NICOLA Sturgeon has unveiled plans to lead Scotland out of the pandemic and “transform” the nation as critics accused her of running out of ideas.
The First Minister was criticised for “tired and rehashed” policies as she announced her Government’s legislative agenda for the coming months and beyond.
She said proposals for a new National Care Service could be one of Holyrood’s “biggest ever achievements”, with legislation set to be introduced in the next parliamentary year and extra funding for social care promised.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Child Payment, a £10 a week benefit to help hard-up families, will be doubled to £20 as “early within the life of the Parliament as possible”.
The First Minister said spending on frontline health services will increase by 20 per cent over the five-year lifetime of the Parliament, meaning that by 2026/27, the budget should be £2.5 billion higher than it is now.
Elsewhere, a new “wraparound” childcare system will seek to give low-income families access to childcare before and after school and during the holidays.
Ms Sturgeon also confirmed plans to consult on abolishing Scotland’s unique “not proven” verdict in criminal trials.
Her Programme for Government outlines 12 new bills to be introduced to Holyrood in the next parliamentary year, including moves to reform the Gender Recognition Act to “provide a more streamlined process for trans men and women applying for legal gender recognition”, allowing them to self-declare their gender. This has been the focus of ongoing controversy.
Legislation to provide a collective pardon to miners convicted of certain offences during the strike of 1984/85 was also confirmed.
Meanwhile, laws around fireworks and fox hunting are set to be tightened.
Transport policies include decarbonising Scotland’s railways by 2035 and providing free bus travel for under 22s from January 31. Train services are due to be nationalised next year.
It came as Ms Sturgeon revealed she has ordered civil servants to restart work on an independence prospectus.
Speaking in Holyrood, she said: “This programme sets out clear plans to lead Scotland out of the greatest health crisis in a century and transform our nation and the lives of those who live here.”
The Greens, who recently entered a powersharing agreement with the SNP, hailed plans for a “just transition” to a low-carbon economy and a new deal for tenants, among other measures.
But Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar insisted Scotland deserves better.
He said: “Barely a week goes by without someone from the Government’s front benches declaring something mundane, re-badged or self-serving as ‘historic’.
“But the dire truth is that despite the SNP’s rhetoric, the only thing historic today is the levels of child poverty on our streets, the numbers waiting for treatment in our hospitals, and the depth of the economic crisis facing Scotland.
“In the face of those challenges, this is a tired and rehashed programme from a party that has clearly run out of big ideas.
“We are up against a global pandemic, a growing healthcare crisis, a jobs crisis and a climate emergency – there is no time to waste.”
He added: “What we have seen in this Programme for Government is just another example of a pattern that defines the SNP’s approach.
“Promise big, never deliver, blame someone else and hope people have forgotten about it when you get round to promising it again. Frankly, Scotland deserves better.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole Hamilton said the programme was the “old hype, reheated and rebadged”.
He said: “For the fourth year in a row, Scottish Liberal Democrats have listened to the First Minister promising to bring down waiting times for mental health services.
“Each year the waits for children, young people and adults increase.
“The further details on a national care service show that term is disingenuous. It is a ministerial power grab. The world is on fire, and if the Greens won’t step up and prioritise the climate emergency over a second referendum, then Scottish Liberal Democrats will.”