Not the burdz words, but those of the First Minister, Alex Salmond, in his closing speech to the SNP’s Spring Conference. Largely, I’d agree.
For a minority government, it has achieved a lot. I might disagree with some of the focus, and in particular, the obsession with inputs and outputs, when everything was supposed to be about the outcomes. But it is a solid record of delivery, even if some of the headline policies from the manifesto didn’t make it.
What would I count as the SNP Government’s finest achievements?
The building of 24,000 affordable homes, including 3,300 new council houses deserves huge plaudits. Not all of these are available for rent – some are for purchase, and others will be a mix of rent and stepped purchase – but combined with reforms to the right to buy scheme, this initiative has ensured that many people on lower incomes will have access to new and decent homes. Moreover, it has helped mitigate some of the pressures on the construction industry: the job losses in this sector have still been significant due to the economic downturn, but they could have been much worse. A generation of new affordable homes is a fine legacy for a first term government to bequeath Scotland.
It probably wouldn’t set the heather alight but reform of the Children’s Hearing system provided an important refresh to one of Scotland’s landmark legislative frameworks. Established in 1968, the children’s hearing system is a unique way of addressing the problems and issues that blight children’s lives. It addresses the deeds – and often, the misdeeds – of children and young people by considering their needs. It acknowledges that children get into bother for a reason, that with the right support their behaviour can be changed and that as a society, we owe it to our most vulnerable children and young people to look after them. Rather than leaving it all to the professionals, children’s hearings involve trained volunteers, people from a wide range of backgrounds and communities, who co-ordinate and determine how the state responds to and provides for children who have been abused and neglected, whose childhoods have been blighted by violence and trauma. It is viewed with envy across the world but it was ripe for review.
The changes to the system introduced by the SNP Government ensure that the system is fit for the 21st Century and most importantly of all, make the system much more child-centred, with children having rights to be heard and listened to throughout the hearing process. There will be better support for panel members and new duties on public agencies to provide the support children need. If the improvements lead to better life chances for those children written off far too early, then that will be one mighty outcome.
Amongt the long list of promises delivered on health, I’d pick two: one big, one small, but both resulting in considerable gains for some of the poorest in our society. We know that ill health and poverty go hand in hand so any universal benefit will benefit the poorest and those with greatest ill-health most. Previously, the rules on who qualified for exemptions in prescription payments were byzantine. Many people with long term health conditions who required big cocktails of regular medication had to pay, either because their condition was not covered or because they received the “wrong” benefit. The gradual reduction and impending disappearance of prescription charges will benefit those with the greatest need and the least ability to pay the most.
Similarly, for years, the insidious practice of the NHS – where were their ethos and values then? – charging exorbitant fees for patients and visitors to park and use its “facilities” amounted to little more than a tax by the healthy and wealthy on the ill and the poor. I can recall a round table discussion hosted by the Scottish Parliament’s health committee on this issue and being astounded at the attitudes of well paid NHS finance chiefs. Apparently, folk could get the bus, conveniently forgetting that many hospitals are miles from people’s homes and that many travelling to and from appointments were too ill for long, bumpy journeys in cold, draughty vehicles. They were utterly oblivious to the immorality of making money out of ill people, worried relatives and those with little spare income. This might be a relatively small measure in the scheme of things but it has made such a difference to people suffering cancer, parents keeping a vigil beside their baby in the special care unit, families visiting a dying grandparent and disabled people attending yet another specialist appointment.
Finally, and I agonised over this one, for my instincts were to go for another social policy one, but it has to be the climate change legislation. It catapulted Scotland to leading status on this issue, ensuring that other countries will follow. How good is that? If we succeed at reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 42% by the end of the decade, together with all the investment in renewable energy, then we can definitely claim to be doing our bit to tackle climate change. Not bad for a wee country.
Why these ones? Because they are largely dear to my heart, but mainly because they contribute to better outcomes. In the burdz humble opinion, these five punch way above their weight in terms of contributing to a fairer, greener, wealthier and healthier Scotland. Their impact will be long lasting and tangible.
And therein is a lesson: it isn’t always the shiniest flag ships that deliver the longest term gains.