A Scottish MP widely tipped to become the next UK leader of the Liberal Democrats has faced a backlash from the SNP over comments she made on inequalities in Scottish education.
Jo Swinson used an appearance on the BBC's flagship political debate show to claim that just four per cent of children growing up in Govan were going on to university.
The MP for East Dunbartonshire, speaking on Question Time, pointed to the disparity in outcomes between young people growing up in more affluent suburbs in Scotland and poorer inner city areas.
But education secretary John Swinney today accused Ms Swinson of aiming an "appalling insult to the pupils and staff at at schools in the Govan area who are achieving so much".
Glasgow City Council’s director of education, Maureen McKenna, said the most recently available figures showed that 13 per cent of pupils leaving Govan High School went on to university, while 24 per cent went on to higher education.
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Speaking on Question Time last night, the Lib Dem leadership hopeful said: “I represent a very middle class, affluent constituency and in one of the towns 80 per cent of young children go on to university.
“Five or six miles down the road in Glasgow Govan it’s four per cent. Now that’s not because of tuition fees, because we don’t have them in Scotland, that’s because of the lack of investment, or aspiration of young people that don’t even grow up thinking that’s an option for them. That’s where we need to focus that early years intervention if we really want to tackle inequality.”
Chris Stephens, SNP MP for the Glasgow South West constituency, which includes Govan, said: “Jo Swinson must issue a full retraction for using fake figures to make false and patronising claims about children in Glasgow.
“It’s no wonder that the Liberal Democrats have such a bad reputation for misleading people, when their deputy leader is willing to make bogus claims on national television to deflect from her own appalling record propping up the Tories in government.”
But Swinson stood by her claim today, pointing out that the four per cent figure came from the most recent Scottish Index on Multiple Deprivation data, published in 2016, which found the proportion of 17-21 year olds entering into full time higher education in Govan and Linthouse ranged between zero and four per cent.
She said: “It is a fact that many more young people in Bearsden go to university than go from Govan. The Scottish Government’s own statistics bear that out. Closing the attainment gap is supposed to be the SNP’s priority. They should be ashamed.
“Barriers in the system are preventing young people from having equal opportunities in life, regardless of their postcode.
“This journey starts with early education and it is the best investment government can make to transform a child’s life chances.”