Broken Promises : Johann's speech in the Scottish Parliament 4/10/07

Johann Lamont I am happy to speak in the debate.

I will start with a confession.

At first, I thought that it was rather uncharitable and a bit too critical for us to attack the SNP, which has been in power only since May.

We all recognise the real challenges that the Government faces and the hard decisions that must be made.

However, the problem for the SNP is that it cannot use that defence given its triumphalist, self-regarding and overblown claims about what it is doing.

It is in that context of overclaiming and underdelivering that it is entirely legitimate to focus on the gulf between Executive claims and Executive action.

I say to Patrick Harvie that the SNP has claimed that it is building consensus but it is doing that behind closed doors instead of working through the parliamentary process.

I will comment on the Executive's approach in an area in which I have a particular interest—housing and communities.

As has been mentioned, the motion talks about the first-time buyers grant.

That was an SNP manifesto commitment for which, I do not doubt, people voted.

However, the Executive's position is not clear.

Has it accepted that it is a costly promise that does not differentiate between people who struggle to get on the property ladder and those who do not?

In the Local Government and Communities Committee on 27 June, Nicola Sturgeon said that she accepts that she is in a minority Government and cannot automatically have her position agreed.

However, if she believes in the policy—I presume that she does, as it was in the SNP's manifesto—it would be reasonable to expect that she might try.

She also said:

"By necessity and by desire, we will have to test all our manifesto commitments in the Parliament."—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 27 June 2007; c 22.]

Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP cannot use the fact that they are in a minority Government as an alibi; they cannot say, "We would have done this but these bad people won't let us do it."

There have been many examples, over the past eight years, of policy coming to Parliament, being shaped and moulded by Parliament and coming out very different at the end of the process.

Either Nicola Sturgeon should be honest and say that the SNP now does not believe that the policy is credible, or she should test it through the parliamentary process.

If she does neither, our suspicion will be confirmed: like so many other manifesto promises, it was designed to win votes and, having served its purpose, can now be quietly dropped.

The second feature of the SNP Government is its pretending to act.

Members may recall the housing supply task force, which was talked up and lauded—of course, we were criticised last week for wanting to set up a talking shop.

It has now been confirmed by members of that task force, who accepted that their work would be determined by the Executive's housing proposals and the comprehensive spending review, that they were not told to produce a report or asked to comment on the Executive's housing proposals.

They have not been asked even for comments on what the Executive should argue for in the comprehensive spending review or for a view on the future of Communities Scotland as a crucial housing regulator.

Another example is the central heating programme.

We are told that there will be a review of it, but yesterday we learned that there is no remit, timescale or even a funding commitment for the central heating proposals.

Nicola Sturgeon: Will the member give way?

Johann Lamont: Let me make my next point.

The third charge for the SNP is that it takes administrative action, safe from parliamentary scrutiny, when it suits it. I will give members one small example: the abolition of Communities Scotland.

I was told in June:

"We will take time to consider the issues properly, consulting both organisations, trade unions and other key stakeholders, including ensuring that the relevant Parliamentary Committee has an input into the process before the final decisions are taken."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 23 July 2007; S3W-1701.]

On 19 September, Stewart Maxwell then said that

"it is imperative that we reach a decision as soon as possible ... If the committee has any other thoughts to tell me about Communities Scotland, I am happy to listen to them and to feed them back into the continuing process."—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 19 September 2007; c 74.]

The reality is that the decision to abolish Communities Scotland, like many other Executive decisions, is defended on the grounds that it is a manifesto commitment and will be done precisely because it can be done administratively.

That is the charge: the Executive is behaving like the old Scottish Office. It is, when it can, taking administrative action, unaccountable to Parliament.

The last charge is that the Administration calls itself a Government but will not govern.

On the community regeneration fund—an issue that I have raised in the past—Nicola Sturgeon told the Local Government and Communities Committee on 27 June:

"The committee will have appropriate involvement, but I will balance that with a clear commitment to people in the areas involved that clarity and certainty will be provided".

She was asked:

"Can we say that you are determined that funding for those projects will continue?"

She replied:

"Yes ... the matter will be a key priority for Stewart Maxwell and me in the summer, so that we can have clarity soon after the recess."—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 17 June 2007; c 28-9.]

Can the cabinet secretary perhaps tell us what she is going to do?

Nicola Sturgeon: Let me remind Johann Lamont that the delay in the comprehensive spending review is because of the activities of her party of Government in London. If she is frustrated by the delays—as we are—will she take it up with Gordon Brown?

Johann Lamont: With respect, that is precisely my point: the cabinet secretary should stop looking for alibis and start making decisions.

I know—because we did it—that the Executive could put in transitional arrangements to ensure that projects continue while the comprehensive spending review continues.

Let me also tell Nicola Sturgeon that the comprehensive spending review is not something that is visited upon the Executive but something that it shapes and determines by its priorities.

It told us in June that it could take a decision but it tells us now that it cannot. It should be honest about what it is going to do to communities.

The charges remain: it is disgraceful that the Executive will not take decisions; it is cynical in the decisions that it takes; and ultimately—I say this particularly to Patrick Harvie—it has absolutely no confidence in its rhetoric on consensus.

It will not speak to Parliament about what it wants to do, which is the biggest broken promise of all.