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Nicola Sturgeon announces the Programme for Government

by Conrad Landin at Holyrood

NICOLA STURGEON promised to “get on with the job of building a better country” today — but Labour accused her of complacency over the challenges facing Scotland.

Announcing the Programme for Government at the start of the new parliamentary year, the First Minister revealed a raft of measures for a “new Scottish green deal,” including making the Highlands and Islands the first zero-emission region for aviation.

The Scottish government will pilot “low or zero-emission flights” in 2021, with the intention to “decarbonise all flights between airports within Scotland by 2040.”

The SNP will also legislate to allow councils to levy a “tourist tax” and will assist first-time buyers with up to £25,000 towards their deposits.

Ms Sturgeon promised a new curb on unhealthy food promotions and laws to tackle hate crime and defamation.

The FM said she would put “Scotland’s opposition to Brexit and our right to choose independence at the very heart” of a forthcoming general election campaign.

She pledged to press ahead with passing a new referendums bill, and said she would “seek agreement to the transfer of power that will put the referendum beyond legal challenge.”

The government’s anti-climate change plans also include rolling out battery-powered trains and investigating hydrogen power for the railways, as well as investment in low-emission buses.

But Ms Sturgeon said it would be wrong to cut the pipelines for North Sea oil and gas, arguing a curb on Scotland’s offshore industry would result in importing oil with a “higher carbon intensity than UK production.”

She said Scotland had “the potential to store huge quantities of carbon dioxide under the North Sea.”

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie said the Scottish green deal did not go far enough, arguing that electric and battery-powered trains might “one day have a place” but would not be carbon neutral in the current energy market.

And he called on the FM to “dispense with vague commitments” over investment in buses and make buses free for young people.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard noted that Ms Sturgeon recently boasted that her government “continues to act in a calm, considered and consensual way.”

Responding to the Programme for Government, he asked: “Can the First Minister tell us — is she calm that housing costs continue to rocket beyond people’s means? That the reliance on foodbanks in Scotland is at an all-time high? That public transport continues to be driven by profit not passengers?”

The new Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw accused Ms Sturgeon of offering “the same list of self-congratulatory, grandiose promises.”

During topical questions Ms Sturgeon also vowed to create a new NHS watchdog in response to the sick kids hospital scandal.

She pledged to “establish a new body to oversee NHS infrastructure developments” following the indefinitely postponed opening of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh due to a faulty ventilation system.

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