Scotland’s political parties will make a last-ditch appeal for votes today to elect 1,200 councillors across 32 local authorities, with the ballot likely to be an indicator for the general election outcome north of the Border next month. Polls are suggesting sweeping gains for the SNP, with the Conservatives likely to beat Labour into second place, in a repeat of last year’s Holyrood election.
Scotland’s main party leaders clashed at Holyrood yesterday as the SNP marked the tenth anniversary of the 2007 election win which propelled the party to power in Scotland.
The First Minister also came under fire over her failure to introduce a 50p tax rate for top earners in Scotland, while indicating she will back one across the UK.
Labour insisted this has lead to cuts of about £130 million to direct council budgets with a knock-on on pubic services.
But Ms Sturgeon also won cheers from SNP backbenchers when she accused Tory leader Ruth Davidson of having a “constitutional obsession” because the party has been campaigning on a platform of opposing a second independence referendum.
Ms Davidson went on the attack at First Minister’s Questions yesterday, insisting there was “absolutely no acknowledgement that the failures are on her watch” from Ms Sturgeon over education shortcomings.
The loss of 4,000 teachers from Scotland’s classrooms and a decline among Scots pupils in international league tables for maths, reading and science were cited.
Ms Davidson also hit out at delays to the government’s review of schools which could see the creation of new educational regions.
The Tory leader said: “Jam tomorrow just doesn’t cut it.
“With this SNP government it’s not just one statistic or two or three – it’s a ten-year record of failure.”
Scotland’s schools can no longer be classed as “world leading”, Ms Davidson said.
“Tomorrow we elect the councillors whose job will be to support our schools on the ground. The SNP says education is the top priority, but doesn’t ten years of failure tell an entirely different story?”
The First Minister has stated that education is her key priority in office and pledged to drive down the attainment gap between richer and poorer areas of the country.
She insisted that an extra £120 million of extra cash had been handed to headteachers to bring about improvements, with record passes in Highers and Advanced Highers.
The First Minister also pointed to a Tory leaflet which mentioned the SNP leader or the SNP or independence 43 times – but makes no mention of education.
She said: “In this election the Tories haven’t put forward a single policy on our schools, social care, roads, transport, on anything – they have a constitutional obsession.”
Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said the SNP has voted against introducing a 50p top rate of income tax eight times at Holyrood since 2015, despite backing such a policy UK-wide.
“We have the ridiculous situation where a Nationalist First Minister wants to tax the rich, but only if England is doing it too,” Ms Dugdale said. “Nicola Sturgeon has got plenty of principles when she’s campaigning, but nothing but excuses when she’s in power.”
The Scottish Government has said that introducing the policy in Scotland alone is likely to result in many high earners shifting their taxable income south of the Border, thus lowering the overall tax take. Holyrood’s powers do not cover tax evasion or avoidance.
Ms Sturgeon said only a UK-wide introduction of this policy would preclude such behaviour among high earners.