Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of “abuse of power” for encouraging head teachers to send 16- and 17-year-old pupils to a “political rally” on the eve of the Holyrood election campaign.
A Scottish Government official wrote to education bosses asking them to get pupils – “ideally a boy and a girl” – from each school to an “Ask the First Minister” event in Edinburgh next Monday.
Labour accused Ms Sturgeon of ”pure politicking” by attempting to use civil service resources at what is billed as an educational event to make an SNP pitch to young Scots, who will be eligible to vote for the first time following a change in the law.
The session is being staged just days before rules come into place forbidding ministers from using their official roles to promote their party.
The letter promoting a speech from Ms Sturgeon followed by a question and answer session at Edinburgh Corn Exchange was sent by Rachel Sunderland, head of the people and leadership unit at the Scottish Government’s learning directorate.
Sent to “all directors of education” in Scotland and copied in to head teachers, it stated: “This will be a fantastic opportunity for young people to hear directly from the First Minister and to ask her questions.
“The event will be for young people aged 16-17. In the main we would anticipate two pupils from each school, ideally a boy and a girl.”
The civil servant tells education chiefs and head teachers that the government is “keen to encourage as many young people to attend as possible” to come to the session with Ms Sturgeon.”
The Scottish Government will go into the pre-election “purdah” period from midnight after Wednesday, 23 March, the day when the current parliament dissolves. From then on, no policy decisions can be taken before the election result is known.
However, a Scottish Labour spokesman suggested that Ms Sturgeon’s event would give the First Minister’s party an unfair electoral advantage in appealing to young voters.
The Labour spokesman said: “Nicola Sturgeon seems to think the normal election rules don’t apply to her.”
Willie Young, Aberdeen City Council’s convener of finance, policy and resources, said that sending the letter was effectively asking head teachers to send young voters to a political rally with Ms Sturgeon.
Mr Young, a member’s of Scottish Labour’s ruling national executive, said: “It’s using public money for a political rally.
“Many people will just see it as a rally to promote Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP at the forthcoming election.
“It’s shameful that they are using the civil service for political ends.
“Using official resources to ask 16 and 17 year olds to hear a speech from the First Minister, when Nicola Sturgeon knows that age group is voting for the first time is an abuse of power.”
However, the Scottish Government defended the session, stating: “The Ask the FM event is an opportunity for young people to engage with the First Minister in a question and answer session in association with youth organisation YoungScot, and is similar to other such events we have previously held.”