We’re working to build a better nation
The start of a new year and a new decade is an opportunity to look ahead and think about what sort of country we want Scotland to be by 2030.
In government, the SNP is in a privileged position to help shape Scotland’s future.
Our job is to represent all of Scotland and as we look forward to the decade ahead, we have a particular responsibility to young people who will be growing up in our changing world.
That starts from the earliest years. Last year the Scottish Government delivered more than 45,000 baby boxes to parents expecting a new baby – more than 11,000 of these were received by parents in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area.
These boxes contain essential items for parents and babies, such as clothes and a blanket, books and practical items like a digital ear thermometer, while the box itself comes with a mattress and can be used as a safe space for babies to sleep.
But as well as the practical help the boxes provide – which is hugely popular with parents – these boxes are also a symbol of our determination to give every child the best start in life, no matter where in Scotland they are born or the financial circumstances of their families.
Later this year we will demonstrate that commitment again when we deliver a major increase in early years education and childcare. This will mean that all three and four-year-olds, and two-year-olds from poorer families, will be able to receive 1140 hours of free childcare each year – which is around double the current provision.
And as part of our drive to tackle child poverty, low income families will also later this year be able to apply for a new Scottish Child Payment of £10 a week for children under the age of six.
The first payments will reach families by Christmas. The scheme will be rolled out in full to eligible families for children up to age 16 by the end of 2022, and it could lift 30,000 children in Scotland out of poverty.
This is the difference a progressive government can make to improve lives, help with the cost of living and create a fairer country.
These measures are vital, but of course there is no more pressing issue for all of us than the climate emergency.
In Australia and elsewhere, the start of the year has shown that we are already living with the impact of climate change – an urgent reminder of the need to take action.
In November Glasgow will be at the centre of those efforts when the United Nations climate change summit comes to the city.
We will welcome more than 30,000 people from across the world. It will give Scotland a chance to show that we are leading by example – not just by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions but by doing so in a way that helps to build a fairer, healthier and happier society.
International co-operation is essential if we are to take effective action not just on the environment but on a range of issues.
That is one of the reasons Brexit will be so damaging. Now is not the time to be turning inward. It makes no sense, for example, to deprive our young people of the right to live and study across Europe.
The general election last month showed once again that the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland want to remain in the EU.
But by the end of the month Boris Johnson will have taken Scotland out of the EU. That won’t, however, be the last you will hear of Brexit. Despite his election slogan Brexit will not be done.
In fact the whole future trading relationship has still to be negotiated. And what’s worse, the Prime Minister has set a deadline of December to conclude talks or leave without a trade deal in place.
That means we are heading for a cliff-edge Brexit or the most basic of trade deals which will be little better than a catastrophic No Deal.
Either way, this will mean a big hit to jobs and living standards.
The SNP will continue to work with others to soften the impact as much as we can but there is no doubt that the Tories have been emboldened by their election success south of the border and will be in no mood to compromise on their hard Brexit plans.
This makes it all the more important to give people in Scotland a choice over their future – a choice between becoming an independent country where decisions about Scotland are made here, or continuing to be at the mercy of Boris Johnson and Brexit.
The challenges ahead will not be easy – but Scotland in charge of our own destiny can face them with confidence.
Over the Christmas period our nation lost one of its greatest writers, Alasdair Gray.
Alasdair famously wrote about working “as if you live in the early days of a better nation.”
That seems a fitting guide as we look ahead to a new decade and resolve to build a better nation.