Scots ministers to reform police, jobs and alcohol laws
Legislation to create a single police force and a single fire service in Scotland is among 15 new bills to be introduced at the Holyrood.
First Minister Alex Salmond announced the move as part of his first programme for government since the SNP's landslide election victory in May.
Mr Salmond also outlined plans for minimum alcohol pricing and tackling sectarianism related to football.
There was also a pledge to give every young person a training opportunity.
Outlining the government's plans at Holyrood, Mr Salmond told MSPs that legislation to create a single police force and a single fire service, would save money without hitting frontline services.
"Communities don't care about boundaries, they want services to work together as effectively and efficiently as possible," he said.
"After detailed consideration of all the evidence available, we are persuaded that a single police service and a single fire and rescue service are the right options.
Guides and analysis
Holyrood's new parliamentary year began this week and the Scottish government's legislative programme announcement is the first big set piece of the 2011/12 session.
"This is the only way to maintain the number of police officers serving all of the communities of Scotland."
The proposed changes would see Scotland's eight police forces and eight fire services merged into national bodies.
as well as the eight regional forces the police merger would see the Scottish Police Services Agency and the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency, which employ more than 1,600 staff, being taken into the new single force.
In terms of policing, this would create the second largest force in the UK behind the Metropolitan Police in London.
Mr Salmond said that single services would "sustain and improve the delivery of local services", create a "national expertise" in both and ensure "clear separation from ministers" and their "continued operational independence".
The first minister, now head of a majority government, also vowed to tackle Scotland's historic drink-related problems by bringing back the proposals to set a minimum price per unit of alcohol, which were defeated in the last parliament.
The legislation, he said, would "tackle the scourge of alcoholism on Scottish society and families".
Mr Salmond said the government would also bring forward the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Bill to crack down on violent and bigoted behaviour.
The new bills
- Alcohol minimum pricing
- Police and fire reform
- Social care self-directed support
- Water Bill
- Rights of Children and Young People
- National Library of Scotland
- Legal aid and Scottish civil justice
- Criminal Cases Bill
- Council tax and housing support grant
- Long Leases
- Land Registration
- Budget Bill
- Aquaculture and Fisheries
- Agricultural Holdings
- Freedom of Information
This legislation will toughen penalties for football-related sectarian behaviour and violence and is expected to be passed, following its current consultation, by the end of the year.
The first minister said that a "jobs agenda" would be at the heart of the programme for government.
He said: "Our key commitment is to those young people who, as I said before, yearn to be productive.
"No young person should go through school only to become an unemployment statistic at the age of 16. We will not allow that in Scotland.
"That's why today I can announce the Opportunities for All initiative - a commitment that every single 16 to 19-year-old in Scotland will be offered a learning or training place if they are not in already in a job, a Modern Apprenticeship or in education."
Mr Salmond also said the Scottish government would continue to pursue more legislative powers by pressing for changes to the Scotland Bill, currently proceeding through Westminster.
Reacting to the speech, Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said he supported the creation of a single police force and fire service and he accepted the minimum unit price for alcohol would now happen.
But he worried the bill would be drawn "too narrowly".
At Holyrood today, opposition leaders were largely interested in the dog which didn't bark during Mr Salmond's address.
The absence of an early bill for a referendum on independence.
Why, they asked, did Mr Salmond not get on with it? Why not table the bill now? As so often in politics, they know the answer.
Because, right now, Mr Salmond is not confident he would win. Because he prefers to wait, to build the case. Because, right now, he wants to focus upon the economy and public services (remember that broad strategy.)
Because he hopes that public anger over impending cuts in public spending will turn ultimately upon the Treasury and the UK government, not his own team.
In contradistinction to that, those who advocate the UK will argue that Scotland alone would be too weak to counter global economic trends.
Mr Gray told the chamber: "There is nothing now to stop the first minister - unfettered by minority in this chamber - he can legislate for class sizes of 18 if he still thinks that is the right thing to do.
"He can introduce his local income tax now if it was such a good idea."
The outgoing leader went on: "If he does not, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that he never had any intention of reducing class sizes to 18 and that he always knew his local income tax was unfair, unworkable and a massive hike for most families."
Scottish Conservative Party leader, Annabel Goldie, said the legislative programme "did not lack quantity", but it was "quality which matters".
She added: "The summer offered Alex Salmond an opportunity to reflect, innovate and reform. But instead the summer has been one long whinge from Alex Salmond. One long rant about what everyone else is getting wrong.
"People are getting fed up with his diet of negativity and gripe. The SNP is relentlessly hostile to anyone who dares to speak out against them or question their version of reality or challenge their proposals."
Miss Goldie, who like Mr Gray will leave her leader post later in the year, said there were measures her party could support including a single police force.'No answers'
But she said there were others the Tories could not support and some which would need amendments.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie was concerned that the first minister had not given detail to its independence referendum.
He told the chamber: "Seventy years on from the SNP's creation and the first minister hardly even mentions their sole reason for existence.
"This parliament is to be dominated by independence but that's the one issue the SNP government is determined to avoid discussing.
"Whilst Scotland waits, the SNP refuse to declare, debate or even discuss the costs of independence. No answers offered. No timetable for answers."
Patrick Harvie from the Scottish Greens said he welcomed "some measures" in the statement but he felt the first minister had not gone "far enough" to protect Scotland's most vulnerable, nor to promote a low carbon economy.