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SNP talk free education at Aberdeen conference

The SNP Annual Conference from 15 to 17 October in Aberdeen saw Scottish Nationalist MPs addressing a range of domestic and foreign policy issues.

Party leader Nicola Sturgeon told voters that in the lead-up to next May’s Holyrood election, they should “judge us on our record”.  She added “It’s not perfect – of course it’s not – the recession and Westminster austerity have created a financial climate much tougher than anything we could have contemplated back in 2007… But, make no mistake, it is a record I am proud of. And you should be proud of it too.”

One of the key aims she highlighted was education. The SNP have placed free university education at the heart of their domestic policy, and Sturgeon said that over the past nine years, free university education and quality apprenticeships have been at the heart of the “strong foundations” which the SNP have laid down.

She went on to make a series of promises, including improvements to childcare. She pledged to make sure that every nursery in Scotland’s most deprived areas would have an additional qualified teacher or childcare graduate by 2018, to commit to free school meals for all and to increase the flexibility of childcare.

Outside of education, Sturgeon maintained a focus on domestic issues and pledged an extra £200m for a new series of elective treatment centres in hospitals across Scotland.

She also announced plans to increase carers’ allowance to equal jobseekers’ allowance.

Sturgeon also emphasized that any future independence referendum would happen only “when there is clear evidence” that the majority of people in Scotland wanted it.

She did, however, suggest that Britain leaving the EU, and thus taking Scotland out of the EU against its wishes, might make Scottish demand for independence “unstoppable.”

SNP minister Roseanna Cunningham also spoke at the conference, supporting the Scottish government’s official request for Scotland to be excluded from the UK government’s proposed bill to limit trade union powers.

Cunningham said the plans would undermine industrial relations, and Scottish Trade Unions Congress leader Grahame also spoke out against the bill.

Cunningham said: “it is our view that all the measures within the bill in combination will affect employees’ right to strike, change the relationship between unions and organisations negatively, and lead to greater confusion amongst employees.”

The Conference rejected calls for the party to back an outright ban on fracking, although the Leith branch had presented a motion backing the Scottish government’s moratorium on fracking – a moratorium which was extended recently to cover underground coal gasification (UCG).

Several speakers called for the motion to be revised and strengthened.

However, an effort to remit the motion back for revision was defeated by 427 votes to 554 and it was carried by the conference.

Former first minister Alex Salmond has warned the UK against staging a “futile military intervention” in Syria and the conference unanimously backed a motion opposing “UK participation in ongoing military action in Syria”.

At Conference, the SNP as a whole called for “renewed diplomacy to resolve the conflict”.

Freya Marshall Payne

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