Yesterday was the end of an era in Scottish politics. Nicola Sturgeon spoke at Holyrood for the final time as First Minister after more than eight years in the top job.
Her commitment and dedication to public service cannot be questioned. The First Minister also remains extremely popular compared with most other politicians, especially among those who support independence.
Not many leaders get to choose the timing of their own departure but her record in government can and will be rightly scrutinised. The First Minister prioritised tackling poverty from the start of her time in office. She was later the driving force behind the Scottish Child Payment, a top-up only made in Scotland.
So we can assume the outgoing SNP leader was as disappointed as anyone when official figures published yesterday showed one in four children are still living in poverty. It’s the same level as when the SNP was swept to power nearly 16 years ago.
Sturgeon cited poverty reduction as a key government policy but the numbers show tiny reductions in deprivation. They show 24 per cent of children living in Scotland were in relative poverty, after housing costs, between 2019 and 2022.
Although the figure has fluctuated in recent years, the proportion was exactly the same between 2007 and 2010. SNP ministers would argue that the Scottish Government lacks the full economic powers of an independent country to really get to grips with the situation.
It’s true that child poverty is an issue that shames each of the four nations in the UK. But no matter how the figures are spun, it’s a damning indictment of Sturgeon’s time in office.
The blunt reality is too many Scots have their life chances severely reduced by where they happen to live or what their parents do for a living. The difference in living standards between some towns and villages is plain to see. Poverty in Scotland is hiding in plain sight.
While poverty rates have barely budged, the same cannot be said for NHS waiting times. Covid upended the health service but the postcode lottery when it comes to services is getting worse.
This week the Record reported on how little Harvey Martin, who suffers from an agonising curvature on his spine, is still waiting on urgent medical intervention. In what was possibly her final act as FM, Sturgeon told MSPs she had spoken with the NHS, who told her a date for Harvey’s procedure would soon be confirmed.
But it shouldn’t take an intervention from the Record to make the difference. Whoever succeeds Nicola Sturgeon on Monday must put tackling poverty and fixing the NHS at the top of their list of priorities.
Scotland deserves better.
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