Our ambitions for the future
The Scottish Parliament is now back in full swing after the summer recess.
We reconvened and spent the first week back debating the Programme for Government announced by the First Minister. Looking back over the media commentary that came from that announcement, it is crystal clear that the First Minister’s objective to deliver a bold and ambitious programme was fulfilled by the commitments and the ideas contained within the document.
After ten years in office, the Government has to take stock around what it has done in that period. We have quite literally transformed the infrastructure of Scotland with major investment in road, rail and broadband infrastructure. Early learning and childcare has been expanded and we have a rising level of attainment amongst school pupils. Our NHS is the best performing in the UK for A&E services and we are experiencing a 42-year low in crime.
Add to that the recent economic data, that showed Scotland had a lower unemployment rate and a higher employment rate than the rest of the UK and higher economic growth rate, there is clear evidence of stronger economic performance being delivered.
There is much therefore about which to be positive in the performance of public services and economic activity in Scotland.
The Programme for Government aims to build on that record with clear commitments to reform our education system to make it world class, double the level of early learning and child care and widen access to universities.
The opportunities presented by a National Investment Bank will be significant in building further economic growth and the measures to achieve our climate change targets will see Scotland lead the UK in transforming our transport infrastructure with a move to earlier conversion to electric vehicles. There will also be an open and transparent debate about the correct approach to taxation at a time when public sector pay constraint has been having an effect for some time.
Organisations such as the World Economic Forum have commended the Scottish Government for bringing forward such an ambitious agenda and it is really encouraging to see the international commendation for the steps we have taken. It is often difficult to hear this commentary when our domestic debate is dominated by such negativity.
The Programme for Government also sets out the considered approach the Scottish Government is taking to the issue of Brexit. And it is much needed.
As the UK Government demonstrates a farcical lack of coherence on the whole topic, and try to use Brexit to claw back powers from the Scottish Parliament, the clear thinking demonstrated by the Scottish and Welsh Governments is vital at this time. It is also essential to give hope to many businesses and individuals many of them who have made Scotland their home in recent years - who fear a significant a negative effect of Brexit.
As we embark on the next parliamentary year, I look forward to advancing our agenda to make Scotland a more prosperous and a fairer country.