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20 October 2011

A safe pair of hands

The Scottish Government launched their programme for Government outlining the legislative programme and budget for the coming year. The government is planning to push through some potentially contentious measures, including the re-introduction of an alcohol minimum pricing Bill. This Bill dramatically failed to win enough cross-party votes in the previous term, but now the government has a majority of Scottish National Party MSPs in Parliament it will not require the support of other parties to pass legislation.  

Among other plans outlined in its programme for government is a Bill which will reform the police and fire services, creating one single service from the eight that currently exist. The programme also includes a Bill aimed at tackling sectarianism and offensive behaviour at football matches. The Bill's legislative process has not been as smooth as the Government initially hoped.  The First Minister Alex Salmond declared to Parliament that "on this issue above all, I want consensus; I want consensus across the chamber and across our partner organisations" But the Parliament's Justice Committee recently published their report with only five out of the nine committee members supporting the Bill. It seems many are beginning to recognise the major flaws in the Bill which were initially highlighted by Christian groups. As it stands the Bill is much broader than indentedwith powers which could be used outside of football and sectarianism and could significantly threaten freedom of speech.  

As unemployment continues to rise (currently sitting just below the UK average at 7.9%) the government's programme and budget is primarily focused on strengthening and building the economy within what the SNP describe are the restrictive powers currently devolved to Scotland. Their spending review and budget included an increased spending on infrastructure through a shift from resource spending to capital projects, increased spending for universities, funding to deliver 125,000 modern apprenticeships and a continued freeze on council tax. Much less popular are the proposals to levy big retailers that sell alcohol and tobacco and an extension of the public pay freeze for those earning more than £21,000 - the inevitable results of a squeeze on public spending. 

The SNP will continue to push for greater control over tax and raising revenue but significantly are staying relatively quiet over the issue of full independence even though a recent ComRes poll showed that 39% of the UK support it. The SNP realise the tide of public opinion for independence is growing but are not confident that they could currently win a referendum. Despite baiting from the Prime Minister David Cameron, the SNP insist that they are deliberately waiting until the second half of their parliamentary term to hold a referendum. Instead they will focus on job creation, public services and economic stability - continuing to build the confidence of the Scottish public that they are a safe pair of hands for governance - that they can be trusted with greater powers and ultimately leading an independent Scotland.