Scottish independence: Nicola Sturgeon is failing on education because of her Scexit ambition – Susan Dalgety

A few months after becoming First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon chose Wester Hailes Education Centre to make a solemn promise to those young Scots lagging behind in their education.
On becoming First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon asked to be judged on her track record on education (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)On becoming First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon asked to be judged on her track record on education (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)
On becoming First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon asked to be judged on her track record on education (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)

She pulled no punches. “My priority for my time as First Minister – and let me be clear I want to be judged on this – is that every young person should have the same advantage that I had when I was growing up in Ayrshire. They should know that if they have the talent and work hard enough, they will be able to fulfil their potential.”

Seven years later, it’s time to mark Sturgeon’s report card. And she has a big fat F for fail. Figures out last week show that the education gap between rich and poor pupils has barely changed. Literacy among S3 pupils from poorer areas has fallen to its lowest level in six years. And more than half the children from Scotland’s poorest areas leave school without a Higher. Not a single one.

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“Hasn’t the First Minister failed to keep her promise to the young people of Scotland?” asked the Conservative leader Douglas Ross at the weekly First Minister’s Questions last Thursday.

It will come as no surprise to Sturgeon-watchers that she vehemently denied falling down on her pledge. The First Minister is quick to blame others, particularly Westminster, for their failings, but she never admits to making a mistake or breaking a promise.

When things go wrong, as they invariably do, she claims a big bad Tory did it then ran away, or that things won’t get better until Scotland has left the UK. It never crosses her mind to do the honourable thing and admit she might have got something wrong, whether it’s on education, ferries or the NHS.

The First Minister often points to her government’s commitment to “free” university education as proof positive that she is a champion for learning. But let’s examine what that actually means. There are, according to the government’s own figures, 180,170 Scottish students in higher education. The Scottish Government pays their annual university fees of £1,820 which means that the tax payer – not Nicola Sturgeon – forks out around £330 million a year to subsidise the university education of largely middle-class students. Young people who have already got a head start in life.

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Now, call me old fashioned, but wouldn’t that money be much better spent on the education of vulnerable youngsters, the kids who haven’t got a hope in hell of getting to university, instead of subsidising those who can well afford to pay their way? A graduate tax, paid over a lifetime, is a much fairer system. And it would free up cash to invest in closing that pesky attainment gap, the one that Nicola Sturgeon promised she would fix back in 2015.

But that would mean the First Minister could no longer make snide comparisons between England, where students pay annual tuition fees of around £9,000, and Scotland, where university education is “free”. And what is more important to her? The education of our most vulnerable children, or her political messaging around independence? I think we all know the answer to that one.