Nicola Sturgeon made education her priority before the last election and invited Scots to judge her on her record. In her final First Minister’s question session of this term she did it again.
“It’s not really up to me – we are about to go into an election campaign and it will be up to the Scottish people,” she said.
On May 6, that’s what many voters will do. But choices are rarely made on one issue alone. Promises were made for improvements in all areas of your daily life.
The pandemic blew a hole in everyone’s plans, not least the government’s. But there were four years to get work done off the back of a nine-year record since coming to power in 2007. Could anyone have done better in the pandemic or were expectations met?
In schools, the SNP promised to narrow the attainment gap. Education Secretary John Swinney claimed victory but also came under fire for an exams fiasco and controversial school testing proposals.
New treatment centres and record funding were pledged for the NHS. Opponents say more promises are being made before the first ones are delivered. And the SNP were forced to defend a major scandal with a delayed new children’s hospital and construction problems.
There were infrastructure improvements including promises to keep investing in lifeline ferries – two of which are still being worked on in the yard on the Clyde.
Social security powers were taken on by the SNP Government. While new benefits were created and some topped up, the full timetable slipped as the scale of the job became clear.
Thirty six pledges were highlighted in the SNP’s bumper 2016 manifesto. Here, we take a look at some of the talking points in key policy areas, and give all the main political parties their say.
Key promise: Close the attainment gap.
In a report this March, the SNP said it was making good progress tackling poverty-related inequality for children from the least and most well-off backgrounds. A week later, independent public spending watchdog Audit Scotland concluded progress has been “limited” and the gap remains “wide”.
Key promise: Expand childcare.
The promise was to almost double the amount of fully funded early years education for all three and four-year-olds and most vulnerable two-year-olds – from 16 hours a week to 30 hours a week.
It was paused because of the pandemic and won’t happen until the new target of August 2021. The SNP said 60% of eligible children were accessing the full amount and the delay was inevitable.
Key promise: Five new elective treatment centres.
They were promised for Aberdeen, Inverness, Dundee, Livingston and Edinburgh. However, the Inverness centre was hit by delays and is not expected until autumn next year. The SNP said the plan “moved with advice” and will now include six by 2024.
Key promise: A new criminal offence to tackle forms of domestic abuse.
Parliament passed a Domestic Abuse Bill in 2019 that covered coercive behaviour. Another bill on protection for victims and their children was passed in the last week of parliament. It was hailed as a milestone by support groups.
Key promise: Cut air passenger duty by half.
This was always contentious with campaigners who said it undermined climate change ambitions. Having promised the cut, pleasing the air industry, it was dropped two years later.
The SNP admitted it would be “irresponsible” to cut the tax while declaring a climate emergency. A broken promise, yes, but also a renewed commitment to cutting emissions.
Key promise: 100% superfast broadband for Scotland.
Patchy coverage has been a headache for years in rural Scotland. The government had hoped for 100% access by 2021. But that’s now not likely for years. The SNP countered that broadband investment is a Westminster responsibility.
Key promise: 50,000 new affordable houses, of which at least 35,000 are for social rent.
Auditors warned there were serious risks to meeting this target shortly before it was changed. There had been “good progress” but concerns over funding and a lack of capacity in construction and council planning.
The SNP said they were on track until the pandemic shut everything down. The party also said its record is better than the previous government.
Key promise: A new Scottish Social Security Agency.
The agency has been set up and already made changes to welfare that were welcomed by charities and support groups. Some work was hit by the pandemic. But the volume of work did lead to an unwelcome delay in 2019 with the SNP deferring responsibility of some benefits until 2024, not 2021.
Business and finance
Key promise: A people’s energy company.
Nicola Sturgeon said the government would explore a publicly owned firm to get a good deal for households. It all went very quiet despite more than £400,000 being spent on assessing a business case.
Key promise: Increase tax-free allowance to £12,570 by 2021/22.
The SNP said it was the plan back in 2016 to set the allowance by the end of the session but it was abandoned, the party blaming “unprecedented circumstances”.
What do the SNP say?
“We have transformed education, strengthened our NHS, created a new social security system with new ‘game-changing’ benefits, and built thousands of affordable homes.
“We’ve used our powers to build a fairer country, by making Scotland’s tax system more progressive – and launched the Scottish National Investment Bank to invest in our future.
“Internationally, Scotland has been recognised for our global responsibility, progressiveness and social conscience – receiving praise from the UN for our climate action, for example.
“After a decade of Westminster cuts, we’ve got on with the job of delivering the best public services anywhere in the UK.”
What do the other political parties say?
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “The SNP’s 14 years in government is a woeful record of chronic failures and a betrayal of communities across Scotland.
“Only the Scottish Conservatives have the strength and determination to put that right by depriving the SNP of a majority in May, blocking another divisive independence referendum and instead ensuring our Parliament focuses on building back from the pandemic.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “Across the board, the people of Scotland have been let down by the SNP and their obsession with division, rather than solutions for a fairer Scotland.
“It’s an insult to the public that the SNP now attempts to hide its atrocious record in office by recycling manifesto policies that they have previously promised but failed to deliver and have no plan to implement.”
‘SNP has problem with setting targets’
Scottish Greens energy and environment spokesman Mark Ruskell said: “The SNP has a bad problem with setting targets and lacking the ambition to meet them.
“They parade their targets on climate at any opportunity but Scotland has missed them for the last two years in a row, mainly because of emissions from road traffic.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie said: “Mental health waits were long before the pandemic, the fuel poverty target was missed and the landfill target breached.
“They promised thousands of jobs in Lochaber and Bifab which have not materialised.
“If big promises created jobs, the SNP would have delivered full employment by now.”