SCHOOL’S back for MSPs next week as we return to the Scottish Parliament. It’s a big week, especially for the First Minister. In the five months since he won the leadership contest, he has made several important announcements and interventions.

Next week is the chance to weave them together into a vision for the future in the Programme for Government (PfG). The Programme for Government is published every September. It is essentially the Scottish Government’s promises to the nation for the coming year. It can be a dry document, but it spells out the potential for change. This PfG needs to give hope – hope that life will get better for families, communities and businesses in the teeth of a cost of living crisis.

The First Minister has spent the summer travelling across the country listening to people. His signature approach of listening to, and engaging with, people is exactly what’s needed to ground his vision in the realities of life in Scotland. All politics is ultimately local and all politicians are ultimately accountable to voters. When you listen to businesses and households, you earn their trust.

The National: First Minister Humza Yousaf speaking on the Climate Crisis. (Robert Perry/PA Wire)

I spoke to a couple who had met the First Minister (above) when he visited Fort William last month. They remarked to me that he must have been late for his next engagement because he’d stayed talking to them for much longer than his allocated time. It meant a lot to them to see somebody care about their project and gave them hope that something might change. That’s how the Government should make the nation feel.

Much of the malaise in politics stems from a defeatist attitude that nothing can or will change. That’s self-evidently untrue. The National Health Service emerged from the rubble of war, when public finances were in a chronic state and horrendous debt cast a cloud over everything.

It was born of a single-minded, resolute determination to do the impossible. It was a daring endeavour – and all daring endeavours have a high risk of failure. More than 75 years later, the NHS was definitely a risk worth taking.

That possibility lies before us again. Until everybody has access to excellent education, well-paid, secure jobs and freedom from poverty, we need renewed and refreshed approaches. In some cases, we need to be daring; carrying a high risk of failure but driven by a resolute determination to succeed. That’s what can unite not just the SNP and the Parliament. It’s what will unite the nation.

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Many of the political headlines this summer have been depressing. The weather forecast for continuous rain was positively upbeat in contrast. Despite the cacophony of political noise, most people are listening for the quiet, steely voice of leadership. Somebody who understands their lives and who is willing to take risks to transform the country – even now.

I see that potential in our First Minister, and the PfG is the opportunity to demonstrate what difference the Government will make.

That’s what will inspire hope and give confidence that better days are ahead. That’s true leadership. Rising above the fray, charting a path, and taking people with you.

As an aside, this allows me to call out one of the most infuriating headlines of the last few weeks: the one that claimed I’d queried our First Minister’s ability to be a natural leader. I begrudge repeating the claim now, but it needs to be condemned as the twisted headline that it was.

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Not only did I say nothing of the sort, but indeed had been saying the very opposite. Context is everything. Attendees who listened to my comments live later expressed amazement at the headline which emerged, as they knew it was contrary to my words.

There is no winning with headlines like that. Call it out and you sound overly defensive, drawing attention to it, increasing the number of clicks on the story and incentivising equally questionable headlines in the future.

Or hope that people are intelligent enough to read the full transcript of what was actually said, which was that the leader of the independence movement should be our First Minister because he is working hard to unite the movement and he has particular skills that enable him to engage with people across the board. I opted for the latter.

And that’s exactly what most of the public are doing right now: ignoring the headlines and getting on with life. They’ll decide who to trust on the basis of how their lives change – for the better or the worse. And so with the PfG, here are three issues that need an emboldened and more daring approach.

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The first is childcare. As I return to Parliament next week, I’ve had to plan for childcare provision during the days I’m in Edinburgh. It is well reported that the vast majority of parents cite difficulties with finding and paying for childcare.

Single parents and parents of children with additional support needs, in particular, are much more likely to report the unaffordability of childcare. That is directly linked to child poverty.

A survey by One Parent Families Scotland in 2022 found that 21%, more than a fifth, of single parents said they could no longer afford childcare at all. Of course, this is likely to plunge families deeper into poverty, as without adequate childcare, a parent cannot work.

At a time when costs are rising at a faster rate than other forms of financial support, it quite clearly becomes almost impossible to live.

Just to call for more affordable childcare isn’t enough. We need to find, train and retain childcare workers. Across our society, we undervalue all forms of care, including nursery care.

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Whether it’s the beginning of life or the end of life, I’d like to see a complete transformation of care work so that it’s more highly paid, more secure and more valued than any other job – including traditionally well-paid jobs in financial services or the energy sector.

The second is mental health. I’ve heard a number of horrendous stories over the summer months of young people’s struggles with mental health. Perhaps it’s more acute in rural areas, but for many young people there is minimal support at the initial point of need. As their conditions worsen, more help is provided, but the fact that they need to wait for their health to get worse is totally contrary to the principle of preventative action.

A suggestion was put to me that we need to see drop-in facilities in every region of Scotland. Accessible and supportive, helping young people as soon as they need it, rather than waiting till they are ill enough to need specialist care. Much progress has been made in removing the stigma of getting help, but the next step is ensuring universal access to care.

The last is infrastructure.

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It’s time for tunnels and bridges to replace our ferry fleet. Islanders’ woes are well-documented. Last week, I was delighted to welcome our Transport Minister Fiona Hyslop to the Ardnamurchan peninsula as she travelled down the west coast.

Of course, ferry services were high on the agenda. I reflected on how transformational the Skye and Kessock bridges have been for the Highland economy, and how much loss there is without certainty of travel. We need bold, ambitious plans to deliver that same certainty and confidence to travellers in every island.

So, next week, our party needs to remember that the nation is listening. The political furore is just a distraction. It’s the quieter but steely voice that offers hope and confidence.