What can I say about the motion? I know that we are all being terribly nice to John Swinney this afternoon, but I have to say that he has put together a collection of words that is almost wholly meaningless. Let us be frank—this is just a filler debate. It is a filler debate so that the SNP and the Greens can indulge themselves in some constitutional rants about separation and breaking up the United Kingdom. Paul McLennan did not disappoint—that is the theme that he set.
The debate is intended to cheer up members of the SNP—and, my goodness, they need a bit of cheering up. It is all about killing time until the stairheid rammy of the SNP leadership contest is finished. Given how well the candidates have been trashing the SNP’s record in government, who would still want to lead it?
The amendment in the name of my friend Liz Smith is a reconnection with reality—the reality that we need to rescue Scotland’s economy from the “mediocrity” of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. Those are Kate Forbes’s words, not mine. It is ironic that we are debating a motion from the acting finance secretary on his last ministerial appearance in the chamber when the actual finance secretary is busy traducing his legacy.
A wellbeing economy needs to be a prosperous economy. I always hoped that John Swinney would learn that a nation cannot tax itself to prosperity, but I fear that he leaves government unrepentant on that matter. Kate Forbes wants to talk about entrepreneurship and jobs; she wants economic growth. Some SNP members might agree with Kate Forbes, as Scotland continues to grow at a rate well below that at which the rest of the UK is growing, but they must not tell that to Patrick Harvie or Lorna Slater, whose whole effort in government is targeted at stopping economic growth. [Interruption.] I agree with my friend Graham Simpson that they do a good job.
To them, economic growth is all about stuff—and I say that they are right. By “stuff”, I mean jobs, increasing wages, better job security, rising profitability, higher national productivity, a growing tax base and investment in our public services. That is the very stuff that they are committed to halting, opposing and destroying.
Wellbeing is, in many ways, indefinable. I find that all the things that really matter to me in my life and that contribute to my personal and family wellbeing are hard or imprecise to measure: love, contentment, comfort, security and peace of mind. Those things and many others make people feel happy. Wellbeing is about much more than happiness. It is about being able to cope when things are not going as well as they could be. As Liz Smith said, it is about resilience. It is about independence—personal independence.
Although I am not of the view that the Government is the answer to all our problems, there is work that can be done, especially in helping our young people. Young people need skills that lead to personal fulfilment. They can get those skills by learning an instrument or taking part in sport, dance, creative writing, drama or art. Too often, we think about those subjects like central planners sitting in an office deciding how many bagpipe players or footballers Scotland needs, using an equation to balance art against science. That misses the fundamental point about education. Education is not only about employment; it is about learning skills that help young people to find fulfilment.
I commend the member for his glorious attempt to build consensus across the chamber this afternoon. He is talking about education. I am a strong believer in early years education and the opportunity that that provides to turn young people’s lives around and give them a good foundation. What more could the two Governments—the UK Government and the Scottish Government—do to try to make that more of a reality today?
I agree with Willie Rennie on both points that he made. My middle initial is C for consensus, and I try to build consensus. His second point was about the importance of the early years. The early years are a very important point in the beginning of the education journey for every single soul.
I return to my premise about learning skills that help young people to find fulfilment. I am talking about the guitar in the loft, the hung-up football boots or, if you will forgive the parallel, Deputy Presiding Officer, a fine cheese, laid down for a future of maturing until it is there to help us through a tough time. Similarly, life skills such as cooking or managing finances help our young people to stand on their own two feet.
How does cutting mental health funding for colleges help any of that? How will cutting subject choice help?
Will the member take an intervention?
The member is coming to a conclusion.
Edmund Burke said:
“If we command our wealth, we shall be rich and free; if our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.”
Intergenerational poverty is a curse, and I, along with everyone else here, want to break that cycle. Helping people to access employment and gain lasting financial security is a way of lifting that curse. The pride that goes with having a good job that allows one to provide for oneself and one’s family is so important as to override all other considerations when addressing worklessness. Work builds confidence and, when families provide for themselves, they are stronger. Child poverty is solved by addressing the worklessness of households.
I will conclude by simply saying, Deputy Presiding Officer, that the motion speaks volumes about the SNP’s attitude to government. This is a Government of idealogues who put ideology ahead of wellbeing.
You need to conclude, Mr Kerr.
We can hope for a future in which the Government enables wellbeing, but with these two parties in charge, that is never going to happen.