Brexit is dominating everything these days. Understandable concern about what kind of deal, if any, the Tory Government comes up with, and how that will affect our day-to-day services and lives.
So it was refreshing to attend my Party Conference last week and hear the message of confidence in Scotland coming from the speakers – leaders, MSPs, party-members joined in recent times and party-members of long-standing.
The Conference theme was Hope – hope for our future. We heard about plans to boost skills and prosperity, and the Scottish Government’s determination to deliver the very best in public services. Staying positive, and working towards a better future is, Nicola Sturgeon told us, is the best way to combat the shambles which is Westminster – UK Tory Government which lurches from one crisis to the next, with a leader in whom even her closest colleagues have no confidence.
Since 1999 our Parliament has achieved much in Scotland; since 2007 The Scottish Government has accelerated that. Building more social housing, helping families on the lowest incomes, supporting children who are at risk of going hungry – all part of our goal to create a fairer, more prosperous Scotland.
Building a fair and inclusive economy, with a commitment to fair work is key. Fair work helps everyone, drives innovation and productivity, which gives higher returns. Employment law is of course reserved to Westminster, but the Scottish Government continues to push the boundaries and has made the living wage part of the Government procurement process. The living wage has been extended to adult social care workers, and will soon be given to early years’ workers. Remarkably, Scotland has the highest proportion of employees paid the living wage of any part of the UK.
Over the last five years, more council houses have been built in Scotland than south of the border – not proportionately, but in absolute terms! Quite an achievement when you consider that England is ten times the size of Scotland. The Scottish Government is well on its way to reach the target of building 50,000 affordable homes during this term of parliament. Indeed, the Housing Minister will be visiting EK again soon to cut the first turf on another new development in the town.
On education, despite the damaging rhetoric we hear from some, let’s look at the facts: Between 2007 and 2017 over 750 schools were built or refurbished; free school meals for Primaries 1 to 3 and a new £100 national minimum school clothing grant; number of full-time college students completing recognised higher education qualifications at an all-time high; record numbers of Scots accepted to study at University; Education Maintenance Allowance, Disabled Students’ Allowance and Student Bursaries retained despite being scrapped by the Tories elsewhere in the UK.
On health, the SNP Government has provided record investment and vital reform. We all recognise the contribution our NHS workers make, which is why nurses have been given the best pay rise in the UK. In England, the nurses’ bursary has been scrapped, whilst in Scotland it is currently worth £6,500. Next year it will rise to £8,100 a year, and the year after it will increase to £10,000 for all student nurses. Actions speak louder than words and it is vital that action is taken now to ensure we have a workforce which can tackle the challenges we face in the future. This is especially important when you consider NHS Lanarkshire’s concerns about Brexit.
We need hope, and we need positivity. Nothing is achieved by giving up hope. I felt that strongly at our Conference when one of the oldest members of EKSNP stood to propose a motion calling on our Environmental Protection Agency to try to use its remit over control of radioactive materials to prohibit the transportation of nuclear warheads within Scotland. Never give up trying!
Old or young, people generally care about others, and about our country’s future, so despite the Brexit worries – hold on to the hope.