After the First Minister’s visionary but also business-like opening statement, the Parliament soon got down to its own peculiar business of bashing opponents – verbally, of course.
Outgoing Labour leader Iain Gray said: “We on this side of the house recognise the mandate the Government has and want to identify the common ground on which we can indeed take Scotland forward together.”
He then promptly warned that his party had “concerns” about the rush to bring in new laws on sectarianism, saying: “Legislating for cybercrime is notoriously difficult, though I agree we should do that. We want to cooperate but to do so we need to start talking about the detail of what is proposed.”
On minimum alcohol pricing he said it would be “a good start” if the Government were to “implement the laws we have already passed months ago on drinks promotions.”
Mr Gray reserved his greatest concern for the ‘social wage’ and pay restraint aspects of the First Minister’s plans: “He has to accept and understand that the public sector pay freeze in a time of inflation is a pay cut for many thousands of public sector workers and families across this country.
“He cannot assume that those public sector workers will bear that burden alone to pay for the social wage for five years to come. That would not be fair.
“If as he says, in Scotland the poor are not to pick up the bill for the rich then that pay restraint must be moderated by the full implementation of a living wage to protect those on the lowest incomes so that they are not the ones paying the highest price for something they did not create.”
He said there was common ground “but not when it comes to the First Minister’s ambitions to separate Scotland from the United Kingdom,” though he added: “I am clear that he can claim a mandate to hold a referendum on the issue.”
Mr Gray went on: “I do not think such a referendum is a good thing for Scotland, because it creates, and already is creating, uncertainty about the country’s future. I think it could damage investment in our economy, both internal and external, but I assume it is going to happen because he now has no excuse for it not to happen.
“That begs questions which the First Minister is now obliged to stop avoiding. When will it be? What will the question be? How much will it cost? What will the franchise be? How will campaigns be funded? What choice will be offered?”
He added that it was “not credible” that after all this time, “they are not sure what they mean by independence after all.”
This was a point seized upon by Conservative leader Annabel Goldie who said: “Let’s just nail the so called independence lite argument once and for all. You can no more be independent lite than you can be pregnant lite, you are either one or the other.
“All the code and all the shoft-shoe shuffling of the world can’t hide the simple truth that we are either Scottish and British or we are not.”
Ms Goldie added: “I accept that the First Minister won his argument about holding an independence vote in this Parliament but there are two big questions which he must face up to now. The public has called his bluff, and they must know from the First Minister himself the question and the timing.”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “At its heart, the revised claims of the SNP for a revised mandate are absurd. They are solemnly promising to spend the first two years of this parliament working on the Scotland Bill when they confidently expect to spend the last two years abolishing it. How absurd is that?”
It is the usual convention that members making their first speeches in Parliament refrain from controversy or hard-hitting points. Labour Lothians list MSP Kezia Dugdale decided to make a tough statement on child poverty
She said: “The brutal truth is this, just over 200,000 children in Scotland live in relative poverty today.
“In the history of this Parliament that number has only ever gone down under Labour and up under the SNP.
“I have here the Child Poverty Strategy for Scotland launched by the Deputy First Minister a week before the last Parliament dissolved. Today the First Minister has said that his vision of a nation is one “that is fair and just, a nation that is fertile for ambition and talent. Where the deepest challenges we face are first acknowledged and then tackled head on.”
“If that is true – why was this document, the last action the last government took, instead of the first?
“It is for this Government to prove that this document was more than a gesture, or a box-ticking exercise, through early and decisive action on Child Poverty in this Parliament.”
She continued: “Child poverty is so deep rooted, so entrenched in our society, that this must be the Government that makes serious inroads if we are, as a nation, to have any prospect of achieving the 2020 target of eradicating child poverty. We must have that 2020 vision.
“I admire the SNP for their chutzpah, for the passion they hold for separation – however misguided. I only wish they had the same fire in their belly for tackling poverty.”
The debate continues this afternoon.