SNP outlines programme for government


Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has unveiled his last programme for government before next May's Holyrood election.

The "double jeopardy" rule preventing a person standing trial twice for the same crime is to be scrapped.

And the utility Scottish Water will be "evolved" into an agency which will boost the economy and environment.

Mr Salmond also warned the spending outlook was the worst since the aftermath of World War II.

He told the Scottish Parliament the Scottish government had made economic recovery a top priority but opposition parties said the SNP administration had run out of steam.

The legislative programme includes the key Budget Bill, setting out the SNP's latest spending plans, which will be laid before parliament within weeks of the UK government revealing details of its public spending cuts in the Comprehensive Spending Review next month.

Scrapping the "double jeopardy" rule, which has already happened in England and Wales, could lead to convicted killer Angus Sinclair standing trial for a second time over the World's End murders.

Mr Salmond said his plans for Scottish Water would not involve selling it off or mutualising the organisation.

But the utility would gain more powers to make money - such as selling expertise or generating renewables - without cost to the taxpayer.

The first minister told MSPs: "Our priorities are economic recovery, protecting front line services and developing a low carbon Scotland - jobs now and jobs for the future."

He added: "The Scottish government is committed to a Scotland that is wealthier and fairer.

"We have kept our aim steady on this government's over-arching purpose, to focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, though increasing sustainable economic growth."

The SNP minority government has already decided to drop its central manifesto pledge for an independence referendum bill, because of a lack of Holyrood support.

But Mr Salmond will instead seek to make it one of the key issues of the 2011 election campaign.

Declaring, "the first age of devolution is over", he said spending cuts were a key issue, adding: "That is the issue which will transcend politics in Scotland - is this parliament to become a message boy for cuts determined elsewhere, or can we gain the economic powers to change our circumstances?"

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said the theme of the SNP's annual legislative programme was one of "failure" and branded the Referendum Bill a "ghost ship flitting eerily in and out of view".

"Increasingly, the first minister gives the impression of being in office but not in power," he said.

Mr Gray added: "As Scotland faces perhaps its most difficult years in a generation, this is neither a programme nor a government worthy of the name."

Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Tory leader, said the programme was "the final nail in the coffin" for Mr Salmond's credibility.

She told MSPs: "It reeks of inertia, exhaustion, escapism and atrophy.

"This time, rhetoric is not enough, rosy promises will not do. This time, the first minister can be measured by what he said against what he did."

The Lib Dems' Tavish Scott said creating jobs must be the main objective of government.

"We can no longer, after three-and-a-half years of Nationalism, have a government who put party before country," he said.

"Alex Salmond is more interested in his own job, not that of the thousands of Scots worried about theirs."

Green leader Patrick Harvie said the government's plans fell short, adding: "For too long, the urgent issues of Scottish politics have lived in the shadow of a raucous argument over the constitution from the parties obsessed with the issue, both for and against.

"The decision not to bring the referendum to a vote now means we face yet another SNP campaign about it next year instead of the responsible debate we need about the economy, public services and building a sustainable Scotland."

The Scottish government's plans also include improvements to private housing regulation, dealing with rogue landlords, the handling of elections and protection from forced marriages.

And there is still legislation in progress from the last session of parliament, including the Alcohol Bill, which aims to introduce minimum alcohol pricing.

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