At the biggest political manifesto event ever held in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon officially launched the 2016 SNP Holyrood manifesto. A comprehensive programme for Government, the document pledges to deliver opportunities for all, from our youngest children to our oldest pensioners, encapsulating the vision of the First Minister and the Party.
Amongst many of the developments pledged, I welcome a new 10-year plan to transform mental health with an additional £150 million, an extended payment of the Living Wage to social care workers, and a new Climate Change Bill to implement the crucial Paris Climate Change Agreement targets towards a 50% reduction of emissions in Scotland by 2020.
The international outlook in the manifesto underlines our view of Scotland's place in the European Union. Scotland's membership of the EU is integral to our nation, people and economy. The Party will campaign passionately and positively for an 'in' vote, to remain in the EU and allow Scotland to enjoy the many benefits of being a European Union member.
The SNP always has and always will fight strongly for a fair deal for Scotland in Europe - not least on matters like the Common Fisheries Policy. We acknowledge that the EU isn't perfect. The CFP is widely recognised (including by the European Commission) to have been a failure in the past, with a grossly over-centralised management regime, lacking the flexibility to adapt to the varied conditions existing in the different sea areas of Europe. Scotland's coastal communities have suffered as a direct result of the UK Government signing us up to a flawed CFP. Most of the flaws in the Common Fisheries Policy have derived from the UK Government's failure to properly represent our interests.
Partly due to pressure from MEPs, a recent review of the CFP framework resulted in a move towards decentralised management, enabling Member States to work together on a regional basis. The SNP will continue to press for Scotland to take the lead in fisheries negotiations where we have the predominant interest, and we will push hard for further decentralisation of the Common Fisheries Policy. I am delighted that the manifesto has a specific commitment to argue for, and hopefully secure for Scotland the role of chairing the EU Fisheries Council in the second half of 2017, when the UK holds the rotating EU Presidency. This would be a superb opportunity for Scotland to contribute expertise on all matters pertaining to fisheries, with a focus on giving a boost to the process of decentralising more of the day to day management decisions to the fishing nations of the EU.
A key element of our approach to Europe is developing strong partnerships with like-minded European partners – however, we will also continue to work with countries around the globe. We will continue to prioritise our engagement with the USA and Canada to build on our historic and economic links. We will continue to develop relationships with other European countries and will take forward the Nordic/ Baltic strategy. And we are committed to a long-term relationship with Japan, China and India focused on education, business and culture.
With a first-rate SNP record in Government, and the vision and determination to build upon it, let us let us make sure that we return an SNP Government with Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister. Both Votes SNP!