IT WOULD be unfair to judge Scotland’s new First Minister on the basis of her first legislative programme for Holyrood.
Nicola Sturgeon had no inkling that Alex Salmond would resign on 19 September, in the wake of his independence referendum defeat, and in the month since she has simply not had time to craft a full raft of new laws that reflect her personal political priorities.
And yet in the legislation she outlined in Holyrood yesterday, and certainly the emphasis in its presentation, it is possible to glimpse a little of how her first ministership is likely to be characterised.
But first, it seems important to note how refreshing it is for Scottish politics to move away from the constitution and look at more prosaic ways of improving the lives of ordinary Scots.
After three and a half years in which Scottish political life has been dominated by one single issue – independence – it is heartening to see the county’s political minds bent to the practical business of making this a more prosperous, better educated, more equal and more just Scotland.
Of course, this is only a temporary illusion – today the Smith Commission reports on its new blueprint for Scotland’s future as a nation with new powers, within the UK. The constitution has been part of the fabric of Scottish politics for half a century, and that is unlikely to change any time soon.
Nevertheless, a legislative programme that includes a new wave of land reform, new laws to combat domestic violence, anti-poverty measures and – not before time – new measures to improve attainment in Scottish schools, is broadly to be welcomed.
Welcome too is a spirit of consensus that yesterday saw many of the measures draw warm welcome from the SNP’s political opponents.
The full import of many of these laws – and the potential weaknesses in them – will become clear in the days and weeks to come, as details emerge. There will be time enough to debate them.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
In the meantime it is worth noting that Ms Sturgeon heads an administration that has struck a bold and ambitious tone, with a determination to get things done.
We will have to wait until the autumn of 2015, and the next legislative programme, to get a full sense of the scale of the First Minister’s parliamentary agenda. In the meantime, Scotland does not have its problems to seek. And if the referendum has had the effect of energising Scotland’s governing party into a renewed sense of purpose in government, then it will have served a useful purpose.
Much of the SNP’s focus since 2011 has been on what the Scottish Parliament cannot do, in the party’s efforts to persuade voters of the case for full Scottish sovereignty.
It is time the full energy of our MSPs was focused on what the parliament can do, and to get on with the day-to-day business of trying to improve lives.
Tide hasn’t turned for green energy
The growing role of renewables in generating Scotland’s energy requirements is most encouraging. But enthusiasm for the great green energy revolution must be tempered with realism about the limits of this sector’s contribution to our energy needs.
It is true that we live in what Alex Salmond memorably called “the Saudi Arabia of renewables”.
Impressive though the increased performance of renewable energy is, it is has to be borne in mind that it cannot produce base load energy, that is the energy that is demanded for our every day lives at the time it is demanded. That base load is still provided by nuclear power and by fossil fuels.
The inconvenient truth for the green energy industry is that the output of wind farms is still not consistent enough to provide a reliable alternative. By their very nature they depend on the wind and we have not yet delevoped techniology to alter that. The same can be said of solar arrays, particularly in Scotland.
The renewable sector that holds the most potential for reliable power and could be the great hope for the industry is tidal power. Unlike wind, which comes and goes, tides are perpetual, with huge masses of water being pulled over the surface of the earth at regular intervals by the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon.
With tidal power, however, we are a long way off from a system that works. The recent financial troubles that beset the Pelamis programme – the company went into administration last week – are a symptom of the difficulties. Renewables offer great potential for Scotland, but at the moment we cannot do without the more traditional methods as well.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS