General election: Why SNP focus on independence is damaging Scotland – Ian Murray

Our NHS is at risk, our education service failing and this crisis requires resources, dedication and focus, not more nationalism and division, writes Ian Murray

Thursday, 14th November 2019, 6:00 am
The First Minister on the campaign trail with the SNP’s Edinburgh South candidate, Catriona MacDonald. Picture: AFP/Getty

NICOLA Sturgeon is campaigning on her top priority in this general election. Independence, independence, independence.

You might remember that, not so long ago, she claimed that education would be the main priority of her government. But it’s now clear that she prefers concentrating on how to divide communities, rather than improving opportunities for the next generation of Scots. This month alone, the SNP’s failings have been laid bare.

Education expert Professor Jim Scott published a report into the Scottish Government’s implementation of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), which raises huge questions over educational attainment and the future of Scotland’s young people. The report showed a substantial drop in overall attainment, as well as a sharp rise in levels of zero attainment. This is what happens when you don’t listen to warnings from hardworking teachers.

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The SNP needs to realise these figures are not mere statistics but the future workers of Scotland. Our teachers, doctors and nurses of tomorrow. There is no greater investment a society can make than one which improves the life chances of our children and young people.

Nicola Sturgeon must provide Edinburgh Council and other local authorities with the funding to help raise attainment and urgently address the teacher recruitment and workload crisis. Her Education Secretary John Swinney is simply detached from the problems faced in real schools by real teachers, real pupils and real parents.

Exam appeal fees

There was more evidence of the SNP’s poor decision-making this week when the gulf in exam appeal rates between independent and state schools was revealed.

Exam appeals costs were met centrally in Scotland until 2014 and rates of appeal were similar in state and independent sector schools.

However, the SNP then introduced a fee if an appeal, or an exam “review”, is carried out but no change is made to the grade awarded. Charges now fall on already-stretched school budgets. This has inevitably acted as a disincentive to many state schools – with pupils paying the price.

Education is devolved, and the SNP will argue that education is not relevant in next month’s UK general election, despite some of their highest profile candidates saying otherwise.

But it’s not as simple as that.

The First Minister has chosen to make this election all about her demand for a divisive and unwanted second independence referendum.

If she got her way, that would dominate our political discourse and take up parliamentary time and civil service focus even more than it already does. Look at how Brexit has paralysed the UK Parliament.

And it would come at the expense of her Government’s day job – the devolved education and health services. Make no mistake: education is on the ballot paper on December 12, and Nicola Sturgeon should be sent a reminder that it must be prioritised over constitutional division.

Sturgeon should apologise

So too is the future of our health service at stake in this election: both across the UK, where Labour is fighting any attempt by Boris Johnson to include the NHS in his Brexit trade deal; and in Scotland where the SNP has failed patients and staff.

Nowhere is that more obvious than in Edinburgh, where the new Royal Hospital for Children and Young People still can’t open its doors.

Earlier this week, the First Minister visited the constituency I have been proud to represent for nine years and hope to continue representing – just a stone’s throw from the site of the new hospital.

She should have taken that opportunity to apologise to local people for the way her Government has let down patients and parents. The apology should also have included the neglect she has presided over in local services and the debacle of uncontrolled development in the south of Edinburgh.

Our NHS is at risk and our education service is failing. Fixing this crisis will require more resources, greater dedication and renewed focus. It certainly won’t be solved with more nationalism and division.

Ian Murray is the Labour candidate for Edinburgh South