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SNP unveil this year's 'Programme for Government'

Holyrood Photo: PA

Holyrood does not do State Openings, like they do at Westminster.

There are no coaches, no Monarch, no men in tights.

But the government of the day does unveil a Programme for Government (PfG to its friends) every year spelling out their plans for the coming year.

We'll need time to look at the detail, but a few things stand out from Nicola Sturgeon's statement this afternoon.

The proposal to invest "up to half a billion pounds" in promising Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) is interesting.

What will happen is that a government body, probably Scottish Enterprise, will look at promising firms having difficulty getting cash from the bank, or all the cash they need, and step in.

The Government is proposing to invest millions in Small and Medium Sized Enterprises Credit: PA
  • Is this government 'picking winners'?

No, say government sources. But they do say, post-Brexit, banks are being even more cautious.

The liabilities will rest with the Scottish government, so that does mean government taking on risk, and potentially losing money.

They'll also need Westminster to give them permission to do this, as technically it might add to the UK government's liabilities.

Scottish government sources say all the risk is with Holyrood.

We'll see what the Treasury makes of that.

Beyond that there is a further commitment to close the attainment gap between better off and less well off pupils in Scotland's schools.

The first 'standardised assessments' results - to get the data on which further action will be based - will be published in December.

The First Minister was careful to say they were not tests, but it is hard to see how they are not.

They will, well, test pupils to see how they are doing.

Beyond that there is a clear commitment to give more power to head teachers over school funding, which may not please local authorities which - by definition - will lose power.

We'll hear more on this, and plans to create education regions - again something councils won't like - from the education secretary and deputy First Minister, John Swinney, next week.

And there is also an intriguing pledge to 'empower' (to use the jargon phrase) local communities.

That will mean more money to spend below local authority level.

Again councils may not be pleased.

But it does mean that the SNP is, they say, pushing power down the way.

Their opponents will argue this is too little too late, given that they created - for example - the single Scottish police force.

It's worth remembering this is the 10th, yes the 10th, SNP programme for government.

They have been in power that long, and unless there is some unforeseen political upheaval, there's another four years to come.

Their opponents on the Left say that this PfG shows that over this period the Nationalists have not lived up to their social democratic rhetoric in government.

Labour said that they plans lacked ambition and failed to tackle the key questions on jobs and public services.

The Greens said that lofty ambitions of fairness and equality had not been achieved.

And the Lib Dems pointed out that the SNP had been, in their view, timid in not proposing to use new tax powers to raise more money for public services.

For the Tories,they said the SNP, despite trying to play it down today, was still obsessed by engineering the circumstances where they can hold, and win, a second independence referendum.

For the record, Labour - despite what UK leadership hopeful Owen Smith suggested recently - are against a second referendum. As are the Lib Dems.

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