Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Coalition Cuts Strengthen Independence Initiative

Alex Salmond outlines SNP programme for government

Published Date: 08 September 2010
THE Scottish Government's budget for next year will be at the heart of the SNP's legislative programme, the First Minister announced today.

Alex Salmond (pictured) warned that the outlook for public spending was the worst it had been since the aftermath of the Second World War.

Mr Salmond said: "Everything we do in this session of Parliament and every legislative programme for many years to come will be set against that context."

As well as highlighting the importance of next year's Scottish budget, Mr Salmond also used his statement on the SNP administration's programme for government to make the case for Holyrood to have greater financial powers.

The First Minister said: "Now that we face a public sector hurricane, never was the case for independence and financial responsibility more obvious and true.

"For make no mistake: devolution, as we knew it, is over.

"When the money from London, or rather delivered via London, is being cut, then the game has changed, and changed totally."

He called for the Scottish Government to be given the power to raise cash, arguing: "Scotland needs control of its own resources and the ability to grow revenue, rather than just cut expenditure.

"We need control over both sides of the Scottish balance sheet."

The Budget Bill for 2011-12 will be one of 10 bills that the minority SNP administration will bring forward before next May's Holyrood elections.

New legislation to crack down on unscrupulous rogue landlords is planned, along with a bill to end double jeopardy - the 800-year-old law which prevents a person being tried twice for the same crime.

The Scottish Government also plans a bill to provide assistance for victims of forced marriage and those at risk of forced marriage.

In last year's programme for government, the SNP had put forward plans for a Bill to enable a referendum on independence.

And while this will still be published, it will not be put to a vote in Holyrood before the next election.

With Labour, the Tories and Liberal Democrats all fiercely opposed to this, Ms Salmond said they were "ganging up to stop it".

Instead of bringing a Referendum Bill to the Parliament, where it would face defeat, the SNP will now make the issue a key one in next year's election campaign.

The First Minister said today: "We will take our case for greater powers to the people of Scotland."

With 10 separate pieces of legislation to be brought forward, Mr Salmond pointed out his programme contained more bills than the previous Scottish Executive had brought forward in its final year.

He commented: "We will be introducing 10 bills to this Parliament - four more, I note, than at the equivalent period in the last Parliament."

The First Minister said the Scottish Government would submit its Budget Bill within four weeks of the Comprehensive Spending Review at Westminster - due to take place on October 20.

The SNP has faced repeated calls to publish its spending plans before then but Mr Salmond said that would be "wrong-headed".

He added: "To base our budgets on a guess about how savage George Osborne and David Cameron may be strikes me as foolish - crystal ball budgeting when in six weeks time we will be able to see the books."

Another key piece of legislation in the coming months will be the Government's Scottish Water Bill.

Mr Salmond restated his administration's determination "not to sell or mutualise Scottish Water but to keep it in public hands".

While there have been calls for the utility company to be privatised, Mr Salmond argued such a move would be "like selling Saudi Arabia's oil reserves on the eve of the invention of the combustion engine".

He pledged the new legislation would build on Scottish Water's success, saying it could "evolve from a successful utility into a dynamic water agency".

The First Minister told MSPs: "Currently, Scottish Water is the largest consumer of electrical power in Scotland.

"We intend to give it the power instead to become one of the largest generators of renewable electricity on this land."

He also pledged the Government would support the utility firm's "exemplary record" on humanitarian work, saying: "I believe we can lead the world in the management of a key resource, for the benefit of our environment and for our economy, and for the benefit of the citizens of this world who desperately need clean water just to survive."

The First Minister also said a number of bills would be aimed at making Scotland safer.

As well as a bill to reform the law on double jeopardy, the Government plans a Forced Marriage Protection Bill, which will protect people from being forced to wed without their full and free consent.

Mr Salmond said a Reservoir Safety Bill would provide a "proportionate, risk-based approach to reservoir safety in Scotland".

On health, the SNP administration plans new legislation aimed at modernising the certification of deaths in Scotland.

On housing, the Long Leases Bill will be brought forward, with Mr Salmond explaining this would allow people to "convert ultra long leases into ownership" with compensation paid out to landlords.

The First Minister also said there would be a Private Rented Housing Bill to tackle rogue landlords "who operate outwith the law and make life a misery for their tenants".

He told MSPs these would build on other reforms, saying: "These bills continue reforms since devolution to create a comprehensive modern framework for Scottish housing and property law."

Taken as a whole, Mr Salmond said the SNP's programme for government "builds on our significant achievements to date and sets a clear and ambitious course for the years ahead".

He stated: "The Scottish Government is committed to a Scotland that is wealthier and fairer.

"We have kept our aim steady on this Government's over-arching purpose, to focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all in Scotland to flourish through increasing sustainable economic growth.

"And that will continue to be a hallmark of our programme of government."

Labour leader Iain Gray said the party would be proposing amendments to the Alcohol Bill - which is already going through Holyrood after being featured in last year's legislative programme - to end "price-based" alcohol advertising in the print media.

This would end supermarkets "competing on the depth of their drink discounting", he said. These were among the proposals of an Alcohol Commission set up by Labour.

Mr Gray reminded MSPs that the Nationalists' first programme for Government three years ago saw Mr Salmond announce that it would be different now Scotland had a Government, not an Executive - after the SNP changed the name.

Mr Gray said: "Right enough - an Executive does things.

"This government undoes things. It undid the capital programme of schools and hospitals and transport projects. It is undoing ten years of economic progress. And it has undone every single promise it ever made.

"Increasingly, the First Minister gives the impression of being in office but not in power.

"As Scotland faces perhaps its most difficult years in a generation, this is neither a programme nor a government worthy of the name."

Mr Gray said that in every programme for government Mr Salmond has talked the language of economic growth.

The Labour leader added: "Every year he has failed to deliver."

Mr Gray said that the SNP's proposed Referendum Bill - which will not be presented to Parliament this term - was like a "ghost ship" flitting in and out of view.

He added: "We've had four programmes for government, three consultations, a national tour of sparsely-attended town halls, endless drafts of a three-part question that nobody could understand and what is the First Minister going to produce out of all of this? He's going to produce an election leaflet.

"There will be no bill for this Parliament but there is a £2 million bill for the taxpayer."

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