9 Oct 2014

My speech in Scotland's Future debate on the 8th October 2014

Presiding Officer. Both the motion and the amendment refer to a more equal society. There is no doubt in this Parliament that it is something which is frequently mentioned. It definitely sounds good and it sounds as though it’s the right thing to say. On that we are all agreed. The reality is that we might talk a fine game about fairness, equality and social justice. The inconvenient truth is that we don’t deliver.

Presiding Officer, I think we sometimes spend an inordinate amount of time on criticism of each other and we don’t spend enough time praising what others have done. And so today I want to put on record my thanks for everything that this SNP Government has done for me and my family. And while I am at it, I suppose I should register the thanks of all MSP’s, every MP in Scotland, senior civil servants, the highly paid senior staff in local government, and the Health Service, senior managers in colleges and universities, lawyers, doctors, accountants, and the well paid senior staff in the private sector.

We all have cause to celebrate what has been done for us. Our Council Tax has been frozen since the SNP came to power. We now all have free prescriptions; our sons and daughters no longer have to make any financial contribution at any point, for their university education - even those who have the money and choose to pay for their child’s school education; there are more extensive student loans available to students, even the better off; and those of us with young children no longer have to pay for school meals in P1 – P3.

So what have we got to complain about?

On the other hand, as long as we say we are committed to a fairer and more equal society, I suppose it helps us to explain all of this to our constituents, particularly those who haven’t gained anything from all of this.

It’s really a shame for those low income households who already received full Council Tax benefit. They haven’t received an extra penny in all this time, but I suppose it’s a price worth paying to ensure fairness.

Those on low incomes or with certain chronic health problems haven’t financially gained at all from free prescriptions but no doubt they will rejoice in our satisfaction, even though there may be less to spend on cancer treatment.

I know it might be frustrating for those from poorer backgrounds, who might no longer be able to access a college place, and poorer students at university might be angry at the cuts to maintenance grants, but surely they recognise that we are building a fairer society, even though no extra money has been spent on them?

And I know that low income families who already received free school meals in P1 – P3, won’t receive a single extra penny with the new policy of free school meals, but everyone has to do their bit for this fairer, more equal society. I’m sure they won’t mind that education budgets across the country are being squeezed at the same time.

Oh, and one last point. Bus fares have had to rise because of cuts by the Scottish Government to the grant given to bus operators to compensate for free concessionary travel. I know that this is causing hardship to hard working commuters who rely on buses to get to work, and who don’t have access to a chauffeur driven car. But they need to remember that everyone has to share the burden for a fairer more equal society and someone has to pay for free concessionary travel.

In short Presiding Officer, let’s take satisfaction in everything that has been done for members in this Parliament, and the thousands like us. And let us recognise that the talk (as opposed to action) about fairness and equality, has been supported by a broad coalition of Scottish civic society – and for that we should be eternally grateful.

So let us tell our poorer constituents who haven’t gained a single penny, that today we are renewing our commitment to a fairer and more equal society, and that while they might not see any material benefit, we are truly sincere in what we say – as always. It’s just that we would rather be judged on our words and not our actions.