In the opening weeks of this Parliamentary term, the Scottish Government have been holding debates based on broad themes.
Last week was the turn of Rural Affairs, the Environment and Climate Change and I spoke in the debate in my capacity as Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Spokesperson.
In my speech I stressed that how the Scottish Government uses its leadership over the next five years will be crucial. If we are to come out of the recession we need to make the most of our natural resources by creating green jobs and laying the policy framework for improving the quality of the environment we live in.
The challenge is to join up Government thinking and action on environmental concerns like climate change with our economic policies, traditional rural industries like farming, fishing and forestry, and issues that affect people personally such as how we deal with waste and protect our homes from flooding.
I argued that Government action is needed to ensure that the needs of rural communities are met and to ensure that they are not unfairly hit by Tory or SNP cuts. We need to regenerate these communities with a focus on jobs, housing, transport and tourism.
We need clarity from the Scottish Government on how they intend to meet the Climate Change targets approved by the last session of Parliament and they need to hit the ground running. As a practical suggestion I called on the Minister to consider changing the Scottish Government’s fleet of vehicles to low carbon equivalents. Not only would this reduce emissions, it would also be a signal of support for new green industries and the jobs they could provide with the right support.
I also called on SNP ministers to match or even exceed Labour’s initial ambition of 10,000 council or housing association houses being fitted with solar panels or being linked to community renewables in order to bring people’s fuel bills down. If carried out alongside energy efficiency measures this would help insulate people from future energy price hikes.
In the last Parliament Labour engaged in these issues and others, supporting the Government where there was common ground and making the case for alternatives where there was disagreement.
The message from the SNP has been that Ministers’ doors are open to ideas and I am keen to take the opportunity to put forward positive ideas developed by Labour in advance of the Scottish elections. In all things we will argue for fairness and environmental justice as the right principles to underpin Scotland’s ambition moving forward.