The Scottish Government is pursuing the most ambitious set of policies since Holyrood was established nearly 20 years ago, John Swinney has claimed.
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister contrasted the “vision and leadership” of Nicola Sturgeon with the “chaos” that he said was engulfing the Conservatives and Labour - with Theresa May’s position as Prime Minister questioned by some within her party, and with Scottish Labour in a “stairheed rammy” of a leadership contest.
Mr Swinney said: “There is chaos on the left. And chaos on the right.
“And through it all, the SNP Government stands firm.
“A beacon of progressive, effective government, delivering for all of the people of Scotland.”
Speaking as the SNP conference in Glasgow got under way, the Deputy First Minister hailed Ms Sturgeon’s legislative programme for the coming year as being “easily the most ambitious programme of any government since devolution”.
Heaping praise on the First Minister, he said: “Take a look across the political landscape. The Tory leadership is in turmoil. The Labour leadership are at each other’s throats.
“Only here in Scotland; only Nicola Sturgeon, is providing the vision and leadership we need in these turbulent times and we thank her for it.”
While the SNP, which has been in power at Holyrood for 10 years, has come under fire over falling figures on literacy and numeracy in schools, Mr Swinney - who is also the Education Secretary - insisted the system was fundamentally strong.
He said: “We will have no truck with the deliberate misrepresentation of Scottish education put forward by our opponents.”
Mr Swinney said ministers had “made a strong start down the road to improving our schools” but conceded that there is a shortage of teachers in some areas and subjects.
To help address that, he announced a £20,000 bursary to help people working in business and other areas retrain to teach in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.
These subjects are “crucial, not just to the education of our children but the future of our economy,” Mr Swinney said.
The bursaries will be paid from the start of academic year 2018-19, and will be available for those training to teach maths, computing science, physics and technical education - although the Scottish Government has said these will be reviewed each year according to need.
Mr Swinney told the conference: “We need to recruit more teachers in these subjects. And to do that, we need to reach beyond recent graduates and attract people who have the appropriate subject degree but are working in business or industry.
“These career-changers still need to go through initial teacher education - we will never compromise on quality - but we can make it easier for them to make that career change.
“We understand that giving up a salary for a year while they do their teacher training is a real barrier for them.
“I can therefore announce today that from next year we will offer bursaries of £20,000 per person to help these career changers make that change into teaching.”
Scottish Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: “Hardly a day goes by now without the SNP U-turning and giving into Labour demands.
“Scotland’s schools are blighted with a teaching shortage, with 4,000 fewer teachers since the SNP came to power, and urgent action is needed.
“We welcome John Swinney adopting one of the policies from our 10-point plan for Scotland’s schools, and look forward to him seeing the sense of the other nine too.”