Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Quine's Speech

Nicola Sturgeon, first of the quines of Scotland, has drafted her government's programme for 2014-5. The detail is interesting.

The programme has two axes - business, and equality. On equality, the Government is planning to do battle with poverty and to emulate by 2020 what the First Minister has done in her Cabinet - require 50:50 representation by women in the leadership of organisations across the nation.

The economic strategy is written for the long term - productivity, increasing labour market participation, and a focus on making Scotland a good place to do business.  The steps include good practical stuff, so parents in the workforce (and without) will get more and better childcare: that will help businesses directly.

The government is promising more Modern Apprenticeships too. For many young people an apprenticeship is a great way to get a solid start in work, and much better to get hands-on work than spending years in a classroom.

The equality programme is wide and varied. From cradle to grave it includes continuing protection for the NHS, more free child care for 1-3 year olds, help for people caring for others, payment of the Living Wage in public-sector contracts, and a thoughtful proposal to analyse how best to legislate specifically against domestic violence. There is to be a fund to recompense people for the idiotic Westminster "Bedroom Tax" -  a bizarre example of one government digging a hole and the other filling it in.

The Government purposes legislation on human trafficking, a horrible source of exploitation that especially affects women. Human trafficking is the dark underside of the sex work trade and legislation will have the beneficial effect of shining a light on the (mainly) men who traffic their sisters.

The Government proposes the end, finally, of Mrs Thatcher's 'Right to Buy' scheme under which our best social housing was sold off to private landlords. This might protect the tail end of social housing in Scotland.

Land reform - the subject of much of Leslie Riddoch's Blossom (and today's front page at The National)- will also be tackled. This is going to be a land war, but one worth winning. Scotland, as Riddoch argued, has millions of acres of unproductive land held by unaccountable land owners. The reform proposed will include transparency so that we can see who's who, and a shift in business rates (tax) so that 'game' estates - those that occupy thousands if acres just so that folk can shoot grouse or deer - will pay their proper share of tax. Expect loud bangs when the gun lobby reads about that.

Land reform with power sharing with local communities is the environmental part of this programme. There is more - legislation on landfill and work on fisheries, as well as support for renewables through the "Offshore Wind Accelerator" programme (a pun of a name.)

So what's missing? There is stuff that this Government can't do. It uses the phrase "short of the power to legislate, the Scottish Government is committed to…", or "...within the limits of our current powers…"  to signal those places where it cannot overcome those of Westminster. Amongst the most horrible of the things they can't do: they can't get rid of Trident.

There is little on the non-profit sector apart from support for culture and reforms in the way that universities are governed. But the huge focus on inequality will please many in the sector.

The first quine's speech is a series of promises to do her best to shepherd all this good stuff through the Scottish Parliament. This is how she would like the future to be - but it's a plan, not an audit report.  Some of it might not make the final cut. Today's report by the Smith Commission and next year's Westminster election might open new doors, or close others. 

But as a manifesto for building better lives for people who have little, or nothing, it gets my vote.

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