The Scottish Parliamentary year is now well under way and it looks like being a busy one.
To begin with, my colleagues and I welcomed the First Minister’s steps to introduce key Green policies in this year’s Programme for Government. These include lifting the public sector pay gap, funding local Citizens’ Income schemes and introducing a new Climate Change Bill. Yet, if we are to make Scotland fairer, then these proposals must be bolder and more ambitious.
Take for example, the proposal for a nationwide deposit return scheme for drinks containers. Already common in other countries, such as Germany and Sweden, this scheme could save local authorities up to £6 million in the costs of litter clearing alone. The mutual benefits of this scheme will be economically and environmentally advantageous to households and businesses.
Welcome too was the Government’s indication that it would not stand in the way of my colleague John Finnie’s proposal for equal protection from assault for children. This positive step forward, already in place in many European countries, finally gives children the same protection from assault as everyone else.
Meanwhile, Mark Ruskell MSP, has been actively campaigning to make our streets safer by reducing the default national speed limit to 20mph on residential roads. Already in Edinburgh, we can appreciate the positive effects of this and we look forward to seeing the impact of Mark’s work extending nationally to reduce the number of fatal accidents, improve our air quality and encourage more people to walk and cycle.
Over the coming months, I will continue to call for better local democracy and with the Government committed to opening debate on this, we need to ensure our voice is heard. The forthcoming Planning Bill is another important initiative to ensure far greater community engagement in planning and reducing the influence of big developers.
Primarily this must start with urgent action to tackle the ongoing housing crisis. As highlighted in a parliamentary debate a fortnight ago, this is an issue which requires cross-party work from all MSPs. It’s clear that we cannot continue with the current lack of good quality, affordable and energy efficient homes and need radical change in how we allocate and develop land.
There is a lot of work to be done and I look forward to dialogue with constituents across Lothian in the year ahead on these and the many other important matters that affect people’s lives.
Andy Wightman is a Lothian Green MSP