IF First Minister Alex Salmond felt the hand of history on his shoulder yesterday as he announced a bill that could dissolve the Parliamentary Union of 1707, he did not show it.

Rather, there was a sense of "business as usual", as he presented a legislative programme containing such obscurities as the Better Regulation Bill and the Forth Estuary Transport Authority Bill. This is concomitant with SNP strategy, which is about convincing the Scottish electorate of its fitness to govern and "not scaring the horses".

So Mr Salmond talked more about the remaining 14 items of legislation than the Referendum Bill. Second billing must go to the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill, which will allow same-sex couples to marry. On this, the Scottish Government deserves credit for sticking to its principles, rather than finding a way of concealing this divisive issue in the political long grass. Not that it will encounter a huge challenge from opposition parties, two of which have openly gay leaders, but Mr Salmond is aware of its potential as a vote-loser for the SNP. (Incidentally, he is right to allow his MSPs to vote with their consciences. Other parties should follow suit.)

The pledge to use public procurement to sustain economic recovery closes a door after the horse has bolted, in the form of the Forth Bridge orders that have gone to Poland, Spain and China.

A range of measures, aimed at improving the long-term prospects for vulnerable groups, particularly young children, will also find wide support. The issue here is whether the budgets will be sufficient to produce a step-change in behaviour and prospects, in the face of deep cuts in welfare spending. Though such measures may save money in the long-term, initially both the problem and the attempted solution are costly, so spending goes up before coming down.

The delivery of 600 hours of free early learning and childcare provision after 2014 finally delivers what the SNP promised in its manifesto of 2007 and support for vulnerable two-year-olds covers only "looked after" children, which is more restricted than in England.

The proposals for colleges, though welcome, cannot disguise savage cuts in the further education sector, as the Scottish Government struggles to fund its pledges to university students. This is the time to tool up the FE sector in preparation for the hoped-for economic recovery.

While the political dialogue at Holyrood will be dominated by the referendum, voters weighing up the pros and cons of independence will base their decision largely on the economy. Currently Scotland is faring neither markedly better nor worse than England. Most voters remain to be convinced that Scotland would fare better as an independent country of barely five million people, heavily dependent on its remaining reserves of oil and gas. Mr Salmond and his team have work to do.