Alex Salmond pledge to fight 'bigotry and booze'

From Democracy Live: the first minister outlined his vision to parliament

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Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has laid out his five-year vision for government, with a pledge to tackle "bigotry and booze".

Following the SNP's landslide election victory, Mr Salmond has made new laws on tackling sectarianism and minimum alcohol pricing a priority.

He also outlined a "social wage" with the people of Scotland.

Mr Salmond pledged to retain vital services in return for measures like public sector pay restraint.

The Scottish government's detailed programme for government, including a list of planned bills, will come after the summer break.

Opposition parties urged Mr Salmond to clarify plans for his independence referendum, planned for the second half of the five-year parliament.

Speaking at Holyrood, the first minister laid out plans for economic recovery and pledged to put a "jobs agenda" at the heart of his programme for government.

In the next few weeks, the Scottish Parliament is expected to pass new laws on increasing jail terms for sectarian-related disorder to a maximum of five years.

And ministers will also bring back plans to set a minimum price per unit of alcohol - proposals which were defeated in the last parliament when the SNP was in minority government.

Analysis

Much from Mr Salmond about a "social wage".

It is a phrase commonly distrusted by the right, in that they argue it can involve enhanced state control and hand-outs, rather than any form of earned entitlement or "wage".

On this occasion, Mr Salmond placed it in a specific context - and with a specific contrast.

The context was public spending constraint - and particularly the wage freeze being endured by many in the public sector.

To alleviate such difficulties, Mr Salmond argued, it was vital to provide continuing compensation in the form of public benefits - such as free personal care, free prescriptions, free travel.

A counter case could be made by some that such universality of provision benefits the relatively well off more than the poor - in that the low-waged might expect such benefits in any case under a targeted system.

To contest such arguments, Mr Salmond turned to a contrast: that between the approach he plans in Scotland and his vision of what is happening south of the border.

His vision, of course, would be disdained as a caricature by those in government at Westminster.

The first minister told MSPs: "In the age of Twitter and texts, the dreams of a free-speaking world are contaminated by viral strains of bitterness.

"Technology has given fresh energy to old hatreds and pustulant sectarianism again seeps across our land.

"Well, it will be stopped - I will not have people living in fear from some idiotic 17th Century rivalry in the 21st Century."

Mr Salmond said sectarianism "must stop", adding: "Not because it is embarrassing to our national image - though it is.

"Nor that it is embarrassing to ourselves - though it is that too - but because it is a pointless cause pursued by the pitiless."

Turning to Scotland's "booze culture", Mr Salmond went on: "I think that we have confused our appetite for fun with a hunger for self-destruction.

"We tolerate a race to the bottom of the bottle, which ruins our health, our judgement, our relationships, our safety and our dignity.

"Thus, early legislation in this parliament shall address both bigotry and booze."

Mr Salmond said his government had committed to helping hard-pressed Scots by freezing the council tax over the course of the five-year parliament and moving against public sector compulsory redundancies.

The SNP has also committed to keeping prescription charges and bridge tolls free, while maintaining free bus travel for the elderly and protecting NHS spending.

Defining the social wage as a "pact" between politicians, public services and the people, the first minister said: "We shall deliver the social and economic circumstances that allow for people to dream, to aspire and to be ambitious - but it is for the individual to realise their dreams, to reach for their hopes, to meet their ambitions.

"People understand that public spending must be restrained, and, in return, we will stand alongside the family in Dumfries that wants to send their daughter to university.

Start Quote

I think (Scotland) is big enough, rich enough in talent and certainly smart, creative and educated enough to take every opportunity being part of a bigger social and economic unit affords it”

End Quote Iain Gray Scottish Labour leader

"We will support the commuter in Dunfermline who travels daily across the Forth or the family in Ayrshire who would otherwise have to choose which medicine they can afford this month.

"And we will protect the pensioner in Inverness who lives off her savings and fears ever-rising prices and bills."

Mr Salmond said the SNP's planned Scottish Futures Fund would tackle "endemic problems" with support for young people, transport, housing and new, digital technology.

And the government would also prioritise the "internationalisation" of Scotland's economy, in areas such as renewable energy.

Hitting out at the UK government, Mr Salmond said: "Elsewhere on these isles, the tolerance of the poor is being tested - budgets slashed, priorities changed, hope crushed in the braying tones of people who claim to know best.

"We should aspire to be different. In Scotland the poor won't be made to pick up the bill for the rich."

Mr Salmond again called for Westminster to devolve control over increased borrowing powers, corporation tax, excise duties, control over the Crown Estate, broadcasting and increased influence in Europe.

And, turning to the referendum, Mr Salmond told MSPs: "The age of benign dictat is over.

"This parliament is not a lobby group, begging Westminster for what is already ours. This parliament speaks for the people of Scotland and they shall be heard."

Outgoing Labour leader Iain Gray called on the first minister to make his referendum plans clear at the earliest opportunity, saying the issue was creating uncertainty over Scotland's economic future.

Claims 'absurd'

Mr Gray said of Scotland: "I think it is big enough, rich enough in talent and certainly smart, creative and educated enough to take every opportunity being part of a bigger social and economic unit affords it."

Tory leader Annabel Goldie, who is also standing down from her role, said she was proud to be both Scottish and British - but argued it was not possible to be for both independence and extended devolution within Britain.

She said the Scotland Bill on more powers for Holyrood, currently going through Westminster, was "the way ahead".

"Alex Salmond's is not the only mandate," said Miss Goldie, adding: "Scotland by referendum has voted for a devolved Scottish Parliament with tax varying powers - that is the settled will."

On SNP demands for more powers, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "I think it is only fair for him to set out for us the full list of things he is claiming a mandate for.

"At its heart, the revised claims from the SNP for a revised mandate are absurd.

"They are solemnly promising to spend the first two years of the parliament working on the Scotland Bill when they confidently expect to spend the last two years abolishing it."

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said his party was prepared to work with the Scottish government on supporting the economy.

But he called on Mr Salmond to say on which issues he was claiming a mandate.

"At its heart, the revised claims from the SNP for a revised mandate are absurd," said Mr Rennie.

"They are solemnly promising to spend the first two years of the parliament working on the Scotland Bill when they confidently expect to spend the last two years abolishing it."

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