As SNP's chief bungler John Swinney moves from education to Covid recovery, will nationalists continue to ignore child poverty scandal? – Ian Murray MP

So, farewell to Education Secretary John Swinney.

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 4:55 am
Almost a quarter of children in Scotland are living in relative poverty

Having completely messed up what was supposed to be the SNP’s ‘defining mission’ – closing the education attainment gap – he’s off to pastures new.

What next for the party’s bungler-in-chief? Just the small matter of leading the government’s Covid recovery.

It hardly inspires confidence.

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Having let down a generation of young people, let’s hope he doesn’t now let down an entire generation of Scots as we battle to recover from Covid.

Among John Swinney’s disasters are the failures to close the attainment gap, to maintain Scotland’s educational ranking as outlined in the international comparisons, and to manage the impact of the pandemic fairly for pupils, teachers and parents.

His successor Shirley Anne-Somerville must now also grapple with the “exams” system for 2021, which has fallen apart.

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The SNP has caused so much anxiety for youngsters by bizarrely insisting the exams being sat in exam halls across Scotland are not exams at all. I’m sure this debacle will be a future test paper: when is an assessment not an exam?

Mr Swinney lost the confidence of teachers, parents and pupils, so Ms Somerville has a massive task ahead of her and I wish her well in her endeavours to save the futures of our younger generation hit so hard by Covid.

What matters now is that the government really does focus on what it claims publicly is its new ‘defining mission’ and doesn’t prioritise its real mission: another referendum. Because the challenges ahead couldn’t be starker.

A landmark report into the performance of Scotland’s education system published earlier this year revealed how the SNP has failed in its previous defining mission to close the educational attainment gap.

Poverty lies at the heart of this, and child poverty was rising sharply in Britain even before the Covid-19 pandemic began.

Between 2014/15 and 2019/20 an additional 408,000 children were growing up in poverty in the UK, and here in Scotland almost a quarter of children are living in relative poverty, 50 per cent in the FM’s own constituency. That’s nothing short of a scandal.

Scotland’s poorest children are being failed by two governments.

As the new Scottish Parliament gets underway, we need a revision of the Scottish government’s child poverty strategy to recognise the shockingly steep rise in child poverty and what is to be done about it.

We cannot lose another generation to child poverty.

Keir Starmer gets this, which is why he has appointed a Shadow Secretary of State for Child Poverty, creating a post dedicated to addressing this vital issue.

Contrast that with Nicola Sturgeon’s Cabinet, where the constitution is considered the top post.

I’m sure the new postholder, fellow columnist Angus Robertson, will have plenty to say in these pages about why the constitution is so important, and why he makes the ludicrous claim that Scotland can only recover from this pandemic with separation.

I suspect he’ll have a lot less to say about tackling child poverty and the attainment gap.

So in the Labour Party we’ll keep on standing up for children in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the UK, and work to ensure Britain is the best possible place for all children.

That has to be our collective defining mission.

Ian Murray is Labour MP for Edinburgh South

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