Indyref2: Ballantyne says there’s ‘huge gap’ in arguments
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The First Minister faced criticism last month over her pledge to provide every child in Scotland with a laptop or tablet – and her latest proposal prompted a similar reaction. Mrs Sturgeon this weekend set out a number of policies she said were intended to alleviate the pressure on Scottish families as a result of the pandemic – but political rivals were far from convinced.
Michelle Ballantyne, the leader of Reform UK Scotland, told Express.co.uk: “Announcing freebies to entice voters when you have been the Government for 14 years smacks of seedy desperation.
“Ms Sturgeon can’t make up for the way she has failed our children by bribing them with laptops and play parks.”
She added: “Ms Sturgeon has delivered declining standards of education, rising mental health problems, devastating drug and alcohol deaths and a divided Scotland that she intends if given power again to tear apart regardless of the impact on those who are most vulnerable.
“Her manifesto giveaways using unexplained budgets are just another example of her disdain for the intelligence of the voter.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “Nicola Sturgeon is shamelessly buying off voters to mask the SNP’s abysmal 14-year record and to distract from her reckless obsession with staging an independence referendum when all our focus should be on recovery and rebuilding.”
Labour was no less critical, with Scottish Labour spokesperson for Communities, Local Government and Housing Pauline McNeill saying: “This is just another example of the SNP trying to turn a failure of their government into an election pledge.
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“Under the SNP government, council funding has been cut to the bone and our local authorities have been left to struggle to provide crucial services – or upgrade children’s play facilities.
“Councils are at the heart of our communities but they cannot do their job with one hand tied behind their back.”
Mrs McNeill added: “After 14 years in Government, and seven years of Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister, it is insulting the public for the SNP to attempt to turn that failure into a virtue.
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“That is why Scottish Labour is committed to ensuring our councils are properly resourced to help our country recover and rebuild our economy in a responsible and sustainable way.”
Speaking yesterday, Mrs Sturgeon said: “We’ve already ensured that every P1 to P3 child has year-round access to free school meals – and if re-elected we’ll provide free school breakfasts and lunches to every primary school pupil in Scotland, year-round.
“To break down barriers to learning and give every child a fair chance, we’ll provide every pupil with their own laptop or device, and a free internet connection.
“And backed by a £60 million fund, we’ll put in place a plan to renew every play park in Scotland, so that all children have access to a place to play in their own community.”
She added: “After a year in which many children have not had access to a garden, this investment has never been more important.
“The last year has been incredibly tough for children and young people across Scotland, and by giving both votes to the SNP in this election, people will be electing an SNP government more determined than ever to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up – and to put the tools for our recovery in Scotland’s hands.”
Mrs Sturgeon is under pressure in advance of the elections on May 6 after a committee of MSPs concluded by five votes to four that she had misled their inquiry into the handling of sexual harassment allegations against Alex Salmond, who preceded her as Scotland’s First Minister.
Additionally, Mr Salmond has launched the pro-independence Alba Party, resulting in the defection of two of the SNP’s Westminster MPs.
About £260million will be spent buying laptops and tablets for Scotland’s 792,000 pupils during the lifetime of the next parliament.
Scottish journalist Iain Martin, a Times columnist as well as the editor of the Reaction website, was among those who were sceptical at the timing.
He tweeted: “Seems odd to have not done this at the height of the pandemic, when could have been most use and Scottish govt was awash with Westminster support, rather than saving it up for an election bribe?”
Express.co.uk has contacted the SNP to offer Mrs Sturgeon an opportunity to respond.
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