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03/09/13 17:27

Speech about Programme for Government

First Minister Alex Salmond
Programme for Government
Tuesday 3 September 2013

It is better for all of us if decisions about Scotland’s future are taken by those who care most about Scotland – and that’s the people who choose to live and work in our country.

That’s the simple, but I think compelling truth at the heart of the case for independence. And the best evidence of that lies, of course, in the record of this parliament itself.

It’s now sixteen years since the people of this country had the confidence and belief to bring this Parliament into existence and in doing so we made a choice between two futures.

Between those who argued that Westminster should decide for Scotland how our schools, our universities, our hospitals should be run.

And those who maintained we would all benefit if decisions about Scotland were taken here in Scotland.

We now know, beyond peradventure, that taking decisions in Scotland works for individuals, it works for families and communities.

The parliament has demonstrated our concern for the most vulnerable in society. Free personal care for the elderly directly helps more than 77,000 people across Scotland, and our legislation on homelessness is seen as an example around the world.

We have started to tackle Scotland’s shameful health inequalities through the ban on smoking in public places and legislation on minimum pricing for alcohol.

We have helped hard-pressed families by freezing council tax, and by ending charges for prescriptions, eye and dental checks, and for bridge tolls.

We have revived and protected the ancient and proud Scottish commitment to education by reintroducing free university and college tuition.

And as confirmed this very day in the first Police Scotland statistics, we have recognised communities’ concerns about crime by adding more than 1,000 extra police officers – and thus we have seen crime fall to its lowest level for 39 years.

All of these measures – and many more – demonstrate that this parliament is delivering for communities across the country.

Conversely, we also now know beyond peradventure that there’s a heavy cost when we leave decisions in the hands of Westminster

We get governments we don’t vote for.

We get the bedroom tax.

We get cuts to capital spending in the teeth of a recession.

We get attacks on the poor and on people with disabilities.

And we get weapons of mass destruction on the River Clyde.

A poll published yesterday – and confirmed by the Social Attitudes Survey – asked people whether they trust the Scottish Parliament or the UK Parliament to take decisions for Scotland - 60 per cent of people in Scotland trust Holyrood, compared to just 16 per cent who trust Westminster.

The contrast – and also the choice – facing the people next year could not be clearer.

This year’s legislative programme – with 13 bills in total – will continue that strong track record - not just of this government, but of this parliament.

Of course, not everything that matters can be addressed through legislation. But legislation does matter. All 13 of the bills in this year’s programme will make a genuine difference to the people of Scotland. They demonstrate effective governance.

One of the opportunities provided by devolution is to reform Scotland’s public bodies and public services - making them more efficient and better at their true role of serving the public.

When we took office, there were 199 public bodies in Scotland. Now, there are 113 – a reduction of more than 40%. The public sector landscape is less cluttered, but more focussed and more effective.

This year, we will introduce legislation to merge Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland – that will enable them to operate more efficiently and enhancing our ability to preserve and protect our heritage.

But the focus of public authorities can be really important - especially if a vacuum is developing at UK level. In 2010 the Food Standards Agency was controversially deprived of its responsibilities for nutrition and labelling by the UK Government. That move was subsequently seen by Westminster’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee as contributing to the UK’s poor handling of the horsemeat scandal. And therefore, the Food Standards (Scotland) Bill will establish a new body to take over all of the FSA’s old functions. The new body will ensure that the industry and public in Scotland can have full confidence in the safety and provenance of our food.

There are several other bills this year which draw on expert reviews, and will ensure that our laws are up to date and our public services are responsive and efficient.

The Mental Health and Adults with Incapacity Bill will implement recommendations made by the McManus Review Group and others.

It will improve the efficiency of mental health legislation. And importantly, for the first time, victims of mentally disordered offenders will be notified if the person who has committed a crime against them is being released from custody, and therefore will be able to make representations to the mental health tribunal.

A Damages Bill will reform key aspects of the law relating to damages for personal injury – enacting the recommendations made by the Scottish Law Commission.

The Conclusion of Contracts Bill will make it easier for contracts to be agreed electronically, helping to ensure that Scotland is an attractive place to do business.

And the Bankruptcy Consolidation Bill will make Scottish bankruptcy law more accessible.

And the Courts Reform Bill will enable civil cases to be resolved more quickly. It implements the proposals from Lord Gill’s Scottish Civil Courts Review, including the establishment of a new Sheriff Appeal Court and a specialist personal injury court. It will ensure cases are dealt with at the right level – recognising the Court of Session’s historic role as the apex of our civil courts, and delivering faster, fairer justice right across the system. It represents the most radical set of changes to the civil courts in more than a century.

There is one other change to the justice system that will be of interest to this parliament. We have all now accepted the need to end the system of automatic early release, which was brought in by the Conservative Government in 1993 – and then left in place by the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition here at Holyrood. It does not command public confidence.

We are now in a position to end automatic early release for sexual offenders getting sentences of more than four years and for serious violent offenders. This follows our work to stabilise - and then to reduce over time- the prison population, by implementing other recommendations of the McLeish Commission, such as introducing strong community based sentences for less serious offenders.

Further steps will follow as we continue the successful implementation of the justice reform programme.

These things I’ve mentioned – the action on food standards, the new rights for victims of mentally disordered offenders, major improvements to the justice system - these are in themselves the fruits of having our own parliament. I can tell you from 23 years’ experience of Westminster that that Parliament only rarely had the time or inclination to respond to specific Scottish challenges or priorities.

However, these bills are also part of a larger story. This is a parliament which listens to evidence and seeks consensus where possible. It’s a parliament which has used its powers to create opportunities for people across the country. And through the Programme for Government that we are publishing today, it’s a parliament which over the course of this year, will empower Scottish communities and create a fairer Scotland; accelerate economic recovery; and mitigate the impact of Westminster austerity.

One of the most important bills of the next parliament is the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill. The Bill will strengthen community planning, simplify the operation of the community right to buy and make it easier for communities to buy public sector land and buildings.

One of this parliament’s great early achievements was the Land Reform (Scotland) Act – introduced by a coalition government with support across this chamber.

This Government has given new momentum to the right-to-buy provisions of that legislation. We launched the Scottish Land Fund, established the Land Reform Review Group, and earlier in the summer announced a new ambition – that by 2020 the amount of land owned by the communities of Scotland will double to an impressive total of 1 million acres.

In June we approved an application to register a community interest in land at Cape Wrath, next to the famous lighthouse.

There are, in fact, two famous lighthouses at the north and south tips of our west coast. The southern one, at Mull of Galloway, came into community ownership this year. The land at Cape Wrath is now well on its way to community ownership.

With due respect to the Ministry of Defence, I suspect that most people in Scotland would rather have the stunning walkways of Cape Wrath – including the northern end of the new Scottish National Trail – in community ownership, and freely accessible to the people, rather than being the extension to a bombing range.

This year’s summer cabinets saw additional steps to empower communities.

In July, in Shetland, we established a working group to look at greater powers for the island councils.

Two weeks ago, in Hawick, we facilitated the Borderlands initiative, which sees the Scottish Borders Council and Dumfries and Galloway Council working with northern English local authorities.

Last week, in Campbeltown, we announced the establishment of a rural parliament to give greater weight to the needs and priorities of remote and rural communities.

This morning, in Dundee, I saw the importance of community empowerment in urban areas. St Mary’s Community Centre was created by the people in that local area. They created a board, raised the funding and they drove the project through. I saw the one of the art workshops that the centre provides- everyone I met was passionate about the benefits of the centre, and the importance of the work done by the community to help itself.

When Cabinet was in Campbeltown I spoke about how independence offers an opportunity to renew democracy at all levels in Scotland. That’s true at a national level – we can draft a written constitution affirming the most treasured values of a newly-independent nation. But it also applies at a local level. Independence isn’t just about national institutions – it’s about releasing the potential of our people and our local communities.

Our Licensing Bill is a further example of our commitment to strong local powers. It improves and extends powers for local authorities in areas such as the regulation of metal dealers - a move which will help to tackle metal theft - and the licensing of taxis and private hire cars. It will introduce a new offence of supplying alcohol to under 18 year olds.

It will also introduce a new licensing system for air weapons. Following the tragic death of Andrew Morton some years ago, there was wide support in this chamber for devolving the regulation of such weapons. Now, this parliament can finally meet public concern over the issue – finding a Scottish solution to that Scottish priority.

This government also recognises that strong public services are a bedrock on which communities and individuals rely. They are an essential part of our vision for a fairer Scotland.

Since the start of the Scottish Patient Safety Programme in 2008, standardised mortality in hospitals has fallen by almost 12%.
Don Berwick, who was President Obama’s Adviser on healthcare, and recently advised the UK government about how to meet the problems in the health service south of the border, said that the Programme “is without doubt one of the most ambitious patient safety initiatives in the world – national in scale, bold in aims, and disciplined in science…aligned toward a common vision, making Scotland the safest nation on earth from the viewpoint of health care” The programme is an outstanding example of how devolution has enabled us to protect the NHS as a genuine public national health service.

Housing is another example. In 2003 the Homelessness Act was one of the most significant commitments ever made by any parliament anywhere to assist homeless people. In 2002, 10,000 homeless households were classed as non-priority cases – with no rights to settled accommodation. This year, the figure is zero. All people made unintentionally homeless now have a right to settled accommodation.

The Housing Bill we will introduce next year is a further step towards making decent housing available for everyone – by removing right to buy entitlements for tenants, the bill will protect social housing stock. It will also strengthen protection for tenants in the private rented sector by introducing new measures to deal with housing disputes and to regulate the letting industry.

The legislation forms part of a broader commitment from this government to make decent housing accessible and affordable. During the five years of this parliament, we intend to build 30,000 affordable homes – at least 5,000 of which will be Council Houses.

For those of you interested in statistics - and I suspect that commands the whole of the chamber – that represents a 66,500% increase on the rate of council house construction under the previous government – when 6 council houses were built in four years; all of them in Shetland.

These commitments – a truly national health service, decent affordable housing – they’re part of a wider vision of society. One based on cohesion, not division; social inclusion, not stigma.

That belief and that philosophy explains why we have made certain services universally available.

• Pensioners benefit from free bus travel. That is all pensioners.
• All of us have the reassurance of free personal care being available when we are older.

• We established in 2007 that there were actually 600,000 people earning below £16,000 a year who were liable to pay prescription charges. Many people had to choose which prescribed medicine they could take - until this Government restored a Health Service free at the point of need.

• Students have the right to a free education – enabling them to earn and then to contribute to society through a fair taxation system.

These advances are what we like to call the social wage – services are available to everyone, because everyone contributes to society. It’s the same spirit which has influenced other Government policies – no compulsory redundancies in the public sector; the introduction of a living wage; the council tax freeze to help hard-pressed families.

Some people see the price of such policies, not their value. They say these social gains are not sustainable. I say what makes them sustainable is that they are universal, part of a social wage.

If they weren’t universal then then those in receipt of the social benefit would be separated and stigmatised - exactly as is happening with the UK Government’s welfare agenda.

And far from being a something for nothing culture, the social wage is a contract we have with the people of Scotland. To suggest this is ‘something for nothing’ is to mimic the bankrupt ideology prevailing in the Westminster Parliament.

The social wage also has an economic benefit. By helping to provide a secure, stable and inclusive society, the public sector will nurture and encourage the talent and ambition of the people. Scotland will be a place where people want to invest, work and live.

The social wage helps to show that prosperity and fairness gang thegither. There is no trade-off between living in a wealthy country and living in a good society.

So, the social wage is one part of the distinctive approach that this government has taken to supporting recovery in recent years.

The Budget Bill will maintain that approach, while continuing to drive recovery and long term economic growth.

We will continue to protect our infrastructure investment programme, in the face of the 26% real terms cut the UK government has made to our Capital budget. We are supporting more than £10 billion of investment from 2012 to 2015.

We are continuing to support key sectors of the economy – such as renewable energy, food and drink, life sciences and tourism.

And we are investing in skills – we delivered more than 25,000 modern apprenticeships last year. 92% of those who completed an apprenticeship are still in work 6 months later.

Now, the success of modern apprenticeships is one reason – just one – why youth unemployment has fallen from 113,000 to 77,000 since Angela Constance was appointed as Europe’s only youth employment minister. It’s still far too high, but we now have one of the better rates in Europe – across Scotland, central government, local government, the third sector and the private sector are making young people our business.

And the approach we have taken so far is working. Ernst and Young reported last month that our exports are expected to grow at 6 times the rate of the rest of the UK over the next four years. Our recession was shallower than the UK’s. Scotland is performing better than the rest of the UK on all of the major employment measures.

The number of inward investment projects Scotland secured increased by 49% last year. Ernst and Young, again this summer, commented on the “ongoing rise in Scotland’s relative attractiveness for Foreign Direct Investment compared to most other areas of the UK.”

Now, this chamber will remember that this is exactly the opposite of George Osborne’s infamous prediction in November 2011, when he said the prospect of independence would deter inward investors.

He maintained his disastrous record of economic forecasting earlier this week by suggesting that Canada – the best performing economy in the developed world – was disadvantaged by its independence, in comparison with the UK, the second worst performing economy in the G7.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is in Aberdeen today, continuing this dismal record of forecasting.

I heard him on the radio this morning claiming that Scotland’s GDP would be 4% higher in 30 years’ time if we stayed under Westminster control.

In fact, as an independent country, Scotland’s GDP will be 17% higher in 3 years’ time, as our oil and gas reserves are counted for the first time in our GDP statistics. This will place us in the top ten countries in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), in terms of wealth per head.

But within the UK we are severely limited in the measures we can take to assist recovery and boost GDP. Key fiscal levers such as public capital investment, corporation tax and air passenger duty remain outside our control.

We have already shown the potential for a different approach to taxation. One of this Government’s first steps was to establish the most competitive business rates regime anywhere in the UK. We have legislated to replace Stamp Duty with a more progressive Land and Buildings Transaction Tax. We have also introduced a Bill for the new Scottish Landfill Tax.

The Revenue Scotland and Tax Powers Bill will establish Revenue Scotland to collect these taxes from 2015. The Bill will also put in place a framework which will apply to all devolved taxes.

Over the period to 2020, we estimate that the start-up and operational costs in setting up Revenue Scotland will be significantly lower than if we had asked Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs to perform the same duties. That could be a sign of the UK’s diseconomies of scale –however it further makes the case for tax powers being controlled and administered from this Parliament.

The establishment of Revenue Scotland is a historic step – but it’s only a first step.

After all, these devolved taxes - which are the most on offer from Westminster if we stay in the UK – mean that from 2015 Scotland will collect 15% of all taxation revenue, rather than 7% at the present moment. This Parliament will still be a spending chamber rather than a revenue raising chamber. That’s deeply harmful to Scotland – it means we cannot use our fiscal powers to grow the economy.

Scotland’s economy has performed better than the rest of the UK in recent years. But what that means, at present, is that in the first quarter of this year our economy was 2% below its peak output level of 2008, while the UK was 3.9% below.

It’s worth noting that Canada – which by implication George Osborne thinks should merge with the United States of America – was 6.4% above its pre-recession peak.

The contrast between Scotland and the UK, and these international ratings, demonstrate a truth.

This Parliament can mitigate the impact of UK government policies – our growth levels can be slightly higher, our employment figures a bit better. But mitigation is what it is –we can’t stop capital spending being slashed; we can’t use taxation policies to encourage business; we can’t harness all of the natural and human resources to build a richer and fairer society.

And there’s a further reason why we need independence.

By next year, the UK government’s welfare reforms will reduce household incomes in Scotland by almost £2 billion a year. Much of that is money taken out of the pockets of those in work and earning low wages.

Yet last year, the UK Government announced £350 million more of spending on the next stage of Trident renewal. That money, of course, is barely one third of one per cent of the estimated £100 billion lifetime total cost of a decision to replace the current Trident system.

The question is how can any Government choose to embark on expenditure of £100 billion, to renew Europe’s largest concentration of weapons of mass destruction, while reducing benefits for the poorest households across the country?

Or as Margaret Lynch, the Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Scotland asked this Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee this year, when she spoke of the impact of the cuts on her organisation: “How is it possible in the 21st century in an advanced capitalist society…that we are having to give our volunteers suicide awareness training because the welfare state is being ripped asunder?”

This Government is providing almost £8 million of support to advice centres across Scotland, so that they can cope as people in extremity come to them for help.

It’s one of a number of steps we have taken to mitigate Westminster’s welfare cuts. We have already, jointly with COSLA, agreed this year to meet the cost of the UK Government’s cut in funding for council tax benefit successor arrangements - and that protects more than half a million people on low incomes across Scotland.

This year we are providing an additional £9 million towards the new Scottish Welfare Fund - giving a total of £33 million.

The Fund helps vulnerable people in a financial emergency, or enables them to get household goods to set up home or remain in their community - rather than going into care.

In this session, the Scottish Welfare Fund Bill will put the basis of this new Fund onto a secure and statutory footing – establishing a safety net for vulnerable people across the entire country.

There’s a hugely important point here.

I talked earlier about how devolution has protected the NHS in Scotland. Looking at the chaos and the fragmentation brought about by health reform south of the border, is there anyone who seriously wishes that Westminster could run our health service? And seeing the misery and suffering being brought about by welfare changes, is there anyone who wants Westminster to retain control of welfare? An independent Scotland will have the wit to develop a welfare system that lets work pay without reducing people to penury or despair.

Presiding Officer, in addition to the 13 bills we are introducing this year, this Parliament will consider the Referendum (Scotland) Bill.

It provides the legal underpinning for the vote on 18 September next year, when the people of Scotland will decide this country’s future.

Either a yes or a no vote has consequences for the future.

The real debate is how to create a prosperous country and a just society. Our attitude towards the disadvantaged and vulnerable. Our welcome for people who want to settle here. Our relationship with Europe and the rest of the world. Our strength as a society to which we all contribute and from which we all benefit.

Even more fundamentally, independence is about who decides on these questions. The problem for the No Campaign is they will have to explain why an independent Scotland would be uniquely incapable of taking these decisions for ourselves.

Why should we rely on a Westminster system to take decisions - many of which, like the bedroom tax, have been utterly misguided - when we have proved over the last 14 years that we, as a Parliament, are more than capable of delivering real progress for the people of Scotland?

In the months ahead we may well debate our particular views about education, about health, about employment; about welfare reform. But one thing which the record of this parliament shows and demonstrates – and upon which we should all agree - is that it is better to decide things for ourselves than to have others decide for us. In my view the logic of that – completing the powers of this parliament - that is independence. And that is what people will vote for in 380 days’ time.

The value of Scotland’s parliament is demonstrated by this programme for government and that is why I commend it to this chamber.