This is the first Programme for Government since the referendum and the first of the Sturgeon era. In general it is overtly consensual in nature although it is questionable how many of the announcements will generate any controversy.
With the Smith Commission due to report its recommendations tomorrow, it was of no surprise that Sturgeon chose to reiterate her commitment to holding Westminster to the ‘Vow’ and her desire for independence. Pre-empting tomorrow’s publication, Sturgeon confirmed that if the powers were devolved she would seek to introduce a bill to expand the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds ahead of the Scottish Elections in 2016.
The primary themes of the FM’s speech were the promotion of equality and participation. This was highlighted through measures squarely aimed at continuing to support the living wage, helping more women into work, closing the equality gap in terms of university access, and giving people and communities’ better access to the information they need to take control of their own affairs.
The objectives of the Programme are perhaps best typified by the introduction of a Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, which gives police, prosecutors and other agencies the powers to make Scotland a hostile environment for human traffickers, and which will help to identify and support the needs of victims. Who can argue against the principles of that?
Otherwise there is an Education Bill, which aims to promote children’s and parental rights, including in relation to Gaelic education and a Higher Education Governance Bill aimed at improving good governance processes in the sector.
There is further legislation to provide further support for carers and young carers, through a new Carers Bill. Another Public Health Bill will deal with those extreme cases where people in health and social care have suffered the worst cases of neglect and ill-treatment, and implement measures to reduce the attractiveness and availability of non-medicinal e-cigarettes and tobacco.
Alongside the usual Budget Bill, there are bills aimed at creating a stronger community justice system that provides local leadership, decision making and service delivery (Community Justice Bill); the introduction of a Fatal Accident Inquiries Bill, which aims to modernise the way FAIs are handled; a Succession Bill to ensure that the law in this area is “fairer, clearer and more consistent”; a technical bill aimed at giving Scotland’s harbours a sustainable future; a bill aimed at introducing a radical package of land reform, including the removal of tax breaks for shooting estates; and the introduction of a Community Charge Debt Bill to end collection of historic Poll Tax debts.
Sturgeon also made commitments to expand childcare; provide for 30,000 new Modern Apprenticeship opportunities every year by 2020; funding to mitigate UK Government welfare policies; and an additional £10 million for a new Empowering Communities Fund to make sure people can be more involved in the decisions that affect their lives. Finally, she announced that she would be establishing an independent Commission to report on fairer alternatives to the Council Tax by Autumn 2015 – a long term SNP policy commitment.
The list of 12 Bills is joined by a further 12 bills that have carried over from previous sessions, including the Welfare Funds Bill, Mental Health Bill, the Food Bill, and Assisted Suicide Bill.
While many aspects of this year’s programme are laudable there are few, if any, stand out measures.