Nicola Sturgeon: Boris Johnson appears to have learned nothing from the mistakes of his predecessor
It has been another eventful and busy parliamentary year, with the tectonic plates under UK politics continuing to shift.
As we marked the 20th anniversary of the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament, we had the chance to reflect on its many achievements – from free personal care, to the abolition of tuition fees, the ban on smoking in public places, minimum pricing, equal marriage and much more.
More fundamentally, we reflected on how Holyrood has become an established part of Scottish life, a force for civic democratic engagement, which was perhaps at its best during the 2014 independence referendum campaign.
What also gave us pause for thought this year, though, is how our parliament’s powers and funding are at greater risk than ever before, thanks to Brexit and its consequences.
The B-word continues to dominate everything happening in UK politics. We may have a new prime minister, but Boris Johnson appears to have learned nothing from the mistakes of his predecessor. Rather than seek any kind of compromise, he has doubled down, purging the government of non-believers, adding new red lines and ramping up the no-deal rhetoric.
Therefore, the Scottish Government has had to step up its preparations for a no-deal Brexit. We are preparing as best we can – despite the immense waste of time and money involved – but what we will not do is pretend that we can even come close to mitigating the damage to our economy and our society of crashing out without a deal.
The work around Brexit is something we would rather we didn’t have to do, but unlike the UK Government – which appears to have completely given up on all other policies – we are not letting Brexit get in the way of delivering for the people we serve.
Last year’s programme for government certainly kept MSPs busy, with legislation approved on everything from a new south of Scotland enterprise agency, to modernising the management of offenders, and organ donation. Our ground-breaking Domestic Abuse Act created a new offence of domestic abuse, which covers psychological harm as well as physical harm, allowing the authorities greater scope to stamp out the type of coercive and controlling behaviour that can have devastating and long-lasting impacts on survivors.
We have also, of course, been busy enacting the legislation passed in previous years.
The establishment of Social Security Scotland in September marked a whole new era for social security in the face of years of Westminster cuts. The new agency is already paying out brand new benefits: the Carers’ Allowance Supplement and Best Start Grants, which are targeted at parents of low-income families when a child is born, begins nursery and again when they begin school. More benefits will follow this year, and early feedback from people interacting with the service has been overwhelmingly positive.
One of the last announcements before parliament broke off for the summer, from Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell, was that the Scottish Government will introduce a new £10-a-week Scottish Child Payment – a major and ambitious departure from the years of cuts inflicted from south of the border which will lift 30,000 Scottish children out of poverty.
The beginning of April heralded the expansion of free personal care. Anyone who is assessed as requiring personal care can now receive it free of charge, regardless of their age, condition, capital or income.
Elsewhere, major infrastructure projects came on-stream and to great aplomb. The brilliant new V&A Museum in Dundee opened its doors in September – cementing Dundee’s place on the cultural and architectural map of the world, and playing a leading role in reviving the city’s waterfront.
The AWPR – first mooted in the 1940s – finally became a reality, slashing journey times in the North East and reducing traffic congestion and air pollution in Aberdeen for commuters and businesses.
Improving our connectivity, both locally and internationally, is essential to improving our economy. In May I announced a ten-year plan to increase the value of Scottish exports, backed by an additional £20 million of investment over three years.
And I have opened new Scottish Government hubs in Ottawa and Paris, as we look to engage and strengthen Scotland’s voice in priority countries in the EU and beyond.
Improving education is central to our work in government, and essential to Scotland’s long-term success. This year there are almost 500 more teachers in Scotland’s classrooms, and we are seeing positive results in our attempts to widen access to higher education and to close the educational attainment gap between those from the least and most deprived areas.
The number of Scots from the most deprived areas at university is at a record high, while the gap between those entering from the least and most deprived areas is smaller than ever. The proportion of disabled students and black and minority ethnic students entering higher education has also increased.
One of my personal highlights of the last year was witnessing the Scotland women’s team competing in the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time. These fantastic young women, superbly led by Shelley Kerr, captured the hearts and imagination of the whole country, both in the qualifying campaign and out in France. Although it may not have ended as we all wanted (we were robbed), the squad and coaching staff should be incredibly proud of all they’ve achieved, not just for themselves but also for raising the profile of women’s sport more widely. We now need to build on that legacy.
Finally – and most importantly – I believe that we will all look back on the last year as the one where climate change came firmly to the top of the agenda for governments across the world.
That is to be hugely welcomed. We saw school pupils around the world, including here in Scotland, go on strike to raise awareness of what is the single most important issue facing us all. In April I declared a climate emergency – an important step, which must of course be backed up by firm action.
Scotland has rightly received global praise for our world-leading climate targets, however, we must always strive to do more. That is why I announced in spring that we are increasing our ambitions: the Scottish Government is now committed to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, with Scotland becoming carbon neutral by 2040.
In this year’s programme for government – and no doubt in all future legislative programmes – our drive to create a sustainable, low-carbon world will be very much front and centre. It is foremost among a long list of challenges that we must, as responsible global citizens, rise to in the 21st century.
There will also be a renewed determination, over the next parliamentary year, to take the necessary actions to protect and promote Scotland’s interests at home and abroad.
Brexit has already created a democratic crisis, and may very well soon lead to a serious economic crisis, and it is essential that Scotland has a choice over its own future.
The spectacular summer fallouts between the Labour and Tory parties in Scotland and their bosses in London is symptomatic of the internal discomfort many of them feel over their clearly undemocratic stance against giving the people of Scotland that say.
Whatever happens next, I am determined to build maximum consensus around Scotland’s future. That’s why we set out plans to convene a citizens’ assembly over the coming year, to consider what kind of country are we seeking to build, how can we overcome the challenges Scotland faces and how can people be given the detail they need to make informed choices about Scotland’s future.
I sincerely believe that we can all be proud of what Scotland has achieved, not just in the last year, but in the last 20 years.
But I also firmly believe that, as a nation with such vast human and natural resources, Scotland’s best days very much lie ahead of us.