AFTER gaining the Scottish Parliament’s nomination to be First Minister yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon promised to be a leader for all of Scotland.
In her speech to MSPs, Ms Sturgeon recognised – and reached across – the division that lingers after the independence referendum.
“People didn’t just vote Yes for a better country,” she said. “I know that those who voted No want a better country too. I intend to lead a government that delivers on those aspirations.”
Ms Sturgeon’s remarks were reassuring. As the dust settles on September’s result, Ms Sturgeon’s election as First Minister must not only mark the start of a new era for her party but also for Holyrood and hopefully for women. Her commitment to promote gender equality must be applauded and supported.
Throughout seven years of government, the SNP has relentlessly promoted its plan to break-up the United Kingdom. Since the Nationalists’ landslide 2011 election victory, constitutional matters have dominated Scottish politics.
It is now two months since Scotland rejected independence by a convincing margin of 55 per cent to 45 per cent and still the constitution is at the very heart of our political debate.
This cannot be allowed to continue. Ms Sturgeon’s government must turn its attention to the issues which matter most to voters – to education, to employment, to the health service – and it must do so having accepted the result of the referendum.
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There will be little patience among voters for more debate saturated with constitutional point-scoring. Scotland faces many challenges. Child poverty levels remain a national scandal, there is grave inequality in our education system, and rising employment levels have come with an increase in low-quality jobs. Food banks became a contentious topic in the referendum campaign.
Ms Sturgeon is expected to reshuffle her Cabinet tomorrow, and when she convenes its first meeting next week, the focus should be on policies which can be delivered in the Scotland chosen by the majority.
Ms Sturgeon has the opportunity to be more radical that the four men who held office before her. Thanks to the Scotland Act 2012 and the work of Lord Smith’s commission, more devolution is coming to Holyrood. Our new First Minister must forget the SNP’s language of “if only” and get on with making the most of the powers available to her.
Alex Salmond was the dominant figure in Scottish politics for a decade. Ms Sturgeon has a hard act to follow. She will greatly improve her chances of enduring success by keeping in mind that she governs for all, including the No-voting majority.
We wish Nicola Sturgeon well. She is a capable, intelligent woman who has earned this opportunity to govern. But it will be an opportunity squandered if our national debate remains focused on independence.
Royal Mail needs level playing field
THE Royal Mail yesterday warned it will struggle to maintain the universal service obligation that guarantees same-price delivery anywhere within the UK, raising concerns that services to remote parts of Scotland could be scaled back.
Shares in the company – controversially privatised in October last year – have fallen by more than 8 per cent as rivals eat into its parcel delivery business.
And compounding the company’s problems, management has said, is the government-imposed Universal Service.
Royal Mail managers warn that the rise of delivery firm Whistl (formerly known as TNT) could cost as much as £200 million in sales, while online retailer Amazon’s move into the service could hit business by as much as 2 per cent.
It certainly appears that the Royal Mail, despite being a private company, is at something of a disadvantage to its competitors because of the conditions placed upon it by the government.
It is simply unfair to expect the Royal Mail to conform to an agreement that doesn’t have an impact on its rivals. Private companies must be free to operate under the same conditions as their rivals.
The privatisation of the Royal Mail may have angered many but the deal is now done and the warning about maintenance of services cannot be ignored.
There are two options. The government could, in theory, require all delivery firms to sign up to the Universal Service. But this would inevitably lead to legal challenge from companies who find their market rules changed. The other solution is for the government to pay Royal Mail to make deliveries to the most remote areas. It’s make your mind up time.
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