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‘Keep the bulldozer in the garage’ pleads opposition as SNP unveils record 16 bills

Alex Salmond meets with wind-farm protesters outside Elgin town hall as the Scottish Cabinet arrive for public Q&A meeting yesterday.

Alex Salmond will today unveil plans for a record 16 bills when he sets out his majority government’s programme for its first year in office.

Opposition parties have voiced concerns that the “bulldozer” administration could be set to push through unpopular policies and say that economic recovery should be the priority.

A spokesman for Mr Salmond said: “We’ve always made the point that the test of government is not on the volume of legislation, it’s on the quality of legislation and the overall activity of government.

“We always put a very high premium on effective decisions and the implementation of policy which don’t require legislation. It’s an approach that has clearly found favour with the people of Scotland.”

This is more than any new administration has introduced in its first year in office and was only topped by the 17 bills introduced in the second year of Lord McConnell’s Labour/Lib Dem coalition in 2004.

The measures will include plans for a single police force and a single fire service, despite opposition from local government body Cosla. It will also include plans for a minimum alcohol price and health campaigners said last night that they would be aiming to persuade SNP ministers to increase the minimum-price figure beyond that suggested by the last Scottish administration.

Last year, health secretary Nicola Sturgeon proposed that the minimum per unit price should be 45p, which would have seen the cost of a two-litre bottle of cheap cider rise from £1.40 to £3.78, and a bottle of vodka from £8 to £11.81.

However, it is understood that today’s new bill may hold back from proposing an exact price, focusing instead on the principle of introducing a minimum price. The exact charge will then be considered by MSPs at a later date in secondary legislation.

Dr Emilia Crichton, consultant in public health at Greater Glasgow Health Board, and convenor of the Faculty of Public Health in Scotland, said that 60p per unit would be “a desirable level” and said she would back ‘enabling legislation’ which did not pin down the per-unit price for good. She added: “45p does something but we would like to see serious action commensurate with the Scottish problem.”

There will also be new legislation to allow the publication of papers from the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC), which would allow the publication of files relating to the Lockerbie bombing.

The SCCRC’s findings on Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi have remained under lock and key since they were finalised in 2007. The SCCRC report identified six grounds for believing Megrahi may have suffered a miscarriage of justice when he was prosecuted for the murder of 270 people in the atrocity

Labour finance spokesman Richard Baker said economic growth must be at the heart of the programme. “Alex Salmond’s government has a profound responsibility to create the conditions we need for the Scottish economy to flourish,” he said.

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie added: “I hope that the SNP show today that they are the listening government that they make themselves out to be and make sure the bulldozer is kept in the garage.”