By a Newsnet reporter
Welcoming the publication of the Scottish Government’s legislative programme on Tuesday, SNP MSP Sandra White said that the contrast between decisions being taken in Scotland and at Westminster could not be clearer.
The Scottish Government’s plans for the next year centre around economic recovery and job creation, a fairer Scotland that empowers communities, and mitigating the impacts of the damaging Westminster austerity agenda on Scotland.
Bills for the new Scottish Welfare Fund, new tax collection body Revenue Scotland and community empowerment will sit alongside a number of other pieces of legislation currently being considered by Parliament, which will increase free childcare provision, improve the rights of victims and witnesses and allow an independence referendum next year.
Two key provisions in Holyrood's legislation for the coming year include proposals to end the council house right-to-buy scheme, and the creation of an arms-length statutory body - Revenue Scotland - which will take charge of new fiscal powers coming to Scotland under the 2012 Scotland Act.
The Scottish Government’s Scottish Welfare Fund, which is spending £33m this year to support vulnerable families, will be put on a statutory basis – one of a number of measures, First Minister Alex Salmond said, taken to mitigate the UK coalition’s welfare cuts.
There is also a commitment to end Automatic Early Release – introduced by the Tories two decades ago. Announcing the change to the Chamber, Mr Salmond said:
"We have all now accepted the need to end the system of automatic early release which was brought in by the Conservative government in 1993 and then left in place by the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition here at Holyrood.
"It does not command public confidence.
"We are now in a position to end automatic early release for sexual offenders getting sentences of four years or more and for serious violent offenders."
The Scottish government proposal affects prisoners serving more than 10 years for violent crimes, or those serving more than four years for serious sexual offences. These prisoners will now be expected to serve the full term of their sentence. Although they will still be able to apply for parole, it would only be granted if the Parole Board ruled that release did not present a threat to public safety.
The new legislative programme follows the publication of a poll earlier this week which showed that, by a margin of almost four to one, Scots trust the Scottish Government to take the best decisions for Scotland over the Westminster Government.
The Panelbase poll found that 60% of Scots trust the Scottish Parliament to take the best decisions for Scotland. Only 16% trust Westminster to take the best decisions for Scotland.
Mr Salmond added:
"The contrast and the choice facing the Scottish people next year could not be clearer. One thing which the record of this Parliament shows – which we should all agree on – is that it is better to decide things for ourselves than to have others decide for us.
"In my view the logic of that, completing the powers of the Parliament: that is independence. And that is what people will vote for in 380 days’ time."
Commenting, Ms White – who spoke in today’s debate – said:
"After fourteen years of devolution, we can take stock of some of the real achievements of the Scottish Parliament and how they have improved the lives of the people of Scotland.
"From Free Personal Care for the elderly, ground-breaking homelessness legislation, tackling health inequalities through the smoking ban, free prescriptions, and restoring free Higher Education to Scotland - the contrast between the decisions being taken about Scotland by the Scottish Government and those being taken by the Westminster Government could not be clearer.
"This year's legislative programme will see Scotland continue to move forward under an SNP Government which has seen some of the highest levels of inward investment in Scotland on record, recorded crime fall to the lowest level since the 1970s, and the reintroduction of free university and college education.
"Meanwhile, Westminster's cuts have seen real incomes fall by 7% since 2010 – and will push an extra 50,000 children into poverty by 2020.
"The overwhelming lesson from devolution is that decisions taken in Scotland have been far better for Scotland – a lesson reflected in poll after poll showing overwhelming trust in the Scottish Government.
"The Panelbase poll shows that people trust the Scottish Government ahead of Westminster to make decisions for Scotland, by a factor of nearly four to one.
"In just over a year’s time, the people of Scotland will have the opportunity to decide who should be making decisions about our economy and welfare systems, who should decide about our relationship with Europe and with the rest of the world, and who can make Scotland the fairer and more prosperous country that we all want it to be.”