Alex Salmond, Willie Rennie and Nicola Sturgeon.
By Bill Heaney
LibDem leader Willie Rennie and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon don’t like each other.
It’s been plain for months that there is no love lost between this pair.
And it was apparent again at Holyrood on Thursday when Rennie raised the contentious issue of nursery education for two-year-olds.
Willie Rennie said: “In 2014, after months of refusal, Alex Salmond eventually agreed to introduce free nursery education for two-year-olds who are in poverty.
“Five years later, only one third of those children are getting that foundation. Why is the current First Minister failing those children?”
The First Minister replied: “I do not accept that. Childcare is available across Scotland for vulnerable two-year-olds, in addition to the provision for three and four-year-olds. We continue to encourage parents who want to use that provision to do so.
“Our job is to ensure that the provision is there. As well as doing that, we are working with local authorities and investing significant sums of money in them to transform childcare and double the provision that is available by the end of this parliamentary session.
“That is a big success story of the Parliament that we should be proud of and continue to work to build on, as the Government is determined to do.”
But Willie Rennie was far from content with Ms Sturgeon’s answer.
He said: “That is simply not good enough when this is supposed to be the Government’s most transformative infrastructure project. A new report was published this morning by the charity Save the Children, which is not impressed.
“In page after page of evidence, it says that two-year-olds who are in poverty are missing out, which could jeopardise the closure of the poverty-related attainment gap.”
Mr Rennie added: “In England, 70 per cent of two-year-olds who are in poverty are receiving free nursery education, which is double the rate in Scotland.
“It is unbelievable that the Conservative Government is reaching more children in poverty than the Scottish National Party is.
“It has been five years. Does the First Minister think that she should have made more progress by now?”
The First Minister sniped back: “It is good to see Willie Rennie back to his usual role of defending a Conservative Government.
“The Scottish Government is doing significantly more to expand early years’ education and childcare than the Government south of the border is, and that will continue to be the case.
“We will look carefully at Save the Children’s report and we will continue to work with it and other organisations to ensure that the roll-out of the expanded hours is effective.
“As part of the expansion, the target for two-year-olds is higher, but we will continue to work with local authorities to ensure that for two, three and four-year-olds, Scotland is the part of the United Kingdom that leads the way on giving our children the best start in life.”