It’s that time of year again.
The first Tuesday in September marks the return of MSPs from their two-month summer break and the unveiling of the Scottish Government’s legislative plans. This is the curtain up, the season kick-off, the starting pistol for the parliamentary year in Scotland. Today will be Nicola Sturgeon’s fifth Programme for Government speech and the third in this session of Parliament. The First Minister’s eve of statement announcement was on green transport, pledging funds for electric vehicle charging infrastructure and the further expansion of the Switched On initiative to promote EV update in public and private ownership.
A total of 12 Bills are expected. Economy, mental health and social security have been widely trailed as the big-ticket items. Commitments on digital connectivity and clean energy are also expected as will be a framing of the policy message around young people and future generations. The First Minister will use the continued uncertainty caused by Brexit to restate the Scottish Government’s focus on improving public services, and to make Scotland a fairer and more prosperous nation.
It is likely we’ll also hear commitments to establish a number of new public bodies. First and foremost is the Scottish National Investment Bank. Tesco Bank CEO Benny Higgins has been leading on development work while a consultation is ongoing. Legislation is also expected to set up a South of Scotland Enterprise Agency, mirroring the work of Highlands & Islands Enterprise at the other end of the country. In addition, the Scottish Government has signalled its intent to create a new Consumer Scotland body and has begun to consult on the proposals while work is ongoing to develop a Consumer and Competition Strategy. Last year’s SNP conference commitment to create a publicly-owned energy company is also waiting in the wings. A consultancy report in April reported to Ministers that they would need to choose the model for competing in the market by early 2019, so it is entirely plausible that another year’s groundwork is required before legislation announced.
Legislation will be required to implement some of the recommendations of the Barclay Review of Non-Domestic Rates, including the move to three-yearly revaluations and higher rates for out-of-town shopping centres and online retailers. The Government is consulting on how these recommendations can be implemented and a bill could appear in the new year. Any moves to tweak more cash from the tills of ‘big retail’ will always be keenly fought, so this will be good business for the lobbying community as business strives to pare back whatever the Government comes forward with.
The Good Food Nation Bill – often discussed but not yet delivered to the plate – is expected this year. Fergus Ewing has commited to a consultation and the Rural Economy & Connectivity Committee has set aside time in its 2018-19 work programme to scrutinise the Bill. Elsewhere, ministers have promised a Circular Economy & Zero Waste Bill and there are ‘in this session’ commitments to bring forward changes to inshore fisheries and crofting. Work to implement Low Emission Zones will continue and ministers are now onboard with a Deposit Return Scheme and have the power to do so under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009.
It could be a busy year for newly-appointed Justice Secretary, Humza Yousaf. The Scottish Government has committed to advance a “consolidated hate crime statute” bringing together existing laws and implementing the Bracadale Review. We could also hear more about the expected timing of a Scottish Government response to the report of the Independent Legal Aid Review and on drug-driving offences and roadside testing. The merger of the British Transport Police with Police Scotland is being put on ice while further options are explored.
What else? We could hear announcements on electoral reform. The Scottish Government also has an outstanding commitment to create a National Strategy for Young People with Disabilities, a national resource that will provide support on rights and information, accessibility of support and transitions. There are two Members’ Bills that have been adopted by the Scottish Government – on banning the physical punishment of children and on fire sprinklers. There’s also a commitment to create an Active Travel Commissioner.
The speech will also be peppered with commitments and announcements that don’t require legislation. The Scottish Government’s ill-fated Education Bill is a good example of why these can be safer havens for an administration that lacks an overall majority at Holyrood. But likewise there are also always ideas that gather widespread support across the Chamber.
There are, in addition, still 13 Bills from last year that are still making their way through Parliament.
Bills in progress
- Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill
- Change Bill
- Crown Estate Bill
- Damages Bill
- Management of Offenders Bill
- Minimum Age of Criminal responsibility Bill
- Organ & Tissue Donation Bill
- Planning Bill
- Prescription Bill
- Safe Staffing Bill
- Transport Bill
- Vulnerable Witnesses & Pre Recorded Evidence Bill
- Fuel Poverty (Target, Definition and Strategy) Bill (likely replacement to Warm Homes Bill)