SNP under attack for legislative vacuum since election

Nicola Sturgeon addresses the Holyrood chamber. Photograph: Ian Rutherford
Nicola Sturgeon addresses the Holyrood chamber. Photograph: Ian Rutherford
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Nicola Sturgeon has come under fire after analysis showing her government has failed to introduce a single piece of legislation to Holyrood since the SNP won the Scottish election almost six months ago.

The Scottish Conservatives accused the First Minister of “twiddling her thumbs” and devoting too much attention to her threat to hold a second independence referendum.

Research conducted by Ruth Davidson’s party has highlighted the fact that in the half year or so since the May election not a single bill has been introduced to the Scottish Parliament.

The failure to produce legislation contrasts with the approach taken under the two previous SNP administrations.

Alex Salmond’s minority government, in office between 2007 and 2011, had introduced three bills by the six-month stage.

Similarly, the SNP’s majority government, which was led by Salmond then Sturgeon from 2011 to 2016, saw the introduction of four bills in its first half year.

According to the Conservatives’ research, the last time a non-budget bill was introduced by the SNP Government was over a year ago. Since then the Scottish Parliament has sat on 91 days.

Yesterday the Scottish Conservative deputy chief whip Maurice Golden said: “We are now a tenth of the way through this session and we have still not had any legislation presented to Parliament. Even by the SNP’s own standards, it is a woeful start to a new administration.

“It is a clear hallmark of a government that has run out of ideas. The First Minister is twiddling her thumbs and focusing all her attention on a referendum on independence that the majority don’t want.”

He added: “The SNP desperately needs to start getting on with the day job of governing Scotland rather than continuing to campaign for an unpopular and divisive second referendum.”

Earlier this month, Sturgeon published a draft referendum bill which has been put out to pre-legislative consultation as part of her response to the Brexit vote.

The First Minister has said she wants the ability to trigger a second independence vote before the UK leaves the EU in just over two years’ time.

Her opponents have argued that the government should concentrate on solving problems in the health service and closing the attainment gap in the education system, which sees youngsters from well-off backgrounds outperform their poorer counterparts.

Last week the criticism grew when a report by Audit Scotland, the public spending watchdog, delivered a scathing verdict on the state of the NHS.

The Audit Scotland report revealed that only one out of eight key NHS performance targets had been met. It also identified staff shortages and showed there had been a rise of 21,000 people waiting for an outpatient appointment, with 275,517 on the waiting list.

The challenges of funding the NHS were also highlighted by the watchdog, which calculated that health boards would have to find savings worth £492 million this year.

In September’s Programme for Government the SNP set out 14 bills for introduction this year, meaning that they will all have to be rushed into the Parliament before April.

So far the only sign of the flagship Child Poverty Bill is a short consultation paper which closed on 30 September.

By way of contrast, in the SNP’s first spell in office, ministers had introduced three bills before 1 November, 2007, including proposals to end tolls on the Forth Bridge and the scrapping of tuition fees. The bills were the Abolition of Bridge Tolls bill, the Graduate Endowment Abolition bill and a Public Health Bill.

In the first six months of the SNP’s second term in government, ministers had introduced the flagship proposal to tackle Scotland’s drink problem, legislation giving new rights to tenant farmers and controversial plans to cut down on sectarian behaviour at football matches.

The four bills introduced in 2011 were the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Bill; the Agricultural Holdings (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill; the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill and a National Library Bill.

Last night Finance Secretary Derek Mackay said the government was doing all it could to mitigate the effect of the Brexit vote.

Mackay said: “The SNP is doing everything we can to protect Scotland from the right-wing, hard Tory Brexit which will cost 80,000 Scottish jobs.

“The Tories’ day job is to ignore Scotland’s democratic wishes and impose a disastrous Brexit against the wishes of the people of Scotland.

“The SNP is getting on with the job of standing up for Scotland. We’ve begun to implement over 60 of our manifesto commitments while the Tories obsess about a damaging Brexit the people of Scotland did not vote for.”