Willie Rennie writes for TFN ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections
The pandemic has torn through our lives. Thousands of people have died or suffered serious illness. Young people lost out on education and career opportunities. People waiting for hospital treatment have been delayed. Individuals suffered isolation. Businesses, charities and organisations struggle to pay their bills and survive until the end of the crisis.
Our offer is a liberal one. At our heart we want every individual to achieve their potential.
We need action to stop a jobs crisis, with a job guarantee for young people, new jobs in green energy and tech, and a tax break for high street shops to help them survive and compete with online.
We have to act now to build health services back up, valuing care workers by boosting their pay and careers, and training more mental health specialists to sort out the waiting times that were up to two-years pre-pandemic.
We will introduce an urgent programme to help children bounce back from the disruption. It will make every hour spent learning count for more by expanding in-class support, establish new entitlements for children outside the classroom and in the holidays, and use the talents of everyone in education because children can’t afford for thousands of teachers to be underemployed.
And we will act to tackle the climate emergency and declare a nature emergency. We’ve got some of the strongest emissions targets in the world, thanks in no small part to the work of Scottish Liberal Democrats. Now we must meet them through electric vehicles, warmer homes and using nature to fight climate change.
Local communities and organisations did a power of work during the crisis to identify and support those people in need in their areas. We will build on that and:
• Give a voice to representative groups, charities and the third sector who are working hard to make lives better. We will ask the Scottish Parliament to initiate a major programme, supported by the Scottish Government, to listen and act on their expertise and lived experience to improve wellbeing and tackle ill health.
• Decentralise power. Good decisions about local services are best made locally. The more decisions there are made locally, the easier it will be for smaller organisations to get a foot in the door.
• Give volunteering organisations the flexibility and certainty they need with longer term funding agreements.
• Provide organisations that receive funding from the Scottish Government with a new ‘license to criticise’, giving them a stronger voice and recognising through a new legal guarantee that the services we rely on are worse off if organisations are concerned that speaking out will have implications for their future funding and survival.
We want to get on with the job of recovery and repair the damage to our health service, jobs and climate. We can’t afford to have a government that is distracted. Liberal Democrats will put the recovery first.
Willie Rennie is leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.