FMQs: MSP claims youths had more opportunities under Thatcher than SNP

Nicola Sturgeon has been told that people growing up in the Margaret Thatcher era had more opportunities than children growing up under her 'negligent' Scottish Government.

The claim was made at a stormy First Minister’s Questions that saw the SNP leader’s political opponents claim that her bid to re-ignite Scottish independence had led to failures in education and health.

Ms Sturgeon’s record on key public services came under fire at First Minister’s Questions held on the eve of the SNP publishing its latest blueprint for independence.

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Hours before the SNP’s Growth Commission publishes its long-awaited document, Labour MSP Jenny Marra raised the spectre of Mrs Thatcher when she tackled Ms Sturgeon on Dundee City Council’s decision to scrap swimming lessons for primary pupils.

Nicola Sturgeon under fire on education and health
Nicola Sturgeon under fire on education and health

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Ms Marra said: What is the First Minister going to do about the ridiculous policy of cutting swimming on top of PE teachers and music teachers in schools? Because the reality is that you and I, First Minister, had more opportunities under Thatcher than school children in Scotland have under your negligent government.”

Ms Sturgeon replied by suggesting Ms Marra was confirming “Labour admiration for Margaret Thatcher” and added that she had received assurances from the local authority that there were no cuts to funding for swimming lessons.

Earlier Conservative leader Ruth Davidson had asked Ms Sturgeon how “spending months debating independence” would not help Scotland’s education system.

Ms Davidson claimed only four out of 91 early year classes (primaries one to three) in Ms Sturgeon’s Glasgow Southside constituency met the government’s target of having no more than 18 pupils.

“Out of 91 early years classes in her own Southside constituency the latest figures show just four were small enough to meet the promise the SNP made a decade ago,” the Tory leader said. “That’s four out of 91. Promises they made to get elected are abandoned as soon as they become inconvenient, but there is one thing that they are never willing to put aside. Because tomorrow the First Minister is going to launch yet another blueprint for independence, dragging this country back to the debates of the past. She has repeatedly claimed that education is her number one priority and so it should be. But the facts show different with her it is independence first and everything else a long way behind that the country is asking why won’t she give it a rest. “

She also claimed that the number of children taking STEM subjects had not increased since the last independence referendum in 2014.

Ms Davidson said: “In biology, physics, chemistry and maths – not only are there fewer pupils taking Highers there are fewer pupils getting Highers than back in 2014. And it is a mystery to me how spending months restarting the debate about independence is going to do anything to improve that.”

Ms Sturgeon responded by saying STEM targets and qualifications had gone up.

The First Minister said: “In 2017/18 we increased student intake targets for the STEM subjects for six years in a row. And let’s look at STEM qualifications. STEM qualifications at school have gone up from 2007 to 2017 by 9.6 per cent. That includes all sciences, biology, human biology, chemistry, physics, geology environmental science. That is the reality.

“In terms of primary school education, we are determined not just to improve standards in our schools but to closing the attainment gap in our schools. That’s why the attainment fund, the pupil equity fund is transforming primary education across our education system.”

Labour leader Richard Leonard claimed there had been a 234 per cent increase in patients failed under the Treatment Time Guarantee since Ms Sturgeon became First Minister.

Mr Leonard said: “More than 54,000 people waited longer than the 12 week guarantee in 2017. That’s a 234 per cent increase since Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister.

At the same time, Mr Leonard claimed the number of patients being seen had decreased.

“There were 28,000 fewer patients seen in 2017 compared with 2015, yet more people waited longer,” the Labour leader said. “So let’s just recap. The SNP promised that people would be treated within twelve weeks. In Nicola Sturgeon’s first year as First Minister that promise was broken to one patient in every twenty. Last year it was broken to one patient in five.

“This is the fifth time in six weeks that I have raised the problems in our NHS with the First Minister. There are serious problems right across the health service, and they are growing. That’s what the people of Scotland want the government to be focused on. Not another referendum. Not more division. When will the First Minister finally realise people want her to put the NHS before the SNP?”

Ms Sturgeon said more than one and a half patients had been treated more quickly as a result of the treatment time guarantee.

She said record numbers of staff were employed by the NHS and the Scottish Government invested more per head of population in the NHS than elsewhere in the UK.