Parliament could do much more for us
The new parliamentary session has started and MSPs have heard the First Minister’s annual programme for Government.
At the end of a difficult summer for the SNP, with significant electoral losses at the general election, this was supposed to reinvigorate the Government. It includes 16 new bills, yet last year they presented 15 bills with only four completing their journey through Parliament. This does not look like a Government focused on the day job.
Of these 16 bills and further announcements, so many of them are either taken from other parties manifestos or Scottish Government re-announcements. Nicola Sturgeon announced lifting the public sector pay cap although she and her MSPs voted against this earlier this year when it was a Labour proposal.
The Scottish Government will introduce a Bill to introduce an optout programme for organ donation, although they didn’t support Labour MSP Anne McTaggart’s bill to do exactly that at end of the last Parliament, meaning it was narrowly defeated. And they will introduce a scheme to address period poverty, an issue the Scottish Government had no plans for until pushed by Labour MSP Monica Lennon.
The First Minster recycled announcements on a Scottish Investment Bank, raising the age of criminal responsibility and a cancer strategy, among others, while pushing ahead with unpopular education reforms. Other headline announcements - a universal income, changes to taxation, public ownership of railways were all undefined, under consideration, out for consultation. Contrary to SNP spin, this is a Government lacking ambition and out of ideas.
In the year which marks 20 years since the referendum which secured public support for the Parliament, I and my Labour colleagues will work to urge the Scottish Government to use the existing and new powers of the Parliament to realise the hopes and ambitions of the Scottish people when they voted “Yes” to devolution.
While the programme for government will occupy most of the time in committee and the chamber, the Scottish Parliament was designed to be open and welcoming. Since Parliament returned I have had the pleasure of meeting with organisations from across Scotland.
In the past week, I have spoken to campaigners raising the issue of the challenges met by people with a facial disfigurement and met this year’s winner of the STUC Helen Downie Award for Lifelong Learning. I have listened to academics from Stirling University talk about quality of life for older people and thoroughly enjoyed the debate celebrating 50 years of the university led by Bruce Crawford MSP and I caught up with the Children’s Commissioner and spoke to businesses who are members of the Scottish Food and Drink Federation concerned about the impact of Brexit on their industry.
I believe that the existence of the Scottish Parliament continues to benefit people in Scotland but I do believe that the Parliament I campaigned for and am honoured to be elected to, could do much more to deliver investment in our public services, tackle poverty and inequality, and support our society to be fit for the 21st century.
The next few years will be challenging locally and internationally, but the people I meet every day in my role give me confidence that Scotland can flourish.
Parliament could do much more to deliver investment in our public services