End the division: Let's focus on what we can do - Ian Murray

It’s hard to keep track of what Nicola Sturgeon’s latest ‘national mission’ is. In the last Parliament, she claimed it was education and closing the attainment gap. She failed.

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 7:00 am
The fact that 26 per cent of children are living in relative poverty is a statistic that should shame us, says Ian Murray

The SNP failed to keep its promises, with Scotland’s once-proud education system tumbling down the international tables. It is now behind England for the first time ever.

The response has been to remove us from international comparisons, rather than actually focus on the problem.

In recent days, the SNP leader said child poverty is now her ‘national mission’.

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She seems to live in some parallel universe where her party hasn’t been in power for 14 years and could have done something about it.

The previous Labour government lifted hundreds of thousands of Scottish children out of poverty. That has since been reversed.

The fact that 26 per cent of children are living in relative poverty is a statistic that should shame us all - 50 per cent in the First Minister’s own constituency.

The sad reality is that Covid will have made the situation even worse.

Labour has been offering a raft of solutions to this for years, including using Holyrood’s new powers to double the Scottish Child Payment.

The SNP could have announced this at any time.

Instead, it decided to wait until the election to make the promise.

A child’s opportunities in life shouldn’t have to wait until an election is called. Powers that lie at the Scottish Parliament should not go unused until votes need to be garnered.

The reality is that we all know what Nicola Sturgeon’s defining mission is.

It’s dividing the people of Scotland again.

In this week’s TV debate, leaders had just 45 seconds to put their opening pitch to the public.

The First Minister managed to squeeze independence into that.

As Labour leader Anas Sarwar said, it’s her ‘blind spot’. Using the last few days of parliamentary time for another referendum bill rather than dealing with child poverty.

And as he told the BBC audience, “just imagine if all that energy she puts into the constitutional debate had been put into tackling child poverty. Or closing the attainment gap.”

We must focus on what Scotland can do – not what it can’t.

So far in this campaign, the SNP and Tories have been united in talking about Scotland can’t do, or what it shouldn’t do.

Only Anas Sarwar is talking about what we can do.

He has already published an education vision with a ‘personal comeback plan’ for every pupil in Scotland, a resit guarantee of a free place at college to take national qualifications, and a ‘summer comeback’ programme to ensure children can enjoy themselves in the coming months.

And he has published a recovery plan for our NHS. Driven by the needs of all those who have missed diagnosis and treatments due to Covid. We shouldn’t be sending recurring cancer patients to London for treatment.

The plan includes a catch-up plan for cancer screenings by increasing staff and processing capacity to clear the backlog of appointments, as there are 7,000 missing cancer diagnoses as a result of Covid.

We also propose investing in mental health services to improve support, end rejected referrals, and support good mental health in the workplace.

Let’s concentrate on what we can do – national covid recovery.