Scottish Budget, speech in the Scottish Parliament 04/02/2009

The budget process is always difficult, and it is self-evidently more difficult for Opposition members because the budget bill can never be a neutral document.

The budget reflects the priorities of the Scottish National Party; it is not a Labour budget, so it is our responsibility to try to influence and shape it.

That is an understandable part of the process—our role throughout the process has been to seek to influence and shape the budget in the direction of the commitments that Labour would have made and the strategy that we would have had.

Nevertheless, the budget bill that we are debating is not the one that we would have introduced.

There is frustration that the budget process has been characterised in commentaries as being about playing games.

The sense that horse trading and game playing were going on was reinforced by decisions that the cabinet secretary made, such as his singling out of Edinburgh instead of addressing the needs of all our cities.

There is recognition that problems have been caused by the presentation of decisions and by the pretence that there was no serious negotiation by Labour before last week's vote, which is simply not true.

The process was too much about the arithmetic in the Parliament and not enough about genuinely reaching out to members to find ways of improving the budget.

There has also been frustration about the pretence that, in seeking to support proposals that would improve the budget, we somehow supported the whole budget.

It is dishonest to suggest that members who sought to persuade the cabinet secretary of the strength of a particular approach had a reckless disregard for the impact on local communities.

That is simply not true—what is happening in our communities has driven and motivated serious negotiation on the part of the Labour Party.

We focused on key issues and we sought to support families and communities who are facing the current economic challenge, so we welcome the announcement of what we sought: a secure guarantee to people who are currently in apprenticeship placements.

As a consequence, many young people and their families can have certainty when before there was a great deal of uncertainty.

For that alone, today will have been a good day at the office.

We urged the Government to understand the critical role of Government intervention and action that goes beyond simple assertion.

We recognised the importance of supporting people who face unemployment and transition to other jobs.

We sought significant increases in the number of apprenticeships because we know our history and we remember what happened when Government took a laissez-faire approach and abandoned young people and families to the scourge of unemployment.

We recognised the opportunity that apprenticeships would provide for training and planning for the future.

The change that we secured in the Scottish budget is a Labour dividend for families; at last there is a firm commitment on apprenticeships.

Critical issues will come into play in the delivery of that commitment.

In the past, I have raised significant issues about the importance of equality proofing and anti-poverty proofing the budget and the role of equality impact assessments.

I remain concerned that, although the budget allocates moneys, it does not do the hard job of ensuring that we meet the diversity of need in our communities.

We can have no confidence that there is any understanding of how people experience disadvantage and discrimination if the budget process does not explicitly set out how such an understanding is arrived at.

Single outcome agreements play a critical part in addressing need locally, and the social inclusion budget has been entirely devolved to local government.

Stewart Maxwell has said that equality impact assessments should be done but that if they are not done it is for the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate.

Such a process would take a long time, and there is a simpler solution, which I urge ministers to accept: if they think that equality impact assessment of single outcome agreements should be undertaken because of how such agreements affect communities, they should say that an agreement will not be accepted without evidence that an equality impact assessment has been done.

It is as simple as that.

I want to ensure that the shift in the budget addresses need.

The cabinet secretary has considered Labour's case for modern apprenticeships, and I urge him to apply an equalities approach, too.

It is not enough to assert that Government policy inevitably helps disadvantaged people.

It has been claimed that free school meals, free prescriptions and the council tax freeze benefit the poor, but in a written answer to a parliamentary question the Government confirmed that there is no evidence of such benefit.

We need evidence, so that we can ensure that what we do makes a difference.

As part of the summit on apprenticeships, the cabinet secretary must commit to addressing structural employment issues such as segregation, which reinforces the position of women.

If apprenticeships are segregated, it is inevitable that women's experience of low pay will continue.

We must consider the sectors in which apprenticeships are offered.

Are we improving the care sector, in which there are many women workers?

We must address that issue.

We have to consider what we say to employers.

I was told today that an apprentice hairdresser earns £60 a week for a 45-hour week.

That is unacceptable and would not happen in England.

I urge the cabinet secretary to ensure that the summit on apprenticeships addresses that.

An understanding of those issues is critical to driving social inclusion.

How much of the town centre regeneration money will go to our most-deprived communities?

How will PACE meet the needs of people with disabilities, who are more disadvantaged in the employment market?

We need to understand that equality is not a bonus but at the core of spending decisions and policy documents.

Otherwise, the budget decisions that we make today will reinforce inequality rather than challenge it.

I welcome the shift that the cabinet secretary has made, but I urge him to ensure that, when he allocates funds for his commitments, he considers how his allocation meets the needs of particular groups in our communities.

That is central to our approach, and I look forward to him acknowledging that in his closing speech.

Gaelic Language Plan speech Scottish Parliament 29/01/09

I have the honour of contributing a very small footnote to the history of this young Parliament—indeed, to the history of the Scottish Parliament in general—as I was the first person to speak in a debate in the Scottish Parliament in the proud language of my forebears.

It is a language that played a critical part in the soundtrack of my childhood in Glasgow and Tiree.

In my maiden speech in 1999, I made the point that I spoke haltingly in Gaelic—and I speak it even less well now—because of attitudes to Gaelic in the Scotland that I grew up in.

Active decisions were taken to minimise the use of Gaelic and to make no real provision for Gaelic education for the island and Highland diaspora in our cities.

There were many like me who lost the language that they listened to and lived with every day, and there were people such as my grandmother, who through politeness and good manners often spoke in not her first but her second language, believing somehow that she needed to be the person who reached out in order to engage with other people.

During my childhood in Glasgow, the only provision for children like me was to go to interminable Gaelic classes, at which we learned exactly where Mary was—in front of the house, to the side of the house, or on the other side of the house—but which bore no relation to, or gave me any capacity to speak to my family in, the language in which they spoke to one another all the time.

I am glad that there seems to be a consensus on the need to address the question of Gaelic.

Things were not always this way, and we should remember that.

There was hostility, discrimination and lack of understanding that led to people losing the language that their forebears had treasured.

While recognising the progress that has been made, we must recognise those problems, and we need to learn from the journey rather than presume that victory has been won.

I commend those who continue to put pressure on Government at every level in the fight to sustain their language.

They have been innovative and creative in how they have tried to take the language forward.

They have demanded that the needs of Gaelic-speaking communities be met both in the Highlands and in the cities.

They have understood the power of harnessing Gaelic and its culture to address modern culture by giving the language a modern face in music, song and the arts.

That has not just provided a renaissance in traditional Gaelic culture but enriched that culture and, indeed, all our cultures.

That shows the diversity of cultures that have shaped modern Scotland.

On Ted Brocklebank's point, I think that Gaelic has a richness that Scotland can present to the world.

It provides an economic interest for the tourism industry, which is helped by the fact that we have that diversity.

As the very proud auntie of a nephew who is the Gaelic voice of Charlie in the children's television programme "Charlie and Lola", I know that Gaelic can exist in many places beyond the traditional ceilidh.

We must listen to those who understand the connection between the need to sustain Gaelic and the need to will the means for that to happen.

There is a critical connection between the survival of Gaelic and support for Gaelic-medium education, and at the core of my speech is the recognition that Gaelic's fragility is not accidental and that making it secure cannot be accidental either.

That presents a real challenge to every level of Government about how to act.

This is not a time to be feeble.

I welcome the draft language plan, but I caution the minister not to listen to the quiet impossibilists who sometimes give advice to ministers.

What we need is not assertion or appearance but some guarantees.

The phenomenal progress in Gaelic-medium education and the consequential optimism for the language was due to active political decisions by the previous Administration, which are now being built on, and the courage of local authorities such as Glasgow City Council, which now has a Gaelic-medium nursery school, primary school and secondary school.

In particular, we should recognise that the introduction of free nursery places accelerated the development of Gaelic by offering a critical place for Gaelic-medium education that has reached out not only to families in which Gaelic had been lost but, in a wonderful way, to families that had no prior connection with the language.

The minister will acknowledge the pressures that are on local government and the anxieties among equality groups generally about the vulnerability of soft budgets during a time of pressures.

It is understandable that there is an anxiety about culture budgets, education budgets and other budgets that have supported the development of Gaelic, and I urge the minister to recognise the vulnerability of traditional Gaelic culture and how young people are reshaping it.
Support is required at every level.

In my final minute, I want to make one or two points about BBC Alba.

We celebrate the channel's early success, and we recognise its critical role and its potential in sustaining the language.

I commend Alasdair Allan—I am not one who is often gracious in the chamber—for becoming an accomplished Gaelic speaker from a starting point of zero.

The minister is a gracious person, but I regret her ungracious remarks about the public appointment of Alasdair Morrison as chair of MG Alba.

Whatever her views on his politics, I am sure that she recognises his intelligence, energy and abiding passion for his native tongue.

I hope that she will assure us today that the Scottish Government will do everything that it can to support BBC Alba, given its potential to normalise Gaelic in our communities.

The minister must recognise that the evident awareness of Scottishness that Gaelic presents is as much about celebrating the differences in our culture as recognising the commonality of some of our traits and characteristics.

This is an opportunity to reaffirm the important role of Gaelic in celebrating what everyone brings to the table and what makes us different and distinct—that is critical to our capacity to celebrate all of Scotland's cultures.

I commend the minister for the consultation on the draft language plan, and I look forward to her continuing energy in supporting this precious language.