Speech on Scottish Government's Programme, Scottish Parliament, 3rd. September, '09

I am happy and proud to contribute to this debate as a Labour representative.
I think that I have won the good attendance award for sitting through every speech, although members must accept that that endeavour might have challenged my happy disposition a little.
I shall attempt to be as constructive as possible, but I point out to Sandra White that robust debate is to be celebrated, not feared. We need to draw a distinction here.
It is one thing to disagree with and have a debate about something; it is another to be accused of being negative for having the audacity to say that we have a problem with some of the proposals.
I am concerned that, unlike what happened in the first eight years of the Parliament, there has been not one dissenting voice on the Government back benches in this debate.
If members take the Parliament seriously, they should seek to be free to criticise not just the Opposition but their own front bench.
I will give them some advice on that if they require it.
Obviously, it is not sufficient in itself but, in the absence of a Government that takes the Parliament's votes seriously, the legislative programme is one of the few areas in which there is any parliamentary control over the administrative devolution that has been given to ministers.
The fact that Government ministers are making decisions on the basis of what they can do away from this place instead of working in conjunction with it is a very serious matter, and I ask them to reflect on that point.
In these serious times, we need to focus on the concerns and experiences of people throughout Scotland.
I have to say that I found the First Minister's statement insubstantial and his presentation dispiriting.
It seemed the statement of a First Minister who does not take his job seriously and, as we saw at First Minister's question time, a man who is complacent about certain very big issues of the day, such as child protection and crime, to which there are no obvious right or wrong answers.
This is a First Minister who imagines that a statement full of assertion rather than action that is focused on his party's self-serving and indulgent constitutional priorities instead of the real problems of real people in real communities adds up to a programme for government.
It does not.
The gulf between the priorities that he set out in his statement and the problems that people in my constituency bring to me could not be more marked.
In the past, we have criticised the Scottish Government's remarkable capacity for telling us how much it cares about those who face disadvantage and inequality while doing not a thing to match its rhetoric with commitments, resources and budgets that have been properly and transparently tested against assessments of equality and fairness.
However, in this morning's statement, the Scottish Government went a step further: it talked about the people of Scotland without at any time acknowledging the diversity of experience, the lack of opportunity for some Scots or the discrimination against and loss of potential of too many with disabilities.
Alex Neil said that the statement was about economic growth and social justice.
No, it was not—and it will not become one simply because he says so. It contained not one word on equality or poverty and not one phrase that reflected an understanding of how this economic recession is impacting disproportionately on some people.
It is perhaps not surprising that a First Minister who commends Thatcherite economics should not trouble himself to comment on such matters, but we might have expected him to nod in the direction of his back-bench colleagues who do have such a commitment. He must indeed think that the party's discipline is strong.
As far as jobs and training are concerned, there is nothing in the statement to address the fact that, although unemployment hangs as a worry over more people and families than it should, in our poorest communities 25 per cent of young people are not in education, employment or training, compared with 11 per cent across the whole of Scotland.
There is nothing to address the fact that only 18 per cent of people with learning disabilities are in work or that less than that work for more than 16 hours a week. In the face of all that, there is nothing on skills; cuts are being made in Skills Development Scotland; and the education maintenance allowance, which has allowed some of our poorest and brightest access to education at the time that it matters—that is, at school—is being reduced.
The economic strategy does not recognise that there should be shared prosperity, not just sustained economic growth.
Furthermore, there is nothing in the statement on child care; and nothing on how the Government will make real its guarantee to those on apprenticeships that they will be allowed to finish them.
It is a cruel deception to call something a guarantee if it is not going to be honoured.
At the same time, Scottish Enterprise no longer has any responsibility for people and place.
There is nothing on regeneration and employability, and there is an end to Communities Scotland, which had a focus on the detail and the delivery and the hard work of government.
In the Highlands, there is the destruction of Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
Where the Government is taking action, it is inadequate.
Housing is a classic example of the SNP's approach.
We have cheap headlines on the right to buy, despite the fact that the SNP is in favour of the use of public moneys for home ownership through low-cost home ownership. It will not cost a coin.
Alex Neil: Will the member take an intervention?
Johann Lamont: For all the noise and bluster on the right to buy, the reality is that another proposal is being brought in through the back door.
Alex Neil: Will the member take an intervention?
The Deputy Presiding Officer: Mr Neil, sit down, please.
Johann Lamont: I advise SNP back benchers to consider that proposal closely.
The aim is to bring in private, profit-making housing organisations to be registered as social landlords and to destroy the community-controlled housing association and co-operative movement.
Sandra White rose—
Alex Neil rose—
Johann Lamont: I will take an intervention.
Alex Neil: I thank the member—
Johann Lamont: I was talking about Sandra White.
Alex Neil: Oh!
Johann Lamont: On you go.
Alex Neil: I thank the member for agreeing at one remove to take the intervention.
On Labour Party policy, will that party support our proposals to end the right to buy for new council housing?
Johann Lamont: As the party that modernised the right to buy, which made a huge difference, we do not have a problem with looking at the policy. However, we have a problem with the housing policy with which it is to be substituted.
What hypocrisy from a man who spends money on low-cost home ownership and will not tell us the figures on the number of houses that are built for social rented housing rather than ownership.
To pretend that the policy is radical is bizarre.
There is to be no action to address the weaknesses in the child protection procedures but, on crofting, the silence is even more remarkable.
As has been said, the SNP is to be congratulated on its crofting proposals, as it has managed to unite every authoritative and respected crofting commentator and representative in opposition to its proposals.
However, the SNP has the audacity to lecture those who protect those communities and the way of life that has sustained them because they do not agree.
There is no radicalism on land reform—in fact, there is a dismantling of that, too.
When there is a huge yawning silence on those matters, in steps the First Minister to compound the offence.
He used the language of equality and talked of a glass ceiling.
That is the language that captures the idea of a denial of opportunity, but the First Minister used it to describe his notion of Scotland and all us oppressed Scots together, who need to be separated from the rest of the United Kingdom.
In that one phrase, we have Alex Salmond's refutation of the need for social justice in Scotland.
It seems that he really believes that that is the one defining trait and the factor that determines all our life chances.
The issue is not about people being left neglected in chaotic homes, disability, women facing domestic abuse or people facing the consequence of being unable to access education.
Instead, it is about being Scottish—being a clan chief, a landowner, a crofter or someone from Glasgow.
All together, we need to be liberated.
What nonsense.
That explains why Alex Salmond thinks that the referendum matters and that is why we disagree.
We will ensure that the Parliament takes its responsibility seriously to produce a programme that will make a difference to the people of this country.