Taking Scotland Forwards

Earlier this week, during the Taking Scotland Forwards debate, I set out our hopes for the next five years of SNP Government, where we can work together and where we think they need to do more.

Here's what I had to say:

What is clear is that we have a big choice in the next five years.

We can seek to be aspirational and ambitious, looking to bold solutions for the future, or we can hunt for security in timidity. What we heard today from the First Minister was the latter.

The more she speaks, the more she begins to sound like Gordon Brown, with the double and treble-counting of all her sums of money. I am sure that she will add “s” on to the end of everything, with “billions” rather than “billion”, and the trebling of the money that we have, but that will not make it any more unless she pays for more. The reality is that she needs to focus on the big challenges that we face.

The First Minister is also hunting for things such as plans, advisers, councils of advisers, consultations and summits—anything but action to make a change for the future of our country. We need to choose bold, ambitious options rather than the timidity that we have seen in the SNP’s statement today.

We also need to recognise that the SNP has lost its majority—you would not think it from the statement. It is clear that we need to recognise that, and that the SNP needs to reach out across the chamber—and it will take more than a couple of references to policies from other parties.

I am pleased that the SNP has agreed to have a dedicated mental health minister, but it will take more than that to convince us of the SNP’s programme.

I am pleased that it has picked out and adopted some things from the Green manifesto and the Labour manifesto, but it will take more than that for the SNP to be ambitious for our country. We must recognise that the SNP has lost its majority.

I congratulate the Conservatives on their growth in numbers, but I simply say to them that they were not elected for being Conservatives; they were elected for not being the SNP.

Therefore, they do not have an endorsement of every Conservative policy that has been proposed. That is quite clear.

I want Scotland to be ambitious for the future, and let us begin in an area where we can perhaps agree about the future. Mental health services have diminished under the SNP over the past nine years.

They have taken a step back. We used to have a world-leading mental health strategy, but we do not even have one any more. The former mental health minister is sitting in front of me, and I am sure that he is rather embarrassed by the fact that he did not get it renewed.

We also have so many people waiting for so long for urgent treatment, and that is because the SNP has reduced mental health spending as a proportion of NHS spending.

The NHS has not put enough money into mental health services, and that needs to change. We need more than just a minister. We need the funds to go with it—for emergency support and primary care, but also for child and adolescent mental health services. There are no beds north of Dundee for children and adolescents.

There need to be beds north of Dundee. The whole country does not live in the central belt. There are people in far-flung parts of our country who deserve the support of mental health services.

That is something that the SNP will be judged on in the next five years.

The second area on which the SNP will be judged is general practitioners. There was no reference to GPs in the statement.

The First Minister did not admit that we will be 740 GPs short by the end of the decade. Again, the reason is simple: apart from the lack of planning from the SNP Government, the proportion of money that is spent on GP services has fallen under the SNP. Let the Government recognise that it will be judged on that too.

There was no mention of the intrusive super-ID database. I wonder whether that has been quietly ditched now that John Swinney has been moved to a new department. We need some clarity as to whether the Government has some plans for that in the future.

There are areas of co-operation, but I sense from the reaction from the SNP members that the SNP is not up for any co-operation.

Let us focus on education. I celebrate what we have, but let us not be deluded about it. The OECD was clear.

SNP members are getting very animated, Presiding Officer. I wonder why that is. It is because we are getting to the heart of the problems of the SNP Government.

Scotland used to have one of the best education systems in the world. Now, it has been judged as just average. The party that claims to be Scotland’s party has dragged down our education system to just average and it thinks that some regional boards for the running of education and some national testing will suddenly turn everything around.

Unless it puts the resources in, it will not make the difference. That is why the SNP needs to recognise that it will need more resources if we are to get Scottish education back up to being the best in the world again.

I have one practical suggestion that the SNP might want to consider with its shiny new council of international—not just national—education advisers.

Will it consider the proposals from the upstart campaign? Upstart wants to raise the school starting age to seven. That proposal has merit. If the SNP really wants to reach out and find new opportunities to make our education the best again, it will consider that proposal.

During the election, I was interested to see that, after many months of opposition to the proposal for a pupil premium, the SNP embraced the idea in its manifesto.

I wonder what happened between Angela Constance uttering her opposition to the proposal and the SNP manifesto writers putting it into print. However, it is no good having a policy that is named a pupil premium unless it is properly resourced. We do not need timid SNP amounts of funding for the pupil premium; we need proper resources.

My final plea to the SNP is to ensure that we implement the early years offer properly. We need to ensure that we do not repeat the record of the past few years, in which only 7 per cent of two-year-olds got the nursery education to which they were entitled when 27 per cent should have got it.

Let us get on with the job and make sure that Scotland is bold and ambitious with that range of policies. We will not make Scotland the best again with timidity from the SNP. We need bold policies to make the difference.

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