Molly Pollock looks at key points from Nicola Sturgeon’s speech in the Scottish Parliament today. Cross party working to be a key feature along with working towards close collaboration with the Greens on areas of agreement.
In her speech today in the Scottish Parliament on her government’s priorities during their first 100 days in office, the First Minister reiterated that her immediate priority was leading Scotland safely through and out of the Covid 19 pandemic. Lessons, she said, will be learnt from the last 18 months with a commitment to a comprehensive public enquiry. During the first 100 days a standing committee on pandemics will be established.
On recovery and renewal, the Scottish Government is not dragging its feet. The First Minister said that today the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, will convene the first meeting of a new cross-party steering group on covid recovery. Support for the NHS and increasing its activity in key services will be high on the list of priorities, increasing spending on the NHS by at least 20% over the course of the parliament. Investment in mental health services will increase by 25% over the same period.
During the next 100 days consultation on legislation to establish a National Care service will begin with legislation during the next year and the service operational by the end of this parliament.
Childcare will be further expanded, and councils will be funded to recruit more teachers and classroom assistants. Work will begin to ensure all children have access to a laptop or tablet. The age at which people become liable for council tax will be raised from 18 to 22.
Plans will be developed to tackle social isolation and loneliness with longer term work on developing a minimum income guarantee.
Housing, the improvement of local neighbourhoods, and a campaign to encourage support for local businesses, plus support for specific business sectors – including food and drink and tourism – were also mentioned, as were encouraging pilots on a four day working week, beginning the process to take Scotrail into public ownership, increasing woodland creation and investment in peatland restoration. 100m will be invested over the parliament to support the development of hydrogen technologies.
All the programmes and initiatives mentioned are very much in line with the Wellbeing Society, on which a paper by the Social Justice and Fairness Commission was published yesterday and on which we published a piece. Believe in Scotland has two useful articles on the subject – one listing a Values framework for a Manifesto for Wellbeing, the other on polling:
“Not only that, our poll – Panelbase for Believe in Scotland April 2021 – found that if you offer independence in parallel with a wellbeing approach to economics then 59% of the Scottish population would vote for Scottish independence. The same poll asked the standard Yes/No question without the wellbeing caveat and found 51% Yes 49% No, so it’s plain to see that a wellbeing approach would, if properly communicated would add 8% to Yes but offers the opportunity grow independence support above 60%.”
So why is the image above relevant?
Well perhaps the Scottish Government initiative that will receive most discussion in the coming days and weeks will be a proposed arrangement with the Scottish Greens. Shortly after the election the First Minister met with Anas Sarwar to discuss areas where the SNP and Labour might work together and she said she was keen to develop these discussions further, extending a similar offer to other parties.
In today’s speech the First Minister said:
“Most significantly, as I can share with Parliament today, since the election I have had a series of exploratory discussions with the Scottish Green Party about how we might work together more formally in future.”
At a meeting in Bute House the previous evening, the Scottish Green Party agreed to enter structured talks with the Scottish Government, supported by the civil service, with a view to reaching, if possible, a formal Cooperation Agreement. It was hoped agreement could be reached on specific policy areas in which to formally co-operate and, within each, to identify shared objectives and policy initiatives. Amongst these the First Minister was confident the climate emergency and how we can accelerate Scotland’s progress to net zero would be included.
The First Minister said she was also keen to identify other issues, areas where cooperation may be more challenging. It was hoped to agree a model of joint working within government which could include formal processes of consultation and, in agreed areas of coperation, the involvement of the Scottish Greens in Scottish Government policy development and delivery.
So the First Minister was signalling the possibility that a Cooperation Agreement “could lead in future to a Green minister or ministers being part of this government.” The initiative would require compromise on both sides – along with a requirement to be bold, but given the challenges we face, “that is a good thing. In fact, it is the whole point.”
The Scottish Government is not the only one to go down this route. After the New Zealand Labour Party won the general election in October 2020 with an outright majority, their leader and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern invited the Greens into a “cooperation” agreement, arguing that it would allow the government to benefit from the expertise of Green party members in a number of areas.
Under the co-operation agreement the two Green party co-leaders were both given ministerial portfolios outside of cabinet.
In a report in the Guardian, Ardern said:
“This cooperation agreement reflects the positive working relationship between our two parties and our areas of shared interest while respecting the mandate voters gave Labour to form a government.”
“It will deliver stability and cooperation in key policy areas while allowing the Greens to take an independent position from the government on all other matters.”
So it looks as if Scotland’s First Minister is following in the footsteps of the premiere of another small, successful nation – that of New Zealand.