John Swinney has admitted there is “a lot more still to be done” to close Scotland’s attainment gap but he refused to say whether he should lead that work.
The deputy first minister, who served as finance secretary before becoming education secretary in 2016, was asked more than four times about his future in the Cabinet during an interview with David Mac Dougall on our Election Hub Live broadcast.
But he would only say he had been “absolutely committed” to the education brief during his time in office, insisting he was “focused on making sure the SNP is elected as a majority government”.
Mr Swinney, the SNP’s Perthshire North candidate, survived a “no confidence” vote last year over the exam results fiasco, and Audit Scotland recently reported that there remained a “wide” gap between the school achievements of pupils from poorer and more affluent backgrounds.
Asked about whether he would want to remain as education secretary in the next government, Mr Swinney said: “There’s quite a lot of water that has to go under the bridge before any of these questions get addressed, not least of which is: there’s got to be an election, and the election has got to be concluded.
“And appointments to government posts and ministerial appointments will be conditional on the outcome of the election.
Questioned again 0n his future in the job, he said: “I’ve been absolutely committed to being education secretary but there has got to be an election first and that is the deciding factor in any question about ministerial appointments and I’d encourage everyone to use both votes for the SNP.”
Mr Swinney, who was also asked about recent polling figures and the controversy over Boris Johnson’s alleged comments relating to a second lockdown, described the attainment gap as “a very significant and stubborn problem”, but claimed the UK Government had made the task of closing it harder.
“These are long-term challenges. Poverty is an endemic problem within Scottish society,” he said.
“It’s not a problem that stands still. It has been made worse by the 10 years of austerity that we’ve had from Conservative governments in Westminster.
There’s a lot more still to be done, and a lot of that focuses on the attainment gap.”
“Because the minute the Westminster government applies austerity, and reduces benefits, it increases poverty within our society, and it makes our challenge ever greater, but we are seeing good progress being made to close the attainment gap.”
The education secretary added: “There’s a lot more still to be done, and a lot of that focuses on the attainment gap.
“But the SNP government has made a lot of progress in the last five years and in our manifesto we’ve committed to investing £1 billion in closing the attainment gap to give a 10-year programme of stability in tackling the attainment gap, but only, of course, if we have a majority SNP government.”