A Scottish Green Deal and Indyref2? A summary of the new Programme for Government

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On Tuesday 3 September 2019, the First Minister set out the Programme for Government (known as “the PFG”), Protecting Scotland’s Future: the Government’s Programme for Scotland 2019-2020. It covers the 12 months from September 2019 to August 2020.The PFG covers the final full Parliamentary year ahead of the next Scottish general election due in May 2021.

The PFG describes the actions that the Government plans to take, including its proposed legislative programme, based around four main themes.  This blog provides a short summary of the main proposals.

Although the PFG is more than 150 pages long, and contains a wide range of policy proposals, it is clearly dominated by two main policy areas – climate change (covering “a Scottish Green Deal”) and the constitution.

A “Scottish Green Deal”?

The centrepiece of the PFG, and the First Minister’s statement was the Government’s response to the “climate emergency” through an “embryonic Scottish Green Deal”.  The PFG also states that it responds to the 12 “asks” from the Climate Emergency Response Group.

It recognises that transport is “Scotland’s largest greenhouse gas emitting sector”, and so features a range of proposals on transport, including:

  • investing over £500 million in improved bus priority infrastructure, although the PFG does not state whether this will be in one year, or for the period through to 2045
  • phasing out new petrol and diesel cars by 2032
  • decarbonising the railways by 2035
  • decarbonising scheduled flights within Scotland by 2040.

However, it’s not clear precisely yet what “decarbonising” will mean in this context.  By their nature, these are long term commitments, and will depend on the action of industry, changing behaviour of consumers and public attitudes, as well as public sector policy and funding.

Therefore, a lot of the detail on the specific policies is not in the PFG. We can expect to see more in a revised Climate Change Plan, which the Government has undertaken to publish within 6 months of Royal Assent of the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill – expected this autumn.

Along with the proposals on transport, the PFG also includes other commitments under the Scottish Green Deal:

  • a “green growth accelerator”, building on the existing Scottish Futures Trust growth accelerator
  • setting the transition to “net-zero” as the Scottish National Investment Bank’s “primary mission” (see the SPICe blog on Counting to net-zero for an explanation of the term)
  • working to ensure all new homes built from 2024 must use renewable or low carbon heat
  • a commitment to a “step change” in work to address biodiversity loss, in recognition of the link between this and the climate emergency.

As with the transport proposals, there is more detail around some areas than others, with the biodiversity plans, in particular, being less developed than the climate proposals.  Further information on these, and other proposals related to the “climate emergency” can be found in Chapter 1 of the PFG.

There was a mixed response from environmental organisations to the raft of measures proposed in the PFG.  WWF Scotland stated that:

This Programme for Government shows real leadership on the climate emergency, with the kind of ambitious and serious actions needed in response to the climate crisis.

But Friends of the Earth Scotland noted that:

The obvious contradiction at the heart of this programme is its commitment to some new measures in transport, heating and agriculture while continuing to back the offshore oil and gas industry to keep on drilling and destroying our climate.

The First Minister did address this point in her statement, saying that:

I know—and I understand why—many climate change campaigners and others argue that part of our response to the climate emergency should be the immediate withdrawal of support for oil and gas. However, aside from offshore licensing and regulation being reserved matters, the hard fact is that early closure of domestic production, before we are able to meet all demand from zero-carbon sources, would be likely to increase emissions, because a significant proportion of the oil that would then require to be imported has a higher carbon intensity than UK production.

Brexit and a second independence referendum

The other dominating theme of the PFG was the continuing uncertainty over Brexit, and the possibility of second referendum on Scottish independence.

The PFG sets out the Government’s response to Brexit, and its plans for dealing with a possible no-deal Brexit.  In her introduction to the PFG, the First Minister notes that if a no-deal Brexit does happen:

some elements of this Programme may have to be postponed while we deal with a mess that is not of Scotland’s making.

Linked to this, the First Minister confirmed that the Government will formally request a Section 30 Order during the passage of the Referendums Bill, to enable a Scottish independence referendum to be held “that is beyond challenge.”  Stage 1 of the Referendums Bill is due to be completed by 8 November 2019.  The likely timetable for the remaining stages of the Bill is currently not known and will be subject to agreement by the Parliament.

In addition, the Government states that it will “now undertake the necessary work” to update the 2014 white paper, “Scotland’s Future”, ahead of another referendum.

The PFG also includes a commitment to introduce a Continuity Bill, the aim of which will be to allow Scotland to “maintain alignment with EU law in devolved areas after EU exit”.  This measure was included in the previous UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill.

Whilst that Bill was ruled out with competence by the UK Supreme Court, the “keeping pace with EU law” provisions were deemed to be within the Scottish Parliament’s competence and as a result the Scottish Government has decided to bring forward a new Bill to:

allow the Scottish Parliament to ‘keep pace’ with EU law in devolved areas if Brexit occurs.

Legislative programme

 The PFG also sets out the legislative programme for the next year.  The Government intends to introduce 14 new bills before September 2020.  These are described in the relevant chapter of the PFG, and include:

  • a Circular Economy Bill to “encourage the re-use of products and reduce waste,” including charges for single use cups and wider environmental fiscal measures.
  • a Defamation and Malicious Publication Bill, to “simplify and modernise” the law of defamation.
  • a Transient Visitor Levy Bill, to create a power for local authorities to apply a “tourist tax” on overnight visitor stays, although the PFG states that “receipts will be to fund local authority expenditure on tourism.”
  • a Consultation on a draft Gender Recognition Bill by the end of this year.

Allan Campbell, Head of Financial Scrutiny Unit, SPICe