I’M writing this column on the sixth anniversary of the 2014 independence referendum and I’m struck by how little much of our politics has changed since that day. The aftermath of that vote saw another unprecedented transferral of power to the Scottish Parliament and, for a while, the SNP at least attempted to maintain the illusion that they had accepted the result and were focused on delivering for the people of Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon herself claimed in 2015 that education would be her government’s number one priority and asked voters to judge her personally on attempts to close the attainment gap between pupils from deprived backgrounds and their better-off peers.

Well, after 13 years of nationalist rule in Scotland, the First Minister has abjectly failed in her promises to parents and students across the country. Her Government is so consumed by stoking constitutional grievance that it has egregiously taken its eye of the ball and in doing so betrayed a generation of Scots who grew up in deprived communities like I did.

Glasgow Times: Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon

Under the SNP’s leadership, Scottish education has plummeted down what international league tables they haven’t shamefully pulled us out of – with Scottish performance in mathematics and science reaching record lows according to the OECD, while reading performance has stagnated since 2006. Despite a 2007 manifesto commitment to “maintain teacher numbers”, the truth is that the SNP have cut the number of teachers in Scottish schools by almost 3000 since they came to power and in their first term in office reduced the number of teacher training places by 40%.

Despite the First Minister’s empty promises, it really is the case that these failures are a matter of political priorities. The SNP are never happier than confecting false outrage over whatever powers they claim not to have, but at every turn attempt to deflect attention away from the areas of government where they have full control and have so woefully neglected. This is why, to their shame, I was not surprised when the government confirmed that they had shelved their flagship Education Bill while managing to find the time in the middle of a global pandemic to legislate for ripping Scotland out of the United Kingdom. Never has there been a more clear-cut reminder of where Nicola Sturgeon’s true priorities lie.

On the day she was tweeting about divisions of the past, the Scottish Conservatives were setting out a new vision for the future of the Scottish education system. Opposition parties are often criticised for denouncing government policy without coming up with any suggestions themselves. Well, Douglas Ross MP has turned that narrative on its head with a detailed policy paper which seeks to turn the page on more than a decade of SNP failure.

Our fully costed plan would reverse the SNP’s cuts to teacher numbers by recruiting an additional 3000 teachers, establish an independent schools and education inspector answerable to the Scottish Parliament and expand the entitlement to free school lunches to primary school pupils in P4 to P7. Our proposals would involve the introduction of a national tutoring programme to give extra support to students who have fallen behind their peers during the pandemic.

Glasgow Times: Douglas Ross Douglas Ross

These kind of bold ideas about the future of our education system are why I’m so proud to be a member of a party determined to move forward from the divisions of the past and invest all our time and energy in creating a better future. It is up to the First Minister to explain why she believes it is a better use of her time to obsess over another divisive independence referendum than focus on what she claimed in 2015 would be her number one priority.

Our children will continue to suffer the consequence of her neglect until this tired SNP Government is shown the door.