Below is the text of Linda’s contribution to the Budget (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, debate which took place in the parliament on 9th February.
Linda Fabiani (Central Scotland) (SNP): There are not many occasions when it is so important for members to take their time and consider carefully the issue that is before them. A particular set of circumstances has led us here—the formation of a minority Government, the collapse of the UK economy, a change of Government at Westminster, and the ensuing large and rapid cuts—so we must, as a result, take today’s voting decision with extra care, thought and some humility.
My colleagues on the SNP group and the cabinet secretary, John Swinney, have come here today will all that in mind. It was quite clear to me that Mr Swinney had listened and, against the background of the cuts, had balanced as far as possible a reasonable and good budget for Scotland that, as he said, will give people certainty. It has also happened despite the opposition to the supermarket levy. I have to say that I still cannot understand why the Lib Dems and Labour oppose that move but, as I think Bob Doris also said, we are where we are.
The Tories, the Lib Dems and, of course, Margo MacDonald have been very reasonable in thinking about the way forward. Derek Brownlee is always fairly reasonable and Jeremy Purvis was as reasonable as it gets, which is always a bonus. What did we get from Labour? It was all so predictable. We got the usual negativity, a lot of bluster, no real substance and certainly no ideas. Andy Kerr might well get up and talk about the “full measures” that Labour want, but his glass is half empty. I hope that when David Whitton speaks he will be a bit more reasonable, considered and thoughtful and, indeed, show some humility in what he puts forward.
We also keep hearing an awful lot from Labour about what it would not do, but what would it do? What is its policy? Perhaps its policy is to shut accident and emergency units to pay for GARL. I do not know, but I certainly think that people should be told.
We have heard all that despite the fact that John Swinney has come to the chamber with some really important initiatives and compromises. He has listened. I am delighted, for example, to hear about the voluntary sector initiative, which will be really important. There is also money for the freight facilities grant and urban regeneration companies. All of those measures have been taken against the background of the maintaining of the council tax freeze and pledges on prescription charges. Such moves constitute a crucial social contract with the people of Scotland. After all, it is important that people have confidence in the way that their Government acts in moving forward: I certainly think that people have confidence in this Government.
The other big issues include apprenticeships. The increase in the number of apprenticeships from 20,000 this year to 25,000 next year is really good news. That is against the background of having exceeded last year’s target of 18,500 modern apprenticeships: more than 20,000 were delivered.
Many members have said that we have had a lot of lobbying from students who have been concerned about bursary cuts. We are all in the same boat. Again, the cabinet secretary has listened, and I am pleased about that. There will be an additional 1,200 college places at a cost of £8 million and, of course, the bursary bill has been raised to give confidence to young people who are pursuing further education in our colleges.
The Scottish Government has also chosen to continue the education maintenance allowance. In East Kilbride, where I live, that fund increased by 6.3 per cent in 2009-10; the number of people who received the allowance went up from 585 to 620. That is all good news. The budget also contains small business bonus funding, which has been important over the past few years and is one of the reasons why business start-up figures in Scotland have been maintained.
There is much in the budget that will benefit Scotland, and advances that we have seen in the past few years that should be protected are being protected. A balancing act has had to be performed by responsible politicians putting aside partisanship for the sake of the country and how we will move forward. Scotland expects that every MSP will do their duty, so I ask that they do so.