Nicola Sturgeon has unveiled a package of legislation aimed at boosting Scotland's economy in the wake of the Brexit vote, but has also pledged the "immediate introduction" of legislation for a second independence referendum if ministers decide leaving the UK is the best way to protect links with Europe.
The First Minister insisted the 14 bills the Scottish Government will bring forward between now and the end of June 2017 showed an "iron focus on the day-to-day business of government" to help create opportunity for all.
As well as detailing her legislative programme, Ms Sturgeon said there would be £4 billion of spending on infrastructure in the coming year and also announced a three-year £500 million programme aimed at helping private firms following the UK's decision to quit the European Union (EU).
She hailed the Scottish Growth Scheme as an "exceptional response to an exceptional economic challenge".
The SNP leader added: "This is a half-billion pound vote of confidence in Scottish business, Scottish workers and the Scottish economy."
The initiative will provide investment guarantees and some loans of up to £5 million to small and medium-sized firms who would not otherwise be able to expand because of the uncertainty prompted by the Brexit vote.
Ms Sturgeon also made clear the Scottish Government will consult on a draft Referendum Bill, "so that it is ready for immediate introduction if we conclude that independence is the best or only way to protect Scotland's interests".
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson branded that a "direct threat" to Scotland's future economic prospects.
The Tory MSP said: "The single biggest economic lever that the SNP could pull right now to help the country grow would be to remove the threat of a second referendum.
"That is what is holding us back. That is stifling investment in our firms. Taking away that lead weight on our country's prospects is one thing the First Minister could do right now.
"She might have hid it in a throwaway line at the end of her speech but the bill sits in the programme for government as a direct threat to our nation's economic growth."
Labour's Kezia Dugdale also insisted there would be "no support" from her MSPs for a second independence referendum.
Ms Dugdale said: "Let this be five years where focusing on jobs, public services and our economy rank as highly as the SNP's fight for independence."
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie vowed his party would continue to oppose independence and support strong relations with Europe.
"The First Minister should ditch the charade and ditch her new plans for independence, that would be the best thing for Scotland," he argued.
However, Green MSP Patrick Harvie insisted "all options must remain on the table to represent and respect Scotland's strong remain vote" in the EU referendum in June, with 62% of people north of the border wanting to stay part of Europe.
Four of the 14 bills to be brought forward in the next year will make use of new powers over tax and welfare that have been devolved under the Scotland Act, including legislation that will see a new charge created to replace air passenger duty from April 2018.
Ms Sturgeon confirmed the intention to cut the amount paid by travellers in half by 2021.
A Social Security Bill will "take the first steps towards a distinctive Scottish social security system based on dignity and respect", the First Minister said, with the SNP having already pledged to increase carer's allowance and create a new grant for low-income parents.
With improving education the "defining mission" of her government, Ms Sturgeon said an Education Bill would be brought in to make the necessary legislative changes.
In addition to this, Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary John Swinney will next week publish a review looking at how to "empower schools and decentralise management" while ministers will consult on a "new fair and transparent national funding formula for our schools".
A Child Poverty Bill is "arguably the most important piece of legislation we will introduce this year", Ms Sturgeon said, while there will be a new Climate Change Bill and fresh legislation on land reform after earlier measures from the government were criticised for not going far enough.
The Scottish Government is also proposing to change the law to make emotional and psychological abuse a crime.
Ms Sturgeon said: "The Bill is an important signal of our determination to tackle domestic abuse in all its forms. It will therefore make an important contribution to our aim of gender equality."
The government will also use new powers to legislate for more women on the boards of public bodies, with the First Minister saying this would "help ensure the public sector leads by example in delivering true gender equality".
The 14 Bills included in the Scottish Government's legislative programme for 2016-17 are:
- The Air Passenger Duty Bill. With the Scotland Act 2016 transferring powers for taxing air passengers to Holyrood, the Scottish Government will bring forward legislation to allow a replacement for APD to be introduced from April 2018.
SNP ministers say the new levy will "better reflect our objective of boosting Scotland's international connectivity and economic competitiveness", with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirming the intention to halve the amount that is paid by passengers by the end of the parliamentary term.
- The Budget Bill. Annual legislation which allows MSPs to approve Scottish Government spending for the coming financial year.
- The Child Poverty Bill. Legislation which will enshrine the ambition of eradicating child poverty and which will place a duty on ministers to publish a delivery plan for this every five years and to report on this annually.
This Bill will replace sections of the UK Child Poverty Act 2010 which were recently repealed by Westminster.
- The Contract (Third Party Rights) Bill. This will reform the current rule of contract law which creates an enforceable right in favour of a third party.
- The Domestic Abuse Bill. Ministers say this will "place Scotland at the forefront of nations in tackling the true nature of domestic abuse".
The new legislation will ensure that psychological abuse, such as coercive and controlling behaviour, can be effectively prosecuted under criminal law.
- The Expenses and Funding of Civil Litigation Bill. The Scottish Government says this legislation is an "important part " of its commitment to making the civil justice system more accessible, affordable and equitable. It will introduce measures to make the costs of civil action more predictable.
- The Forestry Bill. This will ensure the Scottish Government has control of all aspects of forestry and introduce new arrangements for its governance, development, support and regulation.
- The Gender Balance on Public Boards Bill. This will require positive action to be taken to tackle gender imbalances on the boards of public-sector organisations, with ministers describing it as a "further significant step towards the realisation of women's equality in Scotland".
- The Housing (Amendment) Bill. This will ensure registered social landlords (RSLs) continue to be classified as private-sector bodies, with Ms Sturgeon saying this will mean they will "continue to be classified in a way which enables them to borrow money to invest".
- The Islands Bill. This will "reflect the unique needs of Scotland's islands", according to the government, with measures including the creation of a national islands plan and the extension of some powers to island councils.
- The Limitation (Childhood Abuse) Bill. This legislation sets out to remove a barrier for child abuse survivors to accessing civil justice and will end the current situation where personal injury actions can only be made within three years of someone knowing an injury has occurred.
- The Railway Policing Bill. This will pave the way for the integration of the British Transport Police (BTP) in Scotland into Police Scotland.
- The Social Security Bill. This is being brought forward to "set out an over-arching legislative framework for social security in Scotland" and will take forward the government's priorities for new social security powers.
- The Wild Animals in Circuses Bill. This will ban the use of these animals in travelling circuses on the basis that "this practice is morally objectionable to a large proportion of Scottish society".
In addition to these 14 Bills, the legislative programme also states the Scottish Government "will publish for consultation a draft Referendum Bill in order that it is ready for introduction should the Scottish Government conclude - and decide to seek Parliament's agreement - that independence is the best or only way to protect Scotland's interests in the wake of the EU referendum".
Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2016, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Andrew Milligan / PA Wire.