May 27, 2016 : Craig Wilson
Taking Scotland forward, but by what route?With most of the formalities behind us, business has begun in earnest
With the First Minister selected and the MSPs sworn in, the final touches are being made to Scotland’s new political landscape.
Last week, the Scottish Cabinet and ministerial team was announced. As predicted, the finance role was split in two. However, in a surprise move, John Swinney will do neither of them.
Instead he’s been given a new role as Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills. Whilst Mr Swinney’s primary focus will be on overhauling the education system – billed as the ‘defining mission’ of Nicola Sturgeon’s premiership – his snappy title does not do justice to the scale and reach of his portfolio.
Angela Constance brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her new role working with the third sector
Indeed, now he’s responsibile for, amongst other things, public service reform, early years, named person, children’s hearings and government strategy and delivery. Alongside his responsibilities as Deputy First Minister, it’s unlikely he’ll be starting a TV box set anytime soon.
Of most direct importance to the third sector is the appointment of Angela Constance as Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities. Ms Constance was first promoted to ministerial level in 2010. Then, following a re-shuffle, she became the UK’s first dedicated Minister for Youth Employment, producing admirable results during her tenure.
In 2014 Ms Constance was again promoted to Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning. Through her previous roles, she certainly has a wealth of knowledge and experience – all of which will no doubt prove an asset in her new role working with the third sector.
Other key appointments see
- Keith Brown take the helm as Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work
- Jeane Freeman brought in as Ministers for Social Security
- Kevin Stewart introduced as Minister for Local Government & Housing
- and – as touted in my previous blog – Maureen Watt given a dedicated role as Minister for Mental Health
With her government in place, Nicola Sturgeon led a debate on Wednesday under the subject ‘Taking Scotland Forward’. She used the opportunity to sketch out her government’s key priorities for the years ahead. Most of the content was, unsurprisingly, lifted from the SNP manifesto. However, for those of you who don’t keep a copy lying around the house, key announcements included commitments to:
- Expand early years education and childcare to 30 hours a week for all three and four year olds and vulnerable two year olds
- Increase nursery staff in deprived areas by 2018.
- Expand the Attainment Fund.
- Implement all recommendations of the Independent Poverty Advisor and the First Minister appoint another advisor in the near future.
- Publish ‘A Fairer Scotland’ Action Plan.
- Introduce a Warm Homes Bill to tackle fuel poverty.
- Bring forward specific legislation on domestic abuse.
- Establish a Scottish Social Security Agency and introduce a Social Security Bill.
- Abolish the ‘Bedroom Tax’ and reinstate Housing Support for 18-21 year olds.
- Draft a 10-year Mental Health strategy and recruit more mental health link workers.
- Publish a Labour Market Strategy to build on the Fair Work Convention.
- Protect the Human Rights Act and establish social and economic rights.
- Introduce a mandatory public register for land ownership.
- Expand participatory budgeting for local authorities to cover 1% of spending.
So close to a majority and with a number of other parties seemingly willing to do business with them, it is likely that the SNP will be able to pass much of the legislation they propose.
However, with opposition parties keen to make their mark, the SNP will have to give ground on some issues and move beyond their comfort zone on others.
Only time will tell how that will pan out.