First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP makes a statement to Parl

Fact check: Nicola Sturgeon on her record as first minister

Nicola Sturgeon faced MSPs for the final time at first ministers’ questions (FMQs) on Thursday, ahead of her officially stepping down next week after SNP members elect a new leader.

She will be replaced by either Kate Forbes, Ash Regan or Humza Yousaf after more than eight years in the role. 

During her appearance at FMQs, she made a number of claims about her record as first minister. 

Ferret Fact Service looked at five of these. 

Ferret Fact Service | Scotland's impartial fact check project

“The Scottish child payment lifting children out of poverty”

Sturgeon said that part of her record as first minister was the Scottish child payment. 

It was launched in February 2021, and is paid at £10 per week per child to low-income families with children under 6. 

The Scottish Government has estimated the payment could reduce relative child poverty (after housing costs) by five percentage points by 2023-24. As of December 2022, it is estimated 184,000 children in Scotland were receiving the child payment. 

The child payment was introduced after a raft of powers were transferred to Scotland in the Scotland Act 2016. 

Child poverty levels in Scotland are measured across four year periods, and levels have remained static over Nicola Sturgeon’s time as first minister. Across 2019-22, statistics show 24 per cent of children were living in relative child poverty after housing costs. In 2014-17, this figure was 23 per cent. From 2009-12 to the latest statistics, relative child poverty has risen three percentage points. 

Ferret Fact Service: Mostly True

The Scottish child payment was launched in 2021, and the Scottish Government has estimated it will reduce relative child poverty by five percentage points. During Sturgeon’s time in office, child poverty has remained stable. 

Mostly True

“Closing the attainment gap”

Closing the poverty-related attainment gap has been a stated priority for Nicola Sturgeon since she became first minister. In 2016, the SNP’s programme for government stated that tackling the gap was “a priority for the SNP in Government” and “the defining mission of this government will be education”.

The attainment gap is measured in various ways, but broadly it refers to the fact that children from deprived backgrounds do worse at school than those from richer backgrounds. 

The Scottish Government launched the Scottish Attainment Challenge in 2015, which aimed to close the gap between students from the most and least deprived areas.

Relative attainment is often calculated using the Scottish index of multiple deprivation (SIMD), which looks at small areas of Scotland and measures deprivation across seven criteria: income, employment, education, health, access to services, crime and housing.

The gap is then measured between the most deprived fifth of Scottish SIMD areas, compared to the least deprived fifth.

For younger pupils, attainment is regularly measured on abilities in reading, writing, literacy, numeracy, as well as listening and talking. 

For reading, the attainment gap for P1, P4 and P7 pupils combined has reduced by 0.7 percentage points from 2016-17 to 2021-22. In writing, the gap reduced by 0.4, and in listening and talking it has reduced by 0.7. 

The literacy gap decreased by 0.8 percentage points, while in numeracy the gap increased by 0.2 points. 

For S3 pupils, the attaiment difference between least and most deprived pupils reaching the third level has increased. The gap has increased by 2.7 points in reading, 2.6 in writing, two points in listening and talking, and 2.7 points in literacy. The numeracy gap has increased by 0.1 points. 

The attainment gap is also measured by relative numbers of richer and poorer children going on to higher education. Since 2013-14, before Nicola Sturgeon came into power, the gap had reduced by 0.1 up to 2021-22.

There has been some progress in overall positive leaver destinations, where the gap was 8.2 percentage points to year before Sturgeon came to power. It now stands at 4.4.

According to Audit Scotland, progress on the attainment gap has been hampered by the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on schools. 

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Half True

Across the age-groups of Scottish education, success in closing the attainment gap has been mixed. While small improvements have been made in some areas, the gap has widened in others and there has been limited significant progress.

This claim is half true.

Abolishing prescription charges

Prescription charges are free in Scotland, unlike in England where the current prescription charge is £9.35 per item, unless you have a medical exemption. Prescriptions are also free in Wales and Northern Ireland. 

The Scottish law was brought in in Scotland on 1 April 2011 under the government of Alex Salmond, three years before Nicola Sturgeon became first minister in 2014. However, she oversaw the policy’s implementation as then-health secretary and kept it in place during her administration. 

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Half True

While the SNP government did abolish prescription charges, this was done under the previous first minister Alex Salmond, while Sturgeon was health secretary. It has remained free to this day. 

This claim is half true.

Free period products

Scotland became the first country in the UK to introduce free access to period products in 2022, after the law was voted through parliament in 2020. 

Before this tampons, pads and some reusable products were funded in schools, colleges and universities. 

The bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament by Monica Lennon, a Scottish Labour MSP. Concerns over the bill were raised by a number of SNP ministers, but the party moved to support the act after pressure from campaigners and party members. 

It gained support of the whole parliament and passed with 121 for, zero against and zero abstentions, and was then delivered by Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish Government.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Half True

While free period products were delivered by the Scottish Government under Nicola Sturgeon’s time, it was Monica Lennon who spearheaded the policy and it was her bill that passed through parliament. 

This claim is half true.

Free tuition for higher education

Tuition fees were reintroduced by the UK Labour government in 1998, amid significant protest from students and backbench MPs. 

The initial fees were set at up to £1000 per year of study, with Scotland being given a concession as degree courses generally took four years rather than three. 

Up-front fees in Scotland were scrapped in 2001 by the Scottish Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition government, with a fee being paid at the end of study called the ‘graduate endowment’. 

The SNP made abolition of the endowment fee for higher education a manifesto pledge, and the SNP government scrapped these fees in 2008 after a narrow vote in the Scottish Parliament. 

This was six years before Nicola Sturgeon became first minister. During her time in charge higher education has remained free. 

Ferret Fact Service verdict: Mostly False

Free higher education was put in place under the SNP government, but this was during Alex Salmond’s period as first minister. It has remained free during Sturgeon’s tenure.

This claim is Mostly False

Photo credit: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

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