A Budget for Scotland’s People Scottish Parliament speech 25 November 2010

I am pleased to open the debate on behalf of the Labour Party.
I recognise that it is an important debate for the people of Scotland. It is not our intention for this to be a yah-boo debate; it is not a debate for the sake of it, but one that is of significance for all Scotland.
As members might be aware, I am not an aficionado of budget debates.
However, this is not simply a debate for the parties' finance spokespeople—which is why I am opening—but one that is at the heart of Labour's concerns and, I believe, the concerns of others about the Scottish National Party's approach and attitude to the development of the budget and the consequences for individuals, families and communities throughout Scotland.
Our motion recognises the reality in Scotland of uncertainty, anxiety, stress and fear for what the future may bring. Our job—the purpose of the Scottish Parliament—is to protect people and to take action that offers greater stability and certainty.
The evident uncertainty is corrosive; it is a threat that is not easily captured in a ledger but which fundamentally impacts on people's lives.
Our central argument is that the Scottish Government is compounding that uncertainty.
Yes—Mr Swinney is demanding efficiencies and outlining his spending priorities for the next year, but the reality is that he is preventing a wide range of public and voluntary bodies and local authorities from being able to plan and make informed choices about the future.
The Scottish Government has the information.
It can help, but chooses not to by refusing to give spending projections for the period of the comprehensive spending review.
When the Scottish Government is challenged about its many failures, broken promises or incompetences, it often says that it is a minority Government.
That is not, in itself, the problem: the problem is that it is a minority that is incapable of seeking compromise and consensus.
Instead of seeking co-operation to support people in these tough times, it acts in a way that keeps MSPs in this Parliament in the dark and, more important, which keeps in the dark crucial public bodies and organisations that are striving to deliver front-line services.
It is our contention that that is a dereliction of duty and an abdication of responsibility: those are sacrificed on the altar of party interest, not in the country's interest.
At decision time today, there will be an opportunity for the Parliament to assert itself against that minority control over the Parliament's powers, and to confirm its disapproval of the approach and its consequences for the people whom we represent.
If successful, it will be a challenge to the Scottish Government to accept accountability and to act accordingly to create more certainty and give people more protection.
I expect that, if the motion is supported at decision time, the Minister for Parliamentary Business will report as a matter of urgency on how he plans to enact that decision of the Parliament.
We want the Scottish Government to take an approach that recognises the challenge not only for ministers but for all those who depend on the Government's funding. Mr Swinney said in his budget statement that this is not a one-year problem and then revealed that he would provide only a one-year budget. That contradiction is as odd as it is unacceptable.

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP): Why does the Labour Party want to win the election next year but operate an SNP budget? You are basically calling for us to set a budget for a four-year term of office throughout which you hope to be in power. Is that because you want to sit in office—if you win, which is unlikely—and blame the SNP for all the cuts that were imposed thanks to the incompetence of the previous United Kingdom Labour Government?

Johann Lamont: That intervention was self-evidently ludicrous.
We make the point—I will make it again later—that this is not about elections but about serving the people of this country.
Mr Swinney says that it is difficult in these unprecedented times to do as we suggest, but in Wales people have the information and in England people have the information.
Earlier in the week, the Northern Ireland Government indicated that it would provide spending plans for 2011-12 to 2014-15 as part of its budget process.
I even understand that in the Republic of Ireland—despite the system there being under terrible pressure—the Government has made it clear that any budget that it produces will provide plans for a period far beyond the next year.
In a previous debate, when Mr Swinney was being asked to produce an indicative budget ahead of the comprehensive spending review, he replied that Wales had taken the same approach as he had; that he and the Welsh finance minister were as one and had decided
"to wait until the comprehensive spending review had been undertaken".
Mr Swinney asked Andy Kerr:
"If that approach is good enough for Welsh Labour, why is it not good enough for Scottish Labour?"—[Official Report, 4 November 2010; c 29972.]
In the same way, we might now ask: if a spending review for the comprehensive spending review period is good enough for England, for Wales and for Northern Ireland, why is it not good enough for Scotland?
Why, uniquely, are we incapable of doing it?
What is unique about our civil servants that renders them incapable of identifying options for spend beyond the next year?
Is Mr Swinney really saying that no work has been done, or is being done, to prepare spending plans?
If the work has been done, why could it not be done as part of the budget process?
Were civil servants instructed not to do the work?
If they are doing that work, why is it not being harnessed to create certainty for all those who seek to meet need in our communities?
The truth is that Mr Swinney has that information; he just does not want to share it.
"But", says Mr Swinney, "we can't because there are big issues here. We have asked Campbell Christie and his commission to look at them and we can't give details until Parliament has had the opportunity to consider the commission's proposals."
We might say that there is evidently no rush, but Mr Swinney is asking us to set aside the fact that the logic of that position, given the breadth and depth of the commission's remit, is that no decisions could be taken on anything.
At the same time, Mr Swinney has blithely ruled out much of the independent budget review and has made significant spending commitments at his party conference.
To accept Mr Swinney's position, one must also disregard the fact that the commission has been told by the Scottish Government that its purpose is long term and that, in an earlier debate, Mr Swinney said that that purpose would allow
"the focusing of medium-term financial priorities."—[Official Report, 4 November 2010; c 29976.]
We all know, however, that the reality is that Mr Swinney is now using the commission as a short-term alibi to get him through the winter and into election time. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer: Order.

Johann Lamont: I call in evidence someone whom I would not necessarily happily quote. In an interview in Holyrood magazine of 18 October, Alex Salmond argued that what is happening in Westminster in relation to cuts is about election timetables.
He reflected that
"electoral, political and economic cycles don't always fall in the same way and politicians should have a higher duty and the duty is more to the economic cycle than the political cycle."
Mr Salmond clearly needs to have some firm words with Mr Swinney and himself.
I recognise many of those who have agreed to serve on the commission and the qualities that they bring, but the slightest glance at its remit, which embraces not only delivery of services, but improvement of services and tackling of inequality and its causes—among a host of other things—makes it clear that its purpose is not just about rationalising the landscape in tough times in order to inform immediate spending decisions. It is about far more.
So substantial is its work that it is entirely illogical to call it in aid against publishing spending plans and giving people the information that they need to plan.
I am sure that the commission will make interesting recommendations, but its remit is, in my view, so substantial that it is, in fact, one of the central purposes of Government.
We have to ask what Mr Swinney and his colleagues have been doing for the last number of years.
Why did they not notice that challenging times were ahead and act then by harnessing the talents within government, in the Parliament and throughout Scotland to prepare, rather than cobbling a commission together now, with a glorious remit and short timescale, which reflects not on the commission members but on the motives of those who have set it up and on the short-termism of the Scottish Government?
Mr Swinney may try to dismiss the issue at the centre of our motion as being some kind of academic issue about budget processes, and as being of interest only to the pointy heads.
It is not, however, academic or obscure; it is not just for the number crunchers.
Budgets are living documents.
They are the expression of priorities and, in their delivery, they give shape and direction to the society we wish to live in and they shape people's life chances.
In the tough times, these choices are ever more critical.
Local authorities, health boards, voluntary organisations and police boards, which are all on the front line, want and deserve some certainty and the ability to plan.
They want that not for the sake of it but because they care deeply about their health provision, their care services, their responsibility for people with learning disabilities, their ability to create economic opportunities and their creation of sustainable communities.
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Strathclyde police authority, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, the Confederation of British Industry Scotland, Consumer Focus Scotland and a range of other organisations have all asked for the certainty of a spending review. When they ask for that certainty, are they all wrong?
My colleagues will focus on the impact of the budget in more detail, but it is self-evidently contradictory to demand efficiencies without a timescale in which to make those demands realistic and achievable.
I predict that, instead of demonstrating increased rationality in their decisions, organisations will become risk averse and perhaps cut services that might otherwise have survived, thereby creating the worst kind of short-termism.
In its written evidence to the Local Government and Communities Committee, COSLA said:
"This puts Scottish Local Government at a disadvantage compared with other parts of the UK ... Had we been able to see the resources over a longer time frame this would enable Local Government to plan more effectively and perhaps avoid cuts which may hurt our communities unnecessarily."
That is the charge.
Not only is it displaying short-termism, but the Government is creating a situation in which people are making cuts that may be unnecessary.

Tricia Marwick (Central Fife) (SNP): Johann Lamont cited several organisations that support a three or four-year budget. If she gives such weight to external bodies, why did the Labour Party give such little weight to all the external bodies that wanted minimum pricing?

Johann Lamont:
This is a serious debate about the Government's choices.
The historic concordat suggested that the SNP listened to local government.
The charge is very serious.
Who pays?
I will give just one example: the care worker who is waiting to find out whether they have a job as the result of a commissioning agreement, while the voluntary organisation that has made a bid waits for the decision of local government, which is waiting for the Scottish Government's decision.
What is the impact on that individual worker and his or her capacity to deliver the service?
They do no know whether they will have a job or should look for another.
It is demoralising and reduces the local capacity to be efficient.
For some, it is much worse.
I understand that Employers in Voluntary Housing, with the help of the Scottish Housing Regulator, has issued guidance for housing associations and co-operatives about the challenge of the current economic situation.
Banks are reported to be eagerly seeking to review deals for risk, and will possibly increase costs and charges, while the housing association grant has already been cut, increased and then cut again and is unpredictable.
In such circumstances, the lack of information for future planning may have a devastating effect by undermining the sector's capacity to thrive and deliver economic opportunity.
The call for the sector to be more efficient is entirely undermined by the Scottish Government's approach, which hampers housing associations' attempts to do what they do best—planning, preparing, delivering and maintaining.
The Government's approach to the budget disregards the needs of local people and is symptomatic of the SNP's overall approach, which is that it is cynical, self-serving and incapable of separating the country's interests from the party interest.
If Mr Swinney is to be worthy of his office, he should use the powers that he has to help people throughout Scotland. At the very least, he should stop being a hindrance to those who want to make a difference to individuals and their families.
In refusing the spending review, he is not taking a technical step but making an active choice.
Mr Swinney lacks the political will do what his office demands, and his purpose is to serve his party, not his country, and to put his own interests ahead of the future of people in our communities.
That is his narrow, SNP party-political choice, but—

Members: Oh!

Johann Lamont: The consequences of that choice will be felt by those who are weakest in defending themselves—the people who seek jobs and who rely on services. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer: Order.

Johann Lamont: I ask members to support the motion. The people of Scotland deserve better.
I move,
That the Parliament notes that the Scottish Government has been presented with its spending budgets for the four-year spending review period yet has chosen to provide local authorities, NHS boards, universities, colleges, the voluntary sector and the wider public sector with only one-year budget proposals for 2011-12; believes that such uncertainty is corrosive as it does not allow those organisations to plan effectively; believes that this inability to plan will have an adverse impact on services, individuals, families and communities, and calls on the Scottish
Government to follow the example of the Welsh Assembly Government and the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and publish indicative figures until at least 2013-14, in addition to its planned one-year budget for 2011-12.

Labour's Living Wage - Fair Pay for All

Housing Bill Scottish Parliament speech 3 November 2010

Suitably chastised by the minister, I will do my best to be consensual.
However, when I express different views, I do so because I disagree with him.
As we move forward, seeking a false consensus is probably as much of a problem as anything else.
We have indicated that we are happy to support many of the bill's provisions.
In particular, I note and concur with the minister's comments on veterans' entitlements.
However, I do not think that the bill deserves to be described as radical.
Some of members' disappointment about the bill arises from the overblown rhetoric that the minister used in the early days about his plans to abolish the right to buy.
When we voted on the issue, it was recognised that the minister had overstated the case and that past changes had made the really big difference.
There is an overall challenge in relation to housing.
It is about the availability of housing to individuals and their families, but it is also about housing's role in sustaining communities, especially at this difficult time.
The minister will be aware of the term "community anchors".
Often, housing associations play that role.
We should tread gently when we move into that area, to ensure that we do not damage the role that housing providers—housing associations and councils—can play in communities.
We will have a tough budget decision to make, and housing providers will play a critical role in determining what happens in the future.
The plans for housing benefit at United Kingdom level have many implications both for individuals and for those who are planning and making decisions at community level.
For example, a housing association might be faced with a tenant who has rigorously paid their rent, who has been unemployed for a year, and who discovers that their housing benefit is to be cut by 10 per cent because they have stayed on jobseekers allowance.
That sort of situation has implications for housing associations and other organisations that generally manage things in a businesslike way.
I have no doubt that the proposals also have implications for people in supported accommodation—there are people with learning disabilities who are currently supported, and we do not know what the proposals will mean for Women's Aid refuges and so on.
I am sure that we will have to revisit the impacts of the housing benefit proposals on housing as a whole.
Tough decisions have to be made, of course, and one of the frustrations felt in my party comes from the silliness of some of the things that the minister and the Scottish National Party have said in the past about the division between our support for council housing and RSLs.
We took a tough decision to support stock transfer in Glasgow.
We brought £1.2 billion into the city.
If ever there was a Labour legacy for tough times, it is the fact that properties are still being improved there and there is still new build.
There is a new-build development in my constituency, which is creating jobs in the construction industry, and the private sector has embraced that.
The idea that spending through the public purse does not support private investment and activity is false.
We should be careful about making false divisions, which do not help the debate.
I am genuinely disappointed about the decision to remove the whole question of the private sector.
The minister says that it is water under the bridge, but the single most significant concern that is brought to me and others in our casework is to do with the quality of rented accommodation in the private sector.
Sarah Boyack highlighted the question of party flats, and Pauline McNeill mentioned houses in multiple occupation. There is also the matter of addressing antisocial behaviour, which Charlie Gordon raised.
It is unfortunate that, when it was indicated at stage 1 that there was a problem, the minister did not sort it out. There is a sense of urgency.
People do not want those issues to be dealt with slowly.
I am concerned that the HMO provisions are not coming until 2011.
There is an issue around the regulator.
We know the importance of having solid regulation, but there is a concern that the regulator will increasingly focus on community-controlled housing associations, despite the fact that they generally perform better in inspections.
The fear is that the regulator will get a notion that bigger is somehow better, so that there could be forced mergers, although we know that the lesson from the community-controlled movement has been that managing things locally, with control going down to local communities, makes a difference.

Alex Neil: At stage 2, I lodged an amendment to avoid forced mergers. The approval of the tenants will now be required before any merger or takeover happens.

Johann Lamont: I welcome that, but we should ensure that the regulator's approach is light touch.
We do not want to kill innovation at a local level in housing.
There is uncertainty about the fact that housing association grant has gone up and down.
It has been put to me that there is a fear that banks will use that as an opportunity to intervene and review, and perhaps change the arrangements that they have made with housing associations. That is of concern.
We have already discussed the controversial issues around homelessness, but I reiterate that the issue is the provision of support at the right stage.
We have been talking about preventative spend.
If we can address the issue at an early stage, ensuring that other agencies are engaged, that will be significant.
We welcome the Scottish social housing charter, but it has to be real.
We need to listen to what tenants say about allocations policy; about the difficulties of evicting difficult tenants, particularly drug dealers; about the need to address antisocial behaviour, and the need to bring back a community aspect to how antisocial behaviour is addressed; about sensitive lets and people being told that they cannot identify categories of housing for older people, whose whole lives might be disrupted by younger people being placed in a way that is inappropriate for both of them; and about the role of private landlords.
The social housing charter should reflect those concerns of tenants.
It should also reflect the fact that tenants want there to be mixed, safe communities.
There is a gap between that and what the regulator says.
There are also concerns about rent levels going up more quickly for councils and about increased debt being masked by low interest rates.
We are happy to support the bill for the limited changes that it creates, but we trust that we can engage with the minister on the many issues where action is necessary.

Iain Gray : Because Scotland Deserves Better

Iain Gray's speech to the 2010 Scottish Labour conference in Oban

Ed Miliband's Speech to the Scottish Labour conference, Oban 2010

Iain Gray and Ed Miliband : United for our values

Ed Miliband : A New Generation : First Speech as Leader to the Labour Party Conference

Supported Employment Workplaces Scottish Parliament speech 7 October 2010

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was slightly late for the beginning of the debate.
I was delighted not to miss any speeches, other than part of the speech by my colleague Lewis Macdonald [Laughter.]
I had a good sense of what he was going to say, so it was fine.
This is an important debate but we must put it in context.
In their briefings, Leonard Cheshire Disability and others reflected that challenging the scandalous level of unemployment among people with disabilities must be about more than tackling the issue of sheltered workplaces.
I could not agree more.
There is a demonstration today in the Parliament highlighting the need to recognise the human rights of disabled people at a time when budget choices are being made.
That understanding of the broader context of the needs of disabled people has meant that we on this side of the chamber continue to press for a skills strategy that understands inequality in the workplace, the lack of opportunity for people and the challenges faced by disabled people in particular.
That is why we have been so critical of the single outcome agreement process.
I am sure that Bill Kidd will agree that the Government has persistently refused to ensure that single outcome agreements that determine spending in local authorities are equality impact assessed.
If that is not done, how can we ensure that the needs of disabled people in relation to education, employment strategies and every local authority service are being met, and that the political choices that are currently being made do not disproportionately disadvantage people with disabilities?
That is the reason for our commitment to the broader issues of disability and it is why we continue to express concern that the changed role for Scottish Enterprise means that it is not working to address the employment needs of people with disabilities in the way that it might have done in the past.
We look to Westminster with dread as we see the downgrading of a commitment to tackle inequality and the possible dismantling of the bodies that monitor progress in equality.
Not only is it possible that people will be more disadvantaged, but there will be no machinery to ensure that decisions on that are challenged.
However, the fact that we cannot do everything does not mean that we cannot do anything.
I was surprised by the defensiveness of some members in their speeches. Dr McKee, especially, seemed to expend more energy on explaining why things could not be done than on considering the positives.
That is in sharp contrast to Frank McAveety's contribution, in which he explained precisely how someone who has political power can make political choices that can make a difference.
It is disappointing that action on supported workplaces, using article 19, has not been properly recognised.
Despite what the minister said, I remain disappointed that the huge project at the Southern general has done so little. The minister says that it is a problem if we make one person het. I say to the minister that he is het.
He is the minister. He has the capacity—a capacity that some of us long for—to drive things forward.
We want the Government to lead by example.
The minister is not a dispassionate observer of what is happening at Blindcraft and how we can make a difference using article 19.
There is a huge issue about mainstreaming employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
We should challenge employers on their disgraceful record.
We owe it to people who work in sheltered workplaces not to say, "You can only go that way."
We must recognise that there is the opportunity to go either way.
I accept what Gavin Brown said about the importance of debating in measured tones.
I am a good example of how that is done.
However, I wonder whether people in the disabled community sometimes feel that our measured tones reflect complacency. No member would want that.
In the Tory amendment, Gavin Brown talks about balance and the importance of reflecting the challenges for some public bodies.
We recognise that and we would hope that the timetable would reflect the fact that some bodies will be unable to move as quickly as others.
However, that must not slow the process down; we must recognise the power of the measure.
We understand the differences among various bodies, but we expect speedy action from the minister on publishing the timetable.
We do not want Gavin Brown's amendment to be a get-out clause, but we acknowledge that in speaking he made a number of positive suggestions about subcontractors and, on that basis, we can support his amendment.
Mike Pringle talked about how difficult it is to support sheltered workplaces in tough economic times, but the reality is that when we are in tough economic times, because of what is happening at a UK level, people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable.
We must do more and not use the economic situation as an explanation for doing less.
Tackling inequality is not a task just for when the sun shines; at this time, we need even more positive action to meet the needs of disadvantaged groups.
Ian McKee made the same point.
He said that we are in tough times and so perhaps we should expect that the more vulnerable people will suffer. However, that should be not an excuse for not acting, but an imperative to act.
The implication of what Ian McKee said is that we are talking about good works, charity and doing people a favour. It is not about that; it is about allowing people a level playing field on which they can show and prove their potential. In a decent society, we owe it to people with disabilities to support them; it is not a question of our feeling good about offering them an opportunity, in the way that was suggested.

Ian McKee: The implication of what I said in my speech is that when the hard times come, there is little point in continuing to subsidise the production of something for which the market is falling. We should be devising sustainable ways of changing patterns so that the needs of the future—not of the past—are considered.

Johann Lamont: In tough times, the Government should redouble its efforts to make a difference and should use the powers that it has to do that.
I agree absolutely with Bill Kidd in commending Glasgow City Council and its work through the Commonwealth group and City Building, but we know that it did not happen by accident. It happened because active political choices were made.
We can make a difference to disabled people through the use of specific contracts and I was disturbed by the minister's blinkered view, which he has given in Parliament before, that the Scottish Government does not really need anything that sheltered workplaces make.
If there was a disabled champion in the Government, they would look at the contracts, speak to the sheltered workplaces and have a dialogue about the potential for them to meet the Scottish Government's desires.
I made a point about the concerns about the Southern general hospital, where a huge opportunity was missed.

Jim Mather: I wonder whether the member heard me talk about the Southern general in specific terms. If she did not, she can refer to the Official Report.

Johann Lamont: I listened all too carefully.
I accept that the Government has used community benefit clauses; what I am saying is that not one contract has been reserved under article 19.
A huge opportunity, which would have increased the benefits that come from the community benefit clauses, has been missed.
No one is in favour of tokenism, but if every public body in Scotland reserved one contract to a sheltered workplace, let us imagine the difference that that would make to the workplaces and what it would tell the public body about how things can be done.
It would make a seismic change that would move such contracts from tokenism to common practice.
There is a broader issue about understanding the power of the public purse to drive change and create opportunities, especially at a time of economic difficulties.
The idea that public spending is problematic is promulgated at a UK level, but we know that public investment can stimulate private sector activity.
In housing, for example, the Scottish Government rightly brought forward its budget because the private sector understood that public money could sustain jobs and skills in the short term.
It is simply not good enough for ministers—this is a feature of the SNP—to go on at length about what they care about and develop strategies and then not do the hard work of delivering on those strategies.
It is a question of tough action and getting the contracts in place.
That, rather than reflecting on the discussion and explaining how somebody else is not doing the work, is how we can make a difference.
With a budget of £8 billion, the reservation of one contract—possibly—is abject failure and it speaks of the values and priorities of the Scottish Government.
It is hardly surprising when the Government's entire mindset is to talk about the powers that the Parliament does not have.
The Government should use the powers that it has to create economic opportunity and to drive good practice into the private sector.
We will support both amendments because of the key recognition that the Government has not done enough so far and that a timetable will be produced.
This is not a question of tokenism.
The minister said that the Government does not rely on article 19 alone, but the problem is that it does not rely on it at all.
That is about its priorities.
The minister mentioned Donald Dewar.
Donald Dewar understood that we get power to make a difference to people's lives.
The Government should use the power that it has to make the difference and to support sheltered workplaces.

Scottish Government’s programme Scottish Parliament speech 8 September 2010

In his statement, the First Minister said:
"The people, when they voted for this Parliament, voted for a legislature that would be bold and would act to protect their values."
No one would disagree with that.
We recognise that Labour's legacy to Scotland has been a Scottish Parliament that can protect and work for people in these difficult times.
I was struck by the contrast between—if I may say so—the overblown and rather self-regarding language of the First Minister and the thinness of the programme itself.
The statement was, as usual, full of expressions such as "lead the world" and "being in the vanguard".
It also referred specifically to the exceptional, laudable qualities of the Scottish character, and how compassionate and innovative we are at a time like this—peculiarly so and unlike others, I presume.
I think and suspect that, like all previous statements, this one is not to be taken seriously, because, on the past record, they have never been delivered.
It is ever more evident to me that Mr Salmond lives in the moment.
That is an interesting way to be as a leader, but it creates problems for those who need the Government to act in their interests, because being bold is not only about shouting; it is about taking tough and serious action.
Here we have Mr Salmond's problem: he may wish to govern, but he is also always alive to a choice.
He can choose to make the Scottish Parliament work for the people of Scotland in these tough times and show how it can make a difference, but his problem is that it is his party's interest ever and always to talk about what cannot be done.
Alex Salmond will never make the Parliament work, because his wish for independence relies on showing that it cannot .
I was fascinated by Mr Salmond quoting Edwin Morgan and what that might suggest about his lack of self-awareness.
Was there not a civil servant bold enough to say that perhaps it was not the best idea to quote Edwin Morgan disdaining the "it wizny me" mentality?
Does he not know that his Government is the very embodiment of the "it wizny me" mentality.
We regard as shameless his constant response that he is blameless. I say to Mr Salmond,
"O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!"
It is a serious point because, when the issue was raised earlier, examples of people to blame came from many SNP members.
Times are too serious for us to have government by alibi.
We need people to take the circumstances seriously.
As has been indicated, there are a number of bills that Labour can support.
We recognise certain measures that we can support in the Alcohol etc (Scotland) Bill and I trust that, in turn, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing will confirm that she will look seriously at the recommendations of Labour's commission in the way that her colleague the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning took seriously our commission on education. I urge her not to make minimum pricing the whole picture.
The reality is that, given the parliamentary arithmetic, the proposals on minimum pricing will not get through.
It demeans the debate to say that minimum pricing is the only test of people's commitment to tackling alcohol.
Is it not a curiosity that the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing will persist, knowing full well that it will come to defeat?
I am sure that some of her fundamentalist colleagues, such as Sandra White and Bob Doris, must wonder why the same persistence does not apply to the referendum bill.
We were all surprised by the ditching of the bill, but I understand that we were not as stunned as the Government back benchers who have cheered to the echo over the past three years every turn and shift of their front benchers. They defended the action when the Government ripped off Glasgow.
Did they not, at any point in the last week, finally say to Mr Salmond, "Stop acting the goat and get on with governing this country"?
We are told that they are lukewarm on the proposals, but it took Margo MacDonald to say what they have all been thinking and to argue a case that they did not have the courage to come into the chamber and argue themselves. There is a case for arguing that, as others have suggested, Mr Salmond is like the grand old Duke of York.
That is all right for a kids' party, but that silliness is not what these times deserve.
On the budget, there are pages of defensive lines in the statement about why it is not possible to share with the Parliament the information that would allow us to come together and have a serious understanding of the issues that face us.
On the housing bill, I welcome the proposals on private landlords and ask the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing whether she would consider supporting Mary Mulligan in bringing those elements of the bill forward into the current Housing (Scotland) Bill, where some elements of the private sector are being addressed.
On the justice system, I ask the Cabinet Secretary for Justice to perhaps look at the continuing problem of the rape conviction levels.
He would get great support from the Labour Party if he addressed some of the ways in which the legislation we passed to protect victims is now being used against them.
On child poverty, the Government is boldly publishing a strategy, but publishing a strategy is not enough: it is necessary to deliver.
A difficulty for the Government is that it has delegated entirely any responsibility for delivery.
One might say that the whole point of the concordat was to be able to say, "it wizny me".
We need to address that issue with local government.
How will we ensure that we tackle the needs of the most vulnerable?
A simple example of something that has been missed out altogether is action for kinship carers.
The Government committed itself to equality and parity between kinship carers and foster carers.
That was signed up to in the concordat, but Mr Russell airily signed it away in order to get a deal on class sizes.
That is unworthy of a Government that wishes to tackle child poverty.
There were grand words in the statement about community benefit, but if we ask the Scottish Government what it is doing now to deliver community benefit clauses in its contracts, or indeed whether it is reserving any work to sheltered workplaces, there is an absolute silence, and in that silence there is an indication of the Government's attitude—"We make the grand statement, but don't ask us to do the hard, deliberate work of making it happen."

Margo MacDonald: Will the member give way?

Johann Lamont: I will continue.
The statement says that the Government's priorities are economic recovery, protecting front-line services and developing a low-carbon Scotland.
We wish that that were true.
The problem is that it is not.
We know that the Government is squandering money on the Scottish Futures Trust rather than finding ways of creating a stimulus for construction.
It is talking about schools instead of building them.
It is talking about jobs rather than making a difference in our local communities and expecting Scottish Enterprise and others to work in communities to find jobs and opportunities for our young people.
We are in serious times and we need a First Minister who takes his job seriously and not just himself seriously.
Mr Salmond says that he will appeal to the people because he cannot win the vote in the Parliament, but a dialogue with the people works both ways.
Perhaps Mr Salmond should start listening too.
If he had listened to young people, he would not have prioritised independence over acting on jobs.
If he had listened to the victims of knife crime and their families, he would have supported Labour's demand for action on knife crime and supported minimum custodial sentences for those who carry knives.
If he had listened to women's organisations, he would not have put victims of domestic abuse at further risk by opposing short-term sentences.

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You should be finishing now, Ms Lamont.

Johann Lamont: Mr Salmond says that he will appeal to the people.
He could have dumped the referendum bill two years ago on the basis that he could not get it through and got on with serious business.
Instead, he has taken the disturbing attitude that it is the purpose of the Parliament to deliver him lines for his election campaign.
The people of this country need more from the Parliament.
They need serious business.
The sooner we get people in here who will do that, the better.