John Swinney 'must be replaced' as education secretary due to 'litany of failures', Scottish Labour demand

Nicola Sturgeon must appoint a fresh education secretary due to John Swinney’s “litany of failures” while holding the job, Scottish Labour has said.

The demand comes as the SNP leader is set to announce her new Cabinet for the next five years this week after she is formally elected by the Scottish Parliament as First Minister on Tuesday.

Several high-profile jobs are available in the Cabinet following the retirement of Michael Russell, the former constitution secretary, and Jeane Freeman, the former health secretary.

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Roseanna Cunningham, another SNP veteran, also vacated her position as Cabinet secretary for the environment, with Aileen Campbell also stepping away from politics, leaving her position as Cabinet secretary for communities and local government available.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney may not be education secretary for much longer.Deputy First Minister John Swinney may not be education secretary for much longer.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney may not be education secretary for much longer.

However, there is speculation the deputy first minister’s time as education secretary – a job he has held since the 2016 election – is coming to an end after a year of controversy during the pandemic.

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Ahead of the formal announcement of the SNP Cabinet, Scottish Labour called for Mr Swinney to be replaced in the education role due to a failure to close the education gap and the exam results scandal in 2020.

The party’s education spokesperson Michael Marra said: “In five years as education secretary John Swinney has accrued a litany of failures to his name.

“Time and time again, he has failed to meet the challenge posed by the pandemic and has now led the pupils of Scotland into yet another exams crisis.

“But John Swinney’s failings began before the pandemic. Educational standards have fallen on his watch and the scandal that is the attainment gap has persisted stubbornly."

Mr Marra said the impending scandal around the 2021 exams, alongside the other failures, means the education secretary has “lost the confidence” of teaching staff and “cannot be the person” to lead Scotland’s education policy.

He said: "In Parliament last week the education secretary had the chance to acknowledge the latest exams crisis, which is causing misery and anxiety across the country. Instead he chose to dig in by insisting that the exams being sat in exam halls across Scotland are not exams at all.

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"Crucially John Swinney has lost the confidence of staff across all parts of the sector. He cannot be the person to turn the situation around and the First Minister should act now. We can only hope a new minister can stop the rot.“The First Minister said that improving education in Scotland was her ‘defining mission’. If she wants to avoid another five years of drift and decline, then she must appoint a fresh education secretary.”

High-profile additions to the SNP benches during the election mean there could be a major reshuffle on the cards for Nicola Sturgeon.

Speculation around the future of finance secretary Kate Forbes and a potential move into the health brief continues, while former SNP leader in Westminster Angus Robertson will be a likely choice for a Cabinet position, potentially with the constitution brief.

Shona Robison, a former health secretary, could also be set for a return to the Cabinet as Ms Sturgeon searches for ministerial experience within the SNP ranks, with Mr Swinney potentially moving back into the finance role he held for nine years between 2007 and 2016.

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