NICOLA Sturgeon has promised investment in free childcare to help get the country back to work after the pandemic ahead of her annual legislative statement.
She said a new “wraparound” system would give low-income families access to childcare before and after school and during the holidays to help parents work, train or study.
However in a statement issued on the eve of the Programme for Government (PfG), Ms Sturgeon conspicuously failed to mention a second independence referendum, which she has said is also an essential component of Scotland’s long-term recovery.
The First Minister also refused to say if a Referendum Bill would be part of the PfG when speaking to the PA news agency on a visit to a childcare centre in Glasgow yesterday.
She said there would be a “substantive legislative platform”, but would not say if a Bill for Indyref2 would be part of it.
With Boris Johnson denying Holyrood the power to make such a referendum legally watertight, any Bill passed by MSPs would almost certainly be challenged at the UK Supreme Court, and probably struck down.
The PfG, the first from a joint SNP-Green administration, is also expected to include steps to tackle poverty and accelerate a “just transition” to a net zero carbon emission economy.
Controversial plans to make it easier and quicker to legally change gender through self-declaration are also due in the first year of the new parliament.
The Scottish Tories said the country needed certainty and stability not “radical upheaval” from the SNP and Greens sharing power, and warned Ms Sturgeon not to jeopardise North Sea oil and gas jobs.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Over the last 18 months, the world, and our own individual places within it, have changed immeasurably. While the pandemic may have defined our lives for those dark and difficult months, our Programme for Government looks to secure a brighter and fairer future for Scotland.
“That means prioritising the recovery of our precious health and social care services – rebuilding capacity, and establishing a new form of care which people can access in a way, place and time which works for them.
“We know that children and young people have been negatively impacted by the pandemic and we are more determined than ever to help them flourish and reach their full potential.
“Our new system of wraparound childcare – providing children with access to a wide range of activities while enabling parents to have secure and stable employment – is just one example of how we’re making this happen.
“We will redouble efforts to tackle the inequalities that continue to blight our society – eradicating poverty and discrimination, and ensuring opportunity is never limited by economic or social circumstance. We will work to secure an economic recovery which is green and fair, and which delivers our ambition to become a net-zero nation.
“As we rebuild our society, we will ensure the sacrifices we have all made will find purpose in the fairer, more just, prosperous, and equal Scotland that we create in response.”
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said the PfG could “either set the Scottish economy on the right track back to recovery or knock it off course”.
Demanding the Scottish Government make a jobs recovery plan its priority, he said: “Proposals to rebuild Scotland’s economy must have top billing. Scotland needs certainty and stability, not the radical upheaval that the new SNP-Green Government ministers seek to deliver.
“The SNP must heed warnings from the business community, who are fearful of the growing influence of the Greens and their extreme economic ideology.
“Risking Scotland’s economic recovery in pursuit of political goals could have disastrous consequences, now more than ever.
“Nicola Sturgeon must avoid at all costs the uncertainty and damage that could stem from shunning the oil and gas industry, punishing car drivers or worst of all, seeking to break up the country in the middle of a crisis.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said it would be “shameful” if the SNP and Greens did not make tackling child poverty a priority, and quadruple the Scottish child benefit top-up to £40 a week within two years.
He said: “We can wipe out a third of child poverty in Scotland in one move.
“This will transform thousands of lives and it is our best shot at meeting the legally-binding child poverty targets we are set to miss.
“The Programme for Government must tackle child poverty with the level of ambition and urgency it deserves – anything short of this is a dereliction of duty.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton warned the Government not to seize powers from councils as part of its plan for a National Care Service.
He said: “With the Greens on a leash and signed up to serve the SNP’s every need, this Programme for Government will be little more than an SNP power grab.
“The plans for centralised social care are brazen even for them.
“Liberal Democrats will fight to stop this attack on localism, which would leave local authorities as a shell of their former selves.”