Kez’s latest Daily Record column:

AS I write this, Nicola Sturgeon will be putting the final touches to her government’s programme for the year ahead.
Today is a hugely important moment in the Holyrood calendar – it’s the equivalent of the Queen’s Speech, and a chance to focus on the difference that politics can make to people’s lives.
This is very welcome after the relentless focus on the allegations regarding Alex Salmond, which have shaken Scottish politics to its core over the last ten days or so.
Today will mark the SNP’s 12th programme for government. Undoubtedly, the Nationalist administration is tired and running out of ideas, which is a problem facing any government that has been in power for so long.
But there is still so much we need to fix in Scotland.
So here are just a few ideas that Nicola Sturgeon should announce today, to transform lives and tackle the inequalities that still blight our society.
One of the first things the SNP Government should do is listen to parents and teachers and scrap P1 testing. This policy has been a shambles from the beginning, and it has now reached the point where Scotland’s largest teaching union has backed plans to boycott standardised testing.
The Education Secretary John Swinney will be delighted his disastrous summer is over. He’s been harangued by furious teachers during a radio phone-in, with discontent from overworked and underpaid teachers leading to the possibility of industrial action. With spending in schools around £400m less per year than it was in 2010, Mr Swinney is no longer seen as the ‘safe pair of hands’ he once was.
Other parliamentary Bills the SNP could produce today include a Transport Bill to deliver public transport that is owned by, and run for, the benefit of the Scottish public. The sooner our rail services are reintegrated into the public sector the better, while bus services should be run for the benefit of local communities – not profit for shareholders.
There is a great deal we can do with the Scottish Parliament’s powers to tackle inequalities.
For example, the SNP government’s failure to deliver a Warm Homes Bill is a missed opportunity.
We need a proper Warm Homes Act to bring clean and affordable warmth to thousands of
households and businesses in Scotland – supporting the growth of district heating, renewable heating, and investment in energy efficiency.
Empowering communities with a revamped Planning Bill should be a priority, including more planning rights and a commitment to make public health central to the planning system.
And something I’ve personally been campaigning for is a travel bursary for Northern Irish women who are boarding ferries in Belfast to access abortion services here in Scotland.
Ministers promised to listen, and today is an opportunity to take action.
When the SNP introduces positive legislation we will back it; when Bills don’t go far enough we will suggest improvements; and when the government fails we will oppose.
This year, Scotland can’t afford another lacklustre programme from this timid and tired government.

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FEW will shed a tear at the demise of payday lender Wonga.
The firm became synonymous with the growth of high-cost lenders, with sickening interest rates of over 1500 per cent.
There is now a real opportunity to encourage more responsible competitors – those with ethical practices, as well as credit unions.
One of the first battles I started after being elected to Holyrood was against high street loan sharks. The Debtbusters campaign targeted the pay-day lenders who were profiting from the cost of living crisis, with millions of people seeking loans to pay for food and energy bills.
The campaign was created for three reasons: to take on payday loan companies street by street; to improve debt relief; and to promote the alternative, credit unions.
Earlier this year, a new community bank branch was opened in Edinburgh by actor Michael Sheen: the Castle Community Bank which is a not-for-profit credit union. I became one of its newest members.
The increased number of alternative options to firms like Wonga has been hugely encouraging.
It’s important that those who are still paying off Wonga loans do not turn to even worse lenders, and there is a responsibility on government ministers to ensure that guidance is made available.
But the demise of Wonga doesn’t mean that personal debt has disappeared.
Under the last Labour administration in Glasgow, councillors set up a £500,000 budget annually to give transformative grants to co-operatives, mutuals and social enterprises.
We need more of that kind of thinking across the whole of Scotland.

 

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Theresa May has insisted there won’t be a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal.
When she became Prime Minister, she also repeatedly insisted there wouldn’t be a General Election before 2020. We needed ‘stability’ she said.
This Tory government has not even come close of providing any form of stability – quite the opposite.
So we know she changes her mind, which is why the campaign for a People’s Vote continues – and will get stronger.
Businesses need certainty, and the best hope for that is to reverse the Brexit process that will damage our economy. We can do that by offering voters a say on the final deal.
I was encouraged by the comments from Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell at the weekend, who rightly said ‘all options’ remain on the table.
But the silence from other politicians is unacceptable. Nicola Sturgeon claims she is passionate about the EU, so it’s time for her to publicly back a People’s Vote.
And as for Tory leader Ruth Davidson, she represents Edinburgh Central – one of the parts of the country that will be hardest hit by Brexit. It’s time for her to speak up for her constituents.

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THIS week is Organ Donation Week.
For years, Labour and campaign groups have been fighting for an opt-out organ donation system to save lives.
The Scottish Government has finally listened, but the lack of an implementation date is disappointing. We now risk trailing behind other countries in the UK.
There must be no further delay as these reforms will increase the number of transplants that take place and, fundamentally, will save lives.

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BBC One’s new drama Bodyguard is an edge-of-the-seat thriller.
Keeley Hawes is one of our finest actors, but it’s disappointing that so much tabloid focus has instead been about her looks.
Let’s focus on her incredible performance, which will no doubt make her a frontrunner for a gong when awards season arrives.

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