This week the Scottish Government unveiled its Programme for Government for the coming year. In the Parliament chamber I made the following comments…
I thank the Government for advance sight of the First Minister’s statement, much of which concentrated on the referendum next year. It is quite right that both sides continue to make arguments to further their case and Greens will continue to argue for the principle of decentralisation: that decisions should be made as close as possible to those whom they affect. I hope that we can all make our arguments with the mutual respect that best facilitates the debate among us and among all those in Scotland outside the Parliament who will really decide.
It is important, however, that we spend time making the best use of the powers that we already have. The way in which we develop the economy is extremely important, and I am pleased to hear the First Minister make the argument that looking after the health and wellbeing of Scotland’s people and creating an inclusive society in which the maximum number of people can participate is key to making Scotland flourish.
When Professor Stiglitz spoke to the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee in February he emphasised the importance of using a dashboard of indicators to measure a society’s success. We must aim not to create growth in the economy purely for growth’s sake. People want high-quality, meaningful, secure and well-paid jobs with full employment rights; warm, secure homes with secure tenancies; first-class education and health services; and a clean environment in which to live—not an extra percentage point on GDP that benefits only a few.
Scotland’s national performance framework gives us hope that we can lose the tunnel vision that GDP imposes and emphasise the things that make people’s lives better and more fulfilling. Measuring median household income is one practical change that we could easily make to help to ensure that our economic policy benefits more people.
Government is expected to deliver across a wide spectrum of social, environmental and economic outcomes; public procurement accounts for £9 billion of spending a year and should be expected to do the same. We are constrained by European Union procurement rules, but we must not use that as an excuse for not making progress with the forthcoming procurement bill. It is our responsibility to make Scottish procurement work hard for Scottish society and for our environment and economy.
It is very important that our small and microbusinesses are better able to access public procurement contracts and compete for work. Small, locally owned businesses create a resilient economy and they are more likely to hold on to and value staff and less likely to disappear off seeking the next big tax break or subsidy. Ministers might not get to stand in front of the latest new thing cutting the ribbon, but there is substantial evidence to support the wisdom of investing in smaller local-level infrastructure projects as the best way to help people to create jobs and to help the economy.
I will be interested to look in more detail at today’s statement and at the impacts of the planned bills on women and children. We need to understand how a legislative programme or a policy change benefits different sections of society. We already know that the coalition Government is imposing a gendered austerity on Britain. The cuts affect men and women, but it is women who are chiefly being hit—hit through the loss of benefits, hit through the loss of public sector jobs and hit as they are expected to fill the gap left by underfunded care and community services.
The Scottish Government published its own gender analysis of the UK cuts last week. I hope that that will be replicated for other areas of policy. A gender analysis of this year’s budget would be a welcome addition. Gender comes into play across almost all areas of society, including starkly in health and sport. Last month’s British Medical Journal reported that only 38 per cent of seven-year-old girls in Scotland engage in an hour’s worth of physical activity each day, compared with 63 per cent of boys.
Significantly more men than women cycle, and only proper investment in safe junctions and segregated cycle lanes will convince more people that cycling will improve, not endanger, their health. The Government must increase spend on cycling and walking infrastructure or the target of 10 per cent of journeys to be made by bike by 2020 will remain a vague and unsupported vision. Many people in Scotland cannot afford to or do not want to have to rely on a private car. They want transport justice and they want investment in public transport to be increased to ensure that the Government does not continue to miss climate targets.
The First Minister also talked of decentralisation and building strong local democracy. So far, the Government has failed to convince me and many others that it is really committed in this area. I find it deeply ironic that a Government that is campaigning for full independence has, in effect, removed local authorities’ ability to raise the revenue that they need to fund local services properly. We do not want a mini-Westminster here. Devolution must not stop here in Holyrood.
The community empowerment and renewal bill should help clubs such as Musselburgh Windsor to take over the changing facilities that it needs. It should allow input from and engagement with those who want to contribute to improving and running local activities, to working with the NHS on hospital community gardens and to using vacant land for allotments, working alongside local authorities and others. However, we need to ensure that communities have sufficient capacity and support to make that a reality.
Scottish Greens look forward to progress on equal marriage and on childcare, which is much needed. The proposed bills on welfare additions, food standards and housing are welcome, too.