Friday 25 September, 2020

By Luke Skipper

The First Minister recently set out the Programme for Government (PfG), the Scottish Government’s legislative agenda for the coming parliamentary year. While it is normal for the last PfG before a General Election to be light on legislation and big on announcements, this programme takes place during challenging times.

The First Minister said that we should “use the disruption of COVID to rethink how we do things”. This PfG was the first real opportunity to contextualise our new reality in a policy sphere. With the Scottish Parliament election fast approaching, all political parties are beginning in earnest to draft their 2021 manifestos, so the task is now theirs too.

Unsurprisingly, the First Minister said there will be a “laser focus on creating good, new green jobs”. The biggest chunk of Scottish Government’s support to businesses will be for a “green recovery”, backed by an additional £100m green jobs fund and support from the Scottish National Investment Bank. In addition, there will be a Youth Jobs Guarantee, aiming to ensure there will be no legacy of youth unemployment due to COVID.

There were also a raft of healthcare initiatives. The announcement of the ‘first steps’ to creating a National Care Service was an admission and reflection on the many care home deaths during the pandemic.

In more normal times this PfG would have been dominated by the upcoming Brexit negotiations deadline, and the increasing prospect of a second independence referendum. The Scottish Government has reaffirmed its commitment to publish a draft Referendum Bill before Parliament ends, which has attracted immediate criticism from opposition parties. There is also growing disagreement between where powers will be held after Brexit; this will underpin a key pillar of the arguments of any future independence referendum debate. With next year’s Scottish Parliament election still scheduled to go ahead on 6 May, this all points to an extremely turbulent political year ahead.

This uncertainty does not mean that businesses should be stepping back from engagement. As policymakers and parties face a barrage of challenges they are eager to discuss innovative solutions and also champion fantastic examples of what businesses have done ‘above and beyond’ to help during this pandemic. At a macro level, the size and scope of Government’s interventions make it incumbent on those affected to make their views known to help ensure a quick and wide economic recovery, which of course should be the goal for politicians on all sides.

New bills to be introduced in 2020-21:

  • Budget
  • Domestic Abuse
  • The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (Incorporation) Bill
  • University of St. Andrews (Degrees in Medicine and Dentistry)

These are in addition to the seven Bills from last year that are already introduced

Luke is Head of Public Affairs at Weber Shandwick Scotland. He works with a range of clients in sectors including energy, construction & infrastructure, retail and FMCG, helping them engage effectively with political stakeholders in Holyrood and Westminster. Contact Luke at