Today’s First Minister’s Questions was an eclectic mix of questions which focused on the economy, healthcare, education and, after the Prime Minister’s Brexit speech, how Scotland will deal with being taken out of the single market.
Questions were opened by the Scottish Conservatives’ Ruth Davidson, who raised the issue of growing business rates in Scotland.
Nicola Sturgeon responded by explaining that all rate payers can appeal their revaluation, until December 2017, if they think it is wrong. She added that approximately 100,000 business will be lifted out of business rates altogether.
Ruth Davidson then turned to the news that economic growth in Scotland is a third of the level of the rest of the UK, and that small businesses are being hit by the doubling of the business supplement. She queried how raising taxes will help address this issue.
Ms Sturgeon again pointed out that 100,000 small businesses will no longer have to pay any tax and that the worse thing for businesses in Scotland is being “ripped out of the single market”. She added that she is “determined to save Scotland from Brexit” ,a line which prompted Ms. Davidson to accuse her of hiding behind Brexit when under pressure.
Next, Labour’s Kezia Dugdale pointed to the new figures which showed that one in four patients will wait more than four hours in A&E at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow. She asked whether this means the NHS facing a system breakdown.
The First Minister replied that the Government is investing £500m in the Scottish NHS over the course of this parliament and that much of the investment is being transferred into social care.
Ms. Dugdale then pointed out that the Scottish Government has admitted to one of her constituents that a 12 month wait for a cataract operation is totally unacceptable and the Health Secretary suggested the patient should go to Europe. Ms Sturgeon reiterated that waiting times are much lower than when the SNP first took office, so progress has been made.
Patrick Harvey of the Scottish Green Party focused on the Prime Minister’s Brexit speech, arguing that it is dangerous for Scotland. He called for no delay in the legislation that will allow Scotland the option to hold another independence referendum.
Ms. Sturgeon pointed out that a ‘Hard Brexit’ will cost Scotland 80,000 jobs and that the Scottish Government has already put forward proposals to keep Scotland in the single market. She argued that UK Government has not considered these proposals with all due seriousness.
Questions from other Members included questions on new tax powers to help struggling Local Authorities protect schools from cuts, the need for additional support for teachers and questions on the draft budget