Down to Business

After the election on 5th May the fourth term of the Scottish Parliament has got under way. 

Last week the Parliament’s Presiding Officer Team was selected.  Although it was expected that it would be the turn of a Labour MSP to hold the post, the Parliament elected the SNP’s Trish Marwick.   Yesterday Alex Salmond was elected unopposed as Scotland’s First Minister. 

The big difference in Parliament this time is that the SNP have a majority of seats.  That makes the SNP all powerful in the Parliament, not just in the Chamber but in the committees as well. 

All the party leaders congratulated Alex Salmond for winning a majority of seats in the Parliament.  However, he was clear that although the SNP will not hold a referendum on independence until later on in this Parliamentary session,  it will be his government’s aim to constantly push the boundaries towards independence.   Over the last few days the concept of “Independence light” has been floated although no one actually knows what it means in practice.  

Iain Gray set the tone for the new session by making clear that the task of the opposition will be holding the new SNP majority government to account.   “The more powerful the executive, the more important the scrutiny we bring to bear upon it in committee or in plenary, the more diligent we must be in our engagement with the people and institutions of Scotland through the evidence they give us, the petitions they submit to us or the consideration they seek from us.”

In his speech he called for a plan for jobs and noted that three of the top four of the UK’s unemployment blackspots are in Scotland.  “In the past ten days we have heard plenty about the 57 varieties of independence.  We have heard nothing about unemployment.  Yes, we will explore the powers we might have but the most urgent and pressing matter is how to exercise the powers we do have to create opportunity now.   We will debate what divides us but let us begin with something which unites us.  Scotland needs a plan for jobs and quickly”. 

If we are to come out of recession then the creation of new jobs and training opportunities must be a priority now.  But its not just action in the Scottish Parliament that is needed.  As Ann McKechin MP, Shadow Scottish Secretary pointed out today the UK Government’s current proposeal to use £60m to tackle youth unemployment in the UK is “wholly inadequate”.  She observed that this sum is less than the DWP spends on phones and stamps.  Conversely Labour has pledged to establish a £600m fund for youth jobsm, using a fair tax on bankers bonuses.  This would help more than 90,000 young people into work at a time when youth unemployment in the UK has reached almost one million.