Scotland politics

Nicola Sturgeon says education is at centre of her future plans

Nicola Sturgeon
Image caption Ms Sturgeon said the SNP would run in the elections on its record in government and plans for the future

Education will be central to the SNP's third term at Holyrood if it is re-elected in May, Scotland's first minister has told MSPs.

Nicola Sturgeon believed it was vital to give young people the "best start".

In an address to the Scottish Parliament, she pledged plans to double government-funded childcare to 30 hours a week.

Scotland's other political leaders also used the debate to set out their stalls ahead of the 2016 Holyrood elections.

Addressing the first Scottish Parliament debate of 2016, Ms Sturgeon said the SNP would run in the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections on its record in government and plans for the future.

She said the Scottish government should be proud of its achievements in abolishing prescription charges, maintaining free university tuition and committing a record budget and staffing level to the NHS.

'Ambitious plans'

Ms Sturgeon said the party had "ambitious plans" for the next parliament, with education at "the front and centre" alongside a "distinctly Scottish approach to welfare".

She said: "Over the next four months there must be a great, ambitious and thriving debate in Scotland.

"A debate about how to build on our achievements, address the challenges that we face, and in so doing realise the full potential of our nation.

"I am determined that, for the SNP, education will be front and centre of our plans for a third term in government."

"We will not take one single vote for granted. We will not assume success; we will work for it. We will work harder than we have ever worked before."

Image caption Ms Dugdale said Scottish Labour would bring about "radical change"

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said the SNP had chosen the "easy politics of grievance over the radical politics of change" throughout its time in government.

She said Scotland could do "so much more" if it had a government which looked "beyond the politics, to what is possible".

Ms Dugdale said there is "an incredible opportunity" for the Scottish Parliament to use its powers to break from Westminster austerity.

She said Labour would make "radical change", telling the first minister she should "stop campaigning and start truly governing".

Image caption Ms Davidson said she would "never apologise" for campaigning for the Union during the referendum

Ruth Davidson said she wanted to hold the SNP to the pledge that there would not be another independence referendum for "a generation".

She said she would "never apologise" for standing up for the Union during the referendum campaign, and said none of her candidates in May would either.

Ms Davidson said if the electorate did not want to change the government in May, they could at least change the opposition from Labour to the Conservatives.

She earlier also set out a position on schools, saying: "It is time for us to rise up against the bog standard comprehensive and work towards gold standard schools in every village, town and city in Scotland.

"I don't want the international experts to be using words like 'good', 'average' or 'satisfactory' when they are describing our schools in future. I want our schools to be 'great' and, as these studies show, there is currently room for substantial improvement."

'Liberal values'

Willie Rennie said the Liberal Democrats had made a difference with just five MSPs, saying "power is safer when it is shared".

He said the "best way to deliver on liberal values is to get behind Scotland's liberal force", and called for a pupil premium to help reverse decline in a "once leading education system".

Mr Rennie said Ms Sturgeon was "a little too pleased" with herself, saying while the issue of independence was "in the driving seat", police, schools and the NHS were "stuck in the boot."

"Please move on from the constitutional debate," he said. "We all need to move on - the next five years should be dominated by a bright, liberal and green programme for Scotland."

Scottish Green Party co-convener Patrick Harvie said pressure to privatise public services would increase in coming years, and said this must be resisted.

He said there must be adequate funding for local authorities to ensure public service provision, saying closing the gap between the rich and the poor would be priority for the Greens.

Mr Harvie also said measuring the economy on GDP growth alone meant the government was fuelling inequality, saying Scotland must grasp opportunities to "make the break from the fossil fuel economy".