5 ideas for Nicola

Most people in Scotland are assuming that Nicola Sturgeon will be elected as leader of the SNP and installed as First Minister of Scotland by the 2nd week in November. So our best wishes for what will be a tough job, and a tough person to follow, although that is always assuming that Alex Salmond doesn’t try and keep his oar in.

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The history of government globally is that the much touted ‘First Hundred Days’ stuff doesn’t always work out that well, but new political leaders often try to make an impact by some eye-catching – and sometimes even useful – initiatives.

The prospective First Minister may well have a little list, and I am sure many of her colleagues will but here are 5 suggestions for polices the new FM can launch without any concern about what the powers of the Parliament are now, or will be next year, or the year after that.

There’s only 5: some are modest, some are bold – what civil servants will call ‘brave‘ and a couple of them redress bad decisions made previously by this government or earlier governments.

1. Enhance local democracy by passing control over local non-domestic rates back to local governments. This is how the world used to work in the UK and it worked tolerably well, just as it does in other advanced Northern European democracies. There might be rate variations in some areas – and that is what local democracy means – difference. After all, this is directly analogous with the claims that were made as part of the ‘Yes ‘campaign. In addition to that, you could remove all the existing rate exemptions from trading businesses such as estates, farming and gas/oil pipelines – they don’t need special treatment.

2. Tackle land reform in Scotland seriously. There are suggestions and clues in recent reports that give some interesting ideas. As we currently have land ownership patterns similar to the vast legacy colonial empires of Africa and South America, it’s just not good enough for a modern Northern European democracy. Some form of large scale homesteading, small farming or crofting conversion could be a possible start. We don’t know if those empty glens and hills could once again support more people unless we try it.

3. Deliver an end to postcode prescribing. Scotland’s population is served by a multitude of health boards – both geographical and non-geographical – yet there are parts of England where the same size of population is served by one health body. It seems a nonsense therefore that we should see postcode prescribing persist. People who fall into the same demographic, but who live in different parts of Scotland, are subject to differing prescribing regimes – and not simply for clinical reasons.

4. Don’t just follow Alex’s (in some respects bizarre) announcement on outstanding liabilities for ‘poll tax‘ debts. Are we to believe it is unacceptable to pursue 25 year old poll tax debts, but pursuing 21 year old council tax debts is just fine with your government? Address the extraordinary punitive system that allows debts of this type to be pursued over decades when the equivalent scheme in England & Wales allows for 6 years. It’s no excuse for people not to pay their legitimately levied taxes but collecting taxes or abandoning them should be more timely than that.

5. Everything we know to date tells us that the life chances of ‘children with experience of care‘ are dire. Excluded from (primary) school to a far greater extent than their peers with families; drifting through high school; the most likely post school destination for a grotesque proportion of young men in this group is Polmont not university. No fee higher and further education is not an option that many such youngsters will take up. Why not fund 4 year educational bursaries of a serious amount (£7000 or so a year) for any youngster with more than 6 months in care? Really try and break the cycle of disadvantage that leads to such miserable life chances for those who are trapped in the care system.

Just some thoughts Nicola – why not explore them further and maybe try them out?

And best wishes for the new job by the way.

By Prof Richard Kerley, Editor, Scottish Policy Now

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