First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she is still “absolutely full of ambition” for what the SNP can do in government, as her party prepares to celebrate a decade in power in Scotland.
While she said the party has a strong record in office, she conceded there are still “big challenges” for education in Scotland.
The party will mark 10 years in government in Scotland on Tuesday – exactly a week after figures were published showing less than half (49%) of Scotland’s 13 and 14-year-olds are performing well in writing.
Ms Sturgeon said: ” I’ve made no bones about the fact that while there is lots and lots of strength in Scottish education, there are big challenges.
“While I can point to lots of areas where Scottish education is strong, doing well and improving, I’m not satisfied with that because I also see areas where clearly we need to do better.
“That’s why I’ve put such an emphasis and priority on improving standards in education.”
She dismissed any suggestion that Scotland has become more divided over the decade the SNP has been in power, despite the constitution now being a central focus of politics north of the border.
The First Minister wants to hold a second independence referendum sometime between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, arguing this is necessary to give Scotland – which voted against Brexit in 2016 – the chance to choose a different future.
Speaking to Press Association Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said: ” I don’t believe Scotland is divided, there are differences of opinion on the constitutional future of Scotland, just as there are differences of opinion on Brexit. My position is I want Scotland to have a choice over the future direction we take.
” I would say to people whether they voted Leave or Remain, whether they are for independence or against independence, over these next few years we’ve got a big challenge to make sure Scotland’s voice is heard and we get the best outcome on these things for Scotland.”
Having spent five years as health secretary under her predecessor Alex Salmond, Ms Sturgeon highlighted improvements to the NHS north of the border – where one of the policies brought in by the SNP has been free prescriptions.
She said: “T he health service in Scotland, in common with many other countries, has got significant challenges, but we are now seeing record funding in our health service, record numbers of people working in our health service.
“And one of the most important things we’ve done – and in future years will be shown to be one of the most important things – is integrating health and social care, so we stop people falling through the cracks in the middle.”
The SNP has “completely transformed the infrastructure of Scotland”, she added, citing improvements to motorways, the construction of a new bridge across the Forth, and work which has seen “hospitals, health centres and schools rebuilt or refurbished literally in every corner of the country”.
While she said it is ” difficult to single out one highlight” from the SNP’s 10 years in government, Ms Sturgeon, who served as deputy first minister for seven years before succeeding Mr Salmond, said taking on the top job in Scottish politics was a ” particular honour”.
She said: “G overnment brings with it lots of stresses and strains and there are days when it feels very difficult – as it should do.
“Every day feels difficult, but there is no greater privilege than having the chance to make a difference in your country by being in government and particularly by being the leader of your government.”
She said that ” rather than look back, we’re looking forward”, adding: “W e’re proud of what we’ve done but we’re absolutely full of ambition about what we still want to do.”