Despite all the rhetoric from the SNP-ruled Government in Edinburgh, it is clear that the lack of a referendum bill will perpetuate the uncertainty about our future that adversely affects our country and its economy.
With an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament, Alex Salmond no longer has any excuses for failing to deliver new laws. The opposition parties cannot defeat SNP proposals, no matter how ill-conceived they may be. The Scottish Government could easily have pushed through a referendum bill on its terms, and proceeded to a vote on Scotland’s constitutional status.
With the referendum however, getting the bill through parliament is the easy bit. There is still a very good chance that if they are ever asked, the Scottish people will put a halt to the nationalist’s plans. Clearly the time is not yet right – but after five years of waiting for the SNP to summon up the courage to ask the Scottish people what they think, you could be forgiven for wondering whether the time will ever be right. Perhaps after a few more years of talking about the terrors of the Tory-led London government, the SNP-ruled Edinburgh government may get its act together.
The Scottish Government has announced 16 bills in its legislative programme. The one that will keep me busy as a member of the Finance Committee, and the most important by popular consensus, is the Budget bill.
Of the others, alcohol pricing, football behaviour, and police and fire service reform are likely to generate the most heated debates. The rest are mostly worthy, but not particularly ambitious or likely to set the political world alight.
They cover land registration, the national library, aquaculture, agricultural holdings, long leases, adopting UN children’s rights, giving people more say in the support they receive, publishing reasons for abandoned appeals, and tweaks to existing laws on council tax discounts, freedom of information, legal aid, and water services.
Notable by their absence are bills introducing long promised reforms of local government finance and action on class sizes, and apart from the budget, bills that can promote employment and make a real difference to our economic health and well-being.
I agree with the Scottish Government that a major priority has to be the task of creating jobs and stimulating investment. Where I disagree is on whether they are doing enough to ensure that happens.
Come on, Alex, give us a living wage and stronger action on youth unemployment, and do more to protect our health services, schools and environment. You don’t need new powers to do this. You just need political will.