Free school meals is a moral issue that should unite Scotland's politicians and, temporarily, suspend football rivalries – Scotsman comment
“I have seen myself the difference that providing free meals can make. I just want to make sure no-one falls through the cracks and by giving this to all primary school pupils we can make sure the offer is there for everyone.”
The words of Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard or Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford? No, instead this was Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross in September as he announced his plan to introduce free school meals, both breakfast and lunch, for primary school children if his party is elected in May.
So it was no surprise that political rivals condemned Ross for not voting against his own party in Westminster on a Labour amendment to continue free school meals over the winter in England, with the SNP’s Neil Gray saying Ross had proved his party were “total hypocrites”. In response, the Conservatives pointed out this was an England-only measure.
Of course, devolution is designed to allow Scotland to make its own choices and, earlier this week, the Scottish government announced a £10 million scheme to extend free school meal provision into the Christmas, February and Easter holidays. Given what appears to be a political consensus north of the Border, there is hope that this policy will continue.
Meanwhile in England, local councils and businesses with a sense of community are stepping in to fill the breach left by Boris Johnson and co, offering to fund free school meals. Rashford, recently awarded an MBE after forcing a government U-turn on free school meal vouchers over the summer, said he was "blown away" by the support from pubs, cafes and restaurants – among the businesses suffering most in the Covid crisis. “Selflessness, kindness, togetherness, this is the England I know,” he said.
Public funds are not a bottomless pit but, when it comes to ranking our priorities, ensuring innocent children get enough food has to be close to the top, for their own sake and the future of the country.
Rashford may be an England striker, but given his admirable stance on this most important moral issue, if he ever plays in front of the Tartan Army, they might very well sing his praises. And we all should, for he has changed politics for the better both north and south of the Border.
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