There should be a guaranteed job in the classroom for every available teacher as part of plans to help education “bounce back” after the coronavirus pandemic, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has said.
He made the suggestion as he appealed to fed-up SNP supporters to give his party a try in May’s Holyrood election.
Addressing the Scottish Liberal Democrat spring conference, Mr Rennie hit out at Nicola Sturgeon’s party, who he said had “no vision now”.
He said of the SNP: “It’s all about the factions and the internal fighting.
“It’s the sign of a party that has been in government for 14 years, that has run out of energy and run out of ideas.”
He spoke about how “SNP supporters are depressed”, and urged them to “test out” the Liberal Democrats by supporting them in May.
Appealing directly to disenchanted SNP supporters, Mr Rennie said: “If you are tired of the SNP fighting, and disappointed by what they have achieved, then why not try the Liberal Democrats at this election?
“Test us out. What have you got to lose?
“If you back the SNP, they will just carry on regardless. If the SNP get a big majority, they will carry on unchecked and out of control.
“With my Liberal Democrats there is a chance for change.”
He insisted his party can “make gains in every region” in the Holyrood election, and could stop the SNP getting the majority that is currently predicted by the opinion polls.
With his party’s plans for a more federal United Kingdom, Mr Rennie said the Lib Dems want “Scotland to have a bigger say in the UK through reform of our country”.
He contrasted this with the SNP’s proposals for another independence referendum – a vote which the party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford has said could be held in late 2021.
Mr Rennie said: “The next independence referendum would be like two Tasmanian devils in a never-ending cage fight.
“Meanwhile the people who need jobs, the NHS, education and action on the climate will be kept waiting and waiting.
“The SNP are divided and now they want to divide the country once more.
“Independence would be Brexit Mark 2. Years and years of arguments followed by years and years of argumentative negotiations.”
He questioned SNP plans to establish a national care service, saying the party’s “default solution” is to “take all the powers, hoard them in the centre, cut out local communities”.
Mr Rennie said to improve the care system “we need to address the fundamentals at the heart of our care service”, adding this means improving funding for the sector.
He called on ministers to “pay staff more because they deserve it”, arguing this would help cut staff turnover, allowing care users to “build relationships and trust with carers”.
With Scotland looking towards its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Rennie also insisted: “At the heart of the recovery must be education.”
But he said it would take “more for education to bounce back” after children have suffered months of disruption to their learning.
Mr Rennie said there needs to be “more in-class support for children who need it” and more resources in every classroom, calling for the Scottish Government’s Pupil Equity Fund to be improved.
The Liberal Democrat leader added: “This isn’t about making children sit at desks for longer.
“It’s about making every hour in school count for more.
“It means getting every trained teacher, and every available pupil support assistant, into classrooms, not on the waiting list for a supply day.
“A guaranteed job for every available teacher to help us cut class sizes.”
He insisted Liberal Democrats would put “recovery first for education”.
He added: “We need the talents of everyone in education, just like we needed everyone possible for our NHS.
“With this investment we can bounce back for our children.”