Nicola Sturgeon unveils first legislative programme as Scotland’s first minister

Nicola Sturgeon unveils first legislative programme as Scotland’s first minister
The Guardian , By Libby Brooks


Sturgeon identifies 12 policy areas including land reform, in-work poverty, public health, gender equality and domestic abuse.


Nicola Sturgeon has pledged radical land reform in her inaugural programme for government as Scotland’s first minister.


Promising an administration that is “open, listening, accessible and decentralising”, Sturgeon set out 12 bills and other policy measures dealing with childcare, in-work poverty, access to education, public health, gender equality and domestic abuse.


She promised to extend the franchise to allow 16- and 17-year-olds, who were able to vote in September’s independence referendum, to vote in the 2016 Scottish parliamentary elections if the necessary powers are transferred from Westminster in time.


Land reform became a key issue for pro-independence activists during the referendum campaign and Sturgeon has now made it central to the coming year’s legislative programme.


She said: “Scotland’s land must be an asset that benefits the many and not the few.”


She pledged new powers to take action against landowners who act as “a barrier to sustainable development”, and the removal of business rates exemptions for shooting and deerstalking estates, a move likely to meet strong resistance from landowners.


Responding to the proposals, David Johnstone, the chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, argued that sporting estates were “too readily singled out in a negative light”.


He said: “In fact they are businesses that make a key contribution to rural tourism, local employment and the environment.”


The land rights expert and campaigner Andy Wightman welcomed the announcement as “an important and substantial set of proposals”.


He said: “The devil is in the detail but this will shift the debate and opens up a whole set of issues which have been neglected for too long.”


The government will begin consulting on proposals for a new land reform bill next week.


Sturgeon also announced an independent commission to examine fairer alternatives to the council tax, which the Scottish TUC described as “welcome if long overdue”.


The union walso reiterated its concern about the impact of the Scottish government’s ongoing council tax freeze, shared by the local government body COSLA. The freeze, now in its seventh year, has been heavily criticised for benefiting middle income earners whilst hitting services for the poor.


Proposing action on the availability of e-cigarettes, further rights to carers and a long-term target to eradicate inequality of access to university education, Sturgeon also announced a bill to end the collection of debts from non-payment of the poll tax.


Referring to the huge numbers who registered to vote in the referendum, she said: “Significant numbers had left the electoral register to avoid the poll tax, and rejoined this year to vote for the powers that would allow us to end the bedroom tax.


“I don’t want people to fear being on the electoral register because of decades-old debts from discredited legislation.”