Scotland

Best of the rest from the SNP conference

Scots artist Jack Vettriano has given his backing to SNP leader Alex Salmond in the forthcoming Scottish elections.

The painter, from Kirkcaldy in Fife, said Mr Salmond was "the man for the job", and backed him to return as the First Minister after the vote in May.

In an interview recorded for the SNP conference in Glasgow, Vettriano said: "As they say in political parlance he's a safe pair of hands and I think he cares deeply for the Scottish nation and the people of Scotland.

"He's the man for the job. Anyone who can cut 15 minutes off my journey time from Edinburgh airport to Kirkcaldy by ending the bridge tolls is the man for me."

A re-elected SNP government would halve the number of pupils being taught in "crumbling" buildings and provide job security for teachers, Education Secretary Mike Russell said.

He said the SNP government had built and refurbished 330 schools over the past four years, halving the number of pupils taught in "crumbling school buildings" from 250,000.

"We are going to do it again. We are going to halve that number in the next four years and we're going to drive out inadequate buildings in Scottish education - that's a promise," Mr Russell told delegates.

The education secretary also promised more progress on smaller class sizes, particularly in the early years.

The SNP plans to bring forward new laws to give victims of crime with a bigger say in sentencing policy and parole decisions, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill told the conference.

He said the SNP would continue its commitment "to treat victims with the dignity they deserve and provide them with the rights they are entitled to" by introducing a Victim's Rights Bill.

The legislation, Mr MacAskill said, would "enshrine in law a victim's right to damages and compensation".

He also said a re-elected SNP government would bring in serious crime prevention orders to allow courts to restrict the activities of criminals and "the illegal fronts for their money-laundering operations".

Finance Secretary John Swinney called on Chancellor George Osborne to "end the scandal of sky-high fuel prices", in a letter outlining the Scottish government's Budget demands.

Mr Swinney said immediate action was needed on fuel costs, and has asked the UK government to cancel the planned increase in duty scheduled for April.

Reiterating calls for the establishment of a fuel duty regulator, he said: "The price of diesel has breached a shocking £1.60 a litre in Scotland - the Scottish government recognises the impact high fuel prices are having and the Chancellor must listen and act.

The daughter of the late legendary trade unionist, Jimmy Reid, said Alex Salmond's conference speech was one of which her father would have been proud.

Shona Reid joined the SNP for the first time, being welcomed to the party by deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon.

Ms Reid, said: "Alex Salmond's speech, his promise to protect workers across Scotland, is a speech my dad would have been proud of.

"That's why I am proud to join the SNP today and pledge my vote to the party."

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