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Agenda: The Scottish Government should make a date with the real world

As the New Year rolls around, people up and down Scotland will be making resolutions and thinking about their hopes and wishes for 2014.

In politics all eyes will be on the independence referendum, with both campaigns calling for a "full and honest debate".

My hope for the New Year is that such rhetoric will be matched by the Scottish Government in the Scottish Parliament.

In the latter half of 2013 the Scottish Parliament debated issues such as Scotland's census, the fact that it was a year till the Ryder Cup and St Andrew's Day.

All noble causes certainly but these were debates that came at the expense of Parliamentary time being dedicated to the day-to-day issues that really matter to the people of Scotland, such as how our public money is being spent and the provision of social housing.

It was Scottish Labour that had to bring forward a debate to scrutinise the botched sale of land which had been bought for use in the Glasgow Airport Rail Link.

The Scottish Government decided the fact £30 million had been wasted in killing off a project that would have brought business and economic benefits to the West of Scotland and the wider Scottish Economy, as well as £8m losses in land sales, was not worthy of as much as a ministerial statement.

A few weeks later, while preparing a Labour-led debate on housing, I was astonished to find the Housing Minister, Margaret Burgess, had not led a debate on the issue in her 15 months in post. When she was challenged on this in the Holyrood Parliament, she said that she did not think speaking to opposition parties in the chamber was as important as meeting external agencies.

This is a concerning attitude for a minister to have and I hope that, in 2014, she will up her game so we can make the progress needed to tackle the housing crisis.

In the week before recess, I managed to question Transport Minister Keith Brown about the Scottish Government's business plans for Prestwick Airport. That day, Mr Brown seemed to be more concerned with promoting the SNP's plan for Air Passenger Duty in an independent Scotland rather than lay out the future for Prestwick Airport.

Once again, time was devoted to issues that might or might not be relevant in the future, rather than what is happening in the real world, right now.

Meanwhile, the White Paper was launched to the media before the Parliamentary chamber, with MSPs only allowed access to copies as First Minister Alex Salmond took the stage in the Science Centre in Glasgow.

That White Paper, of course, promised a "revolution" in child-care, apparently ignoring the fact that the matter is devolved, and that the plans could be delivered in the Scottish Parliament as soon as it reconvenes after the Christmas recess.

A theme of attempting to dumb down devolution was seen again and again, in my view. One example was the Scottish Government's refusal to back Jackie Baillie's Private Member's Bill to protect tenants affected by Bedroom Tax arrears.

This bill is perfectly achievable within the remit of the Scottish Parliament, given it seeks to amend devolved legislation but, instead, we are told to wait until after an independence vote has been won.

The purpose of the Scottish Parliament is to deal with issues that affect the people of Scotland. These include housing, education, justice, health, and transport. The purpose was not to be a talking shop.

The Parliament has the powers to effect positive change in the lives of people now, but it requires tough debate and hard questions on the real issues.

So what is the Scottish Government waiting for? September 19, 2014, I would imagine.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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