I am delighted to be here today and thank you for extending the invitation.
I cannot get over that this is the first time the Secretary of State has appeared formally at the Scottish Parliament. So I better get started, otherwise you may not invite me back.
To begin, I want to emphasise the importance the coalition attaches to its work in Scotland. And I will use my position to ensure that Scotland is represented in Cabinet and is integral to the coalition’s programme.
Today is an opportunity for me to set out our priorities as a government. My opening remarks centre around 3 key areas in the coalition programme and the Queen’s Speech.
First, public finances, the economy and reducing the deficit.
Second, our belief in respect and a new type of politics.
And thirdly the government’s legislative programme for this first session and what it means for Scotland; including our determination to deliver on the Calman recommendations.
The coalition’s top priority is tackling the huge structural deficit. Because the high level of borrowing undermines fairness, growth and economic stability.
That’s why we created the Office of Budget Responsibility to independently assess the nation’s finances.
Their figures are stark. UK debt of £936 billion - expenditure exceeding receipts by £155 billion, over 10% of GDP.
If we stuck to the previous government’s spending plans it means paying quarter of a trillion pounds in debt interest during this Westminster Parliament. That’s £4,400 for every Scot over the next 5 years.
We have commenced a deficit reduction programme.
Last month, over £6 billion of savings were identified, the Scottish government’s share being £330 million.
Next week’s budget will outline credible plans to eliminate the bulk of the deficit during this Westminster Parliament.
While the Spending Review, reporting in the autumn, will identify reductions.
Across the UK we all face tough choices. We must all share the pain.
The Scottish budget will be cut for the first time since devolution in 2011. Presenting a new challenge to MSPs and the Scottish government.
Rather than dividing up a cake that keeps growing, tough decisions are now required. I know you will rise to this challenge. We will try to help in whatever way we can.
The UK government has agreed that the Scottish government can defer their share of the reduction into the 2011 to 2012 budget, but it cannot be avoided.
To the second of my 3 themes that I’d like to highlight.
I hope you’ll agree with me that from the outset the coalition has followed an agenda of respect. David Cameron and Danny Alexander were here within 3 days of the new government’s formation.
More dialogue must and will follow. The Prime Minister has offered to visit Holyrood annually. Danny Alexander will explain the Budget to the Finance Committee on 29 June.
Because it is not only encouraging to see parties working together in government, it is also very encouraging to witness the UK’s different governments and parliaments working together.
Finally, I would like to briefly outline the measures included in the Queen’s Speech on 25 May. The principles of fairness, freedom and responsibility underpin this first session of the coalition government.
All told, more than three-quarters of the Bills announced will impact in Scotland.
Where legislation needs the consent of the Scottish Parliament in line with the Sewel Convention, we will seek it.
At present we anticipate that five Bills announced in the Speech will require Legislative Consent.
We look forward to working with both this Parliament and the Scottish government to deliver effective legislation.
A key priority in this First Session for my own Office will clearly be the implementation of the Calman recommendations. Over a year ago Sir Kenneth Calman published his excellent report. Not much has happened since. That will change.
We will deliver improved devolution in a new Scotland Bill. And more devolved powers go together with greater financial accountability.
We want a constructive dialogue with the Scottish government and Parliament throughout the process and I welcome your involvement in this implementation process.
Indeed my visit here today means that we have implemented 2 of the Calman recommendations already.
I believe we should be sharing best practice and ideas. I look forward to constructive discussions this afternoon.