‘I thank the First Minister for her kind comments
I expect she remembers what it is like to be leading your party from the opposition benches, indeed I remember, as a student, watching her opposite a Labour First Minister debating the programme for government in 2006.
It is a privilege to be here, it is a privilege to serve and it is a privilege I will never take for granted.
So I promise the First Minister and her government this.
Where the government shares our ambition for the people of Scotland.
Where the government shares our determination that where you come from matters less than where you want to go.
Where the station that you were born into matters less than the talents that you have.
Where the Government recognises its responsibility to nurture talent, support aspiration, and help those who find themselves in need.
The Labour Party is ready and willing to stand with you
Where the government lacks ambition or shows timidity, and where it fails to meet the aspiration of a new generation, then you will find us equal to the task of opposition.
The Scottish Labour Party I lead won’t exist to face off SNP Ministers here in the chamber but will rather turn and face the country.
We will work for a Scotland where everyone gets the opportunity to unlock their talents.
To know the dignity and satisfaction of work.
For an environment protected for all and enjoyed by all.?
For a dynamic economy where entrepreneurs are supported to create the jobs, opportunities and wealth that Scotland needs to thrive.
The First Minister has placed educational inequality at the heart of her statement today. She knows that I am passionate about ensuring that every child gets a fair chance at life.
The First Minister has asked us to look at her government’s record. She says it is a strong foundation for the future.
But if we look at those children in their final year of primary school, who have spent every day of their school years under her government, we do not see a record to be proud of.
93% of?those?children in P7, who come from the least deprived backgrounds were performing well at reading -; compared to just 81% from the most deprived backgrounds. A 12% gap in reading.
When it comes to writing, it’s 77% from least deprived compared to just 56% of the most deprived. A 21% gap in writing.
And with numeracy it’s 77% of kids from least deprived areas reaching the appropriate levels, compared to just 53% for the most deprived. A 24% gap in numeracy between the richest and poorest pupils.
Almost half of the poorest kids leaving primary school are unable to write properly or to count properly.?
That should shame us as a nation.
We in this chamber are responsible not just for caring for these children during the hours they are at school, but for preparing them for the opportunities of the years to come. By any measure we are failing them.
I started the day this morning by joining the breakfast club at the Royal High Primary School here in Edinburgh. For 30p, you too can have some toast and juice and start the day well.
But the Council here in Edinburgh is under increasing financial pressure and is faced with the choice of either scrapping that breakfast club or charging a £2 a day to meet the costs.
That’s a Labour/SNP Council so the First Minister and I both share the responsibility of keeping that club open.
In fact we both share the desire to see tackling educational inequality as the number one priority.
After of months of debating inequality in this chamber, we can now see real action.
We have seen money invested in attainment advisers. Let’s see money invested in the teachers who are working with those pupils who face the biggest barriers to educational achievement. We know who they are and where they work. We know so many of those teachers already defy the odds daily and help their pupils to shine.
We can reward these teachers, we can give them more classroom assistants, we can bring in a new Enhanced Teacher Grade to raise the skills and rewards of those teaching in the most challenging classrooms.?
The SNP Government have led the way on this already with a programme for head-teachers. They can do it again, should they wish, for teachers on the frontline.
There is so much more we can do now. We can recognise that to improve literacy amongst children we have to improve literacy of mums, dads and primary carers.? We can scrap fees for exam appeals so all young people who want it can get a fresh look at their grades.
And we should move mountains to help Looked After Children -; for these are our kids and their future lies in our hands.
We can take a fresh look at school inspections. Today 90% of schools are inspected as satisfactory or better -; but satisfactory means that the strengths only just outweigh weaknesses.
That is why I believe the First Minister should immediately suspend all school inspection visits for one year, and use the time to redesign the inspection regime. I would like to see more unannounced inspections and those inspections must be used to drive towards excellence for all.
No parent wants a satisfactory education for their child, they want the best possible education for their child. It’s my mission to ensure they have the best possible start in life.
After educational inequality, the inequality between genders should be top of the First Minister’s list for the year ahead.
Much has been said over the summer about how having three female leaders in this chamber is good for Scotland. I agree -; but it’s not enough for us just to stand here. I feel a greater responsibility than I ever have before to deliver material change and equality for women.
So we welcome moves to make so called revenge porn a specific offence and hope that we will quickly follow the rest of the UK where individuals are already being convicted of this offence.
Putting into the public domain material of the most private and personal nature is not simply an abuse of trust, it leaves the victims feeling humiliated and ashamed.
I believe there is more we can be doing to protect women from other forms of domestic abuse and sexual assault. The number of rapes reported to the police increased over the last year.
A fifth of those report being raped whilst asleep.
We need to do more, not just to tackle these as crimes, but to tackle the culture that means these offenses persist in modern Scotland.
I would urge her in the year ahead to give proper consideration to how we use the education system to teach young men and women about sexual consent.?
Today a young woman, no matter how hard she works, will experience institutionalised barriers in her way to success. For some young women it will not matter how hard they work, she won’t make it unless government eradicates the injustices in her way. It is our duty, in this chamber, to breakdown those barriers.
Whether it is access to Science and technology skills
Whether it’s tackling the gendered violence that 1 in 4 women will face
The culture of low paid, low skilled part-time work.
or the motherhood penalty where women lose positions or promotions for going on maternity leave.
Having women leaders talking about these issues is a start, but only a start.
We will be known by our deeds not our words.
I welcome her focus on growing our economy and the recognition that the strategy set out last year needed much more detail and a plan for implementation.
The single most important policy we can get right is childcare. And I believe we have a consensus across the chamber now that childcare isn’t just a social policy -; it’s a hard-nosed economic policy striking at the heart of labour market participation.
Together, we accept that high quality, affordable, accessible childcare can transform lives by opening up opportunities.
As in previous years the First Minister has spoken about increasing the number of hours available, but as the Mclean Commission on Childcare made clear this summer w
hat matters isn’t just the hours available, it is that they are affordable and accessible to working parents.
That same report highlighted the fact that we spend as much on childcare here in Scotland, as they do in Denmark and Sweden, but we get nothing like the return for our money.
I would urge her to use the year ahead to take a fresh look at her approach to childcare and ensure that the policy is designed to fit around parent’s lives, rather than to fit into an election leaflet.
Any economic plan too has to recognise the problems facing our oil industry. The jobs problems around the sustained low oil price haven’t gone away.
In response to this some months ago the First Minister launched an apprenticeship scheme. Since then only 12 people have been helped by this scheme, to a backdrop of thousands of jobs lost.
In the medium term we need action to support the industry. In the long term we need a serious national effort to prepare for a post-oil economy and to take advantage of the economic opportunities of decommissioning which otherwise will go to other parts of the UK and Europe.
And we have to recognise that a serious economic plan needs analysis and data that we can trust is free from political interference. So whilst we welcome the Scottish Fiscal Commission Bill we renew again today our call for an independent fiscal watchdog.
Growing our economy means improving productivity.? We can only achieve that with investment in skills. Giving everyone a chance to change their lives, to have the opportunity of a second chance.
This Government have cut colleges to pay for universities. The solution isn’t to cut universities or schools to reinvest in further education.
We need a real debate about why it is that we view education as less of a spending priority in this country. Something I will turn to in a moment.
I hope that her government will also turn their attention to the Tory Government’s Trade Union bill.
None of us in this Scottish Parliament should be in any doubt.
This Tory Bill, supported by Ruth Davidson, has one intention and one intention only and that is to undermine the rights and ability of working people to organise for better wages, terms and conditions in the workplace.
The withdrawal of a person’s Labour is the most basic right that working people have and its effective use over time has resulted in better wages, better health and safety standards, pensions and as a result better public services and a better society.
This ideologically driven Bill is an attack on these hard won rights. It must be resisted and it must be stopped.
As such I want, on behalf of my party, to make it clear to the Scottish Government. They will have our full support to do everything we can together to stop this bill.
Over the summer I heard Rosanna Cunningham say it’s the ‘prerogative’ of Scottish Ministers to decide on issues like check off and facility time. She’s right.
The Tories arguments against check off and facility time are rooted in logistics, practicalities and costs -; they are issues of public administration not industrial relations and are therefore clearly devolved.
So the Government will have our full support in saying No to the Trade Union Bill.
Likewise the Government would have our support for demanding a legislative consent motion. That way the Tories would need approval from this Parliament to act. Approval that they’ll not get from these benches.
We don’t want to just support her government’s rhetoric on the TU Bill, we want to support some real action.
Today, as is always the case when the Government sets out its programme for the year, we have seen many eye catching and worthy announcements.
– Announcements on EMA’s reinstate a cut and go a little further
– Announcements on Kinship were long promised -; by her government
Likewise -; the Burial and Cremation Bill, will bring sense of peace and justice to those families affected by what happened at Mortonhall and across Scotland.
I also welcome the Private Tenancies Bill. The First Minister knows we’ve been arguing for action to control rent rises for months. Indeed we tried to amend the First Minister’s last housing bill to that end and she voted against our proposals several times.
It is great that we will finally see action on this, but whilst the government have prevaricated rents have again risen. Had the SNP Government acted in 2013 when it’s last Private Rented sector review took place, the average Scottish renter in the private sector would have saved over £150 per year already.
What overrides all these individual spending announcements is the overall balance of spending in Scotland.
As Joe Biden said: don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.
Scotland currently has public spending which is £1300 higher per person than the UK average. How successive budgets have chosen to invest in this money reveals our real national priorities.
Today the First Minister again says that education and health are priorities but her government’s budgets have told a different story.
When the Labour Government established this Parliament we spent a higher proportion of our budget on health and education than England. Today we spend a smaller proportion of our budget on these priorities than England. Points well made in the editorial of the Financial Times today.
At the start of devolution spending on health was 16.5% higher than the UK average. Today we spend just 6.5% more on health than the rest of the UK.
As health spending has become less of a priority, demands on our NHS have risen. Targets are missed so routinely as to be meaningless. Staff are under intolerable pressure.?
We can have a national debate about the NHS but we also need to debate in this place the budget priorities we set because we cannot have a world class NHS, with the most modern care and treatment, free at the point of use, unless we fund it properly.
Education too has become less of a priority in successive budgets. In 1999 we spent £204 more per person than the UK average on education. Today that has fallen to £18.
These budget decisions reflect huge issues about the future of our country. So we are disappointed to see the budget process truncated.
This will be the most important budget set by a Scottish Finance Minister, with the responsibilities of new financial powers and the responsibility to help people still experiencing the pain of austerity.
We need a full debate on this budget and proper scrutiny of the measures contained within.?
The First Minister is the most powerful person who has ever sat in that chair.
Not only does she have a majority in this parliament, she has swept aside her opponents in our other parliament.
She has more powers than ever before, and more are coming.
Her party and her supporters dominate so many aspects of Scottish public life.
I say to her today: You have the power.
If you have the political will you will have the money.
If you have the courage to take the radical action we need, to reform and redistribute resources, you will have our support.
It is time that all of us raised or ambitions – for our country, for politics and ourselves.
Last week the Lib Dems and Conservatives committed to using the new tax powers to ensure lower taxes and they will have to set out what would be cut to pay for this.?
The other parties in this chamber will have to set out our priorities too.
I welcome this because it shows that Scottish politics is moving from a debate about what we can’t do to talking about what we can. What we will do.?
We are not powerless to act
Nothing is inevitab