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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 13, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 13 September 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Nae Pasaran!, Food and Drink, Decision Time


First Minister’s Question Time

Schools (Information)



Six years ago, this Parliament introduced new rules so that parents could get more information about their local school. The Education (School and Placing Information) (Scotland) Regulations 2012 were crystal clear. Pupils and parents needed schools to provide comprehensive information, particularly on their curriculum, including on subject choice and school performance. Six years on, how many schools are actually complying with those regulations?

I do not have access to that specific information in front of me. I am happy to write to Ruth Davidson with the information after this session, but a wide range of information is available to parents about the performance of schools and the education system in general.

Of course, one of the things that this Government is determined to do is to improve the information that is available about how our pupils are performing in schools. That is why we have introduced standardised assessments to replace the assessments that local authorities previously had under way. Of course, contrary to what the Scottish Conservatives previously said, they now appear to want us to move away from that.

We will continue to take steps to make sure that there is good-quality information for teachers to help to inform their judgment about pupil performance, but also for parents about the performance of their children and the schools that they learn in.

The answer to the question that I asked is just 7 per cent, according to new analysis by Professor Jim Scott of the University of Dundee, which he will present next week in a detailed paper on education and parental information.

According to this Government’s own rules, schools should give parents clear data on the curriculum and on performance. That is so that parents can find out about the school that they are entrusting their children with or, where appropriate, make an informed decision about which school to choose, yet according to Professor Scott, six years on, the parent who wishes to make an informed choice of school has relatively little hope of doing so. When more than nine out of 10 schools fail to publish the information that this Parliament requires of them, is he not right?

Schools already publish a range of information. For example, there is a dashboard that covers broad general education. Schools also publish information on subject choice.

I want to see parents have more information about their children’s performance. We have standardised the assessments that were previously in place, including at primary 1, in order to ensure that teachers know whether young people are meeting the benchmarks that are set by curriculum for excellence.

I am a bit confused, I have to say, about Ruth Davidson’s line of questioning today, because she is asking me to provide more information about the performance of young people in our schools, yet the Scottish Conservative Party is also asking us to abolish the standardised assessments in primary 1 that do just that. Ruth Davidson appears to be a bit confused about her own education policy.

The First Minister says that she wants more information, but she is not even making sure that the information that this Parliament requires of schools is being put in the public realm. Seven per cent is shameful.

Here is why that matters. The Government says that we need parents to get more involved in schools because that is how children learn better. I agree, but it is clear that too often parents are being left in the dark about what is going on inside the gates of Scotland’s secondary schools until they suddenly discover halfway through their child’s school journey that subjects that they thought were on offer are not.

The Government knows that more needs to be done, which is why it launched a new action plan on increasing parental involvement last month. Why will it not put that action plan into law so that we can see some action?

Based on our experience of standardised assessments, which the Conservatives called on us to introduce and are now asking us to abolish, if we were to announce tomorrow that we would put the parental engagement strategy into statute, as Ruth Davidson just asked me to do, I guarantee that the Conservatives would suddenly decide that they opposed that. When it comes to measures to improve our education system, the Tories are good on rhetoric but they tend to put short-term, party-political interests over the interests of pupils in our schools.

As I said, we publish a range of information. For the past three years, we have also published information on the curriculum levels at P1, 4 and 7 and secondary 3. We continue to look to extend the range of information that parents have about the performance of children in schools.

I say again that it strikes me as rather strange that Ruth Davidson is pursuing this line of questioning when, as I understand it, next week, the Tories will bring forward a motion to ask us to abolish standardised assessments in P1, which are all about providing more information. The Scottish Conservatives should sort out their own position on these matters before coming to ask me questions about them.

The First Minister who has the gall to talk about someone else inflating their education rhetoric is the woman who, a year ago, heralded a flagship education bill as the most radical transformation of our schools since devolution and then promptly threw it in the bin.

Let us get back to the question that I asked the First Minister, which was about the action plan that the Deputy First Minister launched last month. Perhaps she did not see the calls from organisations such as Save the Children, which said:

“we had hoped the plan would be underpinned by legislative change.”

This is yet another letdown from a Government that has proved timid and weak in improving our schools—a Government that dumps its own education bill because it finds it too hard; introduces an action plan but refuses to put it into law; and brings in new rights for parents but will not enforce them. The First Minister says that education is her top priority, but is the truth not that, when she is put to the test—any test—she fails?

We are taking forward the proposals that would have been in the education bill much more quickly. That is a good thing. We will take forward the proposals in the parental engagement strategy, which has the support of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and, perhaps more importantly, the National Parent Forum of Scotland.

Ruth Davidson’s hypocrisy on these matters is absolutely breathtaking. She asked me to make available more information so that people know how young people in our schools are doing. Let me read something out to the chamber:

“We welcome the Scottish Government’s recent decision to reintroduce national testing in primary schools. It is an admission that the current system has not been good enough … We believe the Scottish Government needs to be far bolder in measuring progress in our education system … The Scottish Government should … design the new standardised tests at P1, P4 and P7 to fit into … international methodologies.”

I have just read out the Scottish Conservative 2016 manifesto, yet I understand that, next week, the Scottish Conservatives will bring forward a motion on the abolition of standardised assessments at primary 1. The hypocrisy on these matters is breathtaking. The Conservatives are shameless opportunists on them. They do not care—[Interruption.] They care only about the short-term political opportunity; they care not a jot about schoolchildren or standards in our schools. Ruth Davidson has revealed that yet again.

Mental Health Services (Children and Young People)

Today’s Audit Scotland report reminds us that

“Children living in low income households are three times more likely to suffer mental health problems than their more affluent peers.”

It also makes it clear that access to Scotland’s mental health services for children and young people has not got better during Nicola Sturgeon’s time as First Minister, but has got worse. Why is that?

Demand for mental health services is increasing. I welcome the Audit Scotland report that was published today. The report confirms that spending by national health service boards on children and young people’s mental health has increased by just under 12 per cent in real terms since 2013 and the child and adolescent mental health services workforce has gone up by 11 per cent since 2014.

The system is seeing more patients, and is seeing more patients within 18 weeks, but demand is growing faster. As the report that was published this morning shows, there has been a 22 per cent increase in referrals to CAMHS. The report is right in saying that the system is geared too much towards specialist care.

The plans that we set out last week in the programme for government are designed to address exactly that: investment in school counsellors and school nurses to ensure that every secondary school has a counselling service; mental health first aid training being available for teachers; and the establishment of a community wellbeing service for five to 24-year-olds. I hope that Richard Leonard will welcome all those initiatives.

Let me be clear. I asked why things had got to crisis point under the First Minister’s watch, not what was in last week’s programme for government. After all, that was the SNP’s 12th programme for government, and Nicola Sturgeon’s fifth programme for government as First Minister.

In summer 2018, the Government at last published the review of children rejected for mental health treatment. It revealed that some young people were being turned away from treatment, even though they were self-harming. Does the First Minister even begin to understand the human cost of that, the damage done and the lives changed irreparably? Does the First Minister know how many of those referrals have been rejected since she took office?

I absolutely understand the human cost when the national health service does not provide care, either in mental health services or in physical health services, as quickly as we would want it to.

Richard Leonard asked me about performance under the SNP Government. It is widely recognised that the SNP Government has invested more in mental health and there are more people working in mental health, including in child and adolescent mental health services. The system is seeing more patients and is seeing more people in 18 weeks, but demand is rising faster. As I have said many times before, that is a good thing because it means that the stigma associated with mental health is reducing.

We have to continue to build capacity—and we are doing that. We must also ensure that we are building capacity in the right places. Too many young people are referred to specialist services when that is not necessarily the right option for them. The investment in school counselling and the new community mental wellbeing service that I mentioned a moment ago are important initiatives. By introducing those initiatives, we are also ensuring that specialist care is there for those who need it as quickly as possible.

I hope that members of all parties will get behind the plans, because they are the right plans and they are in the interest of young people across the country.

The exact question that I asked was whether Nicola Sturgeon knew how many referrals for treatment had been rejected since she became First Minister. The answer is that almost 25,000 cases have been rejected since the First Minister took office.

Today’s Audit Scotland report calls for a step change. The Labour Party will work with the Government to deliver the changes that we need. That is why we pressed for counsellors in schools and for a review of those rejected cases. However, the reality is that the Government has been too slow to act because it did not take the issue seriously enough.

Given that thousands of Scotland’s children have been rejected for treatment during her time in office, will the First Minister show an ounce of regret that her Government did not act sooner? Today, the new Minister for Mental Health admitted that too many children and adolescents are being let down. Will the First Minister admit that she has been too slow to act and that she has let down those children and young people for more than a decade? Will she offer them an apology today?

In all sincerity, I regret when any patient, whether they are an adult or a child, is not seen by the national health service for mental and physical health problems as quickly as they should be, and I apologise unreservedly to those patients.

However, I do not accept Richard Leonard’s characterisation. As I have said, the Audit Scotland report recognises that we have put additional resources into mental health. Additional people have been employed to work in mental health: since 2007, the CAMHS workforce has increased, I think, by 69 per cent. We have recognised the rising demand on mental health services and we have acted on it. However, demand has risen faster than anybody necessarily anticipated, which is a good thing. Therefore, we recognise that we must do even more to build the capacity of not just specialist services but community services.

We set up the audit of rejected referrals exactly because we were concerned by the number of rejected referrals. Denise Coia is looking at the issue and published her first recommendations this week, and a new national CAMHS referral criteria will be published later this autumn.

We are acting and we have set out further plans. If Richard Leonard is serious about working with the Government to take forward the plans, I welcome that. Perhaps we can build some much-needed consensus on a very important issue.

There are a number of constituency supplementaries, the first of which is from Jamie Greene.

Ferry Services (Ardrossan and Arran)

The Ardrossan to Arran ferries are a lifeline service for residents, and they are a vital part of the area’s tourism industry. Unfortunately, the service has been severely disrupted in the past year due to continuous cancellations. Once again, the MV Isle of Arran is offline for technical reasons, and only half of the timetabled services are running currently. It is not just that service; island communities across Scotland are being let down by an ageing fleet and a lack of new vessels. The new vessels that have been promised are already more than a year late. Does the First Minister understand why Scotland’s island communities are quickly losing their patience with the Government’s inability to provide regular and reliable ferry services? Will she take up the issue with the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity so that he can deal with it as a matter of priority?

The transport secretary deals with such matters daily, and I am sure that he would be delighted to meet Jamie Greene to discuss those issues in more depth. I am aware—as is the entire Government—of the pressures on the ferry network. We understand the impact that that has on people’s lives and on businesses in our island communities. When the cabinet met recently in Arran, I heard at first hand from communities there about the pressures that increasing visitor numbers are putting on lifeline services.

The challenges are complex, but we are determined to improve services. We have invested significantly in ferry services, and we will continue to address the issues. Since 2007, more than £1 billion has been invested in ferry services across the Clyde and Hebrides and eight new ferries have been added to the Caledonian MacBrayne fleet. We continue to invest in new vessels and ferry infrastructure to renew the fleet, and two new vessels have been commissioned from the Ferguson shipyard. A range of work is on-going, and we will continue to undertake that work to ensure that those who live and work on our islands have the services that they deserve.

The Bakhsh Family

I draw the First Minister’s attention to the plight of my constituents the Bakhsh family, who have had their appeal for asylum rejected by the United Kingdom Home Office, despite their being at very real risk of religious persecution and their lives being in danger should they return to Pakistan. The community in north Glasgow, where the family has stayed since 2012, has rallied around them. The family’s two sons, Somer and Areeb, were joined by school friends and the moderator of the Church of Scotland in handing to the Home Office a petition in support of the family that was signed by 85,000 people.

Does the First Minister agree that the need for a petition to draw attention to the Bakhsh family’s plight in the first place demonstrates just how fundamentally flawed and discredited the UK asylum process has become? Will she offer the family her support and best wishes? Will the Scottish Government—as I have already done—make representations to the UK Government to draw attention to the family’s plight?

I agree whole-heartedly with the sentiment of Bob Doris’s question, and I agree with the point about the deficiencies in the UK Government’s asylum and immigration regime.

The Scottish Government strongly believes that asylum seekers must be treated humanely and fairly with their dignity and rights upheld at every stage of the process. The Home Office has a duty to ensure that full account is taken of all the individual circumstances in every case. That is particularly important when applications are refused and absolutely imperative when children are involved.

I am very heartened to hear how the local community has rallied around the Bakhsh family and by the response to the Rev Linda Pollock’s petition. I also congratulate Somer and Areeb on what they have achieved in very difficult circumstances. They are an absolute credit to their parents, their school, their community and, indeed, Scotland.

The Scottish Government will continue to look at what appropriate representations we can make.

Montrose Port (Disposal Licence)

Montrose port is a key industry in Montrose and the north-east. Keeping the port open requires dredging and disposal of sand. Last week, contrary to expert marine consultant advice, Marine Scotland refused to renew the port’s disposal licence. The next time there is a strong easterly or swell, the port could silt up, lose depth and potentially close due to the inability to dredge. Will the First Minister instruct the cabinet secretary and Marine Scotland to immediately visit the port authority to—at the very least—issue a temporary licence for 12 months and prevent an economic and social catastrophe?

I am very happy to ask the cabinet secretary to engage with the port authority. I am sure that the cabinet secretary would also be happy to meet Liam Kerr to look at those issues in great detail—indeed, I am sure that they are already being looked at in great detail—and to take whatever action is considered appropriate.

Scottish National Standardised Assessments

The First Minister will have seen the comprehensive letter at the weekend from the teachers union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, on the review of assessments for five-year-olds in schools. The union stated that they have created “a ‘high-stakes’ environment” and “a slippery path” to league tables, that they are “swallowing up” time and that they “drain” resource. The First Minister promised that that would not happen, but the teaching union disagrees. What more evidence does she need that those tests should go?

I respectfully disagree with Willie Rennie. As I said in the chamber last week, assessments in our primary schools, including in primary 1, are not new. Twenty-nine out of 32 councils already carried out assessments; in fact, many of those councils carried out two assessments every year. The Scottish Government has standardised them so that all local authorities use the same assessment and has made them relevant to the curriculum for excellence levels. In primary 1, of course, there is a play-based curriculum. The assessments are not “high-stakes”, and there is no pass or fail for them. It is, of course, up to teachers when pupils undertake them in the school year. If a teacher does not think that it is appropriate for any child to undertake them, that is entirely up to the teacher’s discretion.

The assessments provide important diagnostic information to inform teacher judgment about the performance of young people. We set benchmarks for children in primary 1—levels that we expect them to meet. Some people might disagree with that, but I have not heard that disagreed to in the chamber. We set benchmarks that we expect children to meet in primary 1, and it is absurd to suggest that we should not try to assess whether they meet those benchmarks. That allows early intervention, if necessary, if children are not performing as expected, and it allows a teacher to know whether a child is performing better than expected and to stretch that child rather than allow them to get bored in the classroom. In a newspaper today, the educational experts Sue Ellis and Lindsay Paterson talk about the importance of that benchmarking information.

We should take some of the politics out of the debate and focus on what is right for our children and for education as a whole.

Lindsay Paterson supports league tables, so it is shocking for the First Minister to claim that she supports his position. She is saying that the EIS is wrong. Just last week, she said that she was listening to teachers; now, she is ignoring them.

The evidence is mounting: 170 pages of searing criticism from teachers, a damning letter from the EIS, the waste of resource, the useless value of the information, the “‘high-stakes’ environment” and the “slippery path” to league tables. Teachers are very clear: they have said that the tests should go. The union has said that the tests should go.

When the Parliament votes next week to scrap the primary 1 tests for pupils, will the First Minister respect the will of Parliament and scrap the tests? She dodged the question last week. If the Parliament says stop, will she stop?

First, we will argue our case rigorously and robustly—that is what happens in a democracy.

I will take on some of Willie Rennie’s points. I am not saying that the EIS is wrong; I am saying that I have a difference of opinion with the EIS. [Interruption.] That is entirely legitimate. I have spoken to many teachers who also have a difference of opinion about assessments. I will read out some of the quotes from teachers who responded to the survey that EIS carried out of its members. I know from that survey that many do not support standardised assessments, but here are quotes from some who do:

“Data is incredibly detailed and personalised. Feedback will be very useful in looking for next steps.”

“Really liked that there wasn’t the use of timers to ensure children were given thinking time and support if required.”

“In P1, the assessments were carried out on iPads ... the child often had no idea how they were being formally assessed ... Worked well.”

“The P1 numeracy task was appropriate and aligned with ... Curriculum for Excellence”.

“I thought they fitted in quite well with levels and provided a range of questions.”

[Interruption.] I know that Willie Rennie does not want to hear what some teachers have said about standardised assessments.

There is a difference of opinion, and I accept that. However, as I have said, we set benchmarks for how we expect our young people to perform in primary 1. It is incumbent upon us to know whether they meet those benchmarks, so that early intervention can be taken as required.

I have said very clearly on so many occasions that I want us to raise standards in Scottish education and that I want us to close the attainment gap. We need data to inform the action that we take to do that. I will continue to make what I think is the commonsense argument, and I look forward to the debate continuing.

We have some further supplementaries. The first is from Mark Ruskell.

Livestock (Exports)

I declare an interest as an associate member of the British Veterinary Association.

This morning, the Government’s chief vet has claimed that the practice of shipping live dairy calves on five-day journeys from Scotland to Spain is acceptable and that criticism is “alarmist”. Is that the Government’s official position? If not, will the First Minister join me in congratulating P&O Ferries on its decision this week to ban live exports?

This issue is extremely emotive. It is also more complex than the impression given by some—and I stress the word “some”—of the coverage.

I thought that, in this morning’s papers, the chief vet set out quite clearly some of the facts behind the claim of 100-hour journeys. As Mairi Gougeon has also set out in Parliament this week, the issue is that, right now, farmers do not have a market for male dairy calves here in Scotland. If they are not exported for production, they are slaughtered at birth. A small number are exported, but farmers here want to find alternative markets domestically.

Animal welfare is paramount. Transport within the European Union is subject to strict regulation, and there is no hard evidence that those regulations are being breached.

As the member is aware, the Scottish Government is carrying out a year-long monitoring project, which will look in more detail at the issue. We will continue to be very rigorous as we observe the situation, and continue to take whatever action we consider to be necessary.

Brexit (Impact on Business)

John Lewis employs several thousand staff in Scotland. It faces challenging times, with profits down 99 per cent. The company cites Brexit uncertainty as a contributing factor, but Dominic Raab says that it is the company’s own fault. This morning, he stated on the BBC that there is a temptation for businesses that are not doing well “to blame Brexit”. Does the First Minister agree that the United Kingdom Government should stop burying its head in the sand and accept that it is the one that is putting our economy at risk?

With Dominic Raab’s comments this morning, this clueless, incompetent shambles of a Tory UK Government is really taking the biscuit. It beggars belief that the Tories, who are taking the country—in Scotland’s case, against our democratic wishes—out of the European Union, has the nerve to turn round and blame businesses for raising concerns and say that they are using Brexit as an excuse. Frankly, the sooner the Tory Government gets over its ideological civil war and starts putting the interests of businesses across the UK at the forefront of its considerations, the better for all of us.

Child Abuse Survivors (Compensation)

The First Minister will be aware of the powerful and harrowing testimonies of survivors to the Scottish child abuse inquiry. How does she respond to the concerns that have been expressed by those representing survivors of abuse about reports that legislation to create the survivors compensation scheme might not be introduced until 2021, with implementation much later still? Will she confirm that she will look at how the scheme can be taken forward with greater urgency? Will she make a commitment to create an interim compensation scheme so that the many elderly and vulnerable survivors secure the justice and support that they need now, before it is too late for them?

I thank Johann Lamont for raising this important issue. The stories of the survivors are extremely harrowing and the Government set up the child abuse inquiry.

The Government received the report on compensation for survivors just last week. As all members will understand, we are taking the time to consider the recommendations in that report carefully and sympathetically. I cannot give Johann Lamont specific answers to her questions today, because we are still considering the report, but the Deputy First Minister will come to Parliament in due course to set out the next steps. However, I absolutely associate myself and the Scottish Government with the sentiment of the question that Johann Lamont asked.

Carers Allowance Supplement

From today, Social Security Scotland will make the first payments of the new carers allowance supplement, which is the first devolved benefit to be paid that recognises the important contribution that carers make across Scotland. Will the First Minister outline how the Scottish Government will continue to support carers and how it is building a social security system that has fairness and dignity at its heart?

Today is a landmark moment in the history of devolution and we should probably take a moment to celebrate it. Today, the first payments will be made by our new executive agency, Social Security Scotland, through the carers allowance supplement, which will put an extra £442 into the pockets of carers in the current financial year. That is an increase of 13 per cent and a total investment of more than £30 million a year. This is a proud moment for Parliament and for Scotland.

We will continue to implement our new social security powers. That will include looking at additional support for carers but, as I said during the debate on the programme for government last week, we also hope to deliver the pregnancy and baby payments of the new best start grant before Christmas. That will be another milestone in this Parliament taking some power over social security.

I hope that it will not be too much further into the future before the Parliament has total control over social security. As we are already proving, the Scottish Parliament would make a far better job of it than Westminster is managing to do.

Roadside Mobile Connectivity

To ask the First Minister what discussions the Scottish Government has had with the United Kingdom Government regarding reports that an estimated 1,000 miles of roads in Scotland have no mobile phone signal. (S5F-02580)

Mobile telecommunications are a reserved matter and it is therefore the responsibility of the UK Government to improve coverage. It is worth pointing out that the UK Government’s failed mobile infrastructure project promised 84 masts to cover not-spots but managed to deliver a grand total of three. However, at his recent meeting with the UK Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Michael Matheson raised the issue of roadside mobile connectivity. We have particularly pressed for progress to be made on the Home Office’s emergency services mobile communications programme, which has been beset by delays. We await confirmation of the proposed approach to delivery.

Because we cannot wait for Westminster to deliver decent mobile connectivity in rural Scotland, we have created our own mobile infrastructure plan, committing £25 million to improving 4G coverage. We recently awarded a contract for the programme and the supplier is working towards delivery of the initial 16 sites in remote parts of Scotland.

I welcome the £25 million that the Scottish Government has put into improving mobile telephony in Scotland. However, as we know, the UK Government has little understanding of and less interest in Scotland, so is it now time for responsibility for mobile telephony and the associated funding to be completely devolved?

Yes, absolutely. A pattern that sometimes emerges when matters are reserved—we have just been talking about welfare—is that, when the UK Government does not get its act together and fails to deliver, the Scottish Government has to step in and do Westminster’s job for it. That has been true with aspects of welfare and it is now true for mobile connectivity. It is about time that we cut out the middle man in all this and devolved these powers to Scotland so that we can get on with it ourselves.

One-plus-two Modern Languages Policy

To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Government will take to improve the implementation of the one-plus-two modern languages policy in broad general education. (S5F-02581)

We are already taking action to increase the pace of implementation of the one-plus-two modern languages policy in broad general education. Since 2013-14, we have provided a total of £27.2 million in additional funding to support its delivery. Alongside that, we have provided funding each year to Scotland’s national centre for languages to support schools and local authorities in delivering one-plus-two. Information that was provided by local authorities in April shows that at least 91 per cent of primary schools are meeting pupils’ entitlement to learn a first additional language from primary 1 onwards and at least 62 per cent of secondary schools are providing learning of a first additional language from secondary 1 to 3.

The Telegraph reported at the weekend that 38 per cent of secondary schools in Scotland are not implementing the one-plus-two programme—the First Minister has just confirmed that—despite the £27 million to which the First Minister has just referred. That is at the same time as the number of teachers of modern languages has declined by 20 per cent in the past 10 years and the number of entries for Scottish Qualifications Authority levels 3 to 5 in French and in German have fallen by 60 per cent and 58 per cent respectively in the past five years. Will the First Minister admit that the Scottish Government’s languages policy is not working nearly well enough and that it is yet another example of why there is an urgent need to review subject choice under the curriculum for excellence?

No, I do not agree with that. We have work to do—the 38 per cent figure, of course, is the other side of my articulation of the 62 per cent that are implementing one-plus-two—but we will continue to make progress on delivering one-plus-two.

To give some context on performance overall in relation to language education, the total entries for language highers are up 2.6 per cent since 2007; the total passes for language highers are up 6.3 per cent since 2007; this is the fifth year that language higher entries have exceeded 7,500 overall; and statistics published last December show that total teacher numbers are increasing.

There is lots of progress to look at but, of course, we want to continue to do more because we know that language learning helps to build confidence, helps to foster interest in other cultures and encourages tolerance and respect, which I know that not all people in the Conservative Party are keen on but we on these benches are very keen on.

The Scottish National Party set out its one-plus-two languages policy in its 2011 manifesto and I am pleased to hear of the progress that is being made.

I took the time to search the Conservative Party manifestos from 2011, 2015, 2016 and 2017 but could not find a single mention of foreign language teaching. The one-plus-two policy would never have been implemented by the Tories. Does the First Minister agree that the Tories’ only guiding principle is to attack the SNP, even at the expense of our children’s education?

That is a point very well made by Gordon MacDonald—there is not a mention of modern languages in any of the Conservative manifestos. However, I would remind him that, as we know from standardised assessments, even if modern languages teaching had been in their manifesto, it would not have mattered to the Tories, because they would have jettisoned it at the first opportunity to inflict a defeat on the SNP. The Tories are political opportunists. We are concerned about the interests of children in our schools and that will continue to be what stands between us.

The First Minister is in denial about this. The precipitous decline in both enrolment and attainment in certain modern languages has been tracked over a number of years. These skills are critical to the economic future of this country and to our children’s capacity to participate in that future. Will she take her head out of the sand, admit that we have a problem and tell us what she is going to do about it?

If Iain Gray had chosen to listen, he would have heard me say that we have got much more work to do, because this is so important to our economy, to the confidence of our young people and to interest in other countries and cultures. I have set out some of the progress, but we will continue to invest and to support local authorities and schools in making the further progress that we all want to see.


To ask the First Minister, in light of the David Hume Institute report, “Wealth of the Nation”, what action the Scottish Government will take to improve productivity. (S5F-02583)

Raising productivity growth is vital to boosting our long-term economic performance. As the David Hume Institute report highlights, Scotland’s productivity is the highest in the United Kingdom behind London and the south-east. The report also shows that among the UK’s city regions, Aberdeen and Edinburgh have higher productivity than anywhere outside London. In the past 10 years, Scotland has largely closed the productivity gap with the rest of the UK.

However, we know that more needs to be done to match the levels of productivity in top-performing European countries, which is why we have set out further policies in the programme for government to boost productivity, including a commitment to invest an additional £7 billion by 2026, over and above existing plans, in schools, hospitals, transport, digital connectivity and clean energy.

Comparing ourselves to the rest of the UK, whose performance has indeed been woeful, is not desperately ambitious. Since 2007, every Scottish National Party-led Administration has set a target for improving productivity—and rightly so—but those targets have been missed completely. We were to be in the top quartile of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries for productivity by 2017—the equivalent of getting promoted to the premier league—but, instead, we have been relegated to the third division. Things have not improved but have gone in reverse, and productivity has effectively flatlined.

What specific lessons will the First Minister take from the David Hume Institute report on improving productivity and driving growth in Scotland?

We will continue to invest in infrastructure, and we will continue to increase our investment in business research and development, as set out in last year’s programme for government. We will continue to take the action that we have set out on growing exports.

Jackie Baillie said that we should not compare ourselves to the rest of the UK. I will place a small bet here. If Scotland was doing worse than the rest of the UK on this measure, Labour would want to compare Scotland to the rest of the UK.

If Jackie Baillie had listened to my original answer, she would have heard me say that although we have closed the gap with the rest of the UK, our aim is to match the level of productivity in the top-performing European countries. That is exactly what we are working to do. In the first quarter of this year, productivity has increased by 1.7 per cent. Productivity growth has been higher than in any other country or region of the UK, including London. The David Hume Institute report says:

“Among UK regions, Scotland is behind only London and the South East for productivity”.

It goes on to say:

“Financial services ... are more productive than in all other parts of the UK ... Similarly, Scottish manufacturing ... is more productive than the UK average”.

There is good news in our progress on productivity, but we will continue to make the investments to get us to the level of other European countries.

The Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee recently found that over the past 10 years, the SNP has failed to reach all seven of its own economic targets, including for productivity. Does the First Minister agree with the findings of the committee and does she accept responsibility for her Government failing to meet every one of its own economic targets?

I cannot believe that the member has managed to miss the financial crash, the recession and the austerity that has happened over that time, but if he wants to talk about economic performance, let us talk about economic performance.

We know from the most recent statistics that last year the Scottish economy grew faster than the economy in the rest of the UK. We know that the unemployment level is close to a record low and that employment levels are close to a record high. We know that for female and youth employment, we are performing better than the rest of the UK. Export growth in Scotland is faster than it is in the rest of the UK. We have closed the productivity gap. There is lots to be positive about in our economic performance. We have more to do, but the biggest threat to our economic performance is Tory Brexit—that is the reality that the Tories really need to wake up to.

V&A Dundee

To ask the First Minister how the Scottish Government will mark the official opening of the V&A in Dundee. (S5F-02595)

The opening of the V&A Dundee on Saturday heralds an exciting new chapter for the city of Dundee. It is a fantastic addition to the diverse array of cultural experiences that Scotland has to offer, promoting our nation globally and attracting visitors and investment. The Scottish Government has been a long-term supporter of the project, with substantial financial investment in the building’s construction and operation. A number of Scottish Government ministers are participating in opening events this week, and I look forward to touring the building with some of Dundee’s young people tomorrow.

Last night, I saw the inside of the V&A Dundee for the first time, and I can tell the First Minister that she is in for a real treat tomorrow night. Will the First Minister join me in thanking all the public and private sector partners who have worked so hard over the past 10 years to make the V&A Dundee dream a reality? What does she expect the transformational impact for Dundee to be from this iconic project and the significant investment made by the Scottish Government and other funders to deliver it? Finally, what does the First Minister think could be the next thing for Dundee in its renewal journey?

I agree absolutely with Shona Robison. I congratulate all the public and private sector partners. It is an astonishing achievement. Of course, the Scottish Government has been a significant funder: we have provided £38 million towards construction and almost £7 million in revenue funding to date. I look forward to seeing the V&A tomorrow. From the pictures and footage that I have seen, it looks absolutely stunning.

It is quite hard to overstate the transformational potential for the city of Dundee. The V&A puts Dundee firmly on the cultural map of the world. It will attract more visitors to Dundee and I am sure that it will attract more investment into Dundee. Right now, the city of Dundee has every reason to feel incredibly optimistic about the future. The Scottish Government is very ambitious for Dundee and looks forward to making additional investments in it, and I look forward to being pressed to do exactly that by Shona Robison in the months and years to come.

That concludes First Minister’s question time. We will shortly move on to members’ business, which is on a motion in the name of Linda Fabiani, on East Kilbride workers said “Nae Pasaran!” However, we will take a few moments for the people in the public gallery to leave and others to come in. I suspend the meeting for a few minutes to allow that to happen.

12:47 Meeting suspended.  

12:49 On resuming—