Nicola Sturgeon accused of running out of ideas and time by MSPs

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon unveiled her Programme for Government in Holyrood yesterday, which was today branded as unimaginative and lacking audacity.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon unveiled her Programme for Government in Holyrood yesterday, which was today branded as unimaginative and lacking audacity.
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The First Minister has been accused of being "out of inspiration, out of ideas, and running out of time" as her government agenda for the next year was described as "lacklustre".

Opposition MSPs lined up to criticise Nicola Sturgeon’s Programme for Government (PfG) unveiled yesterday, claiming it was fixated on independence and full of “rehashed” policy announcements.

In a debate on the PfG in Holyrood today, MSPs from across the political spectrum accused the government of lacking in ambition and audacity and of a failure to tackle an "index of incompetence" in domestic policies.

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The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Roseanna Cunningham re-outlined the government's plans for tackling the climate emergency.

She said that the plans to move to a net zero economy by 2045 was a "statement of intent" and a "vision of the Scotland we want to be" and urged the UK government to "ramp up" its efforts significantly to match those of the Scottish Government.

The government's programme, she said, was the "next step in our journey to a more inclusive society and our work to protect the planet" and that "Scotland must lead by example and stand as a global leader in tackling climate change."

However, Scottish Conservative finance spokesperson, Murdo Fraser said the First Minister had yesterday given a "lacklustre presentation" of her PfG and he accused SNP MSPs of only "waking up" when independence is mentioned.

He said: "Yesterday the First Minister did not inspire many people with her Programme for Government. It was clear at the outset that the only thing this government cares about is independence. The first Bill mentioned was what? The Referendum Bill - and indeed the Programme for Government mentions the word independence 13 times and referendum 25 times. It's the only thing that interests them, the only time yesterday the SNP backbenchers woke up was at the mention of the word independence."

Mr Fraser said the Referendum Bill had been "slammed" by the Electoral Commission and a number of constitutional experts, and added: "If that is the quality of legislation being brought forward by government they really need to up their game.

"All we saw was a lot of rehashed re-announcements and delays to previous programmes. We were promised a Good Food Nation Bill before... now at the fourth time of asking we look forward to seeing this legislation brought forward."

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Reciting a list of other Bills and initiatives he said had been previously promised but were only now seeing "the light of day" he said there were no "bold plans" on infrastructure.

"Where are the plans for bold projects, for example to extend our rail network, to reopen the direct Edinburgh to Perth rail line? There is a proposal to decarbonise internal flights, but there's still a policy to reduce Air Departure Tax - why not devolve it direct to local authorities? This was a programme that woefully thin, where were the bold plans to grow the economy?

"Their interest is only in one issue and that's independence. The reality is this is a government out of inspiration, out of ideas, out of imagination and running out of time, they've only one thing left to cling on to and they will quickly realise the Scottish people have no interest in going down that route."

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Scottish Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton said he was tired of the First Minister and her government "misappropriating my vote to Remain [in the EU referendum] as justification for another divisive independence referendum."

In a fiery outburst, he said: “The choice between two unions has always been a false one and it has led to a paralysis of government which has starved all other policy considerations of oxygen.

“The number of children waiting more than a year for first line mental health support has trebled, drug related deaths in Scotland are the worst in the whole of Europe, passengers in my constituency still can’t get to work because of cancelled or overcrowded trains.

“If the First Minister and her party continue to present just one answer, wholly unsuitable to all the public policy challenges we face, then her government deserves to fall.”

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard avoided focusing on independence, and said that while he applauded the government's "rhetoric on climate change" they needed to establish a permanent statutory Just Transition Commission, "as part of an action plan for the economy".

He also raised the issue of the numbers of children identified with Additional Support Needs, but a lack of support teachers, and he said that only a fifth of the promised funding for school counsellors to deal with mental health issues in young people had been produced.

He said: "I raise this not to score political points, but because they are our greatest asset, but our young people are being let down,. Where is the ambition for these young people?"

Mr Leonard also said it "wasn't good enough" for the government to say economic intervention was on a case by case basis, "what we need is a comprehensive, proactive forward-looking industrial strategy."

He also said the Scottish Government was failing to plan for the care of the elderly and that "the courage and audacity of the 1945 generation" was needed to "make that kind of leap of imagination with our vision of care for the elderly."

SNP MSP James Dornan hit back, saying the week's events at Westminster showed that "no party other than the SNP has a positive plan for Scotland's future" and that the Scottish Government was going "from strength to strength".

And Deputy First Minister John Swinney said he had found it "difficult to work out whether he had been in attendance at the same statement the First Minister" had delivered.

"According to Murdo Fraser and Alex Cole-Hamilton the contribution of the First Minister was exclusively, unreservedly, entirely and completely dominated by independence," he said, adding that other MSPs had a "deeper appreciation" of the substance of the government's programme.

Mr Swinney added: "Of course it did set out the government's ambition for Scotland to be an independent country, it shouldn't really be a surprise to anybody. I don't see why the government should in any way be prevented from aspiring to deliver independence, because we believe that will deliver the best outcome for Scotland; and when I look at the fiasco of Westminster I would suggest that the people of Scotland will be coming to the same judgement.

"We will continue to deliver for the people who sent us here to create a fairer and more prosperous Scotland."