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A Wasted Opportunity to Create a Fairer, Prosperous and More Equal Country

22/05/2016 10:41 | Updated 22 May 2016

The stark contrast between the progressive and ambitious SNP government in Scotland and the tired and divided Tory government at Westminster could not have been clearer this week.

On Wednesday, Nicola Sturgeon unveiled her new Scottish Government Cabinet following the SNP's historic third term victory in the Scottish Parliament elections and Nicola's overwhelming re-election as Scotland's First Minister.

The First Minister's new and gender-balanced team will hit the ground running with ambition for Scotland, hundreds of fresh policy ideas from the SNP's 76-page election manifesto, and a renewed determination to continue our drive towards a more prosperous, fair and equal country for all.

On the same day at Westminster the Tories revealed their new programme for government in this year's Queen's Speech. Tellingly it didn't contain many new policies at all. There was nothing of substance in it for Scotland, no ambitious plans to boost the economy, no big ideas to improve public services, and no major strategy to tackle the deprivation and inequality that have grown so much worse under this government.

This is a UK government that has missed all of its targets on the key economic indicators of the debt, deficit, borrowing, productivity, innovation, trade and exports - with the latest figures published this month showing a trade deficit that has widened to its worst position since the financial crisis in 2008.

This is a Tory government whose track record on the economy is so bad that after George Osborne's latest Budget farce the Chancellor was rightly asked by the BBC Today Programme "What's a bloke got to do in your job to get the sack?"

At a time when Tory Ministers should be doing everything they can to boost growth and turn around the fortunes of the UK's flailing economy they offered up no new ideas at all, and chose instead to plough ahead with the same the old 'business as usual' Tory austerity policies that have held back the economy, damaged our public services, and unnecessarily hit ordinary families, the poorest and the most vulnerable hardest.

This was a policy-light wasted opportunity of a Queen's Speech from a Tory government that is too busy infighting over Europe to come up with a proper and progressive policy agenda that deals with the important challenges facing our country.

Perhaps the most ludicrous and insulting claim that David Cameron made about his government's policy programme was that it would somehow 'increase life chances for the most disadvantaged', when it is his government that has done so much to rob ordinary families of opportunities, damage the life chances of the disadvantaged and deepen inequality in society.

While in Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has proven her determination to reduce the attainment gap between children from the least well off and most wealthy communities by making it her number one priority, by delivering record education funding, and by appointing Deputy First Minister John Swinney as Education Secretary, the UK government's continued cuts are actively damaging our children's life chances from birth.

While the SNP is introducing baby boxes and childcare support for families, the Tory government is cutting tax credits and children's services. While the SNP is maintaining free university tuition for all, the Tory government has announced it will allow universities to hike tuition fees up above £9,000 a year - putting 21-year-old graduates from ordinary families in over £40,000 of debt before they even start their career.

While the SNP is protecting free prescriptions and delivering record investment in healthcare, the Tory government is increasing the cost of prescriptions and ploughing ahead with NHS privatisation.

While the SNP is building a social security system for Scotland that protects the most vulnerable and treats disabled people with respect, the Tory government continues to cut vital support and services that many people depend on.

The difference between the two governments, our two parties, and our distinct and diverging policy agendas could not be wider. The SNP commitment to social justice is unwavering, yet over the past six years we have seen time and time again that the Tories are so ideologically wedded to their programme of austerity that they will continue on no matter what damage it does to the economy or to society.

At Westminster, with the Labour Party stuck in a rut - unwilling to unite around its leader, unable to decide what it stands for, and with its MPs too busy arguing amongst themselves to provide anything resembling effective opposition to the Tories - it has been the SNP this week that has once again stepped up to the plate.

The SNP was the only party that bothered to put forward a comprehensive and credible Alternative Queen's Speech - a sensible and social democratic alternative to halt Tory austerity, deliver growth in the economy, stand up for Scotland's interests, protect the vulnerable, and avoid the damaging cuts to public services.

We called for an Emergency Summer Budget to stimulate economic growth with a 0.5% increase in public spending, we proposed a Fair Tax Bill to clamp down on tax avoidance and evasion, and an Energy Security and Investment Bill to support renewables and boost our wider energy sector.

We proposed progressive measures on work and pensions, sought long overdue radical democratic reforms of parliament and the electoral system, and called for a Home Rule Bill to finally deliver the meaningful federal devolution to Scotland that was promised during the Independence Referendum.

In justice, home and international affairs we advocated the ethical alternative to the Tories - protecting equality and human rights rather than scrapping them, increasing access to justice for ordinary people, maximising the benefits of migration and treating people with respect, regulating the arms trade, and proposing a Nuclear Weapons Consent Bill to require the UK government to get the consent of the Scottish Parliament before signing Scotland up to housing Trident weapons of mass destruction for decades more.

Just as in Scotland it is the SNP that are delivering clear, effective and progressive government, at Westminster it is the SNP that are the only clear, effective and progressive opposition to the Tories.

In the year since our victory in Scotland at the 2015 General Election the SNP has consistently provided strong opposition to the Tories with a clear and unified sense of purpose and we will continue to do so.

Angus Robertson is the SNP leader in Westminster and MP for Moray

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