Happy birthday to Holyrood, which has now been at the heart of political life in Scotland for 18 years.

In the years since Donald Dewar said the immortal phrase ‘there will be a Scottish Parliament’, there have been far-reaching changes to the law in Scotland.

Labour, who have delivered the parliament, introduced the smoking ban, free personal care, free bus passes for the elderly, repealed the equivalent of Section 28 that prevented homosexuality being taught in schools, scrapped tuition fees, and introduced civil partnerships that have since led to same-sex marriage.

Devolution has, however, stalled under the SNP in recent years.

A party that is so obsessed with the constitution failed to pass a parliamentary law for more than a year until the Air Departure Tax Bill cleared its final hurdle last month – which will eventually lead to tax cuts for air travellers, benefiting the wealthy the most. That tells you everything you need to know about Nicola Sturgeon’s priorities.

But while the Labour Party may be out of power, we are still determined to use devolution to improve lives in Scotland.

And the pressure we put on the SNP sometimes forces Nicola Sturgeon to listen.

On May 10, the First Minister and her MSPs voted down a Labour attempt to give nurses and NHS staff in Scotland a pay rise.

Last week in Westminster, my Labour colleagues also tried to give public sector workers in England a pay rise, and this time it was the Tories’ turn to reject it. But SNP MPs were shamed into backing our position, so Nicola Sturgeon has been forced into a U-turn.

Yesterday, in her column in this newspaper, she promised a ‘new pay deal for Scotland’s public sector workers’.

This is a remarkable U-turn in just a few weeks, but a welcome one which has only happened following Labour pressure.

I will personally hold her to that promise.

Another U-turn from the SNP came last week on plans for an opt-out organ donation scheme.

This was something Labour tried to introduce in parliament, with my former colleague Anne McTaggart putting forward a Member’s Bill. It was voted down by the SNP.

But we kept up the pressure and last week the Nationalists changed their mind and agreed to introduce this in Scotland. It will save lives, and it’s just a shame that it has taken so long.

At the weekend, we learned that the SNP are considering a public sector bid for ScotRail. Another welcome U-turn.

But before the current franchise was awarded for Dutch firm Abellio, Labour and the trade unions urged the SNP to pause the process and wait for new powers to be delivered through The Vow that would allow public sector bids.

The SNP refused to wait, and now Labour pressure has once again forced a rethink.

When parliament returns from the summer recess, discussions will get underway about next year’s budget for public services.

I hope that Nicola Sturgeon listens to Labour once more, and reverses the damaging cuts she has inflicted on communities.

 

This article first appeared in the Daily Record newspaper on the 4th of July 2017

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