Nicola Sturgeon: the Scottish Parliament’s greatest achievements

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The Scottish Parliament will celebrate its 20th anniversary today (Saturday).

Her Majesty the Queen will take part in the 20th anniversary celebrations today, with the iconic Parliament building in Edinburgh being open from 3pm to 8pm for visitors to join in the birthday celebrations.

And in an exclusive Q&A, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told us what she believes the Parliament’s top 20 greatest achievements are.

The country’s top politician also shared her thoughts on Brexit and the future, sounding a note of caution for the UK’s next Prime Minister.

Here, in her own words, Nicola walks us through the Parliament’s success story...

Right from its earliest years, the Scottish Parliament showed that it was ready to take policy decisions substantially different to those at Westminster to help build a better country.

A clear early example of this was the introduction of free personal care for the elderly. This was a substantial commitment but was vital for Scotland’s long term interests, preparing ourselves for the challenges of an ageing population. We’ve recently extended free personal care to cover all those who are assessed as needing it, no matter their age.

MSPs also charted a different course when, following a change of administration in 2007, parliament voted to scrap tuition fees in Scotland, restoring Scotland’s long and proud tradition of free education.

Similarly, the decision to abolish prescription charges brought to an end what was little more than a tax on ill health. The NHS of course is the greatest, and most valued, example of a universal service where care is provided on the basis of need and not ability to pay.

Our health service, like others across the world, faces challenges. But it is a real achievement of the Scottish Parliament that we have resisted the marketization moves south of the border while ensuring that under the current government Scotland’s A&E departments are the best performing in the

UK.

On other occasions, the Parliament has led the UK in making bold policy choices, such as the ban on smoking in public places. Our Climate Change Act included

the most ambitious emissions reduction targets of any legislature in the world and, as Health Secretary, I was heavily involved in the campaign to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol, which we knew would play a key role in tackling Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with drink – another world leading measure.

It took a decade of hard work to make this policy a reality and I am personally very proud of the campaign, working with stakeholders, to persuade MSPs to back minimum pricing, as well as overcoming a legal challenge that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

I am personally committed to making sure every child and young person in Scotland gets the best possible start in life. We have already delivered an increase in free, high quality childcare for all three and four year olds and extending entitlement to eligible two year olds and will increase it further before the end of this parliament.

Scotland has also become a much safer society under devolution. Recorded crime has fallen to some of the lowest levels seen since the 1970s. In particular, non-sexual violent crime has fallen substantially, thanks in no small part to the excellent work of the Violence Reduction Unit, which was established over a decade ago with cross-party support and is now being copied across the UK.

In recent years, new powers have come to the Scottish Parliament and with those powers come increased responsibilities for MSPs to deliver for the people of

Scotland.

Income tax policy is now a key feature of the annual Scottish budget. We’ve used these new powers to introduce a fairer income tax policy, with most people paying less tax than they would south of the border – while continuing to raise revenue to support investment in the economy and public services.

Last year Parliament passed the wide-ranging Social Security Act, paving the way for devolution of a number of benefits, as well as creating a number of new

benefits such as increased carers’ support allowance and best start grants for families with young children – and a new social security agency to deliver them. This new agency has a culture of dignity and respect at its heart and early feedback from service users has been overwhelmingly positive.

I also appointed the first gender balanced Scottish cabinet and we are encouraging more women to stand for parliament, and bring a better balance to our

public life.

Over the course of the Scottish Parliament consistent action has been taken to ensure communities have the opportunity to own the land they live and work on.

Many communities have benefited from the right to buy that now covers rural and urban communities.

Of course, the foundation of our country is a strong and resilient economy. That’s why we have slashed or abolished business rates for 100,000 premises –

saving almost £1.5 billion for our small businesses.

We have invested in our infrastructure with all governments building new schools and hospitals and, of course, the iconic Queensferry Crossing.

And, to help make sure we have the workforce we need for years to come, we have delivered just over a quarter of a million Modern Apprenticeships in the last

decade.

In April this year, new legislation to tackle controlling and coercive behaviour came into effect, giving Scotland some of the most robust domestic

abuse legislation in the world.

I’m also proud of the many steps we’ve taken to make Scotland a fairer society, including the introduction of equal marriage rights – attending one of the first same-sex weddings in Scotland is a memory that will stay with me for a long time.

And we all worked together over many years to help Glasgow successfully host the 2014 Commonwealth Games. This helped to inspire Scots to get more active,

delivered new facilities and put Scotland on the world stage. It was a sight to behold.

My final achievement is perhaps harder to quantify. There is no doubt that the re-establishment of Scotland’s parliament has profoundly changed our political culture for the better, with our nation’s lawmakers much more accessible to those they represent.

It has also enabled us to have conversations we wouldn’t have had and to debate our own future, with the 2014 independence referendum generating an increase in democratic engagement.

Looking ahead, we now face the significant challenges posed by Brexit which, of course, Scotland’s people and parliament overwhelmingly oppose.

Given the long-term damage that Brexit will cause to Scotland, and the material change in circumstances this represents, I believe it is only fair that people are given the choice of whether to become an independent country.

Indeed, the current SNP Government was elected on a clear manifesto commitment that people should be offered that choice should Scotland be taken out of the EU against its will.

Polls consistently show that people living here believe the decision on whether to hold a referendum should be a matter for Holyrood and not Westminster.

Twenty years after it came into being, that is an important measure of the way people in Scotland view the Parliament and one that the new UK Prime Minister would do well to heed.