Race for Holyrood: Your daily election briefing for Tuesday, April 13

A light-hearted look at the election campaign trail.

Soapbox

@murdo_fraser: "Nicola Sturgeon asked to be judged on education and last-minute SNP gimmicks can't hide the problems in our schools.”

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Scottish Tories MSP Murdo Fraser was tweeting to promote his column in The Scotsman after the SNP pledged to scrap charges for practical lessons in schools and help for poorer children with the cost of class trips.

At the moment charges can be imposed in subjects such as art and design, music, home economics, hospitality and technology, with pupils either being expected to pay a fee for materials or to provide their own.

A future SNP Government would also exempt youngsters from less well-off families from the costs of school trips, while grants for uniforms would be increased from the current £100 minimum to £120 for primary school and £150 for secondary school.

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Do you have a good caption for this photo of Anas Sarwar? Let us know in the comments.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar during a photocall in Edinburgh, for the launch of the party's advertising van campaign for the Scottish Parliamentary election.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar during a photocall in Edinburgh, for the launch of the party's advertising van campaign for the Scottish Parliamentary election.

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On Friday, before news of Prince Philip’s death broke, the SNP pledged to “decarbonise” Scotland’s transport sector with a £120 million investment in new zero-emission buses – and a further £500m spend on improving bus infrastructure to tackle congestion.

The party also promised a 20 per cent cut in car use across Scotland by 2030, and to make the country’s rail system carbon neutral by 2035 – in part by taking ScotRail into public ownership next year.

But readers could be forgiven for feeling a strange sense of déjà vu, since ScotRail’s nationalisation was unveiled last month, and the funding for zero-emission buses is already party of the Scottish Government’s 2021/22 budget.

The pledge to decarbonise the railways is from Transport Scotland’s action plan – published in July last year – while the pledge to cut car use by a fifth was first voiced by officials in December 2020.

Meanwhile the half-a-billion pounds for bus infrastructure was heralded in the Programme for Government – in 2019.

Campaign Trail

•The predicted cost of holding the Holyrood election is expected to skyrocket this year, from £14 million in 2016 to around £35m in 2021 – at least in part because of pencils. Officials have ditched the idea of using the traditional pencil-on-a-string in voting booths across Scotland next month, over fears their repeated usage might contribute to the spread of Covid-19.

Instead the Scottish Government has bought millions of “single use” pencils for voters to mark their ballots with – and either bin or keep as a souvenir afterwards.

•Last week the Alba Party claimed the latest defector to its camp was none other than Robert The Bruce himself. In fact, it was Scottish actor Angus MacFadyen, who portrayed the legendary king in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, that had pledged his support. But when Mr MacFadyen reprised the role in a new Alba Party campaign video, critics labelled it “cringeworthy” and “embarrassing”. Defending the video, Alex Salmond warned: “People who decry a nation's history will never address a nation's future.”

•STV bosses will be praying Tuesday’s live leaders debate goes more smoothly than the one run by the BBC, which suffered from editing glitches that caused cameras to zoom in on one candidate while another was speaking, and saw several party leaders initially introduced as “Anas Sarwar”. The real Anas Sarwar, widely thought to have dominated the BBC event, will hope he can make a big impression with voters once again – while Douglas Ross might be planning to keep a low profile this time around after an unsteady performance two weeks ago.

Battleground

Cowdenbeath

•Winning party (2016):SNP

•Second place (2016):

•Swing to lose: 5.11%

Formerly part of the Dunfermline East constituency, which Scottish Labour consistently held before it was abolished in 2011, Cowdenbeath is currently in the hands of the SNP’s Annabelle Ewing.

The old mining town has never been particularly fertile ground for the Scottish Conservatives and is likely to be a two-horse race between Ms Ewing, who sits on a majority of around 3,000, and Labour’s Alex Rowley, who lost the seat in 2016.

A strong election result for Labour could start in seats like Cowdenbeath, which the party will be eager to see return to its fold, but the SNP will take heart from their increasingly strong performance in polling of constituency votes.

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