Scotland politics

Tories 'obsessed' with constitution - FM

Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon and Ruth Davidson clashed over the SNP's record on education over the past decade

Nicola Sturgeon has accused the Conservatives of having a "constitutional obsession" ahead of the forthcoming elections.

Ms Sturgeon was speaking as Tory leader Ruth Davidson accused her of presiding over 10 years of failure on education.

Labour leader Kezia Dugdale later said Ms Sturgeon had used "Tory arguments" to justify not increasing taxes for high earners.

The exchanges came at first minister's questions in the Scottish Parliament.

The session was held on Wednesday in order to avoid clashing with Thursday's council elections.

It also fell on the 10th anniversary of the 2007 Scottish Parliament election, which saw the SNP win a historic first term in office after finishing one seat ahead of Labour.

Image caption The SNP under Alex Salmond became the largest party in the Scottish Parliament after the election on 3 May 2007 - and have remained in power ever since

The session saw Ms Davidson press the first minister on falling teacher numbers and a decline in numeracy and science, which she said meant "our schools can no longer be classed as world-leading".

She asked the first minister: "Tomorrow we elect the councillors whose job will be to support our schools on the ground and the SNP says education is their top priority, but doesn't their 10 years of failure tell an entirely different story?"

The Conservative leader highlighted a fall in the number of P4 and P7 children doing well at numeracy between 2011 and 2015, and a "pronounced and sustained" decline in how well pupils are doing at science under the SNP.

Ms Davidson also accused the Scottish government of having "delayed and delayed again" its response to a review of school governance ordered by Education Secretary John Swinney.

She added: "Jam tomorrow just doesn't cut it because with this SNP government it's not just one statistic or two or three, it is a 10-year record of failure."

Ms Sturgeon responded by holding up a Conservative election leaflet, which she said had been put through her letterbox.

The first minister said: "This leaflet mentions me, or the SNP, or independence, a grand total of 43 times.

"It mentions Ruth Davidson or the Tories just nine times, one of those is her signature. It mentions her policies on education zero times.

"In this election, they haven't put forward a single policy on our schools, on social care, on roads, on transport, on anything. They have a constitutional obsession."

Image caption Patrick Harvie and Kezia Dugdale both repeated their calls for Ms Sturgeon to increase taxes

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish government would shortly announce what recommendations it was taking forward from the review of school governance.

She also predicted opposition leaders would criticise SNP ministers regardless of what changes were made.

The first minister was later questioned by Ms Dugdale over her apparent hint that the SNP will go into the general election campaigning for a 50p top rate of income tax rather than the current 45p.

Ms Dugdale said: "In 2015 the first minister said she supported a 50p top rate of tax for those earning more than £150,000 a year.

"In 2016 she changed her mind, she didn't support it when she had the power to deliver it. Now in 2017, without any sense of irony, the first minister claims to support it again.

"Does she really expect people to believe her this time around?"

'Reduction in revenue'

Ms Sturgeon responded: "In 2015, I said I supported that across the UK.

"In 2016 I said that if we only did it in Scotland without the powers, which we don't have, to tackle tax avoidance because they lie at Westminster, then the advice we had taken was that that could potentially lose revenue.

"I don't think that anybody in this chamber seriously would stand up and argue that we should put up a tax if the advice says that it would actually lead to a reduction in the revenue."

But Ms Dugdale said the SNP had voted against bringing in a 50p top rate eight times since 2015, and claimed Ms Sturgeon has "plenty of principles when she's campaigning, but nothing but a list of excuses when she's in power".

She added: "I've just heard the first minister say we shouldn't bother trying to tax the rich because they'll just find a way round it - the same argument the Tories have been making week in, week out for years."

'Life chances'

Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie urged Ms Sturgeon to increase resources for schools in order to "reverse the decline" in the number of teachers, additional support needs staff, librarians and classroom assistants.

And he said it was time to "make sure that people like the first minister and myself pay a bit more tax into the pot to produce the resources that will go into education that will make a difference in the life chances of every child in this country."

Ms Sturgeon responded: "Because of decisions we've taken, higher-rate taxpayers, which account for the top 10% of income earners in Scotland, are paying a bit more than higher-rate tax payers elsewhere.

"These are the right, balanced tax decisions that, I think, it is appropriate to take."

Speaking outside the Holyrood chamber, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie urged voters to back his party's "local champions" in the council election.

He said: "Despite the Greens and the SNP wanting to put independence back to the top of the agenda, Liberal Democrats will serve to deliver the improvements to local services that we need."