A prosperous Scotland with equal opportunities for everyone, no matter their background

Today we return to the Scottish Parliament for the beginning of a new term. It has not exactly been the quiet recess many will have hoped for after a busy election period, with the repercussions of a vote to leave the EU, a new and increasingly right wing UK Tory government and the continued squabbling of the Labour party to contend with.

And it is set to be a busy session with a number of key debates, including one on refugees, taking place in parliament this week.

It is now one year since the Scottish Government and our partners held a summit on the refugee crisis. We led calls for the UK to play a greater role in the EU-wide effort to address the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. One year later and Scotland has shown itself to be the outward-looking and open society we all know it to be, having welcomed 1000 refugees – around one third of the UK total.

A significant number of those refugees have made their homes in Glasgow. Our city has a track record of welcoming people from across the world and I want to thank all of those in the Scottish Refugee Council, volunteer organisations and the people behind welcome projects like Refuweegee, local council staff and all those in our local communities who have supported our new Glasgwegians.

This is still a tiny proportion of those in need, but it makes me extremely proud to know we are opening up our communities and helping people to build new lives in a safe and stable environment.

Today is also the day the Scottish Government publishes our Programme for Government – a plan which sets out our programme of activity for the next year and beyond.

I have always been clear about my vision for Scotland and in turn the priorities for the Government I lead. I want to see a fair, equal and prosperous Scotland with equal opportunities for everyone, no matter their background. Our Programme for Government is our plan for achieving that.

Over the summer we have been busy building on our progress and delivering on promises made during the election campaign.

Within the first few months of this SNP administration taking office we have already taken action in key priority areas including improving school attainment. We held a major education summit and published a plan setting out how we intend to empower teachers and individual schools to help deliver a world-class education system in Scotland. Last week John Swinney and I met with our new International Council of Education Advisers, to ensure we learn from experts around the world.

We are also building on our commitment to further improve the NHS, with plans for new elective treatment centres, 1000 additional paramedics and increased training places for GPs. Our commitment to health equality was demonstrated by the announcement of an expansion of IVF treatment, free vitamins in pregnancy, as well as plans for a baby box for all newborns, helping to ensuring that children get the very best start in life.

We have also launched a consultation on building a new Scottish social security system, ensuring that key stakeholders can input into the design of a system, based on dignity and respect, tailored to the needs of the Scottish people.

Achieving all of this requires a strong and stable economy, which is why investing in our economy and supporting jobs is a key priority. The EU referendum has created deep and widespread uncertainty, with the impact on jobs and investment already being felt. In stark contrast to the distinct lack of action from the UK Government, the Scottish Government is accelerating £100 million of infrastructure investment to boost confidence, stimulate economic activity and support business. I will confirm more support for the economy this week.

Alongside this work we have been engaging with EU Member States, EU institutions, the UK Government and key stakeholders to ensure Scotland’s voice is heard loud and clear in the wake of the EU referendum result.

These are just some of the initiatives we have taken forward in the past few months and the Programme for Government that I am publishing today will outline our priorities and action for the next year in more detail. It is not just a plan for Government, but a plan for us all to help make Scotland the very best country to live, work and grow up in. The Government I lead will work day in day out towards achieving these ambitions.

This article was first published in the Evening Times