Nicola Sturgeon – 2017 Speech on Programme for Government

Below is the text of the speech made by Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, in the Scottish Parliament on 5 September 2017.

Over the past 10 years, this Government has expanded free childcare, removed university tuition fees for students and abolished business rates for 100,000 small businesses. We have invested in the national health service, scrapped prescription charges and protected free personal care. We have built social housing at a faster rate than any other part of the United Kingdom and we have placed Scotland firmly at the forefront of the global fight against climate change. Today, our unemployment rate is close to a record low, youth unemployment is half what it was 10 years ago, our hospital accident and emergency departments are the best performing anywhere in the UK and crime is now at a 42-year low. In addition, as was illustrated by yesterday’s official opening of the new Queensferry crossing, the nation’s infrastructure has been transformed.

That is good progress, but it is time to take stock of our achievements, refocus our efforts and refresh our agenda. We live in a time of unprecedented global challenge and change, with rapid advances in technology, a moral obligation to tackle climate change, an ageing population, the impact of continued austerity and deep-seated challenges of poverty and inequality, and an apparent rise in the forces of intolerance and protectionism. Those challenges are considerable, but in each of them we must find opportunity. This programme for government is our plan to seize those opportunities and to build the kind of Scotland that we all seek—an inclusive, fair, prosperous, innovative country that is ready and willing to embrace the future. It is a programme to invest in our future and shape Scotland’s destiny.

Ensuring that we have a highly educated and skilled population that is able to adapt to the needs of a rapidly changing economy is vital to our future prosperity and our wellbeing. That is why improving education—including by closing the attainment gap—is our number 1 priority.

As of this summer, parents of all newborn children now receive a baby box. The box encapsulates an important principle, which is that all children, regardless of their parents’ circumstances, deserve the best possible start in life. That principle is one that will follow the baby box generation as they grow up. They will be the first to benefit from our next transformation in childcare. We have already expanded early years education and childcare, but by the time the baby box generation reach nursery, we will have almost doubled the amount of free nursery education that children receive.

Over the next year, to lock in that expansion, we will guarantee a multiyear package of funding for local authorities to support the recruitment and training of staff and the delivery of new premises, and to support private and third sector providers of childcare, we will introduce rates relief for day nurseries.

The massive expansion of nursery education is the first strand of our transformation of Scotland’s education system. The second is school reform. A new education bill will deliver the biggest and most radical change to how our schools are run that we have seen in the lifetime of devolution. It will give headteachers significant new powers, influence and responsibilities, formally establishing them as leaders of learning and teaching. Our premise is simple but very powerful: the best people to make decisions about a child’s education are the people who know them best—their teachers and their parents.

Our reforms will be matched by resources. We will build on the early success of the new pupil equity funding so that, over time, more of the money that funds our schools will go directly to those in our classrooms.

Of course, we know that the whole education system must work together if we are to see the kind of improvement in schools that we all want to see, so new regional improvement collaboratives will be established to provide support to teachers, including access to teams of attainment experts and subject specialists. We will also reform the way in which teachers are recruited and educated throughout their professional careers. We will introduce new routes into teaching to attract the highest quality graduates into priority areas and subjects, and to broaden the pool of talent that is available to our schools.

Those changes will be underpinned by the new standardised assessments that will be taken by pupils in primaries 1, 4 and 7 and secondary 3 from this autumn. Those assessments will not raise standards in and of themselves, but they will help to ensure that parents, teachers, policy makers and the wider public have access to high-quality and reliable information about the performance of our schools.

The third strand of the transformation in education comes beyond the school years. We are determined to open up university to all who have the talent to attend. We will therefore take forward the recommendations of the commission on widening access to ensure that young people, regardless of their background, have an equal chance of going to university. To make sure that they get the help that they need, we will set out plans to reform student support based on the findings of the independent review that is due to report in the autumn.

We will also ensure that those who take vocational qualifications have the opportunities that they need. In particular, we will continue to increase the number of modern apprenticeships to meet our objective of 30,000 a year by 2020.

Across all three strands of reform—in our nurseries, in our schools and in our colleges and universities—we are driving change. Our clear purpose is to ensure a first-class education for all young people, no matter the disadvantages that they might face. That is my top priority, and I recommit to it today.

A good education is important for its own sake—it contributes to the health, the happiness and the fulfilment of all of us as individuals—but it is also vital to building a modern, successful, dynamic economy. Last week, I set out our vision for the economy that we want to build. To succeed, Scotland must lead change, not trail in its wake. We must aspire to be the inventor and the manufacturer of the digital, high-tech and low-carbon innovations that will shape the future, not just a consumer of those innovations.

To support innovation, we will increase Government investment in business research and development by 70 per cent, which it is estimated will generate £300 million of additional R and D spending overall over the next three years.

To help businesses to increase their exports, we will appoint, this autumn, a network of trade envoys to champion our businesses’ interests in key markets overseas. Our network of investment hubs, currently confirmed in London, Dublin, Brussels and Berlin, will be expanded to include Paris, maximising opportunities in France, our third biggest export market.

The support that we provide for innovation and internationalisation will be backed up by help for key growth sectors. Scotland has the potential to be a world leader in advanced manufacturing. Right now, we are investing £9 million in a new lightweight manufacturing centre in Renfrewshire to help companies develop a global competitive advantage in the manufacture of lightweight, environmentally friendlier materials such as titanium and carbon fibre. That centre is just the first step. Later this year, we will take the next step by confirming the location and key partners for the new national manufacturing institute for Scotland, with work starting on site in 2018. That is a clear demonstration of our conviction that advanced manufacturing will be central to our modern economy.

We will also support financial technology—or fintech—as a key growth sector. Our ambition is for this city of Edinburgh to become one of the top 10 global fintech centres, so we will invest in the establishment of fintech Scotland, an industry-led body that will champion, nurture and grow our fintech community.

We will continue to champion clean energy. The North Sea is potentially the largest carbon storage resource anywhere in Europe, but the UK Government’s withdrawal of support for key carbon capture and storage initiatives risks that potential. As Westminster holds the key levers, we will continue to press for the right policy and financial framework to be put in place, but we will do more than that. I can announce today that we will provide direct Scottish Government funding for the feasibility stage of the proposed acorn project at St Fergus in Aberdeenshire.

Today’s programme sets out the range of actions that we will take to support other highly successful growth sectors from food and drink to tourism and life sciences that through their determination and innovation are securing jobs now and for the future. However, I want to make specific mention of creative industries, which is a sector that is important both for our economy and our cultural wellbeing. We live today in a golden age of film and television production, and over the next decade, the opportunities for attracting investment to Scotland will be considerable. We have already increased support for the screen sector, and last month I was delighted to announce that the National Film and Television School is setting up a base in Glasgow, the first of its kind outside London. I can announce today that we will go further and do what those working in the sector have asked of us: in next year’s budget, we will provide an additional £10 million to bring screen development, production and growth funding to £20 million a year.

As well as supporting key sectors, we must support those whose ideas and ingenuity create new products, services, jobs and wealth. The entrepreneurial spirit that forged Scotland’s reputation in the past must drive our success in the future. That means not just helping young innovators start their businesses, but helping those businesses scale up, and organisations such as Entrepreneurial Scotland, Elevator and CodeBase are building the innovative culture and leadership ambitions of our people and entrepreneurs. To complement that work, we will establish and fund a new unlocking ambition challenge. Each year, we will offer intensive support for up to 40 of the most talented and ambitious entrepreneurs to help them bring their ideas to market and create jobs. Candidates will be chosen and supported by established entrepreneurs who will give their time and commitment.

Across the economy, we are determined to have a supportive business environment. To promote that, we have reformed our enterprise and skills agencies. Next month, we will establish the new strategic board; it will be led by Nora Senior, former chair of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, and its task will be to ensure that the £2 billion each year that we invest in enterprise and skills delivers exactly what our economy needs to grow and succeed. Highlands and Islands Enterprise has been successful in taking account of the needs of the north of Scotland, and we will establish a new South of Scotland enterprise agency to champion the needs of that area, too.

To ensure competitive taxes for business, we will quickly take forward the Barclay review of business rates. Initial steps are included in this programme and an implementation plan will be published by the end of this year. We will also introduce a new planning bill to support the efficient delivery of the development our communities need, including vital infrastructure.

Of course, a significant—often very significant—constraint faced by many businesses with growth potential is access to long-term, patient capital. The Council of Economic Advisers has made clear the importance to our future economic success of continued infrastructure development, adequate finance for high-growth businesses and strategic investments in innovation. We have already taken steps to improve access to finance through, for example, the establishment of the Scottish growth scheme.

However, if we are to succeed in raising our ambition even further, this is a challenge that we must do more to address. We believe that the time is now right to take a new approach on capital investment. I can therefore announce today that we will begin work to establish a Scottish national investment bank. Benny Higgins, the chief executive officer of Tesco Bank, has agreed to lead work on developing the bank’s precise remit, governance, operating model and approach to managing financial risk—vital steps that will see the new bank up and running and providing the patient capital investment that the Scottish economy needs for the future.

Alongside that commitment, we will provide the infrastructure that is needed for Scotland to be a world-leading economy. We will complete the Aberdeen western peripheral route, deliver the electrification of the railway between Edinburgh and Glasgow, bring on stream new and refurbished trains and continue to push ScotRail to meet the highest standards of performance. We will also do what Conservative and Labour Governments have failed to do over so many years: we will identify a public body that will be able to make a robust, public sector bid for the next ScotRail franchise. Those and many more transport plans across the country will benefit our people and our economy.

They will be matched by infrastructure investment for the digital age. Later this year, we will procure the latest phase of our project to deliver, by 2021, next-generation broadband to 100 per cent of residential and business premises—an investment that will be transformational for our economy in general, and for rural Scotland in particular. That is a significant step, but we are determined to do even more.

To encourage others to see Scotland as the place to research, design and manufacture their innovations—for us to become a laboratory for the rest of the world in the digital and low-carbon technologies that we want to champion—we must also become early adopters of them. We must be bold in our ambitions, just as we have been in renewable energy. Let me set out today one area in which we intend to do just that.

The transition from petrol and diesel cars and vans to electric and other ultra-low-emission vehicles is under way and gathering pace. We intend to put Scotland at the forefront of that transition. I am announcing today an ambitious new target. Our aim is for new petrol and diesel cars and vans to be phased out in Scotland by 2032—the end of the period that is covered by our new climate change plan and eight years ahead of the target that was set by the UK Government.

As members are aware, we do not currently hold powers over vehicle standards and taxation. However, we can and will take action. Over the next few months, we will set out detailed plans to massively expand the number of electric charging points in rural, urban and domestic settings; plans to extend the green bus fund and accelerate the procurement of electric or ultra-low-emission vehicles in both the public and the private sectors; plans for pilot demonstrator projects that encourage uptake of electric vehicles among private motorists; and plans for a new innovation fund to encourage business and academia to develop solutions to some of our particular challenges, for example charging vehicles in areas with a high proportion of tenements. We will also make the A9—already a major infrastructure project—Scotland’s first fully electric-enabled highway.

That is an exciting challenge, which I hope that all members and the whole country will get behind. It sends a message to the world: we look to the future with excitement, we welcome innovation and we want to lead that innovation. That ambition will help stimulate economic activity, but it is also part of our plans to improve our environment and the quality of the air that we breathe. In the coming year, we will introduce a new climate change bill that will set even more ambitious targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and ensure that we meet our obligations under the Paris accord.

Air pollution is a significant risk to public health. It is particularly harmful to vulnerable groups, such as the very young and the very old. We have already committed to the introduction of a low emissions zone in one of our cities by the end of next year and we will confirm its location shortly. However, I can announce today that we will go further. We will work with local authorities to introduce low emission zones in each of our four biggest cities by 2020 and in all other air quality management areas where necessary by 2023.

We will also do more to support the circular economy and reduce waste. I can confirm today that we will design and introduce a deposit return scheme for drinks containers as an important part of our determination to tackle litter and clean up our streets.

For the sake of our environment and our health, we will also take further steps to support walking and cycling—active travel—by doubling the amount spent on it in Transport Scotland’s budget from £40 million to £80 million a year. We will also introduce a new transport bill, which will include measures to improve public transport, from provisions on smart ticketing to giving local authorities a range of options to improve local bus services.

I have spoken a lot today about measures to support the economy. A successful economy also needs strong public services. The quality of our schools and hospitals, the safety of our streets and communities, the supply of skills, and good housing and infrastructure are just as important as rates of tax in growing our economy and attracting investment to Scotland.

Our most cherished public service is the national health service. In the past 10 years, the budget of our NHS has increased by £3 billion and its workforce by about 12,000. To equip the NHS for the challenges that are ahead, we will ensure that its budget continues to grow. We will deliver at least a real-terms increase in the revenue budget next year as part of our commitment to increase funding by a further £2 billion by the end of this parliamentary session. We will continue to develop the NHS workforce plan and we will introduce a safe staffing bill to make sure that we have the right staff in the right places.

Increasing funding for the NHS is vital, but it is not enough on its own; we must also reform how the NHS delivers care. We have integrated health and social care and, during the next year, we will take forward our health and social care delivery plan and continue to support a shift in the balance of care and resources towards primary, community and social services. That will not always be easy, but it is right and necessary.

We will expand our focus on the prevention of ill health. During the next year, we will deliver a refreshed framework that sets out the next steps in our work to tackle alcohol misuse. We must also match our actions on smoking and alcohol with bold initiatives in other areas. In addition to our plans to tackle air pollution and boost active travel, we will take forward a new strategy to tackle obesity, including measures to restrict the marketing of foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt.

In the year ahead, we will progress the implementation of our new mental health strategy, with its focus on prevention, early intervention and access to services.

Part of the challenge for health services the world over is to reduce unnecessary admissions to hospital. Providing more of the care that people need in their own homes or in a homely setting is key to meeting that challenge. One of the Parliament’s flagship policies—free personal care for over-65s—was designed with precisely that purpose in mind. However, some people under the age of 65 also need personal care, such as those who have early-onset dementia or conditions such as motor neurone disease.

The campaign for what has become known as Frank’s law—named after Frank Kopel—advocates the extension of free personal care to under-65s. The Scottish Government undertook to carry out a study into the feasibility of making that change. That study was published today and I am pleased to announce that we will now begin work to fully implement Frank’s law.

We will introduce one further piece of health legislation in the next year. The organ and tissue donation bill will establish—with appropriate safeguards—a soft opt-out system for the authorisation of organ and tissue donation, to allow even more lives to be saved by the precious gift of organ donation.

Keeping people and communities safe is one of the most important responsibilities of any Government. In Scotland today, crime is at a 42-year low, but the nature of crime and people’s expectations of the police are changing. We will continue to ensure that our police and fire services are equipped for the challenges of the future. In particular, we will protect the front-line police budget and support the police as they modernise the way in which they work. During the next year, we will also create a new criminal offence of drug driving, which will come into force in 2019.

For some people, a period in prison—sometimes a lengthy period—is the only appropriate sentence. However, we also know that community sentences, where appropriate, are much more effective in reducing reoffending. As a result of decisions that we took 10 years ago to reform our justice system and as a result of more community-based alternatives to prison being available, the reconviction rate is now at an 18-year low.

However, we must be even bolder in our efforts to keep people out of prison and reduce reoffending further. Although sentencing is always a matter for the judiciary, I can announce today that we will extend the presumption against short-term sentences from sentences of under three months to sentences of under 12 months. We will commence that change once the relevant provisions of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill are in force, to ensure proper protection for those who are victims of domestic abuse.

We will introduce a new management of offenders bill to extend the use of electronic monitoring in the community and to enable the use of new technology where appropriate. In the coming year, the vulnerable witnesses and pre-recorded evidence bill will be introduced to reduce further the need for children and other vulnerable witnesses to give evidence live in a courtroom.

A further piece of justice legislation that we will introduce this year is the sexual offences (pardons and disregards) bill. I confirm that it will ensure that people who were convicted of offences that related to same-sex sexual activity that is now legal will receive an automatic pardon. The bill will also enable those who have been pardoned to apply to have such convictions removed from criminal records. Above all, the bill will right a historic wrong and give justice to those who found themselves unjustly criminalised simply because of who they loved.

Ensuring justice for the victims of crime is an essential element of a fair society, and so too is delivering social justice for everyone. Our aim is to make Scotland fairer and more equal. Over the next year, we will continue our work to build a Scottish social security system that is based on dignity and respect. The Social Security (Scotland) Bill will complete its passage this parliamentary year; in the next few weeks, we will confirm where the new social security agency will be based. Next summer, we will deliver the first of the new devolved benefits—an increased carers allowance, with the increase backdated to April 2018. We will also prepare for the delivery of the new funeral expense allowance and the new best start grant by summer 2019. The best start grant is particularly important, as it will provide additional help for low-income families at key transitions in their children’s lives and help to tackle child poverty.

Our Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill, which sets statutory targets to tackle child poverty, will complete its parliamentary passage later this year. We recently established the Poverty and Inequality Commission to advise and challenge the Government on further actions to reduce poverty. We will now consider options to place the commission on a statutory footing.

Among other things, we will seek the commission’s advice as we establish a new tackling child poverty fund. The fund will be worth £50 million over the next five years and will enable new approaches to be piloted or scaled up in the short term. Over the next year, we will also introduce a financial health check for low-income families and bring forward a new package of support for young carers.

Tackling poverty involves many different approaches. I am extremely proud that Scotland is one of the first countries in the world to tackle so-called period poverty through the current pilot scheme in Aberdeen and I welcome the cross-party support for that approach. We will consider further action to help women on low incomes across Scotland in the light of our learning from the pilot, but I confirm today that we will provide free access to sanitary products for students in schools, colleges and universities. Some local authorities have already made that commitment for schools, so we will work through the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and with other partners to consider the options for delivery. The Parliament is providing global leadership on the issue and we should all be proud of that.

Although we must take a range of actions now to tackle poverty, we should also consider options for more fundamental reform in the longer term. One idea that is attracting interest, not just here but internationally, is that of a citizens basic income. Contemplating such a scheme inevitably raises a number of practical issues and questions, not least around the Parliament’s current powers, and undoubtedly there are arguments for and against. However, as we look ahead to the next decade and beyond, it is an idea that merits deeper consideration. I therefore confirm that the Scottish Government will work with interested local authorities to fund research into the concept and the feasibility of a citizens basic income, to help to inform Parliament’s thinking for the future.

One of the most important contributors to a good quality of life is housing. Good-quality, warm and affordable housing is vital to ensuring a Scotland that is fair for this and future generations. Over the next year, we will make further progress towards our target of delivering 50,000 affordable homes by the end of this parliamentary session. Our new planning bill will also help to secure the housing development that the country needs.

We will continue work to improve the quality of our housing stock. A new warm homes bill will set a statutory target for reducing fuel poverty, and we will introduce new energy efficiency standards for the private rented sector to improve the quality of accommodation and help to lower fuel bills for those who rely on privately rented accommodation, many of whom are young people.

Scotland has a good record on housing. We are building social housing at a faster rate than any other part of the UK and we have protected social housing by removing the right to buy. However, as Westminster austerity and welfare cuts take their toll, we are seeing worrying signs of an increase in homelessness and rough sleeping. We are not prepared to tolerate that. I restate today a conviction that I hope will unite us all: it is not acceptable for anyone to have to sleep rough on our streets. We must eradicate rough sleeping.

However, in setting that national objective, we must recognise that it requires more than just housing. Every individual has unique needs and challenges. We will therefore establish a short-life expert group to make urgent recommendations on the actions, services and legislative changes that are required to end rough sleeping and transform the use of temporary accommodation. To support the group’s recommendations, we will establish a new £10 million a year ending homelessness together fund, and we will invest an additional £20 million a year in alcohol and drug services to help to tackle some of the underlying problems that so often drive homelessness.

In tackling the challenges of building a fairer Scotland, national Government can do a great deal, but often the best solutions are found by communities. That is why we will continue work to empower communities across the country. Next year, we will launch a comprehensive review of local governance ahead of a local democracy bill later in this session of Parliament. We will continue to work with local authorities to ensure that at least 1 per cent of council budgets is controlled by communities. We will introduce a Crown estate bill to establish a framework for the management of assets and ensure that local communities benefit from the devolution of the powers.

We will continue to implement the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 and will shortly approve the first strategic plan of the new Scottish Land Commission, which will outline a programme of research to inform options for future change, such as possible measures to tackle constraints on the supply and cost of land for housing and possible tax and fiscal reforms, including the potential for some form of land-value-based tax.

Scotland has a well-earned reputation as a leader in human rights, including economic, social and environmental rights. We will therefore oppose any attempt by the UK Government to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 or to withdraw from the European convention on human rights. I intend to seek independent advice to help us to ensure that all existing and, where appropriate, future rights that are guaranteed by European Union law are protected in Scotland after Brexit.

We will take forward the actions in our strategy “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People”; publish a new race equality action plan; progress the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill; work with the time for inclusive education campaign to tackle lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer bullying in schools; and consult on reforming the gender recognition laws.

Next year is our year of young people. Scotland has always taken a progressive approach to the welfare of children and young people in the criminal justice system. The children’s hearings system remains a jewel in the crown. However, in the year of young people, we will go further. We will introduce a minimum age of criminal responsibility bill to increase the minimum age of responsibility from eight to 12, in line with international norms.

I also confirm today that, although it is not our proposal and parties might give their members a free vote on the issue, the Scottish Government will not oppose John Finnie’s proposal to prohibit the physical punishment of children. It is worth noting that approximately 50 countries around the world—including France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Republic of Ireland, to name a few—have already successfully made that change.

Over the next year, we will consider how to further embed the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into policy and legislation, including the option of full incorporation into domestic law.

Brexit will provide the backdrop to much of what we do over the next year. We are determined not to allow it to stand in the way of the ambitious programme that I am outlining today. However, we are equally determined to protect Scotland’s interests.

The UK Government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill represents a power grab. It seeks to replace EU law in devolved areas with unilateral Westminster decision making. That is simply unacceptable. The Scottish Government will not recommend to this Parliament that we approve the bill as it stands. We will continue to seek the UK Government’s agreement to amendments that will address our concerns. However, in case that proves impossible, we are also considering the option of legislation in this Parliament to secure the necessary continuity of laws in Scotland.

We will continue to argue the case for continued UK membership of the single market and customs union. Leaving either will have deeply damaging consequences for our economy and wider society.

As I said in June, we will consider again the issue of a referendum on independence when the terms of Brexit are clear. In the coming months, we will publish a series of evidence-based papers that set out how enhanced powers for this Parliament in some key policy areas will allow us to better protect our interests and fulfil our ambitions for the country. Those papers will cover immigration and its importance to our economy; welfare; employment and employability; and trade. We will seek to work with other parties and with civic Scotland to build a consensus on the powers that the Parliament needs.

Later this year, we will publish our draft budget bill. The detail of our spending plans for next year will be set out then. However, I will address two issues today.

First, I confirm that we will lift the 1 per cent public sector pay cap. The pay cap, although never desirable, was necessary to protect jobs and services. However, with inflation on the rise, it is not sustainable. Our nurses, teachers, police officers and firefighters deserve a fairer deal for the future. The need to recruit the staff on whom our public services depend also demands a new approach. We will therefore aim to secure from next year pay rises that are affordable but which reflect the real-life circumstances that our public servants face and the contribution that our public services make to our country’s overall prosperity.

The budget bill process will set income tax rates for next year. We will always exercise the utmost responsibility in setting tax rates and will not simply transfer the burden of austerity to the shoulders of those who can least afford it. However, I am mindful that, as a minority Government, we must build alliances across Parliament in support of our budget. For all of us, the interests of our public services, households and economy must drive our decisions. We know that continued Westminster austerity, the consequences of Brexit and the impact of demographic change will put increasing pressure on our public services and our ability to provide the infrastructure and support that our businesses need to thrive. The time is therefore right to open a discussion about how responsible and progressive use of our tax powers could help to build the kind of country that we want to be—one with the highest-quality public services, well-rewarded public servants, good support for business, a strong social contract and effective policies to tackle poverty and inequality.

Ahead of the budget, we will publish a paper that sets out the current distribution of income tax liabilities in Scotland; analyse a variety of options, including the proposals of the other parties across Parliament; explain the interaction between tax policy and the fiscal framework; and provide international comparisons. The purpose of that paper will be to inform the discussions that we have with other parties ahead of the budget. I give an assurance that the Scottish Government will go into those discussions with an open mind and with the best interests of the country as a whole as our guiding principle, and I invite other parties to do likewise.

Three bills of a more technical nature—the damages bill, the land and buildings transaction tax bill and the prescription bill—will complete the 16 bills that make up our legislative programme for the year ahead.

The programme that I have set out today—the policies and the legislation—is fresh, bold and ambitious. Because of that, aspects of it undoubtedly will be controversial. That is inevitable—indeed, it is necessary. No one has ever built a better country by always taking the easy option.

As we debate the programme in the days, weeks and months ahead, members will focus on and scrutinise individual aspects of it. That is right and proper, but I invite Parliament—and the public—also to see the programme in the round. It is about equipping Scotland not just for the next year but for the next decade and beyond. At its heart is the ambition to make our country the best place in the world in which to grow up and be educated; the best place to live in, work in, visit and do business in; the best place in which to be cared for in times of sickness, need or vulnerability; and the best place in which to grow old.

I commend the programme for government to Parliament.