The First Minister has defended the appointment of a leading education expert heading up an independent review on exam failings, following criticism over political tweets he posted.
Professor Mark Priestley, from Stirling University, has been tasked with studying the process that led to tens of thousands of pupils receiving lower than expected marks, after exams were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, criticism has been levelled at the academic’s appointment by opposition critics, following tweets he posted in 2019 suggesting tactically voting for the SNP at the last election.
The Scottish Conservatives have called for the party to consider removing Prof Priestley from the post, claiming Scottish parents and pupils will “not put up with a whitewash”.
I can’t interrogate how people vote and nor should I interrogate how people vote. It’s a personal choice.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
When asked about the controversy surrounding appointment of the university academic during her daily Covid-19 briefing on Friday, the First Minister maintained he was the “right person” for the job.
She added: “Mark Priestley is a respected academic and I don’t think anybody could credibly or reasonably doubt his credentials for this job.
“The controversy appears to be because he has perhaps suggested at some point that he might have voted SNP. To the best of my knowledge, he’s not a member of the SNP.
“I can’t interrogate how people vote and nor should I interrogate how people vote. It’s a personal choice.”
Nicola Sturgeon added that recent polls, which predict an SNP landslide at the next Holyrood election, could create an “issue” if these individuals are barred from holding appointments based on their qualifications.
She said: “On the basis of current opinion polls, more than half of all the Scottish population intend to vote SNP so there would obviously be an issue if we started to exclude people who have qualifications to do things from doing these things because they might vote SNP.
“I wouldn’t exclude someone who was qualified because they vote for another party.
“I don’t think it should be relevant in terms of somebody’s ability to do a particular job that needs a particular specialism, which I don’t think anybody doubts Mark Priestley has.”
I wouldn’t exclude someone who was qualified because they vote for another party.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
The academic came under fire after the Daily Record revealed tweets he posted ahead of the last general election, in December, one of which stated that the “clear” message in some seats was “vote SNP or get a Tory”.
He also tweeted that supporting Neale Hanvey, a candidate who was suspended by the SNP amid an anti-Semitism row, before being readmitted to sit as an SNP MP in June, was perhaps a “lesser of two evils”.
Education Secretary John Swinney announced Prof Priestley’s appointment during a statement in which he also apologised to pupils directly affected by the downgrading of awards.
Mr Swinney said that it was “deeply regrettable we got this wrong” and announced all downgraded results would be withdrawn and replaced by the original estimates.
He also told parliament that the government hoped to learn lessons for the future and said the review led by Prof Priestley would provide initial findings within five weeks.
Scottish Conservative education spokesman Jamie Greene said Scottish parents and pupils demand a “truly neutral and fully independent review” into the exams debacle.
“If the SNP are serious about righting their wrongs over the fiasco, and if the public are to have any faith in this review, they must consider removing Mr Priestley”, he added.
Prof Priestley has been approached for comment.