include rolling out fair work conditionality in a way that supports workers but recognises that businesses need time to adjust. Our commitment to fund increased wages of £12 an hour for those who work in social care or who deliver funded early learning and childcare in the private, voluntary and independent sectors will help to address recruitment issues by attracting more people to work in those areas and will increase incomes, helping to address poverty. Improved childcare provision will enable parents and carers to work, increase their working hours or enter training and education. I consider that to be key to the infrastructure of a wellbeing economy.
I reiterate this Government’s commitment to a fair, green and growing wellbeing economy. This Government will support and invest in people and in our businesses as we continue the journey towards net zero in the coming year. That will help to protect our planet and will create good jobs with fair wages, expand our tax base and provide important revenue for us to invest in tackling poverty and in our public services. By doing that, we will create opportunity, improving lives for people and communities across Scotland.
That the Parliament recognises the actions set out in the Programme for Government 2023-24 to build a fair, green and growing wellbeing economy, while addressing the twin climate and nature emergencies; agrees that a fair work agenda and a real living wage support all of society, particularly during a cost of living crisis, and commends the proposed rise for workers in social care and childcare to £12 an hour; believes that tackling the global climate emergency is the defining challenge of current times and that the necessity of climate leadership could not be more stark, and commends the Scottish Government’s investment of £2.2 billion in 2023-24 to deliver a just transition to net zero and restore nature, which brings co-benefits in improved health outcomes, more accessible places, and empowered communities; acknowledges that the implementation of the recommendations of the New Deal for Business Group, close working with small businesses, and a £15 million package to support enterprise and entrepreneurship will create new opportunities to start, scale and sustain businesses; agrees that this support, along with the Scottish Government’s Green Industrial and Energy strategies, will ensure that businesses maximise the opportunities of a just transition to net zero; recognises the work of the Just Transition Fund, enabling pioneering work in a range of sectors, as well as the Scottish Government’s investment in nature restoration, and looks forward to initiatives to establish a new national park, as well as the publication of Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy; welcomes the commitment to establish a sector deal with the onshore wind industry, including halving the average determination time for section 36 applications to 12 months where there is no public inquiry, and acknowledges that both the Climate Change and Just Transition plans will secure a climate resilient and biodiverse future in a way that maximises community benefit and is fair and just for everyone.
I call Murdo Fraser to speak to and move amendment S6M-10347.1.16:18
I start by saying that I welcome the language in the programme for government about the need for economic growth and welcome much of what we have just heard from the cabinet secretary. Talking about economic growth is important and is a welcome departure for this Government. We have not heard much about economic growth in recent times, perhaps because of the presence in the coalition of the anti-growth Greens.
The cabinet secretary is right that growth is essential. Without growth, we cannot have expanding businesses or secure, well-paid, jobs and—crucially—we cannot have the tax revenues that we will need if we are to fund our vital public services. We only have to look at the Scottish Fiscal Commission’s very stark warnings about the black hole that is looming in Scottish public finances and is only going to expand over time to see that we cannot afford the public services that we have on the levels of taxation that we have. If we are not going to punish people with more taxes, which would be a huge mistake in my opinion, the only way to raise more tax revenue is by expanding the economy. So I welcome the rhetoric. Whether the delivery will be there remains to be seen.
There are two important background statistics that inform this debate. The first is the data that was released last week showing that the Scottish economy is estimated to have contracted by 0.3 per cent during the second quarter of this year . That contrasts with quarterly growth for the UK of 0.2 per cent in the same period. That is a difference in performance during a quarter—three months—of half of 1 per cent. That ties in with a longer-term trend in which, since 2014, the Scottish economy has grown on average at one half of the UK rate. Despite the rhetoric that we have heard from those on the Scottish National Party and Labour benches in the Parliament during the past year, the UK economy has performed much more strongly than was previously thought.
I have already outlined that, since 2007, GDP growth in Scotland has outperformed that in the rest of the UK. However, even if we take the point that Murdo Fraser made, why is it that the Institute for Fiscal Studies is saying that social mobility in the UK is in its worst place for 50 years? Surely we must invest in the wellbeing element as well as the economy element to ensure that GDP growth and the growing economy benefit people.
It will benefit everyone if we grow the economy. On the point that the cabinet secretary made about going back to 2007, I accept that the Scottish economy grew more rapidly between 2007 to 2014—thanks to oil and gas—but that is not much use to us now. The record in more recent years is much less impressive, and that is what he needs to focus on.
We know that the UK economy performed much better than we previously thought thanks to a revision of data by the Office for National Statistics. We now know that UK economic performance coming out of Covid was much stronger than originally thought: the UK economy is now 0.6 per cent bigger than it was pre-Covid, it was third fastest growing in the G7 and it grew faster than any other major European economy. Since 2010, our economic growth has outperformed that of Germany, France and Japan. That is a very different picture from the one that has been painted by those on the other parties’ benches, including Daniel Johnson, who I am happy to hear from now.
On a similar note, about picking timeframes, does Murdo Fraser not need to acknowledge that UK growth has been depressed compared with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average since 2008, and does he know of a reason why that might be the case?
Mr Johnson has not been listening. Since 2010, our economic growth has outperformed that of Germany, France and Japan. He might not be up to date with the ONS’s revision of statistics—maybe he should go back and read the figures—but we now know that the UK economy is performing better than previously thought.
That is not to say that there are not still significant challenges facing the UK economy—indeed, they face all western economies—but the narrative of the UK as the sick man of Europe is now exposed as bogus. The challenge for us in Scotland is how we ensure that our economy at least matches the UK average.
The second bit of data comes from a study on business attitudes that was published only last week by the Fraser of Allander Institute. The study said that only 9 per cent of Scottish firms agree that the Scottish Government understands the business environment in Scotland, and 64 per cent of businesses disagree. That is a damning verdict on the Government’s approach to business. Only 8 per cent of businesses think that the Scottish Government engages effectively with their sector. There is much more work to be done if this Government’s new deal for business is to be anything other than empty rhetoric.
Against that backdrop, we need to ensure that we deliver stronger economic growth. It is not enough to talk about it; we need action rather than words. In that context, we welcome some of what was announced in the programme for government, but it falls far short of what is required.
We need to have a competitive tax regime in Scotland compared with the rest of the UK. Earlier this week, we learned that the First Minister had written to the Prime Minister calling for cuts in corporation tax. There is a rich irony in the First Minister of a Government that has hiked taxes for middle earners in Scotland now apparently being in favour of tax cuts. However, as usual, the SNP wants other people to cut taxes; it just does not want to cut the taxes that it controls, on which the only direction of travel is upwards.
We continually hear from those in the business community—and this was in the papers—that differential tax rates in Scotland act as a barrier to attracting the best talent to come and live and work here. That is why we are committed to at least reducing taxes to the UK level, as a driver to promote faster economic growth.
Will the member take an intervention?
No, I am sorry, but I am going to run out of time.
We know that, if Scottish growth at least matched that of the UK, that would give us an additional £7 billion in tax revenue during a 10-year period without having to increase rates.
Business regulation continues to be an issue. In the programme for government, there is a commitment to work with businesses to address the issue of regulation and to remove regulations that are no longer required. The Scottish Government can address that right now: there is a huge issue in the tourism sector with the licensing scheme for short-term lets, which affects not just self-catering properties but bed and breakfasts, guest houses, home shares and house swaps. We are warned by those in the sector that it could cost thousands of jobs and millions of pounds to the economy if the Government does not think again. If the Government is serious about tackling regulation and about a new deal for business and listening to business, as it says that it is, it can demonstrate that right now by taking action to review the licensing scheme and postpone it. If it does not do that, all we have is empty rhetoric.
I am nearly out of time. In conclusion, I commend to the cabinet secretary an excellent publication from last week: “Grasping the Thistle”—not the book by Michael Russell, of course, but the new Scottish Conservative economic strategy, which is bursting with ideas about how to take the Scottish economy forward. If he wants to sit down with me to discuss that and work out how we can work together to grow the Scottish economy, I am right with him.
I move amendment S6M-10347.1, to leave out from first “recognises” to end and insert:
“notes that the Scottish economy contracted in the second quarter of 2022 in contrast to the wider UK economy, which grew in the same period, and that, since 2014, Scottish GDP per capita has grown on average at around one-half of the UK rate; further notes that this failure to grow the economy has real consequences for jobs, businesses and the public finances; acknowledges the language around economic growth in the Programme for Government 2023-24 and the limited measures to support growth and net zero, but regrets that these fall far short of what is required to deliver growth that at least matches the UK average, and calls on the Scottish Government to deliver a package of policies that will meaningfully promote growth, including a competitive tax regime, an approach to regulation that recognises the cost to business, a national workforce plan, investment in innovation and entrepreneurship, and a commitment to improve infrastructure and connectivity, including a timetable for the dualling of the A96, and the A9 between Perth and Inverness.”
I call Daniel Johnson to speak to and move amendment 10347.2.16:26
We agree with some things in the programme for government—specifically, around the pledges to accelerate consenting and planning processes. As the cabinet secretary knows, that is of vital importance so that we can realise our potential in renewables. As I have said to him, the scale of change and even just the level of the building of infrastructure that is required will be significant, and we have to prepare public opinion for that. I look forward to seeing the detail of those plans, because those consents have to come through more quickly than they do right now.
I appreciate the constructive nature of Daniel Johnson’s opening remarks. I commend to him what is coming in the onshore sector deal, and I will be more than happy to discuss with him how we can ensure that there is a united front around the need for the substantial infrastructure that will be required for us to realise our energy potential.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that. Likewise, there are other points on which we can agree, such as the additional resources for start-ups and small businesses, the fair work agenda and the increase in pay for social care workers and childcare workers to £12 an hour.
However, we have to look at the detail. The £15 million that is promised is a fraction of the £57 million that was cut from the enterprise budget the previous year. Likewise, the pay rise to £12 per hour comes three years after we first called for it and is now worth substantially less, because of inflation.
This week, Scotland needed a bold programme for government that matched the scale of the cost of living crisis and recognised the massive economic opportunity that we have in Scotland. However, as is usual with this Government, the spin in the build-up was much greater than the substance that was delivered. In the build-up, we heard that we would hear plans that would unleash Scotland’s economic potential but, reading through the bullet points, we saw that little more has been offered than meetings, consultations and more working groups.
That is simply not good enough. After 16 years, it is not good enough that the Government finally notices the economy, and it is not good enough that the First Minister thinks it an achievement to use the phrase “economic growth” in his speech. We need a First Minister who knows that the achievement is in delivering economic growth—in having a plan and the determination to deliver it.
The reality is that the economic data is stark. Although I think that Murdo Fraser was a little selective in his use of the data, I agree that we need to look at its broad range. Our growth has contracted by 0.3 per cent in the past quarter and, over the longer term, there are serious concerns.
Even if we look at more microeconomic data, we need to do a good deal more. The number of VAT-registered businesses in Scotland has fallen by more than 4,000 since 2020. We are lagging behind our regional competitors in other devolved nations. As I mentioned, the Royal Bank of Scotland’s purchasing managers’ index report makes it very clear that business confidence in Scotland is lower than that in any other nation or region in the UK; future business activity is near the bottom of the table; and, on job creation, we are ninth out of 12. There are economic realities and reasons that we need to face up to. If we do not, businesses will continue to invest in Manchester and Leeds rather than Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Will the member give way?
In a moment.
That is the reality. That is what business leaders are saying to me and, no doubt, to the ministers on the front bench. Unless we have a plan that faces those economic challenges and acknowledges where we have weaknesses, we simply will not make progress.
I note the economic pressures of the past few years that Daniel Johnson relates. I wonder whether he agrees that returning to the European Union and free trade across the member nations thereof would be a positive for our economy, and whether he can confirm that Scottish Labour supports Scotland’s return to the EU.
One cannot argue that the way to deal with additional borders and barriers is by creating new ones with our closest trading partner. That is incoherent. The minister also cannot explain why regions and nations in this country with fewer economic powers and levers are outperforming Scotland. I suggest that that is a sign of this Government’s economic failure.
Nor have we had detail on things that we could have expected more detail on. The Withers report set out a number of substantial changes—some of which I agree with, some of which I do not—but we needed to hear more. We need to overhaul our skills system so that we move beyond one that is focused on introducing our young people into the world of work to one that also reskills and upskills. That is vital if we are to realise our renewables potential.
It is good to see that the First Minister and the Government have clearly been listening to our critique, but some of their attacks reveal the error in their economic understanding. The Government and the Parliament have been too focused on social policy to the exclusion of economic policy, but the fact that this Government thinks that it has to be either/or reveals the narrowness of its binary perspective on all issues. Let me be very clear: we believe in a successful and growing economy so that we deliver the tax receipts so that we can pay for the social policies and the public services.
Social policy is vital, but we get to deliver it only if we have a successful economic vision. That is Labour’s vision. That is what lies behind our plans for GB energy and the green prosperity plan; it is about having a plan so that we can directly invest, through a state-owned company, in our future and our economic strategy. That is also why we have convened an independent advisory board for growth so that we can bring together leaders from across finance, energy, food and drink, arts and culture and trade unions to help deliver a plan for Scotland through partnership and co-operation.
This debate is about opportunity, but the opportunity that this country needs is to get rid of this tired, drifting Government and replace it with one that is focused on delivering a plan, realising our economic opportunities and delivering for everyone in this country—an opportunity and a plan that Scottish Labour is determined to deliver.
I move amendment S6M-10347.2, to leave from “while addressing” to end and insert:
“but regrets that after 16 years of a Scottish National Party administration, and despite the jobs and incomes at stake, a Green Industrial Strategy remains a pledge not a reality; agrees that a fair work agenda and a real living wage support all of society, particularly during a cost of living crisis; welcomes the proposed pay rise for care workers to £12 an hour, but believes that this must increase to £15 an hour during the current parliamentary session; believes that tackling the global climate emergency is the defining challenge of current times and that the necessity of climate leadership could not be more stark; calls on the Scottish Government to put a detailed plan for skills development at the heart of the just transition to net zero and efforts to restore nature; further calls on the Scottish Government to ensure that growth in both the onshore and offshore wind sectors leads to growth in Scottish supply chains, jobs and incomes; welcomes the commitment by the UK Labour Party to establish a publicly-owned energy company with its headquarters in Scotland, to reduce energy bills, create good local jobs and deliver 100% clear power for the UK by 2030, and further welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to reform land ownership, but urges it to be more radical to change the land ownership profile of Scotland, including ensuring that the community right to buy works for urban and rural communities.”
I have been through many programmes for Government. Others, I have to say, have been quite exciting, on occasion. As a political geek, I enjoyed many of those occasions. Today and this week, though, have—I must say—been completely uninspiring. The lack of appreciation for the programme for Government even from the Government’s own back benchers was evident earlier this week.
Will the member give way?
No—not just now.
In reality, the Government has no ideas and no money. It has overcommitted and has not managed its public finances well, and it has no direction, as a result. The programme for Government was full of minutiae, but also of dispensed policies. Let us take the council tax. The Government used to be in favour of scrapping it completely. We have been through many reform discussions, none of which has resulted in anything. Now, the Government has resorted to hiking it up more than it has ever done before.
Will Willie Rennie acknowledge that we are looking to expand early learning and childcare and to pay childcare workers £12 an hour, and that we are paying social care workers £12 an hour and bringing forward a green industrial strategy? Does he not support any of those proposals in the programme for Government?
Neil Gray just has to wait, because I am coming to those issues, which are far from satisfactory. As he well knows, the proposals do not solve the problems that have been evident in the system for some time. The cabinet secretary did not mention council tax, which the Government was for scrapping, but is now hiking up more than ever before. The Government was going to have a replacement for Erasmus. Now it is just a pilot. It was going to scrap the dental charges for NHS treatment. Now they will be increased more than ever.
We were going to have a peace institute, which has now gone, and a deposit return scheme, which has also gone. Even the de facto referendum, which the Government previously agreed to whole-heartedly, has been ditched. At the heart of this Government is independence, but even that policy has been dispensed with.
However, there is also very little progress in other areas. I will talk about early learning and childcare, if the minister is listening. The problem with early learning and childcare is the difference in pay rates between state provision for private and voluntary nurseries versus council nurseries. The result of that is an exodus of experienced staff, whether to other jobs in the council or elsewhere.
A move to £12 an hour will pay those at the bottom more, which is welcome, but will it deal with the exodus of experienced staff? No, it will not. There is still the fundamental problem of being unable to retain good staff in the private and voluntary sector. Problems will be stored up for the future, because we need the private and voluntary sector to give us the flexibility that we need for the future workforce—
Will the member give way?
No—not just now.
The Government has missed the point completely on the nursery sector. The Government is all about tinkering and minutiae.
Will the member give way?
No—not just now.
We can look at other areas. Social care services were promised—back in 2016, I think—that delayed discharge would be abolished completely, but we now have the longest waits and the biggest staff shortages ever.
We were promised that the adult disability payment was going to be a great new system, but there are incredibly long waits for people who are waiting on their payments. The poverty-related attainment gap is as wide as it has ever been—in secondary 3, the rates are appalling—and for the Government to boast that stagnation in other areas is somehow progress lets young people down.
We see the lowest number of new starts in social housing for some time. There are fundamental problems with this Government’s performance—it cannot even do the things that it promised to do.
I will talk about agriculture, because that is an area in which the Government could give farmers some clarity. The target is to reduce emissions from the agricultural sector by 31 per cent by 2032. Do we have the necessary details to enable farmers to act and change their practice and invest in their farms? No, we do not. We have the tiers, and the broad outline, but do we have any numbers attached to any of those tiers? No, we do not. There is a big argument going on with the environmental sector about how much is put in each tier. I get that, but that problem will not be solved by avoiding the issue. For the sake of our climate and our food and drink sector, we need to get on and provide clarity for the farmers.
Earlier today, I was outside the Parliament speaking to college lecturers. Those lecturers have been in industrial dispute probably ever since I have been in this Parliament—for 10 or 11 years. The reason is that this Government has undervalued the college sector for all that time. If we are going to invest in our future and in the skilled workforce for renewables that the minister talked about, we are going to have to invest in our colleges. However, the first act of the new education minister when he came into post was to cut multimillions from the budget. How is that investing in our young people and their future, and in our colleges? I think that we will have more industrial dissent unless this Government gets its act together with the college sector.
I conclude with one final point. Scotland has a massive opportunity, but we are not going to exploit that opportunity unless we create infrastructure. The warning in that respect is Burntisland Fabrications, in which we invested £50 million but did not create any jobs on the back of it. BiFab could not even build the jackets for the NnG wind farm that we can see from the Fife coast. That is a warning that this Government needs to get its act together. We need less talk about independence and more talk about getting stuff done.16:39
Last night, I hosted in this Parliament an event that was organised by Scottish Financial Enterprise. This morning, I was at a breakfast event with Scottish Renewables and this evening I will be going to an event with Scotland Food & Drink. The reason why I mention those is that they represent three great examples, among many, of sectors in which Scotland is genuinely leading the world and has huge potential to deliver economic opportunity.
The scale of that opportunity is enormous, so I want members and the Government to reflect on something that is happening across the sea in Ireland, where the Government there’s biggest economic challenge at the moment is how to invest the €65 billion surplus that it is projecting over the next four years. That is the size of the prize if we get our economy moving in the right direction and invest in business and sectors to deliver on the potential. Clearly, Ireland is a different country and has a different economy—not least, because it has the full powers of independence—and many other factors are different, but that example shows that, if we focus on what Scotland can do with those and other sectors, there is enormous potential.
What have we achieved? As has already been mentioned, Scotland’s direct investment performance is the best in the UK outside London. Our exports are growing at twice the rate of those of the rest of the UK. Unemployment over recent years has been lower than it has been in the rest of the UK. We have one of the most skilled populations in Europe, we have more of the best universities per head of population than other countries have and—contrary to some of the comments that Murdo Fraser was making earlier—significantly more people from the rest of the UK are attracted to come and work here than travel in the other direction.
However, of course we have challenges, and there are many things that we need to do better. I want to go through some of the positive things that are covered in the programme for government around the theme of opportunity and also say where we need to make sure that we deliver on the detail.
First, however, I want to reflect on the reaction from businesses, which welcomed the messaging very much, but gave the important caveat that they need to see the detail and need to understand what is happening on delivery. I know that the Government recognises that, but it is important to state that falling down on delivery, as has often been the case in the past, means that we do not realise the potential that I spoke of.
I turn to some specifics. I welcome the focus on an innovation strategy. However—again—it is important to deliver specific actions on that, particularly in relation to cluster building, cluster accreditation and so on.
The comments on regulation are hugely welcome. We understand the issue of cumulative impact and agree that the business and regulatory impact assessment process has to have teeth, as I believe it had in the past. That really needs to be internalised and the Government must work with business, as I know it is doing, to deliver on that.
Skills and the labour market are hugely important for businesses in every sector. It is important to include businesses at an early stage in the work around taking forward the Withers review, so that we do not lose sight of the needs that they have in that regard.
Clearly, the childcare investment is hugely welcome, but it is also important to ensure that capacity is in place to deliver on that.
I welcome the work that has been taken forward on talent attraction, but, again, we must not focus on international opportunities to the extent that we lose sight of the issue of UK talent attraction.
The net zero investments are hugely important in terms of how we are going to deliver decarbonisation across society, but we need to ensure that that investment is joined up so that the spend and procurement help to drive and build sectors in Scotland’s economy and give us an economic development boost.
Of course, it is important to take forward the work on attracting investment into the net zero sector. I acknowledge the work of Angus MacPherson and I know that the First Minister’s investor panel will be reporting on the issue. That is hugely important as part of this drive. That issue was a big topic of conversation at the Scottish Financial Enterprise event last night, as was the need for the green industrial strategy. We have discussed that issue and we know what a good strategy should look like, in terms of its format. The sector is absolutely up for that and is very keen to engage. However, we need to get something that is not just soundbites and aspiration, but involves real actions, is evidence driven and can deliver on the potential sooner rather than later.
I welcome the commitment to take forward green ports. However, it is important that the Government does not lose the focus on the fair work and living wage commitments, and the conditionality, that were secured during negotiations with the UK Government on that initiative—I know that it will not—and that it rolls out wider conditionality where we can, because that drives higher wages, which is to the good of the whole economy, and not just the good of the individuals who receive those wages.
I was interested to see the response of the UK Government to Tom Hunter’s ask in relation to focused relief for corporation tax, which I think is a much more grown-up and sensible strategy than blanket increases or blanket reductions, because it allows us to build clusters. I do not know whether what we are seeing is the start of the Scottish Government taking a position with regard to how we will approach corporation tax and company law more generally when we have those powers as an independent country, but I think that it is an interesting first step in that regard.
Finally, I will focus on delivery, which, as I have said, is where we often fall down. The national strategy for economic transformation lays out what needs to be done. That should be taken forward. Trying to find the next shiny new thing or going off on a tangent because civil servants have thought of something else is not helpful. We should stick to the knitting—we should stick to what is in NSET, and deliver the 77 actions.
Agency reform is mentioned. I am not quite sure where that is going, but we should not pull resources back to the centre or to Government from agencies. Agencies deliver. That is where the action happens, that is where the engagement with business is, and that is what is important. Frankly, it is much more important than what the Government is doing in that space.
It is very important to streamline funding streams. The plethora of things out there is confusing and unhelpful for business. Business wants to have easy processes for interacting with Government and agencies.
Mr McKee, I ask you to conclude.
That is hugely important, as is data sharing across that part of the scope of the Government’s work.
Thank you, Mr McKee. I have to ask you to conclude.
There is a lot of good stuff, but a lot to focus on, as well.
I call Brian Whittle.16:46
Thank you, Presiding Officer. Will you clarify how much time I have for my speech? [Interruption.]
Six minutes and the “Two minutes” that I heard is eight minutes. Good.
I am delighted to speak in this debate in a new portfolio for me. Members may or may not be comforted by the fact that the topics that I wish to discuss remain very similar to the topics that I have always discussed and which I am passionate about. Therefore, there will be a similar message from a different viewpoint.
I think that the biggest drag on our economy is our very poor health record. We recently heard that the cost of obesity to Scotland’s economy has now risen to £5 billion. Our mental health bill is now £4.5 billion. We know that 10 per cent of the national health service’s budget goes on treating diabetes and related conditions. While we discuss the economy, it is really important that we think about other portfolios, and we need to start with that portfolio.
I have often said that I believe that education is the solution to health and welfare issues—I strongly believe that. When we are looking at tackling our poor health record, we need to keep our focus on the education environment.
I will pose the same question as I posed to Murdo Fraser. Why has the IFS reported this morning that social mobility in the UK, in which education plays such an important role, is the worst that it has been for 50 years?
I noticed that the cabinet secretary went with the UK; he did not break things down and say how Scotland is doing. Our education has been on the slide since the SNP came into power. That has a huge implication and explains why our economy is sluggish. Perhaps I will get the chance later on in this term to expand on those themes.
While we are on education, if we are to fully realise the opportunities that are available in Scotland, it is about time that we started to do things such as weaving the green economy, the blue economy and the rural economy into our education system. We need to link them with our business needs. We need to ensure that pupils understand the opportunities that are being created as we shift our economy towards net zero. We need engineers, tradespeople, software developers and—I have found this out—environmental protection officers. Apparently, we are very short of them, too, and they are required to ensure that our food production is certified for use here and for export. We still have not tackled the problem of getting women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics. There is a huge need there, and the Scottish Government is, unfortunately, guilty of very lazy politics. It is very good at publishing very impressive targets without the route map to get there. It is content with deflecting responsibility.
I am glad to see Patrick Harvie in the chamber, because he has boldly declared that 1 million homes will be retrofitted with heat pumps between 2025 and 2030 without the slightest idea of what that means in respect of workforce and cost.
The construction industry highlighted in a round-table discussion that, to hit the Government’s 2030 targets, it needs in excess of 22,500 tradespeople and engineers by 2028. Where will it get them from? The Scottish Government has absolutely no idea. That is before we get into the supply chain network to service that expansion. I am all for ambitious stretch targets. We need to decide where we want to go and then map out how to get there. However, although those targets and responsibility are the Scottish Government’s, it reneges on that responsibility time and again as each target is missed.
What is essential in the business world is to create the need that gives business the confidence to invest and service that need. Those who work in our oil and gas sector will have confidence to retrain if they are safe in the knowledge that there is an industry that they can go to that is safe, secure and growing. That is how we develop a just transition. The Scottish Government way is to announce a just transition and to then attack the Scottish oil and gas sector—it is all stick and no carrot.
As the member mentions, Scotland’s climate targets are driving a lot of what we need to do in heat decarbonisation. If I remind him that his party enthusiastically backed those targets, do I have his support to work with me constructively on what we need to do to realise them?
It would be great to have that opportunity to work with the Scottish Government, because we do support those targets. That is my point: I support the ambitious targets, but there is no route map to get there.
We should be a world leader in green hydrogen, for example, but once again the Government goes about it back to front. How about incentivising the really big energy users, heavy industry, goods vehicles and public transport—end users that the green hydrogen industry can service—to commit to that shift? We have wind and solar to create the green hydrogen, so let us take it off the grid, which, in turn, will encourage the private sector, which, incidentally, is desperate to shift investment to the green economy. Once we have that established economy, it can grow into other sectors and there will be export opportunities. Instead, we have a Scottish Government that tinkers around the edges as it tries to create hydrogen generation without considering how to develop the market.
Will the member give way?
Sorry—I am running out of time.
The same applies to heat pumps. If we are serious about net zero, we should tackle the biggest polluters first—off-grid oil-fired heating systems, as well as under-floor heating systems. That will be expensive, because it requires significant insulation of the dwellings, but that will create the market place and the direction of travel, and it will deliver the net zero targets in a positive and progressive way.
I must ask you to conclude at this point, Mr Whittle.
Scotland has economic opportunities, but such opportunities are never grasped by the Scottish Government.16:52
I welcome the programme for government and the ambitious announcements that the First Minister made this week. A total of 14 bills are to be introduced, including, just to name four, those relating to education, land reform, housing and Scottish languages, which can all lead to important outcomes for the country. The programme for government is anti-poverty and pro-growth, which will certainly help to deliver for every community across the country, including my Greenock and Inverclyde constituency.
I particularly welcome the announcement that access to funded childcare will be expanded from nine months through to the end of primary school, with early adopter communities in six councils—Inverclyde, Fife, Shetland, Glasgow, Clackmannanshire and Dundee. That policy means that 13,000 additional children stand to benefit by the end of this parliamentary term, which means that another 13,000 children will have a greater opportunity to have the best start in their education journey. John Swinney spoke strongly about his commitment to the expansion of early years education and why it is so vital. The First Minister’s announcement on Tuesday built on that commitment.
The increase to a £12 per hour wage for social care and childcare staff is hugely important and will benefit my constituents, particularly as Inverclyde has a growing older population, who are more likely to require social care support. Across the country, up to 100,000 people—the vast majority of whom are women—will benefit from the policy, which might be seen as an opportunity for some people who never considered working in those sectors previously. The policy will result in some staff earning an additional £2,000 on top of their current wages.
Sadly, a growing number of my constituents are contacting my office because they are struggling with the cost of living crisis that the Tories’ obsession with Brexit and the disastrous Truss-Kwarteng budget last September—a budget that has wreaked havoc on a UK economy that was already struggling—have created. I wonder whether the Scottish Tories still stand by their calls for the Scottish Government to follow suit on last year’s absolute folly.
My constituents want assistance, and I know that the £405 million that is being invested in the Scottish child payment this year, which will help more than 300,000 children across the country, is welcome. In total, £5.3 billion will be invested in social security this year, which is an investment in people.
The Financial Times has called the UK
“a poor society, with some very rich people.”
Considering that the UK is regarded as the fifth richest country in the world, that is a pretty damning indictment. I am not going to launch into a debate on class politics, but I am sure that I can speak for the vast majority of my constituents when I say that at no time should the majority of the population be left to struggle as trickle-down economics continues to fail millions of people across Scotland and the rest of the UK.
My constituents will be shocked to learn that both London Labour and the branch office in Scotland have sold the jerseys when it comes to looking after people. Labour no longer wants to scrap the bedroom tax or the rape clause—it somehow wants to make it a bit fairer. Labour no longer wants to deliver a progressive taxation system so that those who can afford to may pay more, can. Labour no longer wants to abolish the House of Lords; instead, it wants to stuff it full of more of its cronies. The so-called party of the working class has turned into a Tory Party tribute act in order to try to win votes in England. However, the SNP has a record of delivery in our devolved Parliament and, with the full powers of independence, we as a nation could achieve so much more. We would not be under the threat of the Westminster Internal Market Act 2020, which any future UK Government could used to limit the actions of this Parliament and this Government.
I welcome the closer working relationships with the business community, including the £50 million package to support enterprise and entrepreneurship. That will create new opportunities to start, scale up and sustain businesses. Along with the Scottish Government’s green industrial and energy strategies, that will ensure that businesses maximise the opportunities of a just transition to net zero.
I also look forward to the publication of the addressing depopulation action plan. During the summer recess, a number of ministers visited my Greenock and Inverclyde constituency, for which I am grateful. I met Emma Roddick, the Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees, to discuss Inverclyde’s acute depopulation challenges. Losing more than 30,000 people since 1979 was always going to be a challenge, but with a growing older population placing more challenges on local public services, we have a need, but also an opportunity, to do something to turn that around.
However, once again, the dead hand of Westminster is not helping, with immigration powers reserved to Westminster. Once upon a time, even the Labour Party supported the Parliament’s acting to try to address population decline, with Lord Jack McConnell’s fresh talent initiative. Sadly, it was the UK Labour Party that scrapped that policy in 2008 when it introduced a points-based system and thus got rid of a limited approach that was helping Scotland. As Labour is now a pro-Brexit party, it sees no opportunity for Scotland to deliver policies to help our population challenge, which is even greater now than it was when Labour was last in power in the Parliament.
I welcome the announcement about the bill on Scottish languages. Languages are hugely important to our culture and communities, and working to preserve as well as grow them shows a respect for our past. There are opportunities for more people to engage with our culture and traditions, which, clearly, will have economic benefits across the country.
I am genuinely pleased that the programme for government has solid measures that will provide a wide range of opportunities for Scotland, as well as for my Greenock and Inverclyde constituency.16:58
I am in the Parliament because I believe that Scotland can be a land of opportunity for all, where everyone, no matter their background, can fulfil their potential. However, I am also here because I know that it can be that land of opportunity only if we make it so. That does not happen by accident. For too many, opportunities are few and inequality is the default. That will not just fix itself; we have to fix that by design.
It has long been my view that education is the key to delivering that fix, while it is the leveller for the inequality and lack of opportunity. When done well, it can break down inequalities, open opportunities and shatter the glass, class or stepped ceiling in its way. From the earliest years of a young person’s life, education begins to build the blocks of future opportunity. When it is valued and nourished, it can do this throughout life’s stages: in school, where we learn about the world around us; in college and university, where we learn to live and work in the world; and even in the workplace or in our community, when we learn to apply education. The opportunities that education brings are endless.
That is why I was so disappointed that, on education, the programme for government is full of reannounced pledges and vague intent. From the earliest years, children are shut out of opportunity and families are held back. I and my party welcomed the Government’s announcement on wraparound childcare when it was first made, and I welcome it again this week, but I recognise that it is not new and still falls short of addressing the barriers that many face. A recent Audit Scotland report found that poorer people are less likely to take up funded childcare, because it is inflexible for the types of jobs that they are in. Wraparound childcare has to wrap around hospitality and shift workers’ roles, too.
Recent reports have found a decline in the private and voluntary childcare sector, where flexibility is often found. We need clarity on how the Government will address that. A digital platform—or to call a spade a spade, a website—is like an offer from the 1990s and will not address the structural issues that underpin the sector’s position.
School is a place where opportunity is aplenty, but children and staff do not feel safe there just now. Most young people go to school to learn, see friends and socialise, but the rise in violent incidents is detracting from that. Those incidents are few, but they are the canary in the coal mine that indicates that the Government has lost control of education.
The increase in lower-level poor behaviour shows that anger and anxiety are bubbling under the surface. Classrooms are like pressure cookers, families are struggling to make ends meet and the promised free school meals roll-out has now been delayed by another two years under the programme for government. It is not too late to turn that around, but only if the Government acts fast, listens to parents, pupils and trade unions, and releases the pressures that they are all under. That has to start with the SNP-Green Government at least coming good on its promises on free school meals, smaller class sizes and increased non-contact time for teachers.
Pam Duncan-Glancy was right to mention the pressures that are bearing down on families. Does she support the two-child cap, the rape clause and the bedroom tax? If—as I suspect—she does not, will she call on Anas Sarwar and Keir Starmer to drop them? Their position appears to be that they support those measures.
I think that the cabinet secretary is aware that Anas Sarwar has already said that we will do all that we can to ensure that universal credit and all its failings—including the two-child limit—are improved and reformed so that the benefit delivers for people across the UK and not just here in Scotland.
I cannot express enough my disappointment that the programme for government does not mention a transition strategy for young disabled people. Such a strategy was first promised in the SNP’s 2016 manifesto; seven years later, we are still waiting. We cannot leave the futures of young disabled people to the whim of one Government or the next. I ask members across the chamber to support my bill to make sure that that does not happen and to give young disabled people the fighting chance that they deserve.
Speaking of a fighting chance, our colleges and unis need them, too, as Willie Rennie highlighted. The further and higher education sector is built for opportunity—that is what it is there to provide—but it is crying out for help and not getting it. The sector got a flat-cash settlement—a cut—and the first thing that the new minister did was whip away the £46 million that the Government had promised. The only thing that is worse than not having enough money in the first place is thinking that you have it, planning to use it and then having it snatched away.
Today, lecturers were outside the Parliament to tell us about the real impact of that. Their jobs are on the line. When asked to step into the fiasco—as in relation to City of Glasgow College—the minister has acted like a commentator and not the person where the buck stops.
Universities are burst, too—they are losing out on core research funding and desperately trying to plug the funding gaps that have been left by the Government underfunding places. We are still waiting for a replacement for Erasmus, three years after it was promised. In that time, the Welsh Labour Government has developed a scheme that has involved 6,000 exchanges and 95 countries, yet the Scottish Government cannot tell us what model it will use or at what cost, far less get any students going abroad.
This week’s programme for government provided a chance to fix all that. Scotland can be a land of opportunity, and an excellent education system has the potential to level the playing field, but we need a Government that is serious about that.
It really is time for change. I know that, we know that, people out there know that and I believe that the Government knows it, too. It is time to bring back hope and tear down the barriers that create inequality, and that starts by fixing our crumbling education system, by investing in education, by not just making big promises but delivering them, and by smashing the glass, class and staired ceilings to opportunity that too many people face. Scottish Labour can bring opportunity to Scotland for all, and I believe that we will.17:04
Ivan McKee gave us an excellent appraisal of some of the real positives in our economy as well as some of the challenges. Last week’s Fraser of Allander Institute poll on Scottish businesses’ attitudes to the Scottish Government’s relationship with business undoubtedly made for uncomfortable reading. I am pretty sure that the Government would also have been aware of the fact that, as a party and a Government, we needed to have a reset with the business community to regain the trust and belief that this party has enjoyed over many years.
From my experience of running my business, whether it was farming or the catering and food element, prior to coming to this place, I know that the SNP was there for those industries and that it did everything in its power to help us to be as successful as we possibly could be. I have said many times in this chamber that the national food and drink policy, which was introduced by Richard Lochhead in 2008, was a game changer in terms of the relationship with and the confidence that the industry took from Government. Its positivity meant that it was hugely instrumental in driving the big ambition and success of the industry.
Over the years, I have had many conversations with Richard Lochhead and John Swinney on many aspects of how business was faring at any particular time, and I was always confident that I was being heard and the issues that I raised were seen as legitimate and worthy of further consideration, even if not all my ideas were actually implemented. With all due respect, my experience of dealing with Ross Finnie in his role during the Liberal Democrat-Labour years was not nearly so constructive, despite the fact that he was a very nice person to talk to.
It is perhaps for that reason that I found last week’s poll so disturbing. I always regarded the SNP as being a party for all the people of Scotland, including the huge array of immensely talented and dynamic small and medium-sized enterprises that make up more than 80 per cent of Scotland’s business community. Having their trust is vital if we are to continue to be a party for all that is recognised as a force for good, for ambition, for aspiration and for entrepreneurial endeavour. That is the party that I vote for, that I campaigned for and for which I stood as a candidate to be elected to this place so that we can continue to represent and improve the lives of our people and businesses, and be the good international neighbours that we want to be.
One of the things that gives this party the respect and trust of the business community and all our citizens is the level of engagement that we have with the people whom we represent. Whether it be businesses, community groups, industry bodies or third-sector organisations, their voices are heard and understood and, what is more, they all know that they are being heard and understood. The rationale of those early years made sense then and it still makes sense now. I was therefore very heartened by the programme for government’s content and its focus on engagement.
We can read the responses that have emanated as a result of the First Minister’s statement on Tuesday, and it would be interesting to see how the Fraser of Allander Institute’s survey would read if it was being conducted today. The programme for government makes sense by tying the aim of tackling poverty to growing the economy while encouraging the entrepreneurship for which Scotland is famed, while looking at the regulatory burdens that businesses currently face. Business organisations are welcoming the approach.
The Food and Drink Federation Scotland’s chief executive officer, David Thomson, said:
“It is positive to see the First Minister’s commitment to work with Scottish businesses to remove regulations that are no longer required and to ensure that they are involved at the earliest stage of policy development.
The establishment of a Small Business Unit is welcome. It is vital that our food and drink manufacturers ... are represented in this work to ensure their views are heard.”
The Federation of Small Businesses Scotland policy chair, Andrew McRae, said:
“Any efforts to boost start-ups need to see some of the practical barriers to setting up in business removed. This includes childcare, so we welcome the announcement of much needed additional support here.”
He went on to say:
“we’re pleased to hear him recommit to ... a specific Small Business Unit and a commitment to tackling the cumulative impact of regulations, including removing those which are no longer required.”
Our critical friend Liz Cameron from Scottish Chambers of Commerce highlighted the point that I made at the start of my contribution, in saying:
“Is Government on the side of business? That’s the question at the forefront of the business community. There is much in today’s announcement that businesses will welcome, particularly the essential focus on inward investment and exporting”.
On the labour market, she said:
“Businesses will welcome the government prioritising childcare as a way of supporting households and enabling participation in the labour market.”
She went on:
“The development of a new funding model for post-school education provision is welcomed for improving lifelong learning, this must be balanced with widening access to training and skills across all pathways.”
The Scottish Council for Development and Industry said:
“We support the focus on creating a wellbeing economy, on economic growth and investment in childcare which is key to enabling more people to access meaningful work ... Implementation of the new deal for business recommendations will contribute to regaining the trust of Scottish businesses and strengthen the partnerships needed to unlock sustainable and inclusive growth.”
Those are the thoughts of just some businesses and organisations, but that positivity is replicated across all sectors, from developing the green economy to tackling poverty and beyond.
The motion is about opportunities, and I am excited and delighted to back the Government’s motion as we move ever more steadily towards being an independent country again.17:10
This summer, across Europe, we have seen some of the most extreme weather events in history. It is clear to us all that we need deeper, faster action to tackle both the climate and nature emergencies. That is starting to come through now, with the work of this Government, particularly the programme for government and the forthcoming climate change plan.
For example, today’s launch by my colleague Lorna Slater of the biodiversity strategy and delivery plan will unlock huge investment in our land and seas that has not been seen in generations, while the heat in buildings strategy, led by my other colleague Patrick Harvie, will address the vast scale of change needed to make homes warmer, cheaper and low carbon.
I listened to some of the criticisms earlier from Brian Whittle, but, effectively, he is describing an enormous economic opportunity as a problem. He fails to grasp that it is the role of Governments to create new markets and to send clear signals to industry that there are markets that are investable and that can drive progress. That is exactly what this Government is doing. To be honest, who would not want to invest in the heat-pump market across the UK at the moment, because it is clear that it is going to have an incredibly strong future?
There is a need for a wider political reset involving all parties, especially after the wobble on climate policies that we saw across the political spectrum this summer. Therefore, I am really pleased that the First Minister has shown leadership and answered my call for a climate summit to allow us all to address challenges and opportunities together. Climate leadership and the desire for change are also building in our own communities. I also welcome this programme for government’s commitment to roll out climate action hubs, to help communities to lead the change themselves and to build up action programmes in areas such as home energy advice.
We know that a just and fair energy transition is critical to Scotland’s economic future. Offshore and onshore wind energy and solar power will be needed to supercharge our transition, provide secure green jobs and make Scotland a powerhouse of Europe’s green revolution. I highlight the role of onshore wind, because what has been achieved so far in Scotland has been truly remarkable. We have seen a doubling of renewable capacity in the past decade, led by onshore wind, but that needs to double again to meet our growing need to electrify transport and heating and to urgently decarbonise industry.
Sadly, projects have been stifled by long waiting times for consents, while modern, more efficient turbines have faced unnecessary planning hurdles. Therefore, a new sector deal for onshore wind is very welcome. It will help to speed up the consent process and deliver more critical certainty for business. Of course, it is a two-way street—where industry delivers economic growth, it should have a responsibility to share the rewards with communities that host developments. The wind industry also has a responsibility to work with Government to deliver those supply chain opportunities, skills and new jobs. We need that critical partnership.
The onshore wind sector deal will match the ambition with action, working in partnership with business, to drive Scotland forward to net zero. I contrast that with the anti-science, anti-green business position of the Westminster Government, which has effectively banned onshore wind farms in England for a decade. Only two wind turbines were installed in England last year. That is an absolute disgrace, and it is wildly out of step with public opinion. There are young people in England who should have been leaving college and university to start jobs in the wind industry over the past decade, but they have had their career dreams destroyed by the actions of the Westminster Government. The decisions that are made today affect not only current jobs but future ones.
Going forward this year, we will not be taking lectures from the Tories about oil and gas. While they scaremonger about turning off the taps and mass jobs losses, the reality is that the SNP-Green Government values every dedicated worker in the oil and gas industry. We will not leave any oil and gas worker behind in this just transition.
However, given that nearly a quarter of our climate emissions now come from industry, that rapid and just transition needs to happen now, across all industrial sectors. Sites such as Mossmorran in my region in Fife offer exciting opportunities for workers and local communities. We need to get everybody around the table to achieve the just transition and to do it fast.
I welcome the progress that the Government has made around Grangemouth, working with industry on a just transition plan there. However, Mossmorran represents 10 per cent of Scotland’s climate emissions. There are also cement works at Dunbar and other sites of point-source industrial emissions that, with the right partnership approach, could be delivering change and decarbonisation.
The United Nations secretary general has said that, with respect to climate, we need to be doing
“everything, everywhere, all at once”.
We cannot afford to hold back on progress. I will be looking critically at the green industrial strategy and the work that the Government is doing in the run-up to next summer. We need to move quickly on all these opportunities.
This is a programme for government that doubles down on the urgent action that is needed to tackle the climate and nature crises, while at the same time delivering the fair and prosperous economy that everybody deserves. I urge all members, if they can, to unite behind it.17:16
I am pleased to support the amendment in the name of my colleague Murdo Fraser. I also welcome the language in the programme for government around economic growth, and I welcome that, on Tuesday, the First Minister emphasised the need to work closely with local government partners to develop the local infrastructure and services that are required to deliver his pledges.
However, I am disappointed to see no mention of the importance of local government in the Government’s motion. Perhaps that is not surprising considering the poor relationship that the Scottish Government has maintained with councils over the past 16 years.
Local government in Scotland is all about making a difference right here in our own backyard. It is about ensuring that our voices are heard, our needs are met and our communities thrive. It has been difficult for local government to deliver on those roles when it has been placed under such intense financial pressure over the past decade.
Will Pam Gosal give way?
I have decided not to take an intervention. Why? Because for the past three days, we have been hearing from the Government benches, and it is about time that the SNP-Green Government listened. That is not its strong point. We know from the short-term lets group and the individuals who have gathered outside the Parliament that the Scottish Government refuses to listen, so I will carry on.
Councils find that they are constantly being asked to do more with less. The fact that the Scottish Government’s budget has gone up by 8.3 per cent since 2014, but the local government budget has not seen a remotely similar uplift, serves to highlight that. The SNP often passes the buck to councils by forcing them to make difficult decisions about which services to cut or which taxes to raise. Recent warnings that some local authorities might not even have the funds to provide statutory services will come as no surprise to many, given that councils are set to make £300 million in cuts this year. That needs to change if local government is expected to help develop infrastructure, provide more services and help drive growth across the country.
The Scottish Conservatives have long been calling for councils to have more financial flexibility, so we welcome the intention of the new deal to do just that. However, without addressing the chronic underfunding of councils, this new deal is merely a reshuffling of the deckchairs. In an attempt to improve public finances, the SNP is now floating options that would make households poorer by increasing council tax by up to 22.5 per cent for around 750,000 households.
Instead, the Scottish Government should be encouraging local authorities to create growth and encourage productivity in their locality. As my colleague Liz Smith set out earlier this week, we desperately need a tax structure that encourages productivity and boosts revenue, thus creating better public services; we do not want one that punishes ambition and enterprise. Scotland under the SNP is already the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom, which shows that tax increases do not deliver better public services.
Instead, we need local government to be handed the power to drive growth. Let us give councils more control over the levers that drive growth, as Douglas Ross called for in our recent paper, “Grasping the thistle”. Measures such as that are a sure-fire way to create more thriving communities.
So much potential growth can come from a reset in relations between local and national government. To deliver on that potential, we need a restructuring of our tax system and a focus on growing the economy and the tax base, and we need to give local government the opportunity to create growth and productivity.17:21
I, too, welcome the opportunity to speak in the final debate on the new programme for government.
The wide-ranging measures that are outlined in the programme will reach our children through policies such as the Scottish child payment and the expansion of childcare provision, and they will reach our young people by taking action on the serious harm that is caused by single-use vapes and through supporting our renewables sector. While the UK Government continues to squeeze the life out of human rights protections, the Scottish Government works towards the introduction of a human rights bill. The measures are all timeous and much needed to mitigate the impact of the agent of chaos known as the UK Government, which is enabled by a sleepwalking Labour Party.
Today’s motion focuses on the opportunities that the programme for government provides to grow an economy that has wellbeing at its heart. Although the notion of a wellbeing economy is a bit of a stretch for some people, I am particularly drawn to the principle of building an economic system that operates within safe environmental limits and in which success shifts beyond GDP growth alone to deliver shared wellbeing for generations to come.
Central to our transition to a wellbeing economy is business—a vehicle for innovation, with the potential to accelerate positive impact with partners, communities and Governments. For me, that was brought to life earlier this year at an event in the Scottish Parliament, when I listened to a young entrepreneur describe the opportunity that Covid had presented to him to shift his business practice to one that was underpinned by wellbeing principles. He was happier, more fulfilled and more successful.
I spent much of the summer recess visiting many businesses in my constituency. For some, business is buoyant, thankfully, but others are struggling to cover their costs. Fabulous small businesses are losing heart. Therefore, I very much welcome the First Minister’s commitment to develop a new and stronger relationship with business and to implement the recommendations that were made by the new deal for business group. In that regard, I ask the Scottish Government to ensure that there is a genuine commitment to the recommendation concerning the review of non-domestic rates policy reforms. I welcome the cabinet secretary’s update on non-domestic rates in his speech, because it was a common theme of the issues that were raised with me.
I turn to the First Minister’s announcement regarding a green industrial strategy. From my conversations with industry representatives over the past couple of days, I know that they recognise the limited powers that the Scottish Government has at its disposal, but they express considerable optimism regarding the strategy. They are particularly welcoming of the changes that have been announced to the consenting process for renewables technologies. Having raised in the chamber many times the issue of consenting timescales for offshore wind projects, I know that that will be very welcome across the sector.
I note that Scottish Renewables has also welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to its energy strategy and just transition plan so that Scotland reaps the maximum possible benefit from the move to a clean energy system. I, too, welcome that commitment. As a north-east constituency MSP, I have regular conversations with renewables businesses that are keen to advance their investment and development opportunities in a space where nothing happens in isolation and many moving parts must align in order to support meaningful progress.
One of those moving parts is skills, the importance of which has been highlighted extensively in this afternoon’s debate. I know from my conversations with industry representatives that there are challenges across the renewables sector that we are all grappling with when it comes to the development of our workforce of tomorrow. I welcome the update that the cabinet secretary gave on the talent attraction and migration plan and the investment unit, and I am keen to hear more about that.
The north-east hosts a huge breadth of creative work to develop our workforce, whether within our fantastic further and higher education institutions, centres such as the Net Zero Technology Centre or the industry itself. I recently visited the new Hydrasun skills academy in my constituency and heard about its plans to offer courses to support people in making a skills transition.
However, only this morning, I spoke to a renewables company in the north-east that is struggling to recruit a project manager, so I am keen for the Scottish Government to ensure that skills development and workforce planning are front and centre of our energy strategy and just transition plan as we move forward.
I will conclude my contribution by welcoming the commitment to the £15 million plan to support the implementation of Mark Logan’s review of our technology ecosystem and the development of a blueprint to make our colleges and universities stronger bases for entrepreneurs. I recently engaged with the Net Zero Technology Centre in Aberdeen regarding its ambition to develop an enhanced clean energy TechX acceleration programme as part of an energy transition cluster, and I welcome the cabinet secretary’s recent positive response to my invitation to consider the opportunities that that offers.
I welcome the programme for government, and I urge all members to support the Government’s motion.
We move to the winding-up speeches.17:27
Before I turn to the content of the debate, I want to raise an issue that I had hoped would be raised—land reform. Land reform offers very clear opportunities to Scotland.
In his programme for government statement, the First Minister talked about “bold and radical” land reform, but he lacks a vision for that. Just 0.027 per cent of Scotland’s population own 67 per cent of Scotland’s land. That shows how much power and wealth are held in so few hands.
In his 1998 McEwen lecture, Donald Dewar said that land reform was not a one-off event, and the Jimmy Reid Foundation’s paper on land reform by Calum MacLeod illustrated that. As well as looking at the history, it pushed for a radical approach to land reform.
The Scottish Government has said that it will introduce a public interest test for when land changes hands, but the 3,000 hectare trigger is timid and it means that virtually no land holdings in Scotland will ever face a public interest test.
The community right to buy is unworkable—there are far too many hurdles—and it needs to be updated. That could create huge opportunities for our communities. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 sought to put urban communities on the same footing as rural communities, but there will not be a public interest test in that context. It is really important that that happens, because our towns and city centres are absolutely blighted and they need to have the same powers in their communities.
Peter Peacock and Mike Russell, both previous cabinet secretaries, joined forces this summer in calling for a radical approach and backing Mercedes Villalba’s plan to implement a public interest test on the sale of land over 500 hectares. That has been backed by other organisations such as Community Land Scotland and the Jimmy Reid Foundation, both of which are offering support for such policies and solutions to our land ownership issues.
Will Rhoda Grant give way?
Will Rhoda Grant confirm whether it is now Scottish Labour policy not to allow any landholding of more than 500 hectares?
We are consulting on that. It must be very clear that there will be a public interest test. If it was in the public interest for larger parcels of land to change hands, of course that would take place, but if it was not in the public interest, as is very often the case, we would look to ensure that that did not happen, because it can be a dead hand on both rural and urban communities.
I turn to the wider debate and echo the points made by my colleague Daniel Johnson. He welcomed the pay rise for care workers but was very clear that this has come three years too late. Had workers received that pay rise three years ago, they would be far better paid now. Another part of the First Minister’s statement that slightly confused me was that he spoke about that pay rise being for directly paid care workers. We want to see all care workers receiving £12 an hour and to see that being increased to £15 an hour. That is absolutely affordable. We are wasting huge amounts of money on agency workers and lining the pockets of agencies that charge twice as much as care workers would receive anywhere else.
Jim Fairlie talked about the importance of childcare, a point that has been echoed by the Scottish Chambers of Commerce. We agree that that is hugely important, but how is it going to be delivered? People in rural areas already have the right to childcare but cannot access any childcare, which means that rural areas lose out on childcare, on homes and on jobs.
I turn to the issue of jobs and skills, as raised by Daniel Johnson, and to the importance of skilling young people to be able to take up the jobs that are available. That applies not only to young people: we need to upskill older people as well. If we are to have a just transition, we must ensure that everyone is skilled to take up the jobs at hand. Pam Duncan-Glancy spoke about the importance of education in raising people out of poverty and about the opportunities that we are missing. There have been promises about free school meals, class sizes and the Erasmus programme, all of which our people are missing out on.
Scottish Labour is committed to the creation of GB Energy, which will deal with our energy supply and issues such as those in the supply chain that Willie Rennie talked about. We are missing out on ScotWind and the development of green hydrogen, as Brian Whittle said.
The SNP’s programme for government is one of contracting, not expanding, ambition, as we can see when we look at plans for the A9 and A96. Even Ivan McKee highlighted that lack of delivery. Scottish Labour has a vision to transform Scotland and will grasp every opportunity to do so. We will pay care workers the fair rate for the job, tackle climate change and create a public energy company—
Please conclude, Ms Grant.
—to be headquartered in Scotland, and we will stay true to Donald Dewar’s vision of bringing greater diversity to land ownership.17:33
I welcome this debate on the programme for government and on the opportunities before us in Scotland. We have heard many good contributions. I hope that the cabinet secretary has listened to some of the concerns that have been shared here today, and by stakeholders, many of whom I have met in the past couple of months.
Yesterday, I attended the Offshore Europe conference in Aberdeen and met oil and gas workers and leaders who are increasingly concerned by this SNP-Green devolved Government’s lack of interest in the sector. There was not one mention of oil and gas in the programme for government and only a passing reference in the First Minister’s speech. The main message that I took away from the conference and want to convey to the Government is that hostility to the oil and gas sector is harming the supply chain.
Larger energy companies are choosing to invest in other areas around the world. That is having a knock-on effect on the supply chain, which is vital for our transition. We cannot have a just transition from oil and gas to renewables if we kill off the supply chain. Only the Scottish Conservatives are standing up for the oil and gas sector in the north-east of Scotland—and the oil and gas sector knows that.
Mr Lumsden paints a picture that is entirely wrong. We recognise that the current Conservative mantra is “Drill, baby, drill.” However, we want to ensure that we have a just transition and create green jobs, while recognising that we will still need oil and gas in the future. I share the First Minister’s ambition of making Aberdeen the world’s global renewal energy capital. I wish Douglas Lumsden had such positivity.
I do not know whether Kevin Stewart has gone offshore. If he had, he would have learned that the Government’s actions are killing off the energy industry in Aberdeen. Without a supply chain, there will be no transition, and that is the path that we are going down.
The programme for government could have been titled “A failure of Government”, given the number of broken promises that it represents. There is failure to dual the A9 or to set a timetable for the work to be completed. There is failure to dual the A96, to eliminate the attainment gap, to build ferries, to protect our rural communities, and failure to grow our economy in line with the rest of the UK. I could go on, but time is limited.
My colleagues have highlighted only some of the impacts that those failures have meant for our communities—
Mr Lumsden, please give me a moment. I am hearing comments—some of which are certainly discourteous—being shouted across the chamber. I ask members to cease.
Thank you, Presiding Officer; maybe they do not like what they are hearing.
I will turn to some of the comments that have been made in today’s debate. Pam Gosal was right to highlight that local government is not mentioned in the Government motion today. Local government is at the heart of our communities, but the Government often treats it badly. Stop the cuts should be the slogan for the programme for government.
Will the member take an intervention?
No, I will not.
The Government should stop cutting libraries, stop cutting sport facilities and stop cutting vital services.
The Government talks about early intervention and prevention, but the savage cuts to local government are making things worse; Brian Whittle also made that point. Fewer public sporting facilities will mean higher levels of obesity and more cost to our NHS. Daniel Johnson was right to say that the economic data is stark. We are lagging behind. Value added tax registered businesses are down and job creation is down.
Willie Rennie described the programme as “uninspiring”, and I completely agree, but his most important point is that there is no clarity for farmers on climate targets. That must come urgently.
As Murdo Fraser highlighted, the Scottish Conservative Party is the only party that is offering a clear vision for the economic future of Scotland within a strong United Kingdom; a United Kingdom that has recovered faster than any other European nation following Covid, and with strong growth. This week, the First Minister said that the SNP is pro-growth, yet we know that its tail-wagging coalition partner is anti-growth. The Scottish public is under no illusion about who is pulling the strings, and it knows that independence is top of the SNP’s agenda, not the wellbeing and livelihoods of hard-working Scots.
The programme for government is not ambitious, it is not forward thinking, it does not offer solutions and it does not even offer a vision for Scotland. It only offers some mitigation for 16 years of an SNP Government.
Last week, the Scottish Conservative Party set out its vision for the future of Scotland. It is a vision where we work hand in hand with the UK Government to deliver economic growth for our country and a national workforce plan to align skills to our education opportunities.
We will put emphasis on lifelong learning and work with partners to provide more rural housing in areas that face depopulation. We will tackle long-term health issues, including by setting up a network of long-Covid clinics—an issue that the Government has failed to address. We will review business taxation to ensure that it is fair and flexible, and we will build a network of regional clusters of excellence to build international excellence in goods and services. That is how we will lift people out of the poverty caused by the failures of the SNP Government.
That is a vision for Scotland. However, instead of getting that, we have the same old tired and worn-out rhetoric of a First Minister who has no ideas and no vision and who is just a poor imitation of what went before. He is the continuity candidate who offers a Government that continuously fails to address the needs of Scottish business, Scottish schools and our health service; that fails to listen to the concerns that are expressed by businesses up and down Scotland, whether in our drinks industry or our short-term lets industry; that lacks ideas and vision; and that can only ever prioritise independence, to the detriment of everything else.
What we have seen over the past few days has shown the SNP-Green Government to be failing in its duty to serve the people of Scotland through working with the UK Government to bring investment and support to our business sector. It has failed in its duty to deliver for our children and young people through better education and closing the attainment gap. It has failed in its duty to deliver world-class healthcare—given that one in seven Scots is on a NHS waiting list. This programme for government does nothing to address those failures, and the people of Scotland deserve better.
I call Màiri McAllan to wind up the debate, for up to nine minutes.17:41
I am left wondering where on earth Douglas Lumsden summons the negativity from to deliver such a closing speech.
We have had a wide-ranging debate, and I absolutely welcome the breadth of topics that have been covered. However, as net zero secretary, I make no apology for opening my remarks by covering the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, which are global challenges of existential proportions. I believe that tackling them is the fight of our generation and of generations to come.
Of course, as Mark Ruskell reflected on, the challenge is not remote or far off. July this year has been confirmed as the hottest month in global records, and it is likely that 2023 will be confirmed as the hottest year ever recorded, while scientists label as “extreme” the marine heatwave that is currently encircling the UK and Ireland.
We see the devastating impacts of those matters. In recent times alone, a third of Pakistan has been submerged in floodwater, with all the associated loss and damage; drought has ripped across the Horn of Africa, spreading acute hunger; cyclones are devastating Malawi; and fires are ripping through Hawaii. Last year, in a discussion with international colleagues, I heard about how low-lying nations are creating digital back-ups of their entire existence and culture, for fear that, one day, they will not exist.
The injustice at the heart of climate change is that those communities that have done so little to contribute to the industrial processes that have caused climatic breakdown are suffering from it first and worst.
That is why I am proud of the programme for government’s commitment on the delivery of our climate just communities programme, which will support resilience at a community level in our partner countries, and it is why the Government will advocate at the 28th UN climate change conference of the parties—COP28—for concrete progress on loss and damage. I look forward to discussing those matters at the summit that the First Minister and I will host with key stakeholders in advance of COP28.
Forgive me for making a somewhat esoteric point, but we need to reflect on our privilege and advantage in living at our degree of latitude and in a maritime climate. In the future, we will have to think about that inequality and how we honour that as we think about the challenges that people face in the countries that the cabinet secretary has mentioned. Does she think that we all should reflect on that?
Absolutely. Please forgive me if I am wrong, but I hope that Daniel Johnson was not suggesting that we ought to focus more on issues at home.
No, it was a broader point.
Absolutely. It is a broader point.
As Scotland positions itself as a leader in international climate justice, we are also determinedly leading action at home to tackle climate change and restore nature here, not least through our cornerstone programme for government commitment to a climate change plan that will look right across our economy and society, with bold action in transport, heat, industry, our natural environment and more and set a pathway to take Scotland through its climate targets, which, I remind members, are still world leading and which every party in the Parliament voted for. I look forward to their co-operation in the actions that we have to take to meet them.
We accept that you have world-leading targets—the problem is that you keep missing them. And every time that you miss them, it means that our contribution to keeping global temperature below 1.5°C is missing. You cannot have a target if you do not have a route map to get there.
Always through the chair, Mr Whittle.
In that regard, I look forward to Brian Whittle’s enthusiastic support of the Government’s heat decarbonisation programme when we bring it forward.
That is challenge covered, but where there is challenge, there is opportunity. Tackling the climate and nature emergencies is a moral and environmental imperative, but it also one of the most significant economic opportunities that Scotland has in front of it. We have opportunities that, frankly, other countries would dearly love and which this Government is determined to seize. I want to come back to those if I can, although I am conscious of time. Before I do, though, I want to focus a little bit on the interconnectedness of climate change and economic prosperity.
The summer was punctuated with horrific scenes of fires, floods and droughts across the world. Almost side by side with that on the front pages of some papers, we saw the unedifying spectacle of the Tories and Labour almost competing to ditch their climate commitments. Admittedly, the UK Government is starting from a low base. That is perfectly summed up by its perverse opposition—[Interruption.]
Let us hear the cabinet secretary.
—to onshore wind on the one hand while it fights to open coal mines on the other. There is also of course its complete failure to compete with the US on the Inflation Reduction Act. It is also why, I think, the Scottish Tories have stood in the way of so many of the projects that we have tried to bring forward in this Parliament, from recycling schemes to low-emission zones and new heating standards. We might expect that from the Tories, but Labour has also been shape-shifting and flip-flopping, and I take no pleasure in watching that happen.
This summer, pictures of climactic breakdown all around the world filled our screens—of people losing everything, up to and including their lives. Almost side by side with that, we saw Keir Starmer and his branch office colleagues in Scotland lining up to systematically abandon what were once their climate commitments. [Interruption.]
If you could give me a moment, cabinet secretary.
I am aware of conversations going on across the chamber. I would be grateful if members could treat one another with courtesy and respect.
I am happy to take interventions if they want to debate.
This is the same Labour Party that has recently confirmed that it now supports the bedroom tax, that it will not scrap the rape clause and that it wishes to emulate Tory fiscal regimes.
The cabinet secretary is criticising us, yet in our speeches we called on the Government to actually implement its climate policies. We are not rolling back from them, whether in relation to heating our homes, our transport, our buildings or how we use our energy. This is just criticism—and it is not good enough.
I point Sarah Boyack to the £28 billion hole in her shadow chancellor’s plans. [Interruption.] Your green investment policy has been dropped.
Through the chair, please.
You no longer support ultra-low-emission zones, while the Scottish Government is bringing them in in Scotland.
Of course, this is the same Labour Party that has accused this Government of focusing too much on social policy, which was absurdly repeated by Daniel Johnson today. That is social policy that is lifting 90,000 children in Scotland out of poverty.
Will the cabinet secretary give way?
I will give way one last time, but I am very conscious of time.
Does the cabinet secretary not recognise the fundamental point that we can deliver that social policy only if we have credible and robust economic policy? And does it not say everything that we need to know about her and her Government that she prefers to attack the Labour Party rather than the Tory party? [Interruption.] We need to get rid of the Tories in London and replace them, but you prefer to have them exactly where they are, don’t you? [Interruption.]
Members! [Interruption.] Members! Let us hear one another.
I think that the 90,000 children who are no longer living in poverty because of this Government recognise that we can do both. [Interruption.] How long do I have, Presiding Officer?
Up to nine minutes.
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I will conclude shortly.
I will finish with a point on opportunity. Perhaps one of the greatest opportunities that Scotland has is our energy transition. Oil and gas has been, and continues to be, a very important part of our economy and our society, but, equally, as we stand on the precipice of a renewables revolution in Scotland, the question for the people of Scotland is who they want to oversee that transition and the eventual benefits of it. Is it, as it has been for decades since we discovered oil, the UK Government? Do we want to continue to send our energy wealth down through the UK Treasury and see a pittance come back or—if Labour has its way—a brass plaque on an office somewhere in Scotland, or do we want to take those powers into our own hands and ensure that the benefits are reaped in communities throughout Scotland? I know which I would prefer.