Bill Kidd outlines the priorities of the new Government in Edinburgh
Euphoria is generally considered to be an exaggerated psychological state, but it’s certainly the mood of the moment as regards this second SNP Government, it’s first as a majority administration – at least amongst the growing party membership and those who supported the National Party during the recent electoral victory. The mood amongst the avowedly Unionist parties memberships and supporters is, unsurprisingly, less buoyant but also uncertain as to where Scottish politics is heading.
The plans for an Independence Referendum which the SNP had for the last parliamentary session had to be side-lined due to a lack of MSP numbers in support to have been a successful manoeuvre towards the establishment of a democratically-mandated state. Now, however, with the numbers at Holyrood on the side of the nationalist angels, a referendum is unequivocally back on the agenda. The London-based parties have been calling for second referendums and for Westminster to continue having the overriding say on the constitutional settlement even after the Scottish People have spoken.
Special Feature on Scotland
Tomorrow Richard Leonard, Scottish Labour’s candidate for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, says his party must understand the historic scale of its defeat in the May election if it is to have hope of recovery.
To give them their due, some Labour politicos such as Eric Joyce, George Foulkes and Helena Kennedy are engaging with the changing face of our nation’s political future by looking at a possible federalist system, or through espousing ‘fiscal responsibility’ as a means of widening the debate through the Scotland Bill whilst maintaining the political Union.
Meanwhile the SNP has proffered a hand of parliamentary cooperation to the opposition in order that legislation that is to pass through this session of our Parliament will have support which is as wide as possible and not been seen as being driven through by an unyielding majority government. This during the last parliament was a matter of political necessity but is now a matter of good governance and keeping faith with an electorate which still has variations as to how it would like to see Scotland’s constitutional future pan-out.
In terms of where the agenda for the next five years lies, the Scottish National Party is a social democratic party in the modern European mould and has a civic nationalist construct. It is therefore incumbent that the SNP stands on its internationalist bedrock as established by figures such as Alan McCartney and Neil McCormick and ensures that Scotland is in a position to play its full part as a member state of the European Union and within the United Nations.
Further to this commitment, last year I was honoured to present a statement of support for the UN Secretary General’s plan for a Nuclear Weapons Convention to Ambassador Cabactulan, the President of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference 2010. The UK has refused to engage seriously with this vital cog in the wheel of nuclear disarmament and instead under both the last Labour and the present Conservative/Lib Dem Governments have pressed ahead with Trident Replacement, in breach of Article Six of the NPT to which the UK is a signatory.
The SNP is unwavering in its support for nuclear disarmament and the dismantling of Trident and its removal from the Clyde and this will be one of the major issues on the agenda for resolution in the independence negotiations. The STUC/SCND Report of 2007 will be referred to when planning takes place for the use of the monies which will revert to the public purse when we are free of the many billions of pounds cost of Trident. The development of a renewables revolution in Scottish industry will be made easier by the investment of those huge sums presently being wasted.
Since 2007 the Scottish Government has started 24,000 new affordable houses, an average of 117 per week, creating construction sector jobs at this time of difficulty in those trades and this, along with abolishing the right-to-buy new builds, has shown a willingness to pursue what some might previously have thought would have been a ‘left-wing Labour’ agenda. Further, by committing £311.5 million in the 2011 Budget there is a new record high in creating 25,000 modern apprenticeships which must be seen as a social democratic measure in these financially-straitened times.
Some have argued that some of the more high-profile policy deliveries such as abolishing Prescription Charges and centrally-funding the freezing of the Council Tax have been mere populist window-dressing. However, they have been targeted at the lowest earners and argued for by Labour members many times in the past.
In education, the scrapping of the graduate endowment and rejecting calls for the introduction of tuition fees have helped in avoiding the creation of England’s developing two-tier structure which can only damage the prospects of young people from working-class and disadvantaged backgrounds. On that note the SNP Scottish Government’s announcement of £15 million investment in support of the poorest college students demonstrates a willingness, even under the present limited budget of devolution, to stand alongside those who need the extra help that only government intervention can deliver consistently.
The living wage for NHS workers at £7.15 per hour, introduced in April this year, is a start towards ensuring that benefits reliance becomes less of a necessity for many thousands of our fellow citizens.
We need the powers over pensions and benefits so that the Scottish Government and Parliament can be responsible for the maintenance of the costs of living for those who have need of state intervention and those who have contributed for years to the system of age or infirmity support. We need control of these finances which we can then decide how to direct for the most equitable and just distribution. As both the First Minister and John Swinney have stated in the Scottish Parliament, the SNP is opposed to the Westminster Coalition’s attack on public sector pensions and present and future pensioners. We stand with the position of the trade unions and their members in opposing the London Governments shameful attempts at lowering working and middle-class expectations by their policies of divide and rule between public and private sector workers.
Scotland has its own civic culture which must be nurtured and developed in a direction which is decided by the Scottish People themselves, through their political and civic institutions and through the right to self-determination as enshrined in the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This is so they may freely determine their political status and pursue their economic, social and cultural development. It must be for our people to determine their own political future through our own Scottish Parliament and for us then to freely enter into treaties of international law which will see us take a future position of cooperation and equality of development opportunities with all the people of the World in an end to colonialism, imperialism and exploitation.