Labour claims John Swinney 'at the heart of every SNP failure for past 17 years'

John Swinney and Kate Forbes speak to the media after FMQs in Holyrood
John Swinney and Kate Forbes speak to the media after FMQs in Holyrood -Credit:Lesley Martin / PA

John Swinney has been accused by Scottish Labour of being "at the heart of every SNP failure of the last 17 years" as his long record in Government was scrutinised today.

The newly installed First Minister faced repeated questions on whether he will stick to a pledge he made as Education Secretary in 2021 to increase the number of teachers in classrooms by 3,500 by the time of the next Holyrood election.

The number of teaching roles has dropped over the last two years as local authorities struggle to make ends meet after real-terms budget cuts and sky-high inflation.

Glasgow City Council, the largest in the country, has previously warned it will be forced to cut 172 positions from its education budget this year - with a further 450 roles at risk over the next three years.

Appearing at his first session of First Minister's Questions since taking on the top job, Swinney was asked by Anas Sarwar if he would now "step in and save jobs".

The Scottish Labour leader told MSPs: "John Swinney bears responsibility for the broken finances in our councils and the decimation of our education system.

"So don't give us the warm words, don't try and explain away the record, tell the pupils, their parents and their teachers - what are you going to do to protect their education?"

Swinney responded it was "very important to have an open discussion about the choices that face public authorities".

The First Minister went on to blame Scottish Labour for failing to resolve a long-standing dispute over equal pay for council staff when it was in charge of Glasgow City Council.

He told MSPs: "It's something the Labour party should be utterly ashamed of.

"I understand the challenges that face Glasgow City Council. That's why I will engage constructively with them, and with Cosla, when I meet with them on Friday."

Sarwar went on to accuse Swinney of having "no answer for parents, pupils and teachers".

He added: "Let's look at John Swinney's record. as Finance Secretary, he broke local finances and slashed the budget for local services.

"As Education Secretary, he abandoned teachers, standards declined, the attainment gap widened, Scotland fell in the international league tables, and shamefully he downgraded the results of working class children during the pandemic.

"Now, as First Minister, he is trapped by the past defending his own record while Scotland's children pay the price.

"Scotland once had an education system that was the envy of the world - and I believe that we can get there again. But continuity won't cut it.

"To give our young people the education and opportunities they deserve, and to unlock the huge potential of our nation, Scotland needs fresh leadership, new ideas and change.

"So after being at the heart of every single SNP failure for the past 17 years, why does John Swinney think Scotland should accept more of the same?"

Swinney responded: "I've got good news for Anas Sarwar. The fresh leadership has just arrived."

As opposition MSPs laughed and SNP members applauded, he added: "I am right here to deliver it."

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