CommonSpace rounds up a selection of reactions to the new Programme for Government from commentators, trade unions, campaign groups and the third sector.
THE NEW PROGRAMME FOR GOVERNMENT has unveiled a raft of policies, some surprising and some long planned.
These include the SNP’s controversial education reforms, research into the possibility of a Citizen’s Basic Income, new measures of homelessness and child poverty, a climate change bill, plans to address period poverty and fuel poverty, the establishment of a national investment bank and the targeted phasing out of new diesel and petrol vehicles.
Below, CommonSpace offers a selection of civic Scotland’s diverse reactions and opinions on the new policies outlined in the Programme.
Robin McAlpine, director of the Common Weal think tank
This is a much more substantial agenda for government and has a number of genuinely promising ideas in it. In particular, we’ve been campaigning for a Scottish National Investment Bank for three years and we’re delighted this is now going ahead.
“We’ve been campaigning for a Scottish National Investment Bank for three years and we’re delighted this is now going ahead.” Common Weal director Robin McAlpine
It is now crucial that this programme is pursued with vigour and that focus goes onto designing the details in a way that delivers maximum impact for communities across Scotland. For example, it’s important that the national investment bank is there to level the playing field for Scottish businesses competing with the likes of Tesco and that we don’t replicate the Tesco model.
Laurie Macfarlane, economist and author of Blueprint for a Scottish National Investment Bank
Today’s announcement of a new Scottish National Investment Bank is a welcome step forward. As we have long argued, meeting the challenges of the twenty-first century requires patient, long-term, committed finance – something that Scotland desperately lacks.
“Will the new institution be granted substantive borrowing powers so that it can invest on the scale required to transform Scotland’s economy?” Economist Laura Macfarlane
There are still many aspects of the proposals that are unknown. The most important of these is around scale and scope: will the new institution be granted substantive borrowing powers so that it can invest on the scale required to transform Scotland’s economy? And what does the government want the bank to invest in? A national investment bank has the potential to be truly transformative, but as ever the devil will be in the detail.
Lucy McTernan, deputy chief executive of the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations
SCVO have long supported pilot schemes to explore the workings of a Citizens’ Basic Income and we welcome the establishment of a new fund to encourage local authorities to do this. This puts Scotland in a select group of pioneering countries and will give us a better understanding of how a minimum income can tackle poverty and help people contribute in different ways at different times – whether as carers, innovators or volunteers. We believe any pilot projects must be designed in conjunction with citizens and we know the third sector can help to facilitate this.
“SCVO have long supported pilot schemes to explore the workings of a Citizens’ Basic Income and we welcome the establishment of a new fund to encourage local authorities to do this.” SCVO deputy chief executive Lucy McTernan
As Brexit poses an unprecedented challenge to the human rights protections we have come to take for granted over the decades, we are also pleased to see the Scottish Government take action to ensure we don’t stand ‘frozen in time’, but continue to lead by example in terms of advancing our collective human rights. With third sector organisations most acutely aware of what human rights mean for different groups all across Scotland, we know their input will be crucial to success.
Scotland’s voluntary organisations are feeling the pinch at a time when funding is harder to access and demand for support is increasing. We are therefore pleased to see a commitment to rolling three year funding. However, considering this has never fully been realised, despite continual assurances, we remain only cautiously optimistic and look forward to hearing greater detail.
Shuwanna Aaron, NUS Scotland Women’s Officer
Providing free sanitary products will radically improve the lives of many students in Scotland who currently experience the financial burden of paying for vital sanitary products.
Our students’ associations, and many communities, have pioneered projects to provide free sanitary products, but stretched budgets mean this is not a sustainable option in the long term.
“Providing free sanitary products will radically improve the lives of many students in Scotland who currently experience the financial burden of paying for vital sanitary products.” NUS Scotland Women’s Officer Shuwanna Aaron
Funding these products is a clear recognition from the Government of the impact that these unfair costs have on students already stretched finances, and in turn on the health and wellbeing of those students who have periods. We look forward to working with colleges, universities, and government to see this scheme rolled out, as well as working with Trans students to ensure that these products are available to every student who menstruates, however they define their gender.
NUS Scotland has also welcomed the Scottish Government reiterating its commitments to fair access, ensuring that our universities reflect the societies they exist to serve – an ambition NUS Scotland shares and will continue to push to achieve.
Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland
This is the greenest programme for government in the history of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government has put improving and protecting the environment at the heart of their legislative and policy programme. Promises here will reduce climate change emissions, save people from air pollution and help Scotland become a leading example of a low carbon country. This package is a very significant step towards a fossil-free Scotland.
The First Minister explicitly recognised our moral responsibility to act on climate change and stated her commitment to doing Scotland’s full share of global efforts to limit warming to 1.5c. The measures announced today mean the Scottish Government should find little difficulty in further increasing ambition in the new climate act.
“This is the greenest programme for government in the history of the Scottish Parliament.” Friends of the Earth Scotland director Dr Richard Dixon
We’re excited to hear that that the Government is taking steps to establish a Scottish National Investment Bank. This bank could create thousands of green jobs by transforming transport, heating, housing and electricity. An effective Scottish National Investment Bank will need sufficient capital, borrowing powers and governance, and must be purposed towards the major economic challenge of our time: transforming our economy to be fit for a low-carbon future.
It is also good news that the Scottish Government intend to announce a decision on fracking in the coming weeks. Over 60,000 people responded to the consultation on the future of the industry, the vast majority calling for a ban. We urge the Scottish Government to do the right thing and establish a full ban in law to stop fracking from going ahead, protecting communities and nature across the central belt.
Sarah Boyak, head of public affairs at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations
We were pleased to hear the First Minister acknowledge during her speech that “one of the most important contributors to a good quality of life is housing”. We also welcome the Scottish Government’s ongoing commitment to meeting the affordable housing target of 50,000 homes by March 2021.
It is vital that housing is kept centre stage of debates at the Scottish Parliament, as having a warm, energy efficient, affordable home is vital for everyone’s health and wellbeing.
“We would like to see the government commit to housing investment beyond the lifetime of the current parliament as this will allow for long-term planning.” SFHA head of public affairs Sarah Boyak
However, a lack of access to affordable land threatens the pace of development. In order to tackle this, we would like to see local authorities allowed to transfer land at existing value for development and national or regional bodies set up to deliver infrastructure up front in order to unlock key sites and increase the delivery of affordable housing. It is also important that housing is built where it is needed and regional, as well as national, targets will help facilitate this.
We also whole-heartedly agree with the First Minister’s comment that “good quality, warm and affordable housing is vital to ensuring a Scotland that is fair for this and future generations”. However, in order to deliver for future generations, we would like to see the government commit to housing investment beyond the lifetime of the current parliament as this will allow for long-term planning.
Keith Robson, chief executive of Age Scotland
Age Scotland released figures last week which show more than 200,000 Scots aged over 65 – one in five – are finding life a struggle financially. We urgently need more investment in our health and social care system.
While initiatives such as Self-Directed Support are well-intended, too few people are aware of their options and can access this help.
“We urgently need more investment in our health and social care system.” Age Scotland chief executive Keith Robson
We have welcomed the fact that there will be a national strategy on tackling loneliness and isolation. Too many older people suffer from social isolation and it is vital to address this and the very real impact on their physical and mental health.
The Programme for Government includes steps in the right direction. Now we need to focus on ensuring it really delivers for Scotland’s older people.
Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance
The Poverty Alliance welcomes today’s announcement on the Poverty and Inequality Commission. We believe that putting this commission onto a statutory footing is essential to guaranteeing its independence.
“We have today called on all of Scotland’s party leaders to support putting the Poverty and Inequality into statute.” Poverty Alliance director Peter Kelly
Alongside 36 other organisations, we have today called on all of Scotland’s party leaders to support putting the Poverty and Inequality into statute, and hope all parties can work together to achieve this.
There is also an urgent need to do more to address fuel poverty and homelessness, so we welcome commitments to bring forward new legislation in these areas. It is vital that real action is taken to address critical areas.
Official statement from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Plans to evaluate options to create a deep sea national marine reserve are positive, and we look forward to hearing more about them, but Government must prioritise introducing management of fishing activity in existing MPAs and formally adopting those protected areas already proposed, and supported by scientific advice, for seabirds, whales, dolphins, and basking sharks.
“Disappointingly, long overdue legislative reform on inshore fisheries appears to have been kicked into the long grass.” RSPB statement
A commitment to develop a dolphin and porpoise conservation strategy is great news, as these species face widespread and multiple threats. We will follow this closely as it is a model that could perhaps also be applied to help improve prospects for Scotland’s seabirds.
Disappointingly, long overdue legislative reform on inshore fisheries appears to have been kicked into the long grass. The Scottish inshore fisheries strategy published in October 2015 made clear that “21st century fisheries management needs 21st century tools” in part to meet nature conservation obligations, and promised a fresh legislative framework. The 2016-17 Programme for Government included plans to develop an Inshore Fisheries Bill to modernise management but this has not progressed and there is not a single mention here. This is an opportunity missed to keep the momentum going on a widely supported strategy.
Gina Hanrahan, acting Head of Policy at the World Wildlife Fund Scotland
The First Minister has set out an ambitious, progressive and green Programme for Government, which puts Scotland’s low carbon economy in the driving seat.
Scotland has long been home to world class innovation and this Programme for Government is a welcome commitment to build on our strengths and embrace a sustainable future with confidence. The benefits of today’s announcement will continue to be felt across Scotland for generations to come, as we build on the huge successes of renewable electricity, to create new jobs in clean transport and deliver a thriving economy. We’ll be working with Ministers and MSPs from across the Scottish Parliament to ensure these plans are delivered in the best, fairest, most affordable way possible.
“This is a clear signal from the Scottish Government that the transition away from oil and gas to the renewable energy of the future is inevitable and will lead to new economic opportunities if it is carefully planned.” WWF Scotland acting head of policy Gina Hanrahan
With transport the single biggest contributor to climate change in Scotland, we’re delighted the First Minister has heeded the call of thousands of people across Scotland to cut pollution from our cars. Decarbonising our transport sector in fifteen years will create new jobs, cut emissions and clean up our polluted air. This announcement will help accelerate the shift to electric vehicles and sets us up to lead the technologies of the future.
The plastic bag charge has already proved a roaring success so it makes sense to encourage people to reduce the growing mountain of disposable coffee cups. We already know that deposit return schemes for bottles work in other countries, and would be popular with people in Scotland. If everyone used as many resources as we currently do, we’d need three planets to survive. Reducing, reusing and recycling is essential if we’re to limit our use of precious resources to sustainable levels.
This is a clear signal from the Scottish Government that the transition away from oil and gas to the renewable energy of the future is inevitable and will lead to new economic opportunities if it is carefully planned.
With as many as 3,000 deaths across Scotland as a result of air pollution, extending low emissions zones to four major cities will save lives and supports the welcome goal to help people transition out of petrol and diesel cars. We look forward to seeing the first of these zones delivered in Glasgow or Edinburgh within a year.
Lynn Henderson, National Officer for PCS
There are positive noises coming from Holyrood, but we know that kind words are not enough.
For a meaningful conversation on taxation to take place, the Scottish Government must immediately demand that HMRC halts its plan to close 90% of tax offices in Scotland. Unless you have tax workers, you can’t collect tax. If you can’t collect tax, you can’t pay for public services.
“The Scottish Government must use both our tax workers and our taxation powers to properly fund our Scottish public sector.” PCS National Officer Lynn Henderson
Simply put, the Scottish Government must use both our tax workers and our taxation powers to properly fund our Scottish public sector. This means taxing the richest to properly pay for jobs and services.
However, it is vital that the financial support required is available to students throughout their education to ensure they are supported to remain in education and succeed. As part of the independent review of student support we will work to ensure that students have entitlement to the financial support they need wherever they study.
Janet Archer, chief executive of Creative Scotland
We very much welcome today’s announcement of this significant investment in Scotland’s screen sector, as part of the Programme for Government.
The £10m of new investment announced today reflects the Scottish Government’s commitment to Screen and is recognition of its important contribution to Scotland’s cultural landscape and to inclusive economic growth.
This new funding will help build on the recent growth seen in Scotland’s Screen sector, exemplified by the record levels of spend on TV and Film production that Scotland is currently enjoying.
Jonathon Shafi, writer and co-founder of the New Foreign Policy think tank
Despite the Scottish left being disaggregated, by maximising unity of purpose in extra parliamentary movements rooted in class politics there exists the potential to pull the situation leftwards. It’s about raising the political level – and developing arenas of debate that allow us to confront the big questions of the day. And its about understanding politics is about relations, not loyalty to a party badge.
“Nothing is ever delivered from on high.” New Foreign Policy think tank co-founder Jonathon Shafi
Take the Scottish Investment Bank for example. Isn’t this kind of move – problematic details aside momentarily – the culmination of the threat Corbynism poses electorally, the internal lobbying of the SNP left and organisations like Common Weal? Is the policy on homelessness not there due to the relentless campaigning that has gone on around this issue in recent months, by social movements like Living Rent? Or might we look to the work carried out by women’s groups that raised the question of access to sanitary products? No doubt the lack of radical land reform exposed a timidity that time and again would be raised by campaigners. Campaigners who now have to make sure the exploration of a Land Value Tax is more than words. Perhaps scrapping the public sector pay cap came in part because another show down with the Unions in the wake of the recent college lecturers strike would further relieve the SNP of electoral support. After the pressure around transport – to leave out a public sector bid for the railways would have been roundly criticised. Nothing is ever delivered from on high.
Richard Murphy, political economist
I agree with Nicola Sturgeon: within the constraints of the current devolved powers given to Scotland then she has no choice but tax if she is, as required, to meet social need and balance the Scottish budget. But, as I argued in my Common Weal White Paper on Scottish Tax, this constraint exists because Scotland does not have its own central bank and does not have its own currency, both if which it could have if independent. Nor is it allowed to borrow. The reality is that without these key components that help define statehood there is no choice but balance the Scottish budget, even if to do so might not be what is actually required for Scotland to prosper.
“Within the constraints of the current devolved powers given to Scotland then she has no choice but tax if she is, as required, to meet social need and balance the Scottish budget.” Political economist Richard Murphy
In that case the option being presented by the SNP may not be optimal, but it is the only one that is possible. This needs to be understood. Tax and service provision need not be, and even should not be directly related one to the other in a well managed economy where the aim is full employment and low inflation as well as a comprehensive welfare state. But when constraints, such as those Scotland suffers, are put on that process, outcomes will be sub-optimal. This needs to be said, loud and often.
It may be time to tax in Scotland, but only because there is no other choice.
Picture courtesy of Graeme Maclean
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