with Alex Salmond, First Minister and MSP for Aberdeenshire East

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This week the Scottish Government’s programme for the coming year was announced.

It is a strong legislative prospectus which seeks to empower Scotland’s people and underline the strengths of Scotland’s Parliament.

Among 13 new bills in the Programme for Government, a Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill will enable communities from Aberdeenshire to Arran to take ownership of public land and buildings, giving them a stronger role in the development and delivery of local services, providing more transparency in the management of Common Good land and simplifying the process of the community right-to-buy scheme.

Legislation will also be introduced to secure in statute the Scottish Welfare Fund, which is receiving £33 million over this year to assist vulnerable individuals and those families most in need – one of a number of steps being taken by the Scottish Government to mitigate Westminster’s welfare cuts. The contrast between Holyrood and Westminster could not be clearer. Whilst Westminster’s agenda has brought us the Bedroom Tax and cuts to capital spending, the Scottish Parliament has in recent years passed legislation to guarantee free higher education, free prescriptions and a public smoking ban. The contrast – and also the choice – facing the Scottish people next year could not be clearer.

This Programme for Government is testament to the reality that decisions about Scotland are best taken in Scotland. It continues the strong track-record of this parliament and this administration.

In the months ahead we may debate our particular views about education, about health, about employment; about welfare reform. But one thing which the record of this parliament shows – which we should all agree on – is that it is better to decide things for ourselves than to have others decide for us. In my view the logic of that – completing the powers of this parliament – that is independence. And that is what people will vote for in just over a year’s time.

These bills are part of a larger story. This is a Parliament which listens to evidence and seeks consensus where possible. It is a Parliament which has used its powers to create opportunities for people across the country. Through this Programme for Government, it is a Parliament which in this coming year will empower Scottish communities and create a fairer Scotland; accelerate economic recover and mitigate the impact of Westminster austerity.

Independence offers an opportunity to renew democracy at all levels in Scotland – for individuals, families, towns, villages, constituencies, regions, islands, cities and organisations.

GAME ON FOR REFERENDUM

With just over a year to go until the referendum on Scotland becoming an independent country, the most recent poll shows support for a Yes vote has edged ahead of support for a No vote.

The same poll shows that people trust Holyrood over Westminster government by nearly four-to-one and a majority of people are confident that Scotland could be a successful independent country.

The breakdown of this latest Panelbase poll also reveals that 24 per cent of those who voted Labour in the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary election intend to vote Yes in 2014, demonstrating that people from all political persuasions are beginning to realise the huge opportunities that independence presents.

These are very encouraging figures which go to show that the Yes campaign’s positive vision is far more appealing to the people of Scotland than the dismal alternative. Later this month we will mark one year to go until the vote – the Yes campaign is gathering momentum as more and more people realise that Scotland can be a successful independent country.

CABINET IN THE BROCH

The Scottish Cabinet concluded its summer tour around the country this week as we met in Fraserburgh. The visit to Fraserburgh, my old constituency stomping ground, followed visits throughout the summer recess to Lerwick, Hawick and Campbeltown.

Taking the cabinet to different parts of Scotland allows me and my cabinet colleagues to engage directly with residents, businesses and key players in a variety of diverse communities. In Fraserburgh we announced the creation of 100 additional engineering places at Banff and Buchan College through a £1 million funding boost from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC). This significant investment will help more students gain the skills to work in a variety of sectors.