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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 07 September 2016

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Scotland’s Place in Europe, Programme for Government 2016-17, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Motion, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Cleft Lip and Palate Surgery (Centralisation)


Contents


Programme for Government 2016-17

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

 

Resumed debate.

Good afternoon. The next item of business is continuation of the debate on the Scottish Government’s programme for government 2016-17.

Before I call the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution, I want to say something very briefly as I do not want to eat into everybody’s time. I was disappointed yesterday that, despite my polite reminders to members to speak for up to six minutes, several chose to ignore the request. My duty is to protect the speaking time of all back benchers, and those stolen seconds mean that late speakers nearly always have their time cut. I have discovered that I have a nuclear option: the override button, which shuts off the speaker’s microphone. When you see my pen in the air, it means one minute to go. There is also a clock. Let us hope that the pen or the clock—could we please have it reset properly?—will do the trick. I will, however, be flexible if there are interventions, but that is the only caveat.

Cabinet secretary, you have up to six minutes.

15:12  

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution (Derek Mackay)

Duly noted, Presiding Officer, but I have to say, from memory, that when I was chairing party conferences I had to use the button on you for overrunning your time. [Laughter.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Indeed, and I am big enough to take that on the chin.

Derek Mackay

It is a great privilege to open the second day of debate on the programme for government, a bold plan based on the mandate secured by the First Minister in the Scottish parliamentary elections. We will continue to build a more prosperous nation that ensures opportunity for everyone. We have a clear objective of improving the life chances of young people by closing the gap in educational attainment and giving children the best start in life.

The First Minister has updated Parliament on how we are responding to the uncertainty born out of the European Union referendum result. More than 10 weeks on from that result, the UK Government has offered little more than soundbites to Scotland’s businesses but the Scottish Government takes seriously its responsibility in guiding Scotland through this uncertainty. We have therefore announced the details of the £100 million capital investment boost, investing in a range of sectors to protect jobs and promote economic growth, and putting in place measures to support business.

The UK Government has provided partial guarantees for some European funding schemes. However, that leaves Scotland around £750 million short of what we expect to receive as part of membership of the EU up to 2020, putting at risk significant investment and employment. Last month, I wrote to the UK Government urging it to provide the necessary clarity and certainty on these vital European funds. Again, I call upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer to address this as a matter of urgency.

Furthermore, we have announced a new Scottish growth scheme that will be worth up to £500 million over three years. We will work with business to target the scheme at small and medium-sized enterprises with the greatest potential for growth and export and enable them to access finance—in the form of guarantees and loans, depending on company need—that would otherwise be unavailable. This bold and innovative approach to supporting SMEs builds on our reputation for financial competence and uses the strength of our balance sheet. However, as the First Minister said, it needs the support of others in order to deliver success, and I inform the Parliament that I have already written to the convener of the Finance Committee and the chief secretary to the Treasury to seek that support.

Those two measures only reinforce the Scottish Government’s long-standing support for Scottish business and the economy. Our small business bonus scheme has already delivered more than £1 billion in cumulative savings for smaller firms, and we have now promised to expand the scheme from next year so that it lifts 100,000 properties out of business rates altogether.

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

On Monday, 13 business organisations wrote to the finance secretary asking that he reconsiders the large business supplement, which has taken £62 million out of Scottish businesses into the coffers of the Scottish Government and which puts Scottish business at a competitive disadvantage. What is his response?

Derek Mackay

My response is to meet those businesses—tomorrow, I understand—to discuss business rates and any other matter that they may be interested in, having already welcomed a number of the interventions since this Government took office. I am more than happy to report back to the Parliament on the outcome of those discussions, which will feed into the budget.

I look forward to a number of pieces of legislation in which I have had some involvement in previous ministerial portfolios.

However, as a consequence of continuing UK Government austerity, the Scottish budget will continue to fall in real terms until the end of this decade, as it has done since 2010. With our existing powers, we have already proved that we can work collaboratively to design devolved taxes that better reflect our policy ambitions. In 2017-18, we will also use—for the first time—additional income tax rate setting powers, and we will do so in a manner that is consistent with our objectives of growing Scotland’s economy, promoting fairness and providing additional investment in high-quality public services.

With the new powers over air passenger duty, we are committed to a 50 per cent reduction in APD by the end of the current session of Parliament, which will better support our objective to boost international connectivity and help to generate sustainable growth. I will take a bill through Parliament to establish a framework for that tax.

In addition, I have laid legislation today to reform council tax and the council tax reduction scheme.

Alex Rowley (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

Derek Mackay

That legislation will make council tax more progressive, provide additional investment in our schools and enable more support for those on low incomes. I stress, however, that there will be no change for three out of four households. Those in bands A to D will pay no more than they pay now as a result of the changes.

Alex Rowley

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

If you want to take the intervention, cabinet secretary, that is all right. I said that I would give time for interventions. I do not want to kill debate.

Derek Mackay

If you will give me the time, Presiding Officer, I am happy to oblige.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I definitely will. That was my caveat.

Alex Rowley

I thank the cabinet secretary for giving way. Does he accept that council tax is local taxation? If so, does he accept that it should be for councils to determine how they spend the council tax that they raise?

Derek Mackay

Yes, I do, and local authorities will keep every penny of council tax even after the regulations that I have laid in Parliament this week.

The First Minister has repeatedly made it clear that education is this Government’s driving mission, and over the current session of Parliament the council tax changes will raise an additional £500 million to be provided to headteachers to invest directly in schools. The regulations that I have laid for the council tax reduction scheme will provide relief from the changes for up to 54,000 low-income households in band E to H properties and, separately, increase the child allowance within the council tax reduction scheme by 25 per cent.

All those measures demonstrate our commitment to a fairer Scotland, strong public services and an education system that delivers for all of Scotland and, finally, our commitment to growing the economy.

15:19  

Douglas Ross (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I will concentrate on the justice elements announced yesterday by the First Minister in her programme for government.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to build on the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 to ensure that the Crown Office has enough tools in the box to prosecute domestic abuse cases, which are, by their nature, incredibly complex, often involving psychological and physical abuse. The Scottish Conservatives recognise the importance of ensuring that the law reflects the experiences of domestic abuse victims and will work across the parliamentary floor with colleagues across the political spectrum to achieve that end.

In so doing, it is important that the views of stakeholders are given due consideration and, where necessary, acted upon. I know that the Law Society of Scotland has called for clarity on the Scottish Government’s proposals to introduce a new law of domestic abuse, highlighting in particular the “practical issues” in relation to partners and ex-partners that require “further consideration”. The Law Society has also raised concerns about difficulties for the Crown in acquiring sufficient evidence to justify a prosecution.

We owe it to victims of domestic abuse to get our approach to tackling this monstrous and nefarious behaviour absolutely right. I sincerely hope that the SNP Government will adopt a consensual approach as it begins this important undertaking. Conservative members will support the Scottish Government when we can, but we will not simply sit on our hands and accept SNP policies that will be to the detriment of the people of Scotland.

That takes me nicely on to my next topic, which is the Scottish Government’s plan to integrate the British Transport Police into Police Scotland. The creation of the single police force for Scotland was beset with problems from the very beginning and those issues continue to plague the national force. While our police men and women and support staff do their level best, every day there is another story in the press about the single police force that reinforces the genuine concerns many people had, and continue to have, about the formation of a single police force.

How does the SNP plan to address the worries about the strain that the single force is under? It wants to add further responsibilities and ignore the comments of the BTP, which clearly does not want the forces to be merged. The Government will say that there has been a consultation—this is a Government that, we understand, has a real zest for listening at the moment—but it was very particular.

The Scottish Government is happy to consult on a whole host of things but it did not consult on whether the functions of the BTP should be assumed by Police Scotland, only on how they should be integrated. I do not think that that is correct. Surely in making a decision of such magnitude, with the implications that it could have for both forces, the Government would want to look at all the options for devolving the BTP, which could have ranged from administrative changes to the full-blown legislative option that is being foisted upon us by the SNP.

The Smith commission certainly stated that the responsibility could be devolved but, as with every issue in the agreement, it said that the changes

“should not cause detriment to the UK as a whole nor any of its constituent parts”.

I seriously believe that, on that simple test alone, the SNP plans fail.

Nigel Goodbrand, the chair of the British Transport Police Federation, is quoted today as saying that the plans could at times “leave the network unguarded”. Clearly the changes will have a significant impact on various aspects of both forces. For example, police call centres are already under strain across the country and proposals have been made that will see more of them closed. However, in a written answer to my colleague Liz Smith last August, the cabinet secretary accepted that an increase of more than 2,000 a year in emergency calls going into call centres that are already under pressure will happen if the functions of the BTP are assumed by Police Scotland.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

Does the member agree with a lot of my constituents who do not understand why there is one set of police on the railways, while 20m away, there is a completely different set of police running things?

Douglas Ross

I will answer that point in a moment when I quote from the British Transport Police and the British Transport Police Authority’s response to the plans that the SNP is trying to forge ahead with. When they looked at all the available options, they said that absorbing the BTP Scottish operations into Police Scotland was

“the most complex route to devolution”.

They continued:

“If the policing of the railway network were to be carried out by two bodies, there is a risk for confusion to arise over who would record and investigate crimes, which would be highly distressing for victims and cause unnecessary delay.”

We have a procedure in place to avoid those problems but Mr Mason seems to think that his constituents want unnecessary delay and confusion. I do not want that for my constituents even if Mr Mason wants it for his.

Many questions remain about the proposals, including questions about accountability, costs, capacity and negotiations with current staff to name just a few. The Cabinet Secretary for Justice has made the case for the merger by highlighting Scotland’s “distinctive approach” to policing but, where his Government’s record is concerned, it is distinctive more for its mismanagement of the merger of Police Scotland and the eight legacy forces than anything else. With that track record, given that the SNP has yet to get policing in order, the public will be forgiven for wondering how they can reasonably entrust policies for the British Transport Police in Scotland to the SNP’s care.

I see your pen waving, Presiding Officer.

I sincerely hope that the Scottish Government will listen to the concerns that are being raised about its plans. Rather than saying simply that it and only it knows what is best, the Scottish Government should take heed of the fact that everyone is telling it that it is wrong to forge ahead with the proposal.

We have a busy period ahead. Justice is a portfolio that forms the central and stabilising pillar of our democracy, but under successive SNP Governments it has not had its problems to seek in recent years. Scottish Conservatives will provide opposition to the Government’s ill-thought-through proposals and offer alternatives to ensure that trust and faith can be restored in a Scottish justice system that has sadly been let down by the SNP Government.

15:25  

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

At the beginning of a new parliamentary session, it is worth remembering why the SNP remains in power. Over the past nine years, people have seen very competent government, able management of Scotland’s finances, protection of the national health service and investment in housing, transport and other infrastructure. That is why—once again—the people of Scotland chose an SNP Government.

Clearly, the economy will be one of the key themes for Parliament and, I am sure, the Government in the coming years. As a member of the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, I look forward to scrutinising what the Government is doing and to encouraging or challenging it, as appropriate. On Monday, the committee had an away day in the Grassmarket and considered some of the many issues that could be on our agenda. Investment, internationalisation, innovation and inclusive growth are priorities to which, I think, most of us are happy to sign up.

Energy is a sector of the economy that continues to be crucial—in fact, some people thought that “energy” should be in the name of committee. The oil and gas industry faces challenges and is still hugely important in terms of production and decommissioning. However, we need to continue our focus on renewables. Solar power seems to be doing surprisingly well for Scotland, while tidal power is still in its infancy and offshore wind is costing a fair bit more than onshore wind.

Yesterday, a number of members spoke about the economy. They included Alex Neil, who addressed Brexit, devaluation and skills shortages; Stuart McMillan, who addressed housing; Clare Adamson, who addressed the Ravenscraig closure and the resulting poverty; and Alex Rowley, who addressed housing and apprentices.

Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab)

I have a question for John Mason before he moves off the subject of energy. If proposals to proceed with fracking in Scotland come before Parliament, will he oppose them?

John Mason

I very much agree with the Government’s current position, which is that we should be extremely cautious about fracking and should go ahead with it only if there is real and serious reassurance about it. I must say that cheaper fuel for some of my constituents would be the attractive side of it.

Yesterday, I was disappointed by the attitude of Ruth Davidson. She seemed to be fearful that Scotland should be in any way different from the UK. I accept that businesses might pay a bit more in rates here, but I am not sure that that is a serious problem. We cannot use corporation tax to tax business profits, so business rates are our only option. Further, if we can invest more in education and ensure that businesses here get a better-prepared workforce than they would down south, businesses will be the winners.

Yesterday in the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, we had a useful meeting on labour market strategy with Jamie Hepburn, the Minister for Employability and Training. The strategy has 42 pages, and I do not think that it pretends to have all the answers, but the important thing for me is that it sets out many of the challenges and the steps that are being taken to address them. I am sure that that is a subject that the committee will want to focus on over the next five years. The name of the committee is the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, so we want to keep a balanced focus on all those aspects.

The number of jobs and the quality of jobs are huge issues: both are important. The widening gap between those who earn the most and those who earn the least is of concern to many of us. I accept that it is also very much an international problem. It is probably beyond the control of Westminster, and dealing with it certainly requires powers that this Parliament does not have.

However, we play our part, and pushing forward the living wage is a key element of that. There is little point in growing the economy if it is not possible for all our citizens to benefit. The idea that those who own or manage a business should be free to take as much reward as they want while ordinary workers get a pittance cannot be acceptable in modern Scotland. I accept that the answers are not easy but, for starters, we need to accept that we have a big problem, which the labour market strategy highlights. Other topics that the strategy touches on include the ageing working population, advances in technology, women returning to work, adapting the workplace, European Union protections for workers, keeping skills up to date, challenges for disabled people and carers who want to work—and the list goes on.

I am also fortunate to be on the transport committee—or the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, as it likes to be known. A lot of exciting things are happening in Scotland—not the least of which are the new Forth crossing, which the committee heard about this morning, the A9 dualling and the Edinburgh to Glasgow rail improvement programme. In one sense, those projects are improvements to, or upgrades of, existing infrastructure and are not new in the sense of reaching new destinations. That highlights a challenge for us as a country. Do we want more shiny new infrastructure or should we put more effort into maintaining and improving existing roads and rail lines? We all need to consider that.

I will mention two upcoming bills that I very much welcome. When the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee visited an estate near Nairn a fortnight ago, we heard quite a lot about forestry and the sector’s potential. I hope that, as we get the forestry bill and move forward, agriculture and forestry can be more joined up and integrated.

I very much welcome the railway policing bill and the integration of the British Transport Police in Scotland with Police Scotland. To be frank, the public want a simpler system—they do not understand why one police force does virtually everything while a separate police force looks after the railways. The one main proviso is that the specialist function must be maintained. A fatality on a road can mean a lengthy closure, but that cannot be allowed on the rail line, where there is no alternative route.

I am very happy to support the programme for Scotland. I look forward to all the other parties supporting it, too.

15:32  

Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab)

An advantage of speaking on the second day of the programme for government debate is having the time to reflect not just on the First Minister’s statement but on the wider policy document that accompanies it. As the First Minister set out yesterday, a number of justice bills are to be introduced; however, a number of justice issues that do not need legislation also require our attention.

As Scottish Labour’s justice spokesperson, I will work constructively with my colleagues from all parties when our interests and views align. There is scope to reach consensus on some parts of the programme for government. The proposed contract (third party rights) bill and expenses and funding of civil litigation bill are two welcome pieces of legislation that the Scottish Law Commission recommended. We will work with the Government on their delivery.

The limitation (childhood abuse) bill was announced yesterday. The child abuse inquiry is challenging and needs to secure victims’ confidence. The forthcoming legislation to remove the limitation period for child abuse survivors is important and necessary, so I welcome the intention to introduce it in the year ahead. The subject will need to be debated, but we must deliver justice for those victims.

I echo Kezia Dugdale’s remarks yesterday about the Government’s intention to introduce a domestic abuse bill, which I and my party very much welcome. We have seen this week the first indication of the impact of Clare’s law. Almost 1,000 Scots have felt the need to check their partner’s history. The fact that 42 per cent received information about a potentially dangerous partner indicates that much more needs to be done to tackle domestic abuse. I understand that time has been set aside to discuss domestic abuse in greater detail next week.

This afternoon, I will focus on the British Transport Police and Police Scotland. Last Friday, the British Transport Police announced its decision that its officers in Scotland would be issued with Tasers. The recent death in England of former football player Dalian Atkinson after Taser use has received a high profile. Tasers are classified as non-lethal, but they are potentially deadly and should not be deployed and used lightly. There is also legitimate public concern about routine deployment of armed police officers. Although the Cabinet Secretary for Justice gave a statement on the increase in armed officers, I am disappointed that no such scrutiny has been applied to the announcement on Tasers. It is right that officers are able to respond appropriately and that public safety is paramount, but we should not allow that step to take place without any proper parliamentary scrutiny.

There was also the announcement of the railway policing bill. Concerns have already been raised in the chamber, as well as by the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers and British Transport Police officers about the Government’s intentions.

The Smith commission agreed that the functions of the BTP should be devolved, with accountability to the Scottish Parliament and Government. What was not agreed was that the BTP should be scrapped and swallowed up by Police Scotland—a centralising move that risks losing valuable expertise and which erodes the cross-border nature of the transport police. The BTP set-up at the moment works well and serves us well in Scotland. However, we have significant concerns about the future of the BTP and very little assurance from the Government about future staffing and service levels. The consultation that the Government held recently was focused solely on how the BTP should be integrated into Police Scotland. Only one model was presented in the consultation. The Government should now listen to those who know the service best and keep the independence of the BTP.

This summer has also seen a number of reports from rank and file police officers about the strain that is being put on the service, including a series of astonishing tweets over the summer from the Scottish Police Federation. According to serving officers, in a number of incidents decisions have been taken in which the main objective appears to have been to save money rather than to ensure that our communities are safe. That includes claims that people who should be held in custody are being released in order to avoid officers staying on to complete the case and incurring overtime; that officers are being told not to be proactive and investigate drug dealers; and that officers investigating disturbances are being denied requests for a police dog because that would send the unit officer into overtime. We have even heard ridiculous stories of officers claiming that they have been told not to use tea towels or hand towels because it would cost money to wash and clean them, and of officers shopping in charity shops to purchase equipment. That was all from the Police Federation over the summer.

One incident may be passed off as being isolated. However, when a pattern emerges, serious questions have to be asked. Yesterday, the First Minister claimed that the Government is protecting the police budget, but this is a Government that is standing still while the force is at risk of going backwards.

In the previous parliamentary session, we witnessed the closure of police front desks and the shutting of local courts, and a feeling among many people that policing in Scotland is no longer local. There were reports of police divisions regularly sitting under operational base levels, particularly in the east and in our rural areas, and often of community officers being underresourced. We have the opportunity, through the budget and through the strategic police priorities, to change that situation. We need greater leadership from the Government, from the Scottish Police Authority and from Police Scotland on the big challenges that are facing policing.

The Government likes to highlight that crime is at a 40-year low, yet—according to recent figures—in Scotland only 38 per cent of crimes are reported, only 58 per cent of the public have confidence in the police and only 63 per cent of those who reported a crime were satisfied with how it was handled.

We can and we must do better in this parliamentary session when it comes to our police force.

15:38  

Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

Yesterday was just like the first day back at school—128 MSPs sat, mostly well behaved, keen to begin the new parliamentary session with positivity and with a genuine desire for Scotland to aspire for all her people. The First Minister has set out the priorities for the Scottish Government in the year ahead. Much like a school improvement plan, she explained what steps this Government intends to take in order to make our country fairer and more prosperous.

I want to use my speech to talk about the importance of infrastructure and connectivity, particularly for communities that are not closely linked to big cities.

My constituency of Mid Fife and Glenrothes is both urban and rural. From the town centre of Glenrothes to the seaside beaches of Lower Largo, vital transport links make job opportunities possible for my constituents. Over the parliamentary session, almost £20 billion will be invested in a major infrastructure programme that is designed to help to build Scotland’s future. As a Fife MSP, I know only too well the importance of that investment. The new Queensferry crossing has been supported by more than £1.3 billion of Scottish Government funding. The 1.7 miles long structure will be the longest three-tower cable-stayed bridge in the world. Far from being a vanity project, the new bridge is a feat of Scottish engineering of which we should all be proud.

The bridge is a vital connector for Fife because we are, to some extent, an island region, encased by the River Tay to the north and the River Forth to the south. Indeed, my father was—allegedly—the fifth person to cross the new Tay road bridge in 1966 after he and his pals cycled at pace behind the Queen Mother’s car on the opening day. Although I am not of that vintage, I am old enough to remember the bridge tolls—which were scrapped by the SNP Government in 2008—that taxed Fifers £1 for visiting the south and the bargain price of 80p to visit the sunniest city in Scotland—Dundee.

The bridges play a vital role in connecting Fife to our major cities and therefore in opening up trade opportunities for our businesses, which would otherwise cease to exist. In the winter of 2015 we all became acutely aware of the bridges’ importance, following the sudden closure of the Forth road bridge. It is because of the Scottish Government’s investment, and the recognition of the importance of infrastructure to Fife, that we now have a new Queensferry crossing.

During the summer recess I was fortunate to visit the new crossing alongside my colleague Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, and Murdo Fraser MSP. We scaled the dizzying heights of the north tower in the small yellow lift that can be seen on the drive across the Forth road bridge. It shoogled us up to the very top, which is two thirds of the height of the Eiffel tower. The project director on the new crossing told us that, on a clear day, it is possible to see all the way to Ben Lomond. The views of my constituency were fantastic. The sheer height of the crossing certainly conveyed to us the skill and bravery that are involved in the vital work that is being done by the 1,256 people who are employed on the new crossing.

The main road that links the Forth and Tay bridges is the A92. The stretch of the road that runs through my constituency and north beyond Freuchie has witnessed a concerning number of accidents over the years. Between 2004 and 2014, a total of 259 accidents were recorded. I acknowledge the work of the Glenrothes area futures group in that regard, and I am aware that the group recently submitted its action plan to Transport Scotland. I look forward to meeting Transport Scotland next week to discuss its report on the road, prior to publication. Although I am glad that the Scottish Government has committed to a further £200,000 of investment in the A92, I publicly reiterate the need for Fife Council, Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government to work in partnership on the vital improvements that are required to that route.

The Scottish Government refreshed the national transport strategy during 2016 and intends to continue to work with stakeholders to commit to a full review. I would like much-needed improvements in communication from Transport Scotland, with community groups as part of that.

Someone crossing to the east part of my constituency will find the Leven railway station—or at least they would have done before 1969, when it closed. The old line now sits untouched. It is 5 miles in length and links the town with Thornton and the main line. When it was first opened, it helped Leven to become a tourist destination. My granddad, from Springburn, used to tell me stories of his family visiting Leven for their summer holidays from Glasgow. Levenmouth is the largest urban area in Scotland that is not directly connected to rail. The Borders railway has shown us how investment in rail infrastructure can yield benefit for communities. Levenmouth direly needs that investment. I am delighted that the Government has committed to investing more than £5 billion over the next three years to revolutionise a rail industry that has been badly neglected over the decades.

However, the programme for government is not just about roads and railways. It is also about a subject that is close to my heart: education. I am very proud that the Scottish Government is the main financial contributor to the new Levenmouth academy, which opened last month, with £25 million of Scottish Government money supporting the new campus. It is a state-of-the-art building and it supports partnership working with Fife College on site, providing pupils with much-needed training opportunities.

We need to connect people with job opportunities and to open up investment for businesses—especially in rural areas. New schools will link to new transport priorities, which will provide the next generation with the jobs and opportunities that are required to close the gap between Scotland’s poorest and wealthiest citizens.

I am glad that the programme for government commits to direct investment in transport and connectivity. As MSPs, we all have a duty to translate what that will mean in practice for the communities that we represent, which is exactly what I have outlined in my speech today.

15:43  

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD)

I listened to the First Minister’s statement outlining her Government’s programme for the coming year. I waited, hoping that she would address the problems that have occurred over the past 12 months with the roll-out of the common agricultural policy payments to our farming communities. I waited for some confirmation that with the Scottish Government’s payments to our farmers for the coming year there would not be a repeat of this year’s shambles. I waited, I waited and I waited. Am I surprised that no mention was made of the Scottish Government’s common agricultural policy payments to our farmers? No. The First Minister’s statement was predictably long on rhetoric, self-praise and wishful thinking.

The incompetence that the Scottish ministers have shown on the issue is clear to all. One would think that the First Minister would take this opportunity to assure our farmers that this year’s incompetence will not be repeated in the coming year. I see the First Minister in the chamber and I would be perfectly happy to take an intervention if she could guarantee that. No such reassurance has been given, and it is still not being given.

Although the First Minister ignored her Government’s shambles over the common agricultural policy payments to our farmers, she turned briefly to the issue of the European Union. She said that

“Sixty-two per cent of those who voted in Scotland”

in the recent referendum

“voted to remain”—[Official Report, 6 September 2016; c 20.]

She did not say that 62 per cent of Scottish voters voted for the UK to remain in the EU. We were part of the UK vote, just like other areas such as London, Newcastle and Northern Ireland. She again irritated me and, I suppose, many others when she said earlier this afternoon that she accepts that the Prime Minister has a mandate in England and Wales to leave the EU. There was a UK vote and a UK mandate and, despite what I would like, we are leaving the European Union. The First Minister is as divisive as ever in her use of language.

At the end of her statement yesterday, the First Minister said that she will consult on a draft referendum bill so that it is ready for immediate introduction “if we conclude” that independence is the only way forward. Is that the royal “we” that she used, I wonder? In case the First Minister gets ahead of herself, she should be reminded—I aim to do that—that Scotland has two Parliaments, one of which deals with reserved matters—[Interruption.] I will take an intervention from the Deputy First Minister if he wishes to intervene, rather than mutter away.

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

I wonder whether Mr Rumbles could summon up the gumption to say something positive in the debate about what the Liberal Democrats are going to do. We have heard a miserable summary of the politics that they have had for years, which is the reason why there are only five of them.

Mike Rumbles

I hoped that the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister would give an assurance to farming communities across Scotland that the shambles that they have presided over this year will be reversed and will not happen again. Nothing has been brought forward to that effect.

This is not the Parliament that deals with constitutional issues. The First Minister knows that any bill that the Scottish Government brings to this chamber has to be signed off by our Presiding Officer to say that it is compliant with the European convention on human rights and is within the powers of the Parliament. If the First Minister somehow manages to clear that hurdle—I very much doubt that she will—our Scottish courts would strike down the referendum as illegal. Of course, that is nothing new for the Government because, just a few months ago, the Supreme Court ruled that one of the Government’s acts was indeed illegal and struck it down.

This is a bizarre debate. The First Minister has spent the summer months talking about nothing other than a second referendum on breaking up Britain. It is clear that that and nothing else is her priority over the coming years. It is extremely arrogant of her to say that she will decide what is in the interests of the Scottish people. Two years ago, the Scottish people told her what was in their interests, which is to stay within the United Kingdom. Therefore, the programme that was outlined yesterday has to be taken with a huge pinch of salt.

I for one believe that, if the SNP Government would just put aside its continuous divisiveness—we have heard it again today—it would have the opportunity to focus on real measures that are important to the people of Scotland, not least our farming communities across Scotland, who have been completely neglected as a result of a shambles that the Scottish Government presided over. The SNP needs to focus on the day job of trying to improve peoples’ lives in Scotland, rather than continue with that divisive programme.

15:49  

Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

I am pleased to speak about education, which is a key element in the programme for government debate. I am sure that colleagues across the chamber agree that education is an important aspect of a child’s development. It is only right that politicians of all persuasions focus on ensuring that, as a nation, we deliver a first-class education system that leaves no child behind, regardless of their social background.

A lot has changed since I and many other members were at school. The world that we were prepared for when leaving school will be considerably different from the world that will face this year’s primary 1 pupil intake when they leave in 2029. The Scottish Government’s commitment to education recognises the fast-changing environment that we live in and the need to anticipate future learning requirements. The proposed reforms will free up time and empower teachers to do what they do best, which is teach.

I believe that three key areas are essential to providing good education: curriculum design, environment and equality of opportunity. Those areas have been central to the Scottish Government’s education strategy since 2007.

The curriculum for excellence, which was introduced in 2012, was the culmination of nearly a decade of work. It was initiated by the previous Labour and Lib Dem Executive in 2003 and brought to fruition by the SNP Government. It was seen as a phased process of reform that would take account of advances in education and deliver a curriculum that both challenged and supported a child’s full educational journey. It is about lifelong learning and the development of the young workforce of the future, and it provides children with the skills required to survive in the ever-changing modern workplace. It is also about being flexible and innovative and engaging with businesses and employers to get them to come into schools, introduce the world of work to pupils at an early age and increase their employability skills. Above all, it is about ensuring that literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing are at the core of the development of every child and are a shared responsibility across the school.

The hard work is bearing fruit. This year, Scotland’s students achieved nearly 153,000 higher passes, which is an increase of more than 40,000 since 2006. Last year, record levels of young people—91.7 per cent—left school for a positive destination in further education, training or employment. All that is testimony to the great work that is being done by staff and pupils in schools across the country, and we should applaud them for their commitment and success.

Reform on such a scale will always bring challenges as it evolves. I applaud the recent announcement by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning on new guidance on the curriculum, which is designed to reduce the burden of bureaucracy on teachers and has been welcomed by the largest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland.

The teaching environment is also important. No child should have to learn in a school that is in a poor or bad condition. The programme for government reaffirms the Government’s commitment to providing children and teachers with the best possible environment in which to learn. An additional 29 new schools are planned this year, which will take the total number of schools built or refurbished under this Government to more than 630 since 2007. That is almost a quarter of the school estate and nearly double the total number of rebuilds and refurbishments that were undertaken between 1999 and 2007. In addition to positive learning environments, that work provides skilled jobs and apprenticeships in local communities.

Equality of opportunity should mean that a person’s social background or circumstances should not be a barrier to their ability to learn, achieve or attain good educational outcomes. Through the Scottish attainment fund, the Government intends to invest £150 million in our schools over the next year. That will help teachers at schools in areas of deprivation across the country develop innovative approaches to improving literacy, numeracy, health and wellbeing, in order to close the attainment gap.

Raising attainment starts with the youngest. High-quality childcare benefits children and also helps parents to work, and I welcome the £500 million pledged by the Government to nearly double childcare to 30 hours per week. The Scottish attainment challenge primary schools programme is part of that initiative. Primary schools across the country, including six in my constituency of Rutherglen, will benefit. The programme presents an opportunity for those school communities to look at innovative ways of closing the attainment gap and will work with parents, teachers and education leaders to support their ambition for both excellence and equity.

The attainment fund sits within a wider programme of school reform that includes action to empower local leadership within schools, by directing more resources to headteachers and allowing them the freedom to invest those extra resources on what they feel will have the biggest impact in their schools. The focus is on reducing the unnecessary workload of teachers and the simplification of curriculum for excellence.

Education is at the heart of the programme for government. Delivering those commitments will help us realise our ambition to ensure equality of opportunity for every child and young person to be the best that they can be, to close the attainment gap and to deliver a first-class education system.

15:54  

Peter Chapman (North East Scotland) (Con)

I declare my interests in farming, which can be seen in the register of members’ interests.

The Scottish Government is to introduce a number of bills in the rural economy portfolio. When it comes to crofting, there is clear cross-party support for reform of the current legislation, and I hope that we can produce a bill that will properly support crofting communities in Scotland.

We also expect the Scottish Government to make secondary legislation on land reform, in relation to tenant farmers. There are problems in that regard. Just last week someone who is looking for a tenancy in Aberdeenshire wrote to The Scottish Farmer to say that they know exactly why they cannot get one. The person said:

“Why would a landlord then rent a farm out again at the risk the rules change and a new game is played? Would you be happy to have bought a house, rented it out, and the tenant can turn round and demand money for going out”—

or indeed demand to buy the house? I could not have put it better myself. It is time for the Government to listen to the ordinary young people who are looking to get a start in farming.

The Government’s manifesto indicates a desire to pass legislation on both inshore and wild fisheries. The wild fisheries bill must be handled carefully, but we absolutely need to tackle the issue of sea lice on farmed salmon. At a recent meeting of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation, Scotland’s regulatory regime was slammed; it has been said that the regime

“lags far behind all the countries in the North Atlantic”.

I hope that the Scottish Government will take the opportunity to improve codes of good practice, to maintain Scotland’s excellent reputation for farmed salmon.

While we wait for the full detail of the Government’s legislative programme on rural matters, there is plenty for ministers to get on with. As Mike Rumbles said, we still have a shocking situation with regard to CAP payments. More than 1,000 farmers are still waiting for their full payments. Indeed, several of my constituents have contacted me to complain bitterly that they received their initial payment only two weeks ago—nine months late. Until then, they had received no loan, no payment and not a penny.

We know how that happened. Money was poured into an information technology system that did not work and is still not working. The Government will not tell us when the system will be fully functional. Hardworking officials in area offices up and down Scotland are being let down by the Government’s inability to deliver the required IT system, which is further evidence of the need for a parliamentary inquiry into the debacle. Audit Scotland exposed much of the debacle in a report, but if farmers are to have any confidence in the system, MSPs must be able to scrutinise the Government on the mess.

Mike Rumbles

Are the Conservatives as concerned as Liberal Democrats are that even now the Scottish Government, given the opportunity, will not confirm that for the coming year’s payments there will be no repeat of the shambles of the previous year?

Peter Chapman

We are. For the sake of the thousands of farmers who are seriously affected by the shambles, I hope that Fergus Ewing has a plan to get the IT working for this year’s payments. Our rural communities cannot afford to be at the mercy of the SNP’s incompetence again.

I recently met leaders of the offshore fishing industry in Peterhead, who explained the many potential benefits of the Brexit result. I cannot understand the SNP’s denial of the potential benefits for the fishing industry. We have some of the best fishing waters in the world, and getting control over them will be a huge benefit.

Derek Mackay

Will the member join me in calling on the UK Government to confirm the continuation of payments worth £750 million to communities in Scotland, including the communities that he mentioned—payments to which we would have been entitled if we were still part of the European Union?

Peter Chapman

We have two years to get to that position, and in the meantime nothing will change. I am talking about the many potential benefits of Brexit, and I cannot understand the SNP’s denial of those benefits.

When fishermen list the priorities that would help their industry to grow and that would support coastal towns, will the SNP listen? Sadly, no. When a group disagrees with the Government politically, will the SNP put those issues aside and work for people’s best interests? Again, no. Could it be that, rather than standing up for Scotland’s fishermen, the Government is talking Scotland down? Of course, we know why the SNP behaves like that. We know that the business of running Scotland and getting the best deal for its people is never the top priority; it cannot be the top priority, because the SNP’s focus is on pushing for independence no matter the cost. Rather than playing the politics of division and grievance, the governing party should be working with the UK Government to deliver the best Brexit deal for Scotland.

I voted remain in June, but I accept the result. That is how democracy works. Although I appreciate that it may be a difficult concept for the SNP to understand, it is the reality. There are real opportunities for farming and fishing communities following the EU referendum result, and we must grab them with both hands. If the Scottish Government does not, the SNP will be remembered for sacrificing rural Scotland on the altar of independence.

16:01  

Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP)

For those of us who inhabit the environmental bubble, it is easy to forget that we often talk in terminology that resonates pretty much only with those who are similarly inclined. That issue was brought into focus during a chamber debate last session when Alex Fergusson suggested that, rather than talking about biodiversity and risking quizzical looks from the vast majority of the people we are trying to reach out to, we should talk about the balance of nature, which is, after all, what biodiversity means.

In her programme for government speech yesterday, the First Minister identified another helpful change of language around the hugely important issue of climate change. Earlier this week, as the convener of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, I wrote to the Scottish Government, asking it to delay publication of the draft third report on proposals and policies until early January in order to maximise the opportunity for committees and the wider Parliament to scrutinise that hugely important report. But what does “RPP3” mean to the generally largely unengaged public out there? Styling it as the new climate change plan—something that WWF has also taken to doing—will make it resonate better with a wider audience, because that title will spell out clearly what the RPP actually is.

That matters because, on the back of Scotland’s success in reaching its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions targets six years early, RPP3 represents an opportunity to ramp up the ambitions and aim to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020. In doing that, we will be moving into areas requiring considerable behavioural change that will need serious buy-in not just from the public and private sectors but on an individual level, so the messaging around RPP3 and other climate change-related legislation matters. Therefore, laying out the demands that will be made of the transport sector in the plan, which the programme for government document does, is a welcome step.

As a country, we must embrace strategies that reduce demand for transport and decarbonise vehicles, and if the reduction in air passenger duty produces a net increase in emissions—as it is recognised that it will—climate change legislation will have to identify and ensure the delivery of countermeasures to that. RPP3 and the planned new climate change bill will bring a new focus on how we build on our achievements thus far. So, too—fully integrated with the new climate change plan as it is intended to be—will the planned new energy strategy, which will lay out the Government’s low-carbon infrastructure priorities and target reductions in energy demand. The forthcoming warm homes bill is another welcome and necessary step in the right direction, given that such a large proportion of our emissions comes from heating.

Some of those measures will—either in their entirety or in part—come under the direct scrutiny of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, and there are other measures in the programme for government that will sit within the committee’s brief and impact on climate change adaptation. The investment of £3.6 billion through Scottish Water to upgrade water and sewerage infrastructure is one such measure. However, reading the document, I was struck by the range of other measures that, in some degree, will impact positively on our emissions journey without in any way coming under the remit of the ECCLR Committee or, indeed, the remit of the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. The proposed forestry bill could lead to improved levels of tree planting, assisting with carbon sequestration as well as helping to tackle flooding. The replacing of old school, college and hospital buildings with more modern, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly facilities will help, as will the rail improvements that are coming down the track. That illustrates how embedded in virtually every aspect of government activity cutting emissions and tackling climate change are and must be.

Turning to other matters that are identified in the programme for government, I note that two areas that will command the attention of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee are progress on reaching 1 million acres of land in community ownership by 2020, and oversight of the process of devolving control of the Crown Estate and ensuring that it operates in a way that requires it to take cognisance of much more than simply generating revenue.

Not surprisingly, the raft of secondary legislation under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 will command our attention, too. In her speech, the First Minister referenced the establishment of a register of controlling interests for land ownership and the Scottish land commission becoming operational as two key aspects of that. There are others of importance, such as the land rights and responsibilities statement. We as a Parliament must also recognise the need to explore how we build capacity across Scotland to take full advantage of the opportunities that are created by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 and the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. Delivering on the potential of those opportunities is not just about funding, it is also about ensuring that all our communities are supported in other practical ways to face up to the demands of the processes that they will be entering into.

On the subject of taking a rounded approach, I highlight what I hope will be an important aspect of the comprehensive decommissioning action plan that Scottish Enterprise is working up. We should of course maximise the economic return for Scotland from an activity that it is estimated could attract a spend of £17 billion, but the plan must—I am sure that it will—take account of the potential impact on the marine environment. Removing structures from the North Sea and dismantling them can and will create jobs, but there is a serious discussion to be had about the circumstances in which, from an environmental perspective, it might—and I stress “might”—be advantageous to leave elements of them in situ. The highly respected Scottish Wildlife Trust has made that point. My appeal is that the best interests of the marine environment—not perhaps in the most obvious way—are a priority consideration in any decisions that are made and that those decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

In conclusion, reading through the programme for government document, I note that, although it was not highlighted by the First Minister yesterday, my committee can anticipate a bill on wild animals in circuses coming its way. Further down the line, we can look forward to bills on wild fisheries and the circular economy. Never let it be said that life as a member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee is lacking in variety.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Before I call Andy Wightman, I say to Maurice Golden, Lewis Macdonald and James Dornan that they are down to five minutes as a result of interventions in the debate so far. I think that that is a fair compromise.

16:07  

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

Like my colleague Patrick Harvie, I welcome much of what the First Minister announced yesterday. I confirm that we will play a constructive role in supporting those measures where we can agree, in arguing for changes where we think that they are necessary and in opposing the proposals that we think are misguided.

I want to focus my comments on a few areas of the programme where we will be working across the chamber to persuade ministers to be bolder. Deep down, we share ambitions to work not just to amend, to reform and to change the law, but to transform, to revitalise and to democratise the way in which we approach so much of Scottish public policy.

For example, the Government is committed to inclusive growth and tackling inequality. The First Minister has committed to implementing all the recommendations of her adviser on poverty and inequality, Naomi Eisenstadt. However, the Government has already rejected recommendation 9—

“Be bold on local tax reform”—

by ignoring Professor Eisenstadt’s exhortation to introduce a new system that is, in her words, “genuinely progressive” and to focus on the bottom 40 per cent of the income distribution in order to tackle income inequality effectively. Earlier this afternoon, the finance minister claimed that the proposals tabled today on council tax reform would be more progressive—it is only possible for something to be more progressive if it is progressive in the first place.

Council tax—the grubby, miserable little compromise that the Government has forced on us—will remain, even after the changes to be made, probably the most regressive tax in the United Kingdom. According to analysis by the Scottish Parliament information centre, the bottom 10 per cent of households by income will be paying around 9 per cent of their equalised household disposable income in council tax, with the top 10 per cent paying a mere 3 per cent. Moreover, ministers have compromised the fiscal autonomy of local government to such an extent that it is now in breach of international law in respect of at least two articles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.

Similarly, Professor Bell and David Eiser showed back in 2013 that the top 1 per cent of earners in Scotland had, over the period from 2007 to 2009, increased their share of total income by more than all the remaining 99 per cent put together. A solution to that is to introduce a properly progressive income tax system with a top rate of tax that acts as an effective curb on excessive pay demands, but that challenge has been ducked, too.

Those are examples of where expert and international evidence points to bold and decisive action but where the response of the Scottish Government is timid retreat.

Another area where we need bolder action is on housing. Although the Government’s target of 50,000 new social and affordable houses is welcome, it remains unambitious in relation to the overall housing market, where housing completion targets remain unfulfilled, and the unwillingness to challenge the failed model and vested interests of the speculative volume house-building industry means that we forgo the opportunity to create a better system that is more affordable, of higher quality, and more lasting and democratic.

That brings me to another of the Government’s priorities: community empowerment. Welcome as the focus on that issue is, it is increasingly clear that we are reaching a point where the ambitions of communities are being hindered by the lack of real political and economic power.

In recent weeks, I have travelled around Scotland speaking at meetings as part of the our land festival. From the radical visions of the communities in Kincardine and Valleyfield in Fife over the future of the Longannet colliery and power station to the frustrations of communities that are faced with intractable disputes over mineral rights or with intransigent landowners, folk across Scotland are rising to the challenge. I welcome that, as I welcome the Government’s continuing commitment to empower communities.

This is the first Administration since devolution that has reform of local government rather than simply local government as one of the responsibilities of a Scottish minister. It is in that realm that real community empowerment can be achieved by following the recommendations of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities commission on strengthening local democracy in Scotland.

Over this session of Parliament, we will face the challenge of delivering on the warm homes and fuel poverty agenda. That will involve co-ordinated work between housing, planning, fiscal policy, climate change and energy policy. However, we do not know from the programme for government what the Scottish Government’s ambitions are for this vital bill, which the Greens have argued for as long as the Parliament has existed. We look forward to working with others across the chamber to make sure that the bill is worthy of the name.

I welcome proposals in the First Minister’s programme for government for a forestry bill and the opportunity to reform the current act which, next year, will be half a century old. Forestry does not get much of a hearing in this Parliament, but the restoration and expansion of forest cover is vital for our economy, for the ecological health of our land and soils, for water and flood management, for recreation and, above all, for its role in tackling climate change. Existing targets for forest expansion are not being met and the bill provides the opportunity to do much more than meet the existing goals set by ministers to complete devolution. It also provides the first chance in 50 years to modernise the governance and democratise the management of public forests and to provide the tools for delivering on bolder reforestation targets.

Over recess, I have been repeatedly telling those outside this place to be ambitious in the demands that they make of us. I hope that all members agree that, with new parliamentary arithmetic, a five-year term, new powers and a Parliament in which we all have a mandate, we can rise to that challenge.

16:13  

Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

I recognise and respect the Scottish Government’s narrative about moving towards a low-carbon economy in its programme for government. However, the circular economy goes one step further by creating the right conditions so that we can deliver wins for businesses, consumers and, indeed, the environment.

We already have an estimate that the prize to the Scottish economy of following a circular economy policy would be about £3 billion, with 20,000 associated new jobs. However, that can be realised only with the appropriate associated Government programme. Therefore, any legislation or initiatives must reflect a long-term approach to ensure that the priorities of the Government and the Parliament are truly reflected in the longer term for the benefit of Scotland.

I also recognise that not every decision can be justified in purely financial terms and not every investment has to deliver an immediate profit. That is why I believe that the incorporation of natural capital into our decision-making processes for the public sector initially—and the private sector eventually—is critical. A fantastic example of that is the Irvine to Girvan nectar network, which is a wildlife corridor and haven for bees and butterflies. In respect of climate change, I recognise that progress has been made but, in order to realise our ambitions, we must have sector targets for housing, transport and heat, where performance has been comparatively poor.

I welcome the fact that the First Minister agrees with Ruth Davidson that a commitment to ensuring that everyone in Scotland has a warm home should be a Government priority. If we are decrease fuel poverty, we must ensure that homes throughout Scotland are insulated. Linked to that, to ensure that Scotland’s carbon emissions from heat are decreasing, we must increase the provision of district heating as well as the use of renewable heat, which, of course, does not involve burning waste. I also welcome the new manufacturing institute, and I trust that it will also focus on remanufacturing to augment the work of the Scottish institute for remanufacture.

I was shocked to learn yesterday that Scottish Enterprise has been tasked with constructing a comprehensive decommissioning action plan. I was shocked not because the plan is not needed but because we do not already have one; after all, we have known for many years now that the infrastructure in question has needed to be decommissioned. The value of decommissioning that infrastructure has been put at £40 billion over the next 30 years, and 35,000 jobs are linked to it. Between now and 2024, 620,000 tonnes of infrastructure will need to be decommissioned, including 79 platforms and jackets as well as 321 modules requiring to come onshore. The total numbers are even more staggering; there are 570 platforms in the North Sea and a web of sub-sea infrastructure that includes 40,000 concrete mattresses on the sea bed, which equates to around 200,000 tonnes of concrete.

However, Scotland does not have the infrastructure to deal with that level of decommissioning; in the UK, only Teesside and potentially Tyneside have the ability to take a single-lift platform, which allows the infrastructure to be taken out in one go. As a result, unless action is taken and not just written down in an action plan, we will literally see all the value and the jobs floating down the sea to England and perhaps occasionally being grounded on a Scottish island.

The decommissioning sector is doing very well with its recycling rates, but rates of reuse, which provides not just financial but environmental value, are very poor. For example, reusing a pipeline can add five times more value than simply scrapping it; indeed, redundant steel was used to construct the Olympic stadium in London. I know that all the information is available for this action plan, so I would like action to be taken on it this year.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

Please close, Mr Golden.

Maurice Golden

I also look forward to scrutinising the Government’s plans for the climate change bill, the circular economy and the zero waste bill.

16:18  

Lewis Macdonald (North East Scotland) (Lab)

If it is true that there are decades in which nothing happens and then weeks in which decades happen, this summer has been many decades long. It has been only a matter of weeks since the EU referendum but, to many, it feels as if it happened a long time ago.

This debate is about the Scottish Government’s plans for this session of Parliament, but it has to be seen in that wider context. The challenge for Government is to respond to the prospect of Brexit and the certainty that there will be fundamental change both at home and in the nature of the European Union itself.

This should be an opportune moment not to revive the independence debate but to make best use of the new powers of the Scottish Parliament. At the end of July, Scottish Labour launched its own proposals for responding to the Brexit vote. We said that the Scottish Government should bring forward infrastructure spending, particularly for building thousands of new homes. We called for a Brexit support fund to support sectors that are threatened by the UK leaving the European Union, and we called for guarantees of workers’ rights, certainty for EU nationals who live in the UK and action by Government at every level to tackle austerity.

We are, of course, more than willing to work with the Scottish ministers on mitigating the impact of Brexit and in trying to minimise the disruption to Scotland’s relationship with Europe, but we need the Scottish Government to be bold and ambitious in taking action at its own hand rather than focusing only on the decisions that are taken by others.

Brexit is a new threat. The downturn in oil and gas has been happening for nearly two years now, and it is still hard to discern in looking at this week’s programme for government a Scottish Government economic strategy to address the impact of that on the wider Scottish economy.

Yesterday, the First Minister announced one new initiative in that field: Scottish Enterprise will develop a comprehensive action plan to attract decommissioning work to Scotland. Many of the oil and gas and supply chain companies that have been working together on that agenda since 2010 through Decom North Sea will be surprised to learn that the Scottish Government’s agencies do not have such a plan in place already. The need for such a plan was graphically illustrated when the Transocean Winner drilling rig hit the rocks on Lewis last month and was towed away past the Arnish yard to be decommissioned at the other end of Europe.

A further plan to win decommissioning business is therefore welcome, if belated. I hope that the Scottish Government will work with the many businesses that are already engaged in that agenda and with ports and harbours right around the Scottish coast.

From a north-east perspective, I urge ministers to acknowledge the need to build on and go beyond the Aberdeen city region deal and to set dates by which some of the additional projects that the Scottish Government has promised will actually be delivered, not least on the east coast railway line at Montrose.

Other bodies—both public and private—recognise that a city deal alone is not enough and that Government needs to be proactive and not just reactive in diversifying the economy and underpinning future economic growth. Today, Aberdeen Harbour Board announced its preferred bidder for developing a proposed new harbour in Nigg Bay. Aberdeen City Council is actively promoting an agenda of further devolution from the Parliament to Scotland’s cities and regions, and the private sector, through Opportunity North East and the Aberdeen Inspired business improvement district, is committed to regenerating and broadening the base of the local economy.

I hope that ministers will engage with all those initiatives in a positive way. If we agree that devolution is a process and not an event, we should also agree that the process of devolution must mean powers going out from Holyrood to local communities as well as powers coming in from Westminster or, indeed, Brussels.

More needs to be done in the field of skills, too. It is simply not acceptable, as we have heard this afternoon, that the Scottish Government is a year behind the UK Government in telling employers and training organisations how the apprenticeship levy will work. Likewise in education, which the First Minister says is at the centre of the plans, the lack of adequate investment in the north-east, as elsewhere, is truly alarming.

The University of Aberdeen, Robert Gordon University and North East Scotland College add £1 billion in economic value to the north-east economy. However, as Audit Scotland’s reports this summer indicated, Scotland’s universities and colleges have been at the sharp end of Government cuts. Real-terms cuts in recurrent funding will have an impact across the board.

None of those issues can be resolved for free. A Government that truly wishes to rise to the challenges of these times in education, skills, the economy, the NHS and our relations with the rest of Britain and the rest of Europe will have to make tough decisions. The SNP’s programme for government stops short of taking those tough decisions. Until ministers choose to use the powers that they have and make the difficult choices, the difficult challenges will simply not go away.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We are now moving to the last of the open speeches. I remind members that, if they spoke in the debate yesterday afternoon, they should be present in the chamber for the closing speeches today.

16:23  

James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

Like many of my colleagues and very few—if any—of our political opponents, I wish to welcome the stream of positive policies for Scotland that were announced in the First Minister’s statement in the chamber yesterday.

Obviously, as convener of the Education and Skills Committee, my main focus is on education. I am delighted to have seen the Government’s commitment to that reinforced again in the statement.

However, it is not just in the field of education in which we are doing great things. The social security bill stands out as among the best examples to highlight the clear difference between the social democratic ethos of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament and the ideological, right-wing, isolationist dogma from the Westminster Government, which is still in control of 87 per cent of welfare powers and 85 per cent of taxation. Again, though, we would not know that if we listened to the Conservatives or, more disgracefully, the Labour Party.

However, I want to concentrate my time on education. A huge amount of good work is already being done in education, with some outstanding results—another fact that we would not be aware of if we listened just to the harbingers of doom on either side of us in this chamber. Figures that came out recently show that spending per pupil is significantly higher in Scotland—9 per cent higher per pupil—than it is south of the border. We have expanded the education maintenance allowance in Scotland, whereas it has been scrapped south of the border. In addition, Scotland’s students achieved 152,700 higher passes this year, which is an increase of more than 40,000 since 2006, and it is only the second time that the number of passes has exceeded 150,000. There are many more achievements that we could mention here today.

I am going to do something that I do not normally do—give a good example of the great work that takes place in secondary school. The school is not in my constituency and what I will say will sound as if I am trying to crawl to the Deputy Presiding Officer, because it is about Duncanrig secondary school in her constituency. I was there on Monday night to see my grandson Mark get the proxime accessit medal, which is the runner-up dux medal—the silver dux medal. Two years ago, his sister Abigail got the dux medal. Obviously, I was absolutely delighted to be there again as a proud grandfather. However, outside the family connection, what was really impressive was the number of school achievements in athletics and sport in general, in music, in drama and, of course, on the academic side.

The headteacher said in his comments that the school’s results have improved for three years in a row and that there is a steady growth in that regard, which is great. I mean no disrespect here, but there will be nothing particularly special about Duncanrig; it will be a good example of what is happening in secondary schools across the country, including those in my constituency.

Before I go on to speak about my role as convener of the Education and Skills Committee, it would be remiss of me in my duties if I did not bring up the fears that we have about Brexit, which have been touched on by other speakers. We have fears about the Erasmus programme, the impact that Brexit might have on research, possible staff shortages and the impact that Brexit might have on foreign students coming to study in Scotland. All those issues have arisen because of a Tory leadership challenge and because the Tories were so obsessed with their internal politics that they did not look after the country. I cringe when I hear the Conservative Party try to claim that we do not have our eye on the ball, because the Tories did not even realise that the ball was no longer on the pitch and were still running around like chickens without heads. Today, we are in the situation in which we face the threats that I described because they did not care enough about anything bar their party’s leadership challenge.

Neil Findlay

Will the member take an intervention?

James Dornan

No. I only have five minutes.

Members should not take my word for that; they should take the Institute for Public Policy Research’s word for it. The IPPR says that the Conservative Party’s decisions mean that there is going to be unnecessary harm to the UK’s education systems, including ours.

In the one minute that I have left, I will talk briefly about the work that the Education and Skills Committee is doing. Last week, we had a couple of days in Stirling and went to the University of Stirling to hear about the widening access programme and visited a local skills provider. My colleague Gillian Martin and I had the privilege of meeting people who had been brought up in care and some kinship carers. We also met a group of primary school children who showed us an amazing tool called a kitbag, which is one of the many initiatives that help children improve their emotional literacy. I saw it at work and saw the impact that it had on those kids. Hearing about and seeing those experiences for myself gave me a very valuable perspective and a very keen sense of the responsibility that is placed on me and the rest of the committee when working across such a massive remit with so many important issues in it.

I could speak for much longer but I know that I will not be allowed to, so I will finish by again saying how pleased I am that education is going to be up front and centre in the Government’s programme this year. I look forward to doing my part as convener of the Education and Skills Committee.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

We move to closing speeches. I call Iain Gray. You have eight minutes please, Mr Gray.

16:29  

Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

For a set-piece debate, this has been a curiously desultory affair really, especially among the Government’s back benchers. Perhaps it is trepidation. Maybe they looked back to the first programme of the previous Government in 2011. The First Minister’s predecessor announced his flagship bills, which were on minimum unit pricing, offensive behaviour at football, Police Scotland and the reform of colleges. Five years on, one is mired in the courts, one is ripe for repeal in the current session of Parliament, and policing and our colleges have been reformed on to their knees—but then, in fairness, that was a Government whose attention was distracted by an independence referendum. Thank goodness that was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

Of course, there are, as always, things in this year’s programme to welcome, such as the proposed domestic abuse bill and the long-promised removal of the time bar for survivors of sexual abuse. Let me take a moment, though, to point out that that will not help pre-1964 survivors and that they, too, have been promised some solution. The majority of survivors are still excluded from the historic abuse inquiry by its remit, and the survivors’ confidence in the inquiry hangs by a thread. The resignation of two members of the inquiry panel and their allegations of Government interference have not been addressed, nor will they be until a committee of this Parliament investigates them properly.

I welcome, too, the inclusion in the programme of a gender balance bill, a child poverty bill and a social security bill. The First Minister and many of her colleagues have rightly said that the social security bill is our opportunity to create a social security system that is based on dignity and respect, and we will support those efforts.

The social security bill in particular tells us that the programme for government is a different one in that, for the first time, it contains the plans of a Government with extensive powers over welfare and taxation. First Ministers used to use these occasions to bewail how their lack of fiscal powers hampered their programmes for government. Now, however, the First Minister looks at those fiscal levers, which empower her to refuse austerity, stop the cuts, protect the disabled and the vulnerable and invest new money in education, and she just looks the other way. All that she has to offer on that is a tax cut for airlines and airports, which will only reduce the capacity of that social security system, starve our services and damage our environment to boot. Kezia Dugdale was right. The more powerful this Parliament becomes, the more timid it seems the Government gets. It is like a motorist always demanding a more powerful model while doggedly driving along in second gear in the one that they have.

We can all join in, as we have done a number of times yesterday and today, in denouncing the Tories for hypocrisy on protecting the disabled or for their pious concern about poverty while their Government cuts the benefits of the poorest and most vulnerable, but unless the Scottish Government is prepared to use the powers of this Parliament to end austerity cuts and attack poverty rather than just denouncing it, its Tory-baiting is nothing but talk.

It is the same story in education. Last week, the First Minister visited Windygoul primary school, which is a great school in my constituency, but it has had to achieve its success without a penny of attainment challenge funding, and when it finally receives that funding, the Government will pay for it by raiding the budget of the very council that has invested in those pupils over the years. We will lose far more than our schools will gain.

The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

Not true.

The First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon)

Not true.

Derek Mackay

Not true.

Iain Gray

It is true, and I will come to why it is true.

For nine years, this Government has used the blunt instrument of clawback to force councils to freeze their council tax. Now, it is going to use the same bludgeon to mug those councils for the revenue for the Government’s attainment challenge fund. The Government will pretend that this is redistribution, but councils know of old that John Swinney is much more Dick Turpin than he is Robin Hood. This is stealing from the poor who need the services in my communities to give back to the poor in those self-same communities.

Let me be clear. We support the investment of an additional £100 million per year that will go directly to schools to address the attainment gap. We have argued for it for years. The Government is doing the right thing, but it should have the guts to raise that money itself by asking the richest to pay just a little more in income tax.

The First Minister

The Government is taking the decision to raise that money. Orders will be laid this week to make the changes to the council tax. It is extra revenue that will be raised from those who are at the highest level of property and redistributed to the schools that are most in need. I would have thought that Labour would have supported such redistribution.

Iain Gray

The money is being raised by local revenue that should be redistributed locally, which is exactly what my council has done to the school that you visited and which you will undermine by taking more money from it than you intend to give back. The Government must understand that it cannot will the end of better schools, colleges and universities if it does not have the courage to will the means. More than any new mechanism to distribute funding, our schools need sufficient funds to distribute in the first place.

I noted the lack of enthusiasm among Government back benchers yesterday and today but, of course, the peroration of the First Minister’s statement roused them from their torpor. It was about another independence referendum. Just a consultation on a draft bill, mind. Just in case. The First Minister even got a laugh out of it, inadvertently, when she told us that she needed the consultation in case she reached the conclusion that independence is the best thing for Scotland. I think we know that the First Minister reached that conclusion a long time ago. Is her faith wavering? Is it fading in the face of the facts? Has it perhaps been rocked by rejection in a referendum only two years ago? I do not think so.

The First Minister

Will the member give way?

Iain Gray

No; I have done so once already.

Some might be fooled into believing that the First Minister pulled back from independence yesterday, but the true believers on her back benches and beyond know that it was a less-than-subtle nod and wink that that is still her Government’s purpose. So, we have a Government that is unwilling to protect education budgets or the vulnerable, but which is unflinching in keeping the independence flame alive. Like moths to that flame, all the efforts, focus and resources of this Government will gravitate. The day job of education, social security, jobs and growth will always come second.

Kevin Stewart

Nonsense.

Iain Gray

That is what we have had for nine long years, and the programme for government is more of the same.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I remind members of two things. First, we should not be yelling at one another from a seated position. Secondly, you should always speak through the chair and not directly to colleagues.

16:37  

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I will start with a note of agreement with the First Minister. In her statement yesterday, she referred to the new political environment in which we now operate. This does not just mean that the SNP now faces a Conservative Opposition; it also reflects the fact that as from next April we will have in this Parliament one of the most powerful sub-state legislatures anywhere in the world, with sweeping new powers on taxation and welfare.

You would hardly think that, listening to the First Minister’s statement yesterday. In truth, it was pretty thin gruel. It was reminiscent of something that could have been delivered by Henry McLeish or Jack McConnell. Where was the ambition? Where was the grand vision for Scotland? Where were the pledges to use the sweeping new powers to build a stronger economy, a more vibrant society, and to address pressing issues in our public sector? On the basis of what we heard yesterday, we have to look elsewhere for that vision.

We agree with the emphasis that the First Minister gave to the Scottish economy. In relation to the specific proposals that were announced, we welcome the coming bill on the reform of APD, and wait with interest its detail, although we have made it perfectly clear in the past that we are sceptical about the economic benefits of a 50 per cent reduction without a replacement tax, and concerned about the impact on the environment.

The First Minister made great play of an additional £100 million in capital projects in the current financial year, presumably forgetting to mention that it is simply bringing forward the underspend from the last financial year to be spent on projects now.

The centrepiece of the Scottish Government’s programme for the economy is the proposed new Scottish growth scheme, worth up to half a billion pounds. It is certainly an ambitious and interesting idea, that is central to the Government’s economic strategy, and I see that it made the front page of a number of papers this morning.

We might expect that, before publishing such an ambitious scheme, the Government would have done all its homework, dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s. However, in the Finance Committee this morning, when I asked the finance secretary what discussions he had had with the Treasury prior to publishing his proposal, the answer was “none”. That is staggering. What an amateurish approach from a Government—making key announcements without even checking first whether they can be delivered.

Derek Mackay

Will the member take an intervention?

Murdo Fraser

Yes, Mr Mackay can tell me all about his discussions with the Treasury.

Derek Mackay

Does the member not think that it was important to bring such a proposal to Parliament first, so that members could engage with this innovative proposal to stimulate our economy? What is more, we spent most of our time in the Finance Committee discussing the lack of awareness about what the chancellor would do in his autumn statement. I think that the Government is taking the right actions in this economic package. Does Murdo Fraser support the £500 million package—yes or no?

Murdo Fraser

If Mr Mackay wants to see what competent government looks like, all he has to do is swap places with us on these benches. We will show him what a Government that actually does its homework looks like.

I suspect that, as Jackie Baillie said yesterday, the policy is more about picking a fight with the Treasury than anything else.

As Ruth Davidson made clear yesterday, one measure that the First Minister could have taken to help the economy would have been to rule out a second referendum on independence. Kezia Dugdale and Willie Rennie also referred to that in their speeches yesterday—although, when Kezia Dugdale said that there was no support on her benches for a second referendum, I wonder whether she had cleared that statement with her deputy.

The First Minister cannot seem to make up her mind on the question of a second referendum, because she has a different message for different audiences. In the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum result, she said that a second referendum was “highly likely” and, just on Friday, she addressed MPs and MSPs and sent off her party faithful to survey the Scottish population to hear what they think about the prospect of Scottish independence. However, yesterday in this chamber, she seemed to downplay the prospect of another referendum, promising only to consult on a draft bill, like the grand old Duchess of York marching her troops to the top of the hill and marching them back down again. Perhaps I can save the First Minister and her canvassers a little bit of time, because we know what the Scottish people think about independence, having asked that question two years ago. I hope that she was listening at the time.

The First Minister

Murdo Fraser will recall that, two years ago, his party told the people of Scotland that, if they voted no, their membership of the European Union would be protected. What is his position on that today?

Murdo Fraser

We were told that, if we voted yes, we could keep the pound as our currency, that we would be rich, that the oil price would be $105 a barrel and that there would be a tremendous dividend as a result—

The First Minister rose—

Murdo Fraser

No, you can sit down, First Minister. A tissue of nonsense was told by the yes campaign during that referendum, so do not come here and try to rewrite history.

We now have a chorus of voices from the business community warning against a second referendum, including the director of the Confederation of British Industry Scotland, Sir Ian McMillan, and the former chief executive of Scottish Enterprise, Jack Perry. Of course, the Government will say that they are the usual suspects. Perhaps they will listen to the same warning from those who were part of the yes campaign in 2014, such as Dan McDonald, Jim McColl and Peter de Vink.

We do not even have to look at the business community. All that the First Minister has to do is look behind her at her colleague Alex Neil, for instance—I do not know whether he is in the chamber; I looked for him earlier. He made an interesting speech in this debate yesterday—perhaps he has seen the resurrection of Mr Russell’s political career and his reinvigoration on the front bench and is hoping to get a slice of the action. In an important intervention recently, Mr Neil talked about the undesirability of a second independence referendum. Even on the First Minister’s own back benches, we hear people talking a great deal of sense on this particular issue.

A second independence referendum is the last thing that Scotland or the Scottish economy needs. The business community is virtually unanimous on this. We asked people the question two years ago and they gave us a clear answer. This is no time for a re-run.

In her peroration yesterday, the First Minister cast the political debate as being between

“a social democratic Government in the main stream of Scottish public opinion”

and a Conservative Opposition. [Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I ask the First Minister to desist from shouting from her seat.

Murdo Fraser

I am glad to see that I have agitated the First Minister.

The First Minister said that the debate

“means a real battle of ideas”.—[Official Report, 6 September 2016; c 20.]

She is absolutely right on that point, but the choices that we face are not the ones that she set out. She talks about her Government supporting economic growth, when every indicator has us falling behind the UK as a whole. As we heard this afternoon from Peter Chapman and Mike Rumbles, her Government has presided over the shambles of a farm payments system that is causing chaos in the rural economy.

The First Minister talks about improving public services, but people’s experience is the opposite. She talks about empowering local communities, when her Government has centralised power in Edinburgh—it has created a single national police force, emasculated local government and forced the closure of local services such as police control rooms and courts. As Adam Tomkins reminded us yesterday, the Government is keen on power being devolved from Westminster to Edinburgh but reluctant to pass power out from Edinburgh to any other part of Scotland.

The Government is far from being in the main stream of Scottish public opinion—the 2014 referendum result shows how divorced from reality that claim is. The bitterness and division that were caused in our country by that whole episode can hardly be classed as showing the solidarity that the First Minister claims for her Government and its programme.

Borrowing a phrase that John Major used in 1991, the First Minister said that her Government would create opportunity for all. However, real opportunity lies in growing the economy by supporting business, in promoting flexibility and local decision making in education, in keeping taxes on hard-working families competitive, in properly funding our further education colleges and in a renewed commitment to addressing fuel poverty. That is what the Opposition stands for.

On the key question of Scotland’s future, it is this Opposition, not that Government, that is in the main stream of public opinion. It is this Opposition that says no to a destructive and damaging rerun of the 2014 referendum. It is this Opposition, not that Government, that truly believes in the best Conservative tradition of opportunity for all.

We very much welcome the battle of ideas. I have every confidence that our ideas and our vision will increasingly win the Scottish people’s confidence.

16:47  

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

It is a pleasure to close the debate. I begin by addressing Iain Gray’s remarks about the child abuse inquiry, which falls within my ministerial responsibilities.

Significant issues have arisen over the summer, so I want to make it absolutely clear at the outset of the parliamentary term that I have looked carefully at the role of Scottish Government officials in relation to the inquiry’s operation. I am entirely satisfied that Scottish Government officials have exercised their responsibilities in a way that is entirely consistent with our role under the Inquiries Act 2005 and the Public Finance and Accountability (Scotland) Act 2000. I am happy to be scrutinised on that point; Mr Gray will understand that I have looked at the issue carefully.

I set out clearly to Parliament my determination that the child abuse inquiry should be able to fulfil its responsibilities utterly and entirely independently of the Government. That is why I appointed Lady Smith to chair the inquiry. She is a member of the inner house of the Court of Session of some 15 years’ standing and she has a reputation for strong and distinctive exercise of her judicial independence. I hope that my appointment of Lady Smith is viewed across Parliament as an indication of my determination to ensure that the inquiry can undertake its functions entirely independently.

Survivors have raised with me outstanding issues that I am considering. I will come back to Parliament when I have something further to say on those questions.

Iain Gray

I believe in all sincerity that Mr Swinney has satisfied himself of the independence of the inquiry. However, it is of course the confidence of the survivors that we need to regain. That is the important thing here. I say to Mr Swinney again, as I have said to him before privately, that to extend the remit of the inquiry as survivors have asked would go such a long way towards re-establishing the confidence that we need to see.

John Swinney

That is of course an issue that I am still considering. As Mr Gray will understand, there are very significant issues that weigh on both sides of the argument about the extent of the remit of the inquiry. However, it is an issue to which I am giving very significant and serious consideration. I discussed it with survivors’ groups last week and I will continue my consideration of those points.

This debate is an opportunity for the Government to set out its proposals for the duration of this forthcoming parliamentary year and to map out the direction of our policy thinking. Of course, the First Minister made it crystal clear in the statement yesterday that at the heart of this programme for Government is the determination to focus on strengthening the Scottish economy and on ensuring that we deliver excellence and equity within Scottish education. Ministers are all seized of those responsibilities and obligations as we take forward our agenda.

There are many challenges and one of the challenges that has percolated through the debate has been the challenge of tackling the issues of poverty and lack of opportunity in our society. That challenge is very relevant to the Government as we embark upon the consultation around the drafting of the social security bill and the design of a social security system within Scotland.

I thought that Clare Adamson, in her speech yesterday, very powerfully set out the issues that we have to confront about the existence of poverty within our society, the roots of that poverty being driven by the deindustrialisation of Scotland and the social disruption from the recklessness of policy in the 1980s.

However, it is our determination to make sure that the values that Clare Adamson reflected in her speech around creating a fair and respectful social security system are at the heart of the decisions that we take.

One of the other key points in yesterday’s debate was made by Kezia Dugdale in response to Ruth Davidson’s speech. Ruth Davidson called on us to introduce proposals for the creation of genuine opportunities for disabled people without a hint of irony, despite the damage and disruption to the interests and wellbeing of disabled people from the welfare actions of the Conservative Government that we have to try to respond to through our actions.

In addition to those responsibilities, the Government must steward its wider responsibilities in relation to public services. There has been quite a bit of commentary in the debate about the performance of the health service. It is interesting to note that in the Scottish social attitudes survey, there has been a 22 per cent increase in public satisfaction in the national health service in the past 10 years, since 2006; 90 per cent of Scottish in-patients say that overall care and treatment was good or excellent; and 87 per cent of patients rated the overall care provided by their general practitioner surgery as good or excellent.

Those are indications of the strength of the contribution that is made by hardworking members of staff the length and breadth of the country. That strength is also evidenced by the performance of the accident and emergency system in Scotland, which in June 2016 was the best-performing in the United Kingdom, at 95 per cent, compared with 85.8 per cent south of the border and weaker figures in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

Does the Deputy First Minister really think that those figures completely wipe away all the problems that we are having not only with GP waits and shortages but with the length of time that young people are having to wait for mental health treatment? Does he really think that those satisfaction figures deal with those problems?

John Swinney

Those figures are data that I am putting into the debate to perhaps temper some of the miserabilism that we have heard from the opposition about public service performance.

Mr Rennie is correct to raise the issue about mental health waits. We have seen a 30 per cent increase in demand for mental health services within Scotland and the Government is putting in more resources to address that issue. In relation to GP activities, the Government is putting in resources to ensure that we can expand GP training and we are committed to expanding that service. I use that data simply to put in context some of what has been said today about the performance of the health service.

In the debate that we hear about Police Scotland, there is very little comment on the fact that, despite the organisational changes that have taken place, it is still presiding over a 41-year low in crime in Scotland. That should reassure members of the public that our police services are working effectively, and that the communities in which we live are safer than they were and have been safer for some considerable time.

Douglas Ross

The Deputy First Minister mentioned that the crime figures are very low. However, what about public confidence in the single police force? In a recent survey from April to June this year, 40 per cent of people said that their confidence in Police Scotland was low or very low. Is that figure acceptable to the Scottish Government?

John Swinney

It is essential that Police Scotland continues to command public confidence in our country. However, I ask Mr Ross to reflect on the fact that we live in a country that is experiencing a 41-year low in crime. That should reassure members of the public about the effectiveness of our police forces, and also about the cohesion of our communities, which is central to the work of Police Scotland and the activities that it undertakes.

The First Minister concentrated on two principal themes: the economy and education. During the debate, there was some criticism of the Government for putting £100 million of additional capital investment into the economy. It is beyond me to work out how people can criticise that, but Murdo Fraser has just done so in criticising us for using underspend from last year.

Is there something wrong with that? Is there something wrong with deploying that investment today, when we need it in the face of the wanton vandalism of the Conservative party in the Brexit vote? We are the ones who are left picking up the pieces of the shambles that the Conservatives have inflicted, and they moan about the fact that we are investing £100 million of extra money in the economy.

Murdo Fraser’s line of argument was that the finance secretary had not gone to the Treasury to seek prior authorisation for our growth scheme. That rather suggests that Mr Fraser is preparing the ground for the United Kingdom Government to behave in an unreasonable fashion and not to accept the finance secretary’s legitimate and reasonable proposals. Let us look forward to seeing Mr Fraser go down to his colleagues in the UK Treasury, and get them to do the decent thing by enabling this Government to support Scottish business as we always have done.

Maurice Golden made a thoughtful contribution on the circular economy. I encourage him to continue with his line of argument so that we ensure that we expand the wider economic opportunities that are available in Scotland.

Mike Rumbles

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

John Swinney

Not at this moment.

A great deal has been said about education in the debate. Over the summer, I have made good on the proposals that I set out in the delivery plan to tackle bureaucracy in order to reduce teachers’ workload. That is for a purpose: to enable teachers to concentrate on their key task, which is to raise attainment in Scottish education. That will be the centrepiece of what the Government takes forward to ensure that we can deliver for every single young person in Scotland the best opportunities to which they aspire.

Clare Haughey spoke about the practical effect of those measures, and Jenny Gilruth highlighted the importance of establishing school, job and college links. Those elements are fundamental to the process. One of the highlights of results day in Scottish education was the fact that there was a 23 per cent increase in the vocational qualifications achieved in Scotland’s schools. That demonstrates that our agenda for developing Scotland’s young workforce is working for the young people of Scotland and is delivering good outcomes and results for them.

We have set out a programme for government that addresses the needs of the people of Scotland. It sets a bold agenda for how we can transform the life chances of young people, strengthen the economy and use the new powers that we have at our disposal to the maximum benefit of the people of Scotland.

This Government is determined to improve the life chances of every individual in Scotland. We challenge the Opposition parties to work with us to fulfil that objective, but nobody should doubt the ambition and determination of this Government to make Scotland a successful country. This programme will enable us to do exactly that.