FMQs: Battle Of Words Over Education and Brexit
This morning’s FMQs began with Ruth Davidson and Nicola Sturgeon quoting different sections of the Fraser of Allander Institute’s Economic Commentary at one another, with the Conservative leader seizing on Scotland’s myriad of advisory groups and strategy boards as a main factor behind Scotland’s lower than expected growth (despite the report itself drawing the conclusion that the currently sluggish state of the Scottish construction industry is to blame).
Unsurprisingly, the First Minister brought up Brexit as constituting a far greater danger to the Scottish economy than any diversification of policy and advisory bodies, making a full throated attack on Vote Leave, and also the Prime Minister’s office for the outing of the whistleblower, Shahmir Sanni, after his claims that £625,000 was funnelled by Vote Leave into the nominally independent ‘BeLeave’ group, but that this money was still controlled and spent by Vote Leave, in gross violation of the rules around referendum spending.
Interestingly however, despite calling on the UK government to abandon their policy of a ‘Hard Brexit’, Nicola Sturgeon refused to fully respond to the Scottish Green Party’s leader, Patrick Harvie, who had sought to clarify what the Scottish National Party’s position on Scotland rejoining the European Union after Brexit would be, presumably after an independence referendum. Although this reflects that a third of SNP supporters in 2016 voted for Brexit, it is unlikely to appeal to party faithful who still see the Brexit vote as a valid reason to call for another referendum.
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour’s Richard Leonard brought up the frustration of Scotland’s teachers at the derisory pay offer they had received during negotiations between the teaching unions, local authorities and the Scottish government. Teacher’s Unions have rejected the offer of a 2/3% increase as falling ‘far short’ of the 10% increase that the Trade Unions had submitted in their pay claim.
Attacking the SNP for failing to keep to their promises of prioritising education, the Labour leader said: “Under the SNP government teachers have seen the value of their pay fall by 25 per cent.
“Scotland’s teachers have gone from being amongst the best paid teachers in the developed world to being amongst the worst.
“They have seen 3,500 of their colleagues disappear from the classroom. They are now teaching some of the biggest classes in the western world.
“We cannot close the attainment gap between the richest and poorest children in our schools with underpaid and overworked teachers.
“The only thing which can stop our schools facing industrial action and our children’s education facing disruption is the Scottish Government finally paying teachers what they are worth.”
The First minister responded that her government did value Scotland’s teachers, before pivoting to attack Welsh Labour and the UK wide government, something that is unlikely to be much solace to those teachers in Scotland who are worried about having to carry out strike action to defend their working conditions and pay.
Overall as expected, Brexit proved to the main issue this week, although neither the Scottish Nationalists nor the Scottish Tories are particularly keen to wade into the detail of how it will impact Scotland. Despite Sturgeon’s attempt to portray Richard Leonard as a ‘hard brexiteer’, at present Scottish Labour’s policy of remaining within ‘a customs union’ is in line with a Scottish government report released in January which stated that:
“Whilst the UK could not remain within the EU Customs Union as this it would require to be a member state, we would advocate the creation of a UK/EU Customs Union which replicates the terms we currently enjoy as a member of the EU Customs Union”.