26 May, 2021 12 min read
During the election campaign, my party promised to focus on steering Scotland through Covid.
We set out an ambitious programme to drive recovery.
And we pledged to give people in Scotland a choice over our future when the crisis has passed.
We were elected on a clear mandate, with a record number of votes, to deliver on those commitments.
That is what we intend to do and we have already started that work.
Our most immediate priority is to lead Scotland safely through and out of the pandemic.
To that end, we will steer a careful course back to normality.
We will support our test and protect teams.
We will implement enhanced public health measures, when outbreaks arise.
And we will deliver vaccinations as quickly as supplies allow.
We will also work with the business sector, to provide as much clarity and support as possible.
As we come out of the pandemic, there will be bumps in the road – as we are experiencing in Glasgow just now.
But the vaccine roll-out gives us firm hope that we are on the right track.
So over the next three weeks, we will also set out our expectations for the stage beyond level 0 – as we return to a much greater degree of normality.
We will also act now to learn lessons for the future.
We have committed to a comprehensive public inquiry and, within our first 100 days, we will establish a standing committee on pandemics.
We will also lead a wider mission of national recovery and renewal.
I have appointed the Deputy First Minister as Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery.
He will convene the first meeting of the new cross-party steering group on Covid Recovery today.
A central part of the government’s programme is to support our National Health Service.
In our first hundred days, we will publish an NHS recovery plan – setting out how we will achieve a 10% increase in activity in key services.
We are already implementing a 4% average pay increase this year for NHS Agenda for Change staff.
The increase – backdated to December – will be in payslips from next month.
And we are on course to open the first 3 rapid diagnostic centres for cancer.
The Dumfries & Galloway Centre opened last week, and saw its first patient on Monday. Centres in Fife and Ayrshire & Arran will open over the next few weeks.
As part of our 100-day plan, we are taking steps to permanently end charges in PFI hospital car parks.
We will prepare legislation to remove dental charges for care leavers – as the first step towards abolishing charges altogether.
And we will publish a women’s health plan.
Over the course of the parliament, we will increase spending on the NHS in Scotland by at least 20%.
We will complete construction of the new elective treatment centres and, by 2025, recruit an additional 1500 staff to work in them.
Over the next decade, we will invest £10 billion in the NHS estate.
This will support the renewal and replacement of health facilities across Scotland – including the Edinburgh Eye Pavilion.
And I can announce one important investment today – we are providing £12 million to take the East Ayrshire Community Hospital into full NHS ownership, bringing its PFI contract to an early close.
We will also increase direct investment in mental health services by 25% over the course of the Parliament.
And we will deliver on action to reduce the unacceptable toll of drug deaths.
The pandemic has brought home to us just how much we rely on care services and on carers.
So I can confirm that in our first hundred days, we will legislate to ensure that all those who receive the Carers Allowance Supplement, will receive a double payment – worth £460 – in December of this year.
And in our first hundred days, we will begin the consultation on legislation to establish a National Care Service.
We intend to introduce the legislation during the first year of this parliament, and expect the service to be operational by the end of this parliament.
This will be, in my view, the most important public sector innovation since the establishment of the National Health service.
During our first hundred days, we will also complete one of the major legacies of the last Parliament.
From August, all three and four year olds, and two-year-olds who need it most, will be eligible for more than 1,100 hours of free early learning and childcare a year.
In this parliament, we will expand childcare further by developing the provision of wraparound care and after-school clubs.
We will also continue our work to close the school attainment gap.
In our first hundred days, we will publish the OECD’s report on Scottish education, and start to implement its recommendations.
We will provide local authorities with the first instalment of our expanded £1 billion Scottish Attainment Fund.
We will fund councils for the first phase of our commitment to recruit 3,500 more teachers and classroom assistants.
And we will begin work to ensure that all children have access to a laptop or tablet, and take steps to remove charges for core curriculum activities, and for music and arts education – including instrumental music tuition.
We will fund a special £20 million summer programme of support and activities for children and young people.
We will make free breakfasts and lunches available to all primary 4 children in Scotland – as the next step towards extending them to all primary school children, all year round.
We will increase the school clothing grant and the Best Start Food grant.
And before we formally expand the Scottish Child Payment next year, and prepare to double its value, we will provide interim support for eligible children– including a £100 payment near the start of the summer holidays.
To support young adults, during this parliament, we will raise the age at which people become liable for council tax from 18 to 22.
We will establish a new grant of £200 a year for care experienced young people – as part of our Promise to those with experience of care.
And we will continue to develop the Young Person’s Guarantee, ensuring that every young person has the opportunity of education, training or work.
We will fund colleges to deliver 5,000 short, industry-focused courses for young people.
And we will also establish a Green Jobs Academy, and set out the next phase of our national transition training fund.
That support for skills and young people is part of our wider mission to create a fairer Scotland.
During our first 100 days, we will provide 40,000 digital devices to households who most need them.
We will develop a plan to tackle social isolation and loneliness.
And we will begin longer term work to develop a minimum income guarantee.
We will also invest the first part of our multi-year £100 million commitment to support specialist frontline organisations tackling domestic abuse and sexual violence.
Throughout this parliament, we will support safer communities by investing in our police and fire service.
And we will continue to support good quality affordable housing.
In our first 100 days, we will begin work on a new strategy for the rented sector, as well as a review of student accommodation.
And over the parliament, we will invest a total of £3.5 billion, to support our promise to deliver 100,000 new affordable homes by 2032.
We will continue our work to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping.
And will invest a further £1.6 billion, and introduce new housing standards, to support the decarbonisation of heating.
We will also work with councils, businesses and third sector organisations to improve local neighbourhoods.
This will include legislation to support Community Wealth Building, and steps to ensure more local procurement.
And in our first hundred days, we will launch the “Scotland Loves Local” campaign, to encourage support for local businesses.
This is just one of the ways in which we will promote economic recovery.
During our first hundred days, we will establish a new Council for Economic Transformation.
We will support specific business sectors – including food and drink, and tourism.
We will publish a plan for the safe reopening for cultural venues and performances – and work with the events sector to support its full resumption.
We will continue to support our digital ambitions.
In our first 100 days, we will restart the Digital Boost scheme, and open a new 5G innovation centre in Dundee. Over the course of this parliament, we will fully implement the Logan review.
We will also complete our investment in the National Manufacturing Institute, continue to promote our Vision for Trade, and increase infrastructure spending. We will also capitalise the Scottish National Investment Bank with a further £1 billion.
We will work to ensure that our recovery is fair.
We will promote fair work – including through public sector procurement.
We will support women entrepreneurs – with £50m of funding for a Women’s Business Centre.
And we will boost our rural economy – through, for example, a Rural Entrepreneur Fund.
And, over the course of this parliament, we will help willing companies pilot a four day week, as we explore whether the changes in working practices created by the pandemic, can improve wellbeing and productivity.
We will also ensure that our recovery is a green one.
In less than six months, Glasgow is due to host COP 26 – the most important discussions to take place in the world this year.
And so in our first hundred days, we will publish an indicative national defined contribution – setting out how Scotland will become a net-zero nation by 2045.
We will take further steps to decarbonise transport.
In our first hundred days we will begin the process of taking ScotRail into public ownership.
We will work with local authorities to resume low emission zones in our cities.
And we will encourage active travel – which will include a scheme to provide bikes for children.
We will also introduce legislation to make bus travel free for under 22s.
And convene a bus decarbonisation taskforce to remove the majority of fossil fuel buses from public transport by the end of 2023.
Over this parliament, we will protect and enhance natural habitats, and reduce waste.
We will increase woodland creation from 12,000 hectares a year to 18,000. And over this decade, we will invest more than £250 million in peatland restoration.
We will also ban single-use plastic cutlery; launch a deposit return scheme for single-use drinks containers; and introduce a bill to promote the circular economy.
Finally, we will work to seize the economic opportunities that a move to net-zero will create.
In our first hundred days, we will set out a Strategic Investment Assessment, as we seek to support the offshore wind supply chain.
And over the parliament, we will invest £100 million to support the development of hydrogen technologies.
We will help companies in high-carbon sectors transition to low carbon technologies and services.
And we will stay true to the principle of a just transition – here in Scotland, and around the world.
As I hope is obvious from the policy initiatives I’ve set out, this Government is focused on steering Scotland through Covid and building a sustainable and fair recovery.
There are many elements of our programme that I hope will command support across the chamber.
But having talked about what we intend to do, I want to say a few words now about how we aim to do it.
It is often said – and it is true – that, at least among some of the parties in this chamber, there is more in a policy sense that unites us than divides us.
Indeed, when this Parliament was established, the hope was that a more consensual way of working would take root.
The promise was that the old ways of Westminster would not simply be transplanted here to Holyrood.
We may not always have lived up to that. But if there was ever a time to renew that promise, it is now.
In Scotland – and across the world – we have massive challenges to overcome: a global pandemic, the climate emergency, and the need to build an economic recovery that is strong, sustainable and fair.
In the face of all of that, people across Scotland expect – indeed, demand – a grown-up and co-operative approach to politics that puts the interests of the country first.
My party won a substantial mandate in the election – and we have an ambitious policy programme to take forward – but we do not claim a monopoly of wisdom.
We want to reach out and find the best solutions to the toughest of problems.
Our duty is to co-operate – and not to find the lowest common denominator, but as a way of raising the bar higher.
That is how I will seek to govern.
Indeed, shortly after the election, I met with Anas Sarwar to discuss areas where the SNP and Labour might work together.
I am keen to develop these discussions further – and I extend a similar offer to other parties.
And 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.
Initially – even though we were not negotiating a coalition – these discussions were supported through the formation of government facility available to all parties during and immediately after an election.
And since the new government was appointed last week, the discussions have been supported by the civil service at my direction.
I am pleased to advise Parliament that at a meeting in Bute House last night, I agreed with the Scottish Green Party that we will now move these informal discussions to the next stage.
I can confirm that the Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party will enter structured talks, supported by the civil service, with a view to reaching – if we can – a formal Cooperation Agreement.
Exactly what the content, extent and scope of any Agreement will be is what the talks will focus on.
And, of course, any Agreement that emerges from these talks will be subject to the necessary approval processes of the Cabinet and each of our parties.
But what we hope to achieve is potentially groundbreaking.
In the coming weeks, we will seek to agree specific policy areas in which we would formally co-operate and, within each, identify the shared objectives and policy initiatives we would be agreeing to work together on.
I am confident these policy areas will include the climate emergency and how we can accelerate Scotland’s progress to net zero.
But we are keen to identify other issues too – and not just where we already have a similar outlook, but also where co-operation will be more challenging for both of us.
We will also seek to agree a model of joint working within government to support progress in the areas of co-operation.
This could include formal processes of consultation and, in our agreed areas of c-operation, the involvement of the Scottish Green Party in Scottish Government policy development and delivery.
It would also include details of any reciprocal support the Greens would give to aspects of the Scottish Government’s legislative, policy and budgetary programmes.
Obviously, we need to see how much progress these talks can make, and we should not get too far ahead of ourselves today.
But, as we embark on this process, we are setting no limits on our ambition.
So in that vein let me be clear that while this is not a guaranteed or pre-agreed outcome, it is not inconceivable that a Cooperation Agreement could lead in future to a Green minister or ministers being part of this government.
The key point for today is that we are both agreeing to come out of our comfort zones to find new ways of working for the common good.
To change the dynamic of our politics for the better, and give meaning to the founding principles of our parliament.
What we are embarking on will require compromise on both sides – but it will also require us to be bold.
And, given the challenges our country faces, that is a good thing.
In fact, it is the whole point.
It is perhaps worth noting that neither the Scottish Green Party nor the SNP government are doing this because we need to.
It is not being forced upon us by Parliamentary arithmetic.
Indeed, we are taking a risk that the talks won’t succeed.
But we are prepared to do so because if we do succeed, the benefits to the country could be significant.
By working together, we can help build a better future for Scotland.
Of course, as we look to Scotland’s future, one obvious point of agreement between the Scottish Green Party and the SNP Government is that it should be in Scotland’s hands.
As we emerge from crisis, there is a fundamental question that must be addressed.
Who has the right to decide the kind of country Scotland becomes after this crisis is over?
And there is a choice of two very different futures.
There is the Westminster choice:
A hard Brexit that will cost jobs, hit living standards and hold back recovery.
Trade deals that threaten our rural communities.
Social security cuts that put children into poverty.
Callous dawn raids.
An increase in nuclear warheads while overseas aid is cut.
And all of this against the wishes of most people who live here.
Or there is the alternative.
Not a panacea, but a future in which this Parliament has the full range of powers to shape and build a fairer, more prosperous country.
A future in which we are an equal partner with our friends in the rest of the UK and across Europe.
Which path Scotland takes should not be the choice of any single politician or party. It must be a decision of the people.
That is why – once the crisis is over – people in Scotland should have the right to make that choice.
The election result has delivered a substantial majority in this Parliament for an independence referendum within the current term.
There can be no justification for the UK Government seeking to block that mandate.
To do so would suggest that the Tories no longer consider the UK to be a voluntary union of nations.
And it would be profoundly undemocratic.
The question of what powers this parliament should have will always be debated passionately.
But our different opinions on that should not obscure our common desire to make the most of the powers we already have.
That task now is more urgent than ever.
This term of parliament will be the most important in our devolved history.
The last 15 months have been full of sadness and heartbreak.
But they have also reminded us of the human capacity for ingenuity, compassion and solidarity.
New vaccines developed from a standing start.
Testing infrastructures established from scratch.
People pulling together in ways that would once have been unimaginable.
There are fewer changes now that seem unimaginable or unachievable.
So the plans I have set out today are unashamedly ambitious.
We will tackle the Covid crisis as our immediate priority.
We will lead by example in addressing the climate crisis.
We will create a national care service, to match the postwar National Health Service.
We will widen opportunities for young people.
We will build a modern, high-tech economy, while staying true to enduring values of fairness and compassion.
We will seek a better politics.
And we will put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands.
Our programme is rooted in today’s reality. But it also shows the way to a brighter tomorrow.
I look forward to working across the chamber, as we get on with delivering it.