FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon has set out her plans for the coming year at Holyrood.
Outlining her 2018/19 programme for government, which includes a dozen new pieces of legislation, Ms Sturgeon said in the coming year the Scottish Government would accelerate major reforms in education, health and justice.
But she said this work would be done in the “shadow of Brexit”.
She said: “We cannot ignore Brexit or the UK Government’s shamefully shambolic handling of these negotiations.
“For our part, we will continue to make the case for EU membership. Short of that we will press the UK Government to remain in the single market and customs union.”
Ms Sturgeon said that as details of the Brexit deal become clearer in the coming months, her government would consider “how Scotland’s interests can best be protected and advanced”.
But she said it was “clear that an increasing number of our fellow citizens believe as we do that the best future lies in becoming an independent country”.
Ms Sturgeon said her government would introduce legislation to formally underpin a Scottish National Investment Bank.
She also pledged a year-on-year increase in capital investment.
By 2025/26, capital investment will be £1.5 billion higher than the 2019/20 baseline of about £5 billion, the first minister said.
This would mean investment in hospitals, schools, houses, transport and low carbon technology would be around £7 billion higher than current spending projections, she told MSPs.
Ms Sturgeon also announced a “major new drive to increase exports”, with a national export plan to be published in the spring.
Key strands will include “intensive support for 50 high-growth businesses” to help them grow their overseas activity, 100 new business-to-business peer mentorships each year to help new exporters and increased export finance support for firms looking to enter new markets.
The first minister stressed the importance of immigration to the Scottish economy.
She said the Scottish Government would argue that EU citizens already living in the UK should not have to pay post-Brexit settled status fees.
However, she confirmed that “if the UK Government persists” her administration would meet these costs for those working in the devolved public services.
Ms Sturgeon also said Scotland would be “carbon neutral” by 2050, with no net emissions of C02.
She also pledged the Scottish Government intended to move towards zero net emissions of all greenhouse gases “as soon as we credibly can”.
The First Minister said: “It’s worth being clear about the scale of our ambition.
“The targets in the Climate Change Bill for 2020, 2030 and 2040 are the most stringent statutory targets anywhere in the world – without exception.”
Making the switch towards a more environmentally-friendly economy was “first and foremost an overwhelming moral imperative,” Ms Sturgeon said.
She also stressed it was a “huge economic opportunity” for the country as she insisted Scotland was a “global leader living up to our international obligations”.
She confirmed legislation in the coming year to ban the sale and manufacture of plastic stemmed cotton buds.
To improve animal welfare, she said the Scottish Government would also bring in “Finn’s Law” by 2021, which will lead to tougher punishments for those who attack service animals such as police dogs.
The government plans to publish a new Headteachers’ Charter by the end of the year, to “put teachers much more in control of the important decisions” in schools.
Ms Sturgeon also announced that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child will be incorporated into Scots law.
Ms Sturgeon pledged £31 million this year for police reform so Police Scotland can invest in new technology.
She went on to announce a “major package of reforms that will better protect victims in the criminal justice system”.
These will include a new support service to help the families of those killed and murdered, and more funding to support the victims of rape and sexual assault.
The Scottish Government had already pledged £1.1 million extra cash to help ensure sexual offence cases can come to court as quickly as possible.
Ms Sturgeon revealed there would also be a further £2 million over three years to speed up access to support for victims of rape and sexual assault – with £1.5 million of this going to rape crisis centres.
To help those affected by domestic violence, the Scottish Government will look at introducing new protective orders which can bar abusers from their victims’ homes.
On housing, the government is to adopt a “housing first” approach to tackling homelessness.
“This ensures that a homeless individual or household is moved directly into their own settled accommodation rather than through a variety of different housing options,” Ms Sturgeon said.
The government will also work with councils and house builders to increase the supply of affordable homes to disabled people, she added.
Meanwhile, the community land fund – which enables community land purchases – will be extended to 2021.
Legislation establishing new drug-driving limits, covering 17 different types of drugs, will be introduced, Ms Sturgeon pledged.
Combined with Scotland’s lower drink-drive limit, she said this would “ensure we continue to lead the way in the UK when it comes to improving road safety”.