Theresa May will today accuse Nicola Sturgeon of treating politics as a “game” to further her drive for Scottish independence at the expense of improving children’s education.
The Prime Minister will say the “neglect and mismanagement” of the Scottish education system is a “scandal” as she attempts to shift the focus from the constitution on to the SNP’s domestic record.
On the opening day of the Scottish Conservative Conference, Mrs May will say Scottish schools are being outperformed by their counterparts in England, Northern Ireland, Estonia and Poland.
She will say: “Politics is not a game and the management of devolved public services in Scotland is too important to be neglected. People in Scotland deserve a First Minister who is focused on their priorities – raising standards in education, taking care of the health service, reforming criminal justice, helping the economy prosper, improving people’s lives.”
Mrs May heads to Glasgow amid mounting tensions between the UK and Scottish governments over Brexit and a growing expectation that Ms Sturgeon intends to call for a second Scottish independence referendum.
In an interview with the BBC last night, Mrs May accused Ms Sturgeon of “tunnel vision” on independence and said it was “very clear” the Scottish people were against another vote.
She would not be drawn on whether she would give permission for one to be held.
Today Mrs May will attempt to put pressure on Ms Sturgeon by attacking the SNP’s schools’ record.
The First Minister has staked her reputation on closing the attainment gap but a series of studies have suggested more work is required to close the gap in academic performance between rich and poor.
Mrs May will say: ‘Scottish schools, which once led the world in setting the highest standards of attainment, are now outperformed in every category by schools in England, Northern Ireland, Estonia and Poland.
“Education [has been] fully devolved since 1999 and under the SNP’s stewardship for ten years. But standards have fallen, the attainment gap remains and Scottish young people are losing out.”
In her speech, Mrs May will point to 150,000 fewer college places under the SNP, a cap on the number of Scottish students who can enter higher education and fewer young people from poor backgrounds making it to university than in the rest of the UK.
“Just this week we have learned that the SNP government has delayed its planned education bill, such is their obsession with the single issue of independence. The SNP’s neglect and mismanagement of Scottish education has been a scandal,” the Prime Minister will say.
Yesterday the state of the Scottish education system dominated First Minister’s Questions with both Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale challenging Ms Sturgeon on the delay to her government’s Education Bill.
The proposed legislation had been promised early this year, but this week Education Secretary John Swinney said it would be published sometime in 2017.
Ms Davidson said education reform is on a “slow train”, while Ms Dugdale said it had been “kicked into the long grass”.
The First Minister defended her education reforms and said there had been more than 1,000 responses to the Education Bill’s consultation process, arguing it was “right and proper” that they should be considered by Mr Swinney.
Ahead of Mrs May’s visit, First Minister’s Questions also saw Ms Sturgeon warn the UK government against using Brexit to “undermine” the devolution settlement with a cash and power grab.
She claimed the Westminster Government has no intention of giving new powers to the Scottish Parliament and accused it of trying to “muscle in” on the ones Holyrood already has. Her comments were in response to remarks made by Ms Davidson in which she suggested there needed to be a “mature” discussion about where powers to be repatriated from Brussels best lie.
On the BBC, Mrs May pledged that no powers would be taken from Holyrood and more could come after Brexit.
She added: “What we are talking to all of the devolved administrations about is when we bring powers back from Brussels, what should stay at a UK level and what should be further devolved.”
Mrs May also maintained it was wrong to suggest she favoured a hard Brexit saying she wanted a deal that was right for all parts of the UK.
Last night Ms Sturgeon said: “If the Prime Minister thinks she can come to Scotland and sermonise about where power should lie, in the manner of one of her Tory predecessors, she should remember this: her government has no mandate in Scotland, and no democratic basis to take us out of Europe and the single market against our will.”
Ms Sturgeon also accused Mrs May of failing to take her proposals for a separate Scottish Brexit deal seriously.
“The Scottish Government’s approach since the EU referendum has been to offer compromise and to seek consensus at every turn – in return the UK government’s has so far been one of obstinacy and intransigence,” she said. “We have spoken the language of consensus and co-operation, theirs has been the language of Westminster diktat. Where we have offered compromise, we have been met by a brick wall of Tory intransigence.
“The Prime Minister spoke last July of not triggering Article 50 until there was “a UK approach and objectives – but has subsequently proceeded towards the triggering by signalling a hard Brexit outside the single market without any agreement or significant consultation with Scotland or the other devolved governments.”