Trump planning application Speech in the Scottish Parliament 24 April 2008

I shall try and restore some calm to the chamber, because there are significant issues to address.

I shall do that by starting with a concession to the SNP back benchers: the committee does not believe that there is evidence that Alex Salmond should be huckled off to the pokey.

I do not know whether that is a terribly strong position for the Government to be in, but no one is pretending that the law has been broken.

The issue is the quality of the judgment of the ministers involved in the process and the consequences that that has had.

Members can rubbish the debate as much as they wish, but the fact is that serious people outside the chamber regard these matters as being of national significance and as having serious consequences.

We must listen to those people.

It was important for the committee to take on this job.

We know that we have a First Minister who plays the person rather than the ball.

We also know that we have a First Minister who resists answering any questions and is keen to blame everyone else for everything that happens on his watch.

However, it is deeply depressing that that now seems to be elevated to a Government strategy.

The role of committees in scrutinising the work of the Executive is a crucial part of Parliament's work and ought not to be rubbished as a waste of time.

The day may come when SNP back benchers find themselves a spine and discover that a committee is a place to hold the Executive to account, even if it is their own Government.

Can members imagine the hyper-outrage of the SNP if, in previous years, there had been any suggestion that we ought not to ask questions or hold inquiries?

However, that was then, and this is now.

The reality is that the public are interested in the inquiry. Kenny Gibson welcomed it, and who could forget Alex Salmond bouncing into the committee to claim how delighted he was to be there?

He was slightly less delighted when we suggested that perhaps his judgment was being called into question and he is slightly less happy now that he has discovered that he has to respond to a serious report about his behaviour.

The Government likes administrative devolution and hates parliamentary scrutiny; it does what it can without accountability to the Parliament.

It refuses to make statements, even when instructed to do so by the chamber.

Government ministers are serial offenders, but I say to them that accountability goes with the territory.

The performance by the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change in responding to a serious report gives me grave cause for concern.

The central charges of the report are that the actions of the First Minister were "unwise and inappropriate" and that the actions of Mr Swinney were in danger of imperilling the development.

Taken together, their actions send out the message to big business that it can have preferential access, that planning is for the little people and that the normal rules do not apply to it.

I will not allow others in the chamber to misrepresent this issue as a divide between those who are pro-development and those who are against it or between those who are pro-business and those who are not.

It is about how our planning system works and how it can support, develop and acknowledge the role of local communities in shaping those developments, which is clearly not easy.

The key issue, which the First Minister himself accepted, is that the action of ministers has to pass the perception test.

The feature of the challenges that the First Minister accepted was about the perception of his role. As has been alluded to already, our former First Minister was challenged on the perception of his role in this development—indeed, he was challenged on the perception of who he chose to go on holiday with.

Everyone accepts that the perception test applies, so let us apply the perception test, as proposed by Nicola Sturgeon in the past.

Imagine a First Minister—who accepts that he has never done such a thing in his life before, and who was not on ministerial business and was not in his constituency—arriving somewhere in a ministerial car to meet, at short notice, following a decision of the local authority, representatives of the Trump Organization.

He discusses matters with them, phones the chief planner and hands the phone over.

A meeting is set up and, subsequently, a one-in-a-million decision is made.

I have to say that, by this point in the imaginative exercise, Nicola Sturgeon would have been in the stratosphere.

However, that was then; this is now.

The First Minister's defence is that he was taking a precautionary approach.

If that is the First Minister being cautious, heaven help us when the day comes when he decides to be reckless.

Everyone on the Government benches says that that is okay, because we are open for business.

However, it is plain that the First Minister was acting without thinking of the consequences and, terrified that Trump was going to walk, pulled out all the stops and helped a group of developers who would not use the powers and routes that were available to them.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: One minute.

Johann Lamont: In the past, SNP back benchers chided us for not supporting the third-party right of appeal.

Indeed, Jim Mather chided me during the passage of the Planning etc (Scotland) Bill, saying that, by not supporting a third-party right of appeal, we were not supporting communities.

We resisted the third-party right of appeal because of its consequences for development.

However, now we have a Government that thinks that people do not even need to exercise the first-party right of appeal.

How far have we come? Where is the balance now?

John Swinney told us that the issue was of national significance, which was not an argument that was deployed later.

The one thing that he did not do—this man who knew everything about the planning system—was act before the decision was made, when the process that resulted in that decision was on-going.

That would have solved the problem.

Instead, however, he chose to do it later.


Speech on Housing Scottish Parliament 20 March 2008

It is a privilege to lead this housing debate on behalf of the Labour Party.

We in the Labour Party are proud of what was achieved in the first eight years in the Parliament.

Much of that work was recognised as groundbreaking, but we acknowledge that there is much more to do.

It would be foolish for anyone to say that everything that we did was perfect, but it is equally foolish for the current Administration to say that there was no consensus and no agreement and that what we did was a complete disaster, because that is simply not true.

Labour's charge against the Government is that the running thread of our experience of it is that it overclaims and underdelivers, favours spin over substance and, at its very best, produces more broken promises.

If the minister has been effective at anything, it has been at creating the impression of action and perhaps securing some positive headlines.

However, the truth behind the headlines is a little less substantial.

The much heralded housing supply task force will not produce a report or recommendations for action; it was not involved in shaping the budget; it was not part of developing the document "Firm Foundations: The Future of Housing in Scotland"; and at least one member of the minister's group has expressed grave concerns about the budget allocations in relation to the social rented sector.

The Government is consulting on Scottish planning policy 3 on affordable housing at the same time that it has set up a body to consider how to unblock the planning system.

The "Firm Foundations" document does not even mention Scottish planning policy 14, which looks at setting a benchmark for 25 per cent of units in a new development to be affordable housing.

The minister wants the world—or at least his own back benchers—to think that the right to buy has ended, but of course the change that he has introduced has been so narrowly defined that it will affect very few people.

It undermines the balance that was struck in the modernised right to buy, which was supported by the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland, which recognised the need for flexibility in regeneration communities, where ownership can make a difference, and suspension of the right to buy in hot spots where there is pressure.

The Minister for Communities and Sport (Stewart Maxwell): Is the member saying that the Labour Party's position is that it is opposed to the abolition of the right to buy on new-build properties?

Johann Lamont: The Labour Party's position is that we recognise the strength of the right to buy and we want to see the difference that the modernised right to buy has made.

That position is supported by the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland.

We are told that local authorities will build council houses, but the reality is that very few of them will be able to do that.

On the other hand, the Administration is completely silent on how it will support those local authorities that have debt and voted against stock transfer on the advice of the Scottish National Party.

On low-cost home ownership, the Administration is following what has already been done, but with no sense that action is needed in areas other than economic hot spots or that there needs to be equitable access to first-time-buyer support.

On what else is the minister silent?

On homelessness, he asserts that he supports the target, but he removes certainty by outsourcing all responsibility to local authorities.

Given that tax cuts are this Administration's one key priority, what pressure will there be on local authorities to provide the bricks and mortar, where possible, while removing or reducing the advice, support and specialist provision that helps prevent homelessness?

What will be demanded of single outcome agreements in relation to homelessness?

The Administration says nothing about the needs of areas of regeneration.

Indeed, Communities Scotland's expertise is to be removed from the community planning partnership table altogether.

There will be no access to community regeneration funding and the wider action budget will be flat-lined—those are the very things on which community housing associations have built their credibility.

The minister is silent on the Scottish housing quality standard when community organisations are telling us that they will have to deliver it by increasing rents.

Then there are the two big ideas of this Administration. Its first target is, "We will build more houses than the last lot did."

Secondly, it claims that it will drive efficiencies into the affordable housing market by opening it to competition.

If there is a spine on the Government back benches, it should prepare to feel a shiver down it now. On 28 November 2007, the minister said:

"My intention is not to be nice to one particular part of the sector or another; it is to ensure that we deliver more homes for people. That is the fundamental point. ... That is why we have suggested some changes and why I think that competition is important. I think that who eventually owns and manages properties is of less importance than the fact that we have them."—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 28 November 2007; c 300.]

That flies in the face of every lesson of housing history in Scotland.

Given that we know that community ownership has delivered changes in our communities, it is not credible to say that ownership does not matter.

At a time of turbulence in the housing market and a credit squeeze, is it wise for the Administration to be vague on the proportion of houses for social rent?

Given that the Administration's own figures show that construction inflation has increased by 35 per cent, is it credible to pretend that its target of building 35,000 houses a year by the middle of the next decade is achievable?

The challenge for SNP back benchers is to confront their front-bench's agenda.

The Administration has a strategy on efficiencies—who could be against that—but it is predicated on higher rents, and on the presumptions that bigger is better, that competition delivers change and that building houses is the same as having a housing strategy.

We know from experience that that is not the case.

We know that the Administration is undermining community-controlled housing associations.

Would it not be an irony if the legacy of the SNP was to lure cross-border raids from big, asset-rich, English housing associations to take over the work that local housing organisations have done?

History shows that the disastrous consequence of national building programmes that distribute funding from the centre with no priority for wider action is houses that no one wants to live in and which we have to demolish.

The minister has to understand that asserting his love of the housing association and co-operative movement is not the same as delivering for it and that asserting his commitment on homelessness is not the same as delivering on it.

I turn finally to the first-time buyers grant of £2,000—the great promise.

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, Nicola Sturgeon, is non-committal on it and would like us to be her alibi for not delivering it.

If she believes in it, she should argue for it. If she does not, she should say why not. The First Minister said:

"The SNP is going to work through all of its manifesto commitments over the four-year term of this Administration."—[Official Report, 6 September 2007; c 1493.]

The Administration should stop dodging and tell us whether the first-time buyers grant of £2,000 is a broken promise, a promise yet to come or a cynical election promise made with the collective fingers of the SNP firmly crossed behind their backs?

We deserve to know. That is why the motion includes a demand for a statement.

The fundamental charge against the Administration is that it spins, rather than recognises, our history.

It should come clean, understand that a housing strategy is about more than building houses and begin to talk about targets for social renting, the needs of the homeless and the role of community organisations as partners in change.

I move,

That the Parliament regrets the SNP government's lack of a coherent housing strategy; notes that the Housing Supply Task Force has no timetable or remit to produce recommendations for action; notes in particular the absence of robust evidence on funding and efficiencies in delivering its housing targets; further notes concerns about the impact of a single regional developer model, as outlined in the Firm Foundations consultation, on community-controlled housing associations and housing co-operatives; agrees that the Scottish Government should make a statement to the Parliament as soon as possible, clarifying its plans for the clear SNP manifesto commitment on a £2,000 first-time buyers' grant, and urges the Scottish Government to act to secure long-term improvements in housing rather than the short-term appearance of change.

Speech on Housing and Regeneration Bill Scottish Parliament 19 March 2008

I welcome the opportunity to raise some issues on this legislative consent motion, which Labour members—who consider LCMs on the basis of the practical measures to which they relate and who judge each LCM on its merits—have decided to support.

We think that it is important that we take the opportunity to illuminate some significant issues for the Parliament—members know that my every instinct is philanthropic.

Members of the Local Government and Communities Committee felt that it was important for all members to receive an explanation from the Scottish National Party of why it is no longer opposed, in principle, to LCMs.

On numerous occasions in the past, SNP members voted against entirely rational and logical LCMs on the basis that it was a point of principle for them to do so.

Of course, that was then and this is now.

We can only surmise that the memory banks of SNP back benchers have been entirely wiped and that that point of principle has been forgotten.

The principle on which we operated was that, whenever possible, we would seek an opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to legislate and that we would use the LCM process only if the prospect of new Scottish legislation was not imminent.

The problem for the SNP, of course, is that it appears that the prospect of legislation on anything at all is not imminent. That makes it even more bizarre that the minister claimed to the committee that use of the LCM process was

"a proportionate and efficient use of parliamentary time."—[Official Report, Local Government and Communities Committee, 5 March 2008; c 724.]

He might wish to talk to his business manager about that.

Of course, the broader question is why no suitable legislative vehicle is available.

A big decision has been made to abolish Communities Scotland and yet the bill before us relates to regulation in England.

There is no coherence on the issue of savings for Communities Scotland or how housing and regeneration fit into the community planning framework.

What will happen now that individual housing association grant decisions will be micromanaged from the centre?

How will the regulator fit into all of that?

We have had no discussion of those issues.

Given that we are going in an entirely opposite direction to that taken in England, it would have been nice for the Scottish Parliament to have been given an opportunity—whether in relation to legislation or otherwise—to have had that discussion.

We could have dealt with the issues raised in the LCM in that way.

In order to be helpful, I direct the minister to his own words.

In July last year, I asked him whether abolishing of Communities Scotland "would require legislation".

His reply was:

"Ministers are currently considering the most effective organisational structures for the future delivery of Communities Scotland's functions. That process will involve consideration of any legislation that might be necessary to support the transfer of Communities Scotland's functions, although legislation would not of itself be required to abolish Communities Scotland."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 19 July 2007; S3W-1797.]

Given that we do not need legislation to abolish Communities Scotland, it would have been helpful if the Government had looked for legislative opportunities that would have allowed the Parliament to debate what will now happen to Communities Scotland's functions.

The LCM is an indicator that the SNP has abandoned the principles that it used to apply.

It has not even applied the test that we used to apply.

The Government is unable to explain why it has not brought to the chamber a debate on the future of Communities Scotland.

Perhaps the minister will tell the chamber what other legislation might be necessary and what Communities Scotland's future is.

I welcome his interesting response.

Speech on Fuel Poverty Scottish Parliament 13 March 2008

The aim of our amendment is to reinforce the importance of the role of the voluntary and statutory organisations in giving appropriate advice to those who are in fuel poverty.

For eight years, fuel poverty was a critical issue for the Labour-led Executive and the Parliament.

There is no doubt that the issue was championed by members from across the parties. Sadly, some of them are no longer with us—I think of Margaret Ewing.

Those members kept the issue on the agenda and worked hard to ensure that it did not get lost in the normal day-to-day party-political battles in which some of us are all too happy to engage.
The issues with which we are wrestling are difficult.

The debate is important in building agreement on action.

It is right that it should spur us on in recognising that there are still people who are cold in their homes and who have to choose between heating their homes and feeding themselves.

In addition, the consequences of the rise in fuel prices have huge implications for people who are in fuel poverty.

The minister has broader responsibilities, including the important issue of people having quality housing with effective insulation measures.

A broader question needs to be asked about housing policy and how local authorities and housing associations are supported in meeting the housing quality standard.

Many people wanted to vote to get rid of housing debt for just that reason.

In that broader housing debate, it is important that we hear from the minister how the Government plans to address the issue.

Labour strongly supports the fuel poverty forum.

We recognise the potential for developing a one-stop shop.

In the past, things perhaps became overfragmented, which may have led to a lack of understanding.

Critically, the fuel poverty forum recognised that Scotland is blessed with strong voluntary sector organisations.

People such as Norrie Kerr and others are committed to addressing fuel poverty and are creative in developing policy.

They are also robust in challenging Government through their advocacy for those who are in fuel poverty, no matter which party is in government.

The forum could have a key role to play in bringing the power companies to the table to discuss further the development of the social tariff and the rationalisation and harmonisation of programmes to ensure greater reach, and to consider why the poor face disproportionate charges for fuel.

Although I am sure that Alex Neil will not agree with me, I recognise the important strand that energy issues played in yesterday's budget.

We can debate how far the Government has gone in addressing the issues, but in the announcements that were made it recognised that the issue is important to everyone.

Of course it is important to link work on energy efficiency measures and fuel poverty programmes.

We must also recognise the importance of sustained money advice and energy advice, as such advice can reach out to those who are most vulnerable and who suffer most when action is not taken.

Although general energy efficiency issues are critical, we must not lose our focus on the issue of the poor paying disproportionate charges.

I am disappointed that neither the Tories nor the SNP want to consider the notion of tax incentives for microgeneration measures.

Labour's Sarah Boyack has done a huge amount of work on the area—the Government would not have to look far to get advice—and engaged with loads of people in the sector.

I hope that the minister will look further into the work that she has done.

However, the reality is that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth has set his face against such tax incentives.

As a consequence, the hands of other ministers are tied.

It is odd that a cabinet secretary who offered accelerated tax cuts to small business with no conditions attached will not support the use of taxation as a means of encouraging positive action on energy efficiency.

Labour members have an agreement with our Liberal Democrat colleagues on the issue, although we may not agree with their position on local taxation.

The motion is moderate in its demands.

It asks the Executive to look at the possibility of a local tax rebate, and it is disappointing that the Government will not countenance that.

Instead of closing down the debate, the Executive could have said that it would include that option in its report to Parliament.

We know the challenges that are involved in eradicating fuel poverty by 2016.

We acknowledge the important work that is being done and the challenging points that energywatch Scotland has raised about the central heating programme.

It is important that the debate progresses.

The minister spoke of an internal review.

I urge him to have the confidence to externalise the review, particularly around the central heating programme.

That would enable the Executive to hear what those who are trying to deliver the programme have to say about the challenges involved and the programme's effectiveness.

In his response to the debate, I hope that the minister will tell the chamber that he recognises the importance of doing that.

Speech on Home Detention Curfew Scottish Parliament 12 March 2008

We are debating a serious issue, so I was disappointed by the previous speaker's tone and by the intemperate approach of the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, who seems not to want to engage with hard issues and who was reluctant to accept the compromise that was proposed in the Justice Committee.

It does not help to suggest that there is a division between people who are for prison and people who are against prison, because that is false.

The issues are difficult.

The cabinet secretary's failure to understand the importance of building confidence is fundamental.

He claims that he wants to move to greater use of appropriate community sentences.

If he wants communities to sign up to that approach, it is ill advised for him to refuse to agree to a moderate proposal to keep a watch on the issue that we are debating.

It is argued that individual cases make bad law.

However, people's experiences can illuminate a situation and reveal flaws in a policy approach that seems logical in theory.

In that context, I mention my constituent Mr Armstrong, whose case illustrates why people do not have confidence in the system and why ministers should be willing to compromise on HDC.

In brief, Mr Armstrong was convicted of a serious assault and was sentenced to just less than four years in prison.

His family, friends and neighbours have campaigned for proper consideration of the circumstances of the assault for which he was convicted.

Mr Armstrong alleges that the person whom he was convicted of assaulting was threatening him with a 14in knife and smashing the windows of his vehicle, and that there was a history of reported disorder in the community.

The family asserts that Mr Armstrong was a repeat victim who acted in self-defence and who did not have confidence in the police's ability to respond to the circumstances.

Perhaps that is a mark of the failure of earlier intervention to deal with disorder.

The deepest irony is that Mr Armstrong's alleged assailant was tagged for other offences but was free to appear in the vicinity of Mr Armstrong's home and cause alarm while Mr Armstrong was in prison.

Mr MacAskill is fond of talking about keeping "flotsam and jetsam" out of prison.

In the case that I described, who is flotsam and jetsam and who deserves to be in prison?

The crude division that Mr MacAskill likes to present does not apply; the reality is that neither party is flotsam and jetsam.

We must address people's actions and deal with them seriously, but in so doing we must be careful to understand the context of offending, which might involve a person's being a repeat victim. Such matters must be properly taken into account.

I am delighted that Mr MacAskill has agreed to meet me to pursue the issues, and I hope that he will confirm his willingness to accept from the family the massive petition in support of Mr Armstrong.

The issue matters because community safety is paramount.

We need to know that home detention curfew works.

They cannot be used as a crude attempt artificially to keep prisoner numbers low.

We do not want huge prisoner numbers, but we need to know that risk assessments are done on the basis not of keeping numbers down but of ensuring that a person is safe to return to the community.

People do not have that confidence, because the cabinet secretary will not agree to a sunset clause so that there can be proper consideration of the issue when more prison spaces are available.

The cabinet secretary's reluctance to compromise stems from his predetermined view on prisoner numbers.

He cannot confront the challenges to do with funding new prisons, but that is what Governments must do.

He wants to relieve pressure on prisons, but he must not do so at the expense of putting greater pressure on our communities.

I am troubled by his reluctance to compromise and by his willingness to engage in a crude debate rather than accept that he can reduce prisoner numbers only if our communities feel safe and have confidence that the policy is about not reducing numbers but addressing what puts people in prison and keeps them there.

I urge the cabinet secretary to rethink his approach.

Speech of Wheelchair Users ( Human Rights) Scottish Parliament 5 March 2008

Members have already indicated that this is an important debate.

If Mr Carlaw was hesitant about following Trish Godman's speech, he should consider how I feel about having to speak after him—he encapsulated the passion around this issue, which a lot of us share.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

Today, I met people from Quarriers—in particular, one of my constituents, Mr Fraser Wood—and again I recognised the challenge that people face in addressing the question of wheelchair use as wheelchair users themselves.

Like any equalities issue on the agenda for action, this issue is there not because of our good will and because we care about it, but because of the campaign activity, determination and energy of those who experience inequality and of the carers who support them.

Wheelchair users and their carers have driven the agenda on this issue, and I applaud their energy and the energy of the groups and voluntary organisations that have supported them in ensuring that there was a review of wheelchair services and that we are now at the stage where we want to make further progress.

I will not make a party-political point—the points that have been made so far all show that the problem's existence is a reproach to all of us who are in a position to do something about it.

It is also a broader reproach to a society that has allowed the situation to go on for too long.

It is clear that political action should be shaped by those who not only understand the problems, but have the solutions.

I hope that the minister can answer the question whether there is now a disability forum sitting inside the Scottish Government that would bring these groups together.

There was such a body in the past, and I hope that she will commit today to bringing such a group together to pursue these issues, because it could press the right arguments in the right places.

The test of the rhetoric of equality and our commitment to it is an understanding of the practical issues that need to be addressed in order to deliver on that rhetoric.

The wheelchair example is as good as any of the way in which we have to move from a general commitment to equality to addressing the practical issues that provide the barriers.

I hope that there is a proper understanding of the need to deliver in partnership with those who understand the issues best.

The critical issue is that we need to view the wheelchair not as a machine or as a mechanism, but as a straightforward part of someone's care package and as the way in which they manage to maximise their abilities and their potential.

The comparison with hip replacements is a good one.

We do not see hip replacements in the same way—as somehow being a bonus, when in fact they can be critical to the quality of people's lives and their capacity to engage with their families and broader society.

As has been said, we need to look at the person and not the wheelchair, and we should not try to shape the person into what we think their wheelchair should be.

Why should they not have the wheelchair that they need for the kind of disability and needs that they have?

The review was driven by those who understood the issues, and I wonder why the action plan has been delayed—for another year, it seems.

Will the minister at least commit to examining these issues, which could be progressed before the broader action plan recommendations are brought forward?

That would give people confidence that action was being taken.

I note from some of the submissions that we have received that people want a national service.

Wheelchair service provision seems to be irrational and not attached to need within local areas—I ask the minister to consider that issue.

There is a broader issue about social inclusion and human rights, which is encapsulated in the way that we talk about disabled parking spaces.

Somehow people think that someone with a disabled parking space has stolen a march and is getting a privilege.

Some of the debate around wheelchair services is like that—it is as if someone is asking for something extra.

The fact that the matter has been put in the context of human rights is critical.

We should not tolerate the barriers.

I hope that the minister will respond positively to the supportive points that members have made in the debate.

Speech on Glasgow Commonwealth Games Bill Scottish Parliament 27 February 2008

I declare an interest. My husband is Councillor Archie Graham, who is executive member for culture and sport in Glasgow City Council.

The Government trumpets that it has achieved an historic concordat with local government; at my fireside, we have not quite got that far, and there is still evidence of conflict.

However, in the Parliament and in Glasgow, the importance and significance of the Commonwealth games are recognised.

Bob Doris raised a crucial point about territorialism and disorder.

Solving such problems is not just a Commonwealth games issue; it is core business for Government.

The Commonwealth games are important for Scotland, and particularly for Glasgow, given the stark health inequalities in the city—not to mention inequalities between Glasgow and other parts of Scotland.

Too many Scots who declare a love of sport are spectators who do not engage in it.

One of the big legacies of the Commonwealth games will have to be that people realise that sport can be an active part of their lives, rather than just another expression of their tribalism.

We support the bill. It is largely technical, and there was an obligation to produce it.

We thank all those who gave evidence to the Local Government and Communities Committee, and we thank the Minister for Communities and Sport for introducing a bill that we are able to support.

There was a great sense of achievement when we realised that the bid had been secured.

It is impossible to overstate the professionalism and passion with which Glasgow's case was pursued towards success.

I acknowledge the role of this Government and of past ministers in ensuring that the bid was successful.

We have to remember how much of a challenge winning the bid was; it was not a short-term process.

The success originated from the foresight of people in Glasgow—in particular, people in Labour administrations over a period of time.

There was a long-term commitment to understanding the creative ways by which it is possible to transform the lives of Glasgow's citizens—a commitment to understanding the power of sport and the arts in people's lives.

Rightly, the minister spoke of political consensus, but it required courage to argue for such consensus before it could be built.

It required courage to invest in more than £100 million-worth of facilities over the past 10 years.

Labour in Glasgow has historically sought to win the argument on the importance of sport and culture to the life of the city.

That has been controversial in the past, and it could continue to be controversial.

Some of us who were born a long time ago and have long memories will remember the controversy over building the Burrell collection building in the middle of Pollok park.

People asked whether money should be spent on that when there was so much need in the city.

We now have consensus, but it was political will and choice at an earlier stage that allowed the political consensus to build.

Bill Aitken (Glasgow) (Con): Does Johann Lamont recollect that the decision on the Burrell collection building was taken under a Conservative administration?

Johann Lamont: Absolutely—and my point is that, in building consensus, we have to acknowledge that the first step is a hard one.

We should commend the first step, whoever took it.

All of us in the chamber should acknowledge the role that we have played, but we ought not to colonise for the Parliament the credit for success in securing the games.

There will be a Scotland-wide benefit, but it is reasonable to insist that there is a focus on Glasgow's citizens, because of Glasgow's drive and Glasgow's need.

I will make some brief points about access to and the legacy of the games.

I urge the minister to reflect on equality issues.

We have received a thought-provoking briefing from the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association that gives a significant commentary on issues that it wants us to consider.

That should prompt us to ensure that we have close dialogue with the people who best understand the games' implications for the equality agenda.

I want to make a point—and not just to keep in with the Deputy Presiding Officer—about the concerns of women's organisations that women could be trafficked into Glasgow during the Commonwealth games.

It would be useful to address the issues surrounding that.

We have to broaden the debate and understand the games' implications for broader social and economic policy.

I know that that is already happening in Glasgow.

I am not talking only about business opportunities; we also have to consider the opportunities for social enterprises.

I am not talking only about employment opportunities; we also have to consider the employability strategy and the challenge of benefiting the people who are the furthest away from getting work.

We also have to understand the importance of talking to and working with the local community, to ensure that its needs are addressed.

As a mother who spends far too long at the side of a swimming pool—my daughter swims six times a week—I want to stress the importance of supporting people who have the talent but not the support.

I urge the minister to consider—along with Glasgow City Council—creative ways of ensuring that there is support for people who are talented but do not have access to the support structure that will harness their talent.

We should acknowledge in particular the role of local clubs.

Anyone who is involved with young people in sport will know that volunteers—people who do not receive one coin—are the lifeblood of sports, especially sports that do not have great recognition.

For example, I commend the people who ran the recent netball international in Glasgow, which was supported almost entirely by voluntary effort and was hugely significant for the young women who want to participate in that sport.

We need to harness such energy, not crush it.

We need to support volunteers in our communities and embrace volunteering activity.

We well know the critical role that the minister and the Government play, but we also have to recognise that part of our job is to support the volunteers and others who have got us thus far—those who have the ideas and energy to take us right to the winning line.

Speech in the Scottish Parliament on Housing 7 February 2008

I intend to be brief, not least perhaps because the Minister for Communities and Sport may be as discomfited by my support as I am in giving that support to him.

However, as this is an important issue, I want to underline the Labour Party's support for the Scottish statutory instrument that the Government has made.

Of course, the instrument will simply continue the important work that was done in the previous parliamentary session on housing and sustaining communities.

That work goes beyond any Government and was given recognition by the housing improvement task force.

The Tories' opposition to the proposal is not new and the arguments that they have deployed to support their position are not new either.

One difficulty with the way in which the market currently works is that it disadvantages first-time buyers by involving them in multiple surveys.

Artificially low upset prices can also draw first-time buyers into considering the purchase of properties that they could not possibly afford.

The Tories' arguments about the pilot were well rehearsed at the time, but the evidence of the pilot simply shows that a voluntary approach cannot work.

Perhaps the most critical issue that needs to change in our communities is the way in which people approach the purchasing of a house.

As more people take on ownership of their properties, it must be a concern for all of us that they may do so with less thought than they might give to buying a coat.

The new process will ensure that people are given information about the property that they are buying and the challenges that it will involve.

The process will also give people a better understanding of the worth of what they are buying.

We must be committed—as the housing improvement task force was—to ensuring that people understand the importance of the responsibilities of home ownership and maintaining a property.

If we want to sustain communities and ensure that people do not buy properties that they cannot then maintain, we need to tackle the serious problems that exist.

If there are market issues, surely the supporters of the market on the Conservative benches will tell us that the market will adjust, especially as people will have more information when they make purchases.

The minister has committed himself to monitoring the policy as it is rolled out, which is an important reassurance for people. We will support the Government on this matter at decision time.

Speech in the Scottish Parliament on Poverty 31 January 2008

I welcome the debate and the early sight of the discussion paper, but I hope that we will revisit the debate, because—try as I might—I struggled with some of the concepts and the language in which they were captured.

We are interested in the notion of an independent inquiry that the Lib Dem amendment proposes, but we wish to reflect further on that, particularly because the Local Government and Communities Committee is to move on to an inquiry into child poverty.

Parliamentary committees might have a critical role at this stage, but we might want to move to the position that the Lib Dems ably presented—that will depend on the outcome of the consultation.

I regret that the Government has chosen to use language that does not sharpen the debate but which increases confusion.

I felt as if I had wandered into a parallel universe of golden rules and purposes with a capital P.

Opposition members have been accused of not making the transition to opposition well.

It is difficult for former Government back benchers and front benchers to lose the power to make a difference to people's lives.

The situation is all the more difficult when we see that the SNP might use the power that it has secured to reverse the significant progress that has been made on tackling poverty.

Labour members take the fundamental position that we have a contract on economic growth and shared prosperity—we need both.

We acknowledge the challenges in making funding decisions.

We know that a balance must be struck between spending in general and spending that is targeted on poor people to address poverty.

However, when that balance has been set, it is dishonest to conflate the results and imply that general spending addresses the needs of the poor.

Spending money generally on prescription charges may be good, but the Government should not pretend that that measure addresses poverty, because those who are in poverty will not benefit specifically from it.

We believe that we should build the economy and share the prosperity and that we need
Government action to intervene to support people who are further away from economic benefit—those who are most excluded.

Addressing poverty and exclusion must be at the core of our business.

Nothing happens by chance—action is required.

I was interested that Sandra White said that the SNP led the first debate on poverty in the Parliament.

The SNP drops the term "social justice" and then says that Labour did not debate poverty because we called it social justice.

Where is the logic in that argument?

The SNP's problem is that addressing poverty and delivering social justice are not at the Government's core.

I have said before that assertion is not fact.

If it were, the Government would not have as one of its key priorities an untested and unconditional business rates cut with nothing in return, no matter how much the Tories view such a cut as common sense.

It would not have prioritised securing an early agreement on a council tax freeze, even if such a freeze were very important, without moving at a pace that gave confidence to groups that rely on local government funding.

SNP members may believe in a concordat with local government, but they should have ensured proper engagement and the development of social outcomes and agreements in order not to end up with a series of national indicators but not one word about disability, for example.

We will not get people, including people with disabilities, into work if we do not fund an employability strategy.

Equally, if the Government was committed to tackling poverty—if doing so was at the core of its work—it would recognise that different groups experience poverty differently.

Women, for example, experience poverty differently.

Consequently, the Government would not have a budget that does not assess the gender or equality impact of spend.

What does the Government claim that it will do?

There are the three golden rules: cohesion, solidarity and sustainability. As we wrestle with being in opposition, I challenge SNP back benchers in particular.

They must make a transition and take on the responsibilities of government.

In today's Daily Telegraph, Alan Cochrane tellingly described SNP back benchers as "creepily loyal".

I have waited in the hope that he would be proved wrong, but there is no greater evidence that he is right than what has been said in this debate—or what was said in the budget debate.

The SNP's back benches have many people on them now who were not here during the previous eight years and it looks like the new SNP is in the grip of those who believe robustly in the politics of trickle-down economics.

They seem to have silenced the more radical elements in their own ranks—indeed, I am beginning to think that somebody has taken over Alex Neil's body.

I cite in my defence the fact that SNP colleagues dallied in alliance with the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party over many years and condemned us for not spending enough money or taking enough action to address poverty.

In my extensive research, I have not found one recent clarion call by the SNP on such questions.

I have never heard the chant, "What do we want? The cohesion golden rule. When do we want it? Now."

No matter how cynical of the SNP's underlying commitment to addressing poverty, disability and disadvantage I have imagined myself to be, I never in my wildest dreams imagined that the same colleagues who apparently support cuts in spending on antipoverty measures would end the sharing of the benefits of economic prosperity—the distribution of jobs to other parts of the country—or that they would support business rates cuts worth £265 million without one condition.

I thought that SNP back benchers might effectively lobby behind closed doors to secure changes in the budget.

However, John Swinney has not only supported unconditional business rates cuts but accelerated those cuts to secure his budget—and SNP back benchers are silent.

I say gently to SNP back benchers that, although we are learning to wrestle with being in opposition, they need to find their voice.

Organisations trying to address poverty deserve to know that, even if it is not applied publicly, pressure will be applied privately to ensure that the needs of the poor are addressed and that things are not simply asserted, but delivered.

If that does not happen, the serious charge can be made that the language of social justice, inclusion, equality and tackling poverty was used to secure votes, but that addressing such matters is not the principle that drives the use of the power that was entrusted to the SNP at the elections.

SNP back benchers must find a voice to ensure that those who want what has been seen as a commonsense deal with the Tories are not allowed to have their way.

We know that trickle-down economics do not work and that in order to tackle poverty, people must make a difference, rather than headlines.

A partnership with the Government at every level must be pledged.

We hear a lot about what is not being done by others.

We want to hear what the Government will do—with local and UK organisations that have expressed concerns—to ensure that a shift occurs, that the SNP's commitment to tackling poverty and deprivation is reasserted, and that the progress that has already been made is built on.

Speech in the Scottish Parliament on the Budget 23 January 2008

In his opening speech, John Swinney claimed that his budget was about achieving sustainable economic growth, but it cannot be just about that; no budget can be.

It must show proper regard for the other side of the equation—the right of all our citizens to share society's increasing prosperity.

Despite Mr Swinney's assertions to the contrary, the budget simply does not pass that test.

It is a matter of significant regret that a proper equality impact assessment was not carried out and that a gender impact assessment was not undertaken.

I seek the cabinet secretary's reassurance that that approach will be reinstated.

The SNP Administration and its back benchers repeat over and over the highly debatable assertion that the budget settlement is exceptionally tight and that all the difficulties can be explained on that basis.

Even if that were the case, the SNP—which, during the eight years for which it sat on the shoulders of the Labour-led Executive, constantly condemning us for not being radical enough, never once made wise comments about budgets being limited—needs to explain why it is now obsessed with focusing above all else on tax cuts, of which it has proposed not just one but two.

In a tight budget settlement, that speaks volumes for the SNP's priorities.

I can understand why the Tories rally behind such an approach, especially given that, at a UK level, their leader has had to constrain any talk of tax cuts, lest people fear for public services.

It is remarkable how emboldened they are by their SNP allies.

The SNP must understand that asserting something does not make it true.

The budget contains only a few lines that support social justice, and the moneys that it allocates to primary care in deprived areas, which I welcome, are far smaller than the sum that it identifies for freezing the council tax.

The Government has cut regeneration funding to local government.

We know that council tax cuts do not benefit the poorest households and have a disproportionate benefit to local authorities that are under less pressure and a disproportionate disbenefit to local authorities in which the population is declining.

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing told the Local Government and Communities Committee today that, because she was dealing with a fixed budget, the level of support to housing associations must be reduced.

Although there is little evidence of inefficiency among housing associations, the cabinet secretary said that the current situation is unsustainable.

That is arguable, but the cabinet secretary and others say that we need a bigger bang for our buck. However, no conditions will be attached to business rates cuts.

There will be no conditions on supporting training, on local jobs or even on recycling targets.

When John Swinney was asked about that, he simply said that he expected the cuts to make a difference.

On one hand, we want a bigger bang for our buck; on the other, we cross our fingers and hope for the best.

I never thought that John Swinney would be an advocate for trickle-down economics.

John Swinney talks about the concordat with local government.

He has argued that it is important as an end in itself and he has drawn on the English example to reinforce his position.

It might have been better if the concordat's position on ring fencing had not been agreed in the context of a financial settlement that required a council tax freeze.

If John Swinney had wanted to draw on the English example as he developed the concordat, he could have put in the time and thinking that have gone into the approach locally in England. There have been anxieties about the concordat's implications locally.

If the concordat had been developed in a measured way, the groups who are anxious could have been involved and engaged—it is impossible for that to happen before March.

Those groups could have talked about how they can monitor and support the development of relevant outcome agreements.

However, that did not happen, which has contributed to concern.

The SNP's defence is that I and others have been scaremongering and have used organisations such as Scottish Women's Aid as a political football.

If I was not as big and ugly as I am, I might have been offended by such comments, given the previous Executive's record on violence against women.

For the SNP to imply that organisations such as Scottish Women's Aid are raising serious concerns simply because they have been duped by someone like me shows an appalling lack of understanding of the role of such organisations, which have forced issues on to the political agenda to ensure that they are addressed by government at every level, whoever is in power.

Scottish Women's Aid's long record on challenging us all on violence against women deserves a better response.

I am particularly concerned about the £34 million in consequentials that has been secured to the Scottish budget as a direct result of effective campaigning by families of children with disabilities.

The Government has the right—technically—to use that money as it chooses, but its judgment must be questioned in that regard.

When I asked Fergus Ewing about the issue, he gave a measured response and said that Fiona Hyslop was considering the matter carefully.

However, when the First Minister was asked, he took a less measured approach and simply said that the issue was dealt with in the local government concordat, although there is no
mention of it in the concordat.

Our concern is that the Executive's default position whenever it comes under pressure will be simply to say that an issue is dealt with in the local government budget.