Last September, the SNP government unveiled a legislative programme for the year ahead which was widely hailed as the most radical policy platform for Scotland since the start of the devolution era.
It was a clear signal of intent that, after more than a decade in office, we will keep pushing ahead with the reforming agenda that we have pursued since 2007 – and that we place no limit on our ambitions for Scotland.
A new poll in today’s Daily Record shows that people continue to put their trust in the SNP. Our success is perhaps in no small measure due to the actions the Scottish Government has and is taking to improve the lives of everyone in Scotland, and our plans to ensure the country remains at the forefront of global efforts on equality, the environment and sustainable growth.
At the heart of any ambitious, progressive programme for government there has to be a focus on education, and ensuring our younger people have the opportunity to make the most of their individual potential and go on to make a positive contribution to the country as a whole.
That is why I am taking forward our reforming agenda in education, giving more power – and money – directly to head teachers, and giving individual schools and parents more input as we aim to close the attainment gap between pupils from better off and less well-off backgrounds. We will not tolerate a situation where the life chances of our young people are determined by where they’re born, or what their background is.
To give every child an equal start in life we are making record levels of investment in early years education – part of our ambitious goal to almost double childcare provision. The Baby Box is perhaps the best physical demonstration of the equality of opportunity that we are determined to afford to every child. Modelled on a longstanding Finnish policy, the Baby Box has been warmly welcomed as something which helps equip parents and newborns with some of the essentials for the first few weeks of life.
We’re also increasing investment in our colleges and working to widen access. And of course we remain committed to a policy of free university education, at a time when the burden of Tuition Fees is pushing countless thousands of younger people in the rest of the UK heavily into debt before they even begin their working lives.
In healthcare, we have led the way in integrating health and social care, as we aim to equip the system for the demands of an aging population, something which the rest of the UK and other countries are only now turning their attention to. We are also looking to move to a so-called soft opt-out system for organ donation, as we look to increase the number of donors.
Our patient safety programme, designed to minimise the risks to patients when they are in healthcare settings, is internationally lauded. And we are leading the world in public health measures, including our plans for minimum unit pricing for alcohol – a global first, now deemed legal after a lengthy court challenge by the drinks industry, and something other countries are quickly looking to copy.
Our progressive approach to justice is also winning plaudits across the UK – and getting results too. Scotland’s innovative approach to violence has seen a near 70 per cent fall in knife crime. We’re extending the existing presumption against short-term jail sentences, expanding alternatives to custody and taking a bold new approach to women’s prisons too. And we have indicated our support for an end to physical punishment of children.
On the economy, while most of the macroeconomic levers remain reserved to Westminster, we are restructuring Income Tax system to make it more progressive; we are establishing a new National Investment Bank, as well as a Manufacturing Institute; and reforming skills and enterprise support.
Westminster, similarly, retains the bulk of control over welfare. But with the limited powers we now have in that area, we are setting up a new social security agency and mitigating the excesses of Tory welfare cuts where possible, including making changes to Universal Credit where we can.
On equality, we are moving at pace. This week we have passed legislation for gender balance on public boards and this evening we’ll pass a new law on domestic abuse to include psychological abuse. Later this year we will also become one of the first countries in the world to provide free sanitary products in schools, colleges and universities.
On the environment, Scotland’s climate change targets and achievements continue to be world-leading, while we are leading the UK with our deposit return scheme and in terms of phasing out new petrol and diesel vehicles. We have also acted to ban fracking in Scotland.
The SNP continues to set the pace with a radical policy agenda. And as today’s poll shows, people recognise and approve of the work we continue to do.
The SNP will always focus on delivering good and effective government for Scotland – our priority will always be jobs, economic growth and supporting families.
John Swinney MSP is Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills.