Education must be at the heart of Scotland’s recovery from coronavirus, Willie Rennie has insisted, as he told how the country needs hope and unity after a “decade of division”.
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader also said that partnership working brought about by the Covid-19 crisis could help “turn the tide on the toxic atmosphere that has divided our country”.
He added that out of the “great adversity” of the virus “may come a little bit of hope”, and a “new politics for our country”.
Mr Rennie argued that politicians from different parties should come together to provide a “needle-sharp focus” on key issues, such as providing more green jobs, improving childcare and mental health services and education.
“At the heart of the recovery must be education,” he insisted.
He made the comments as he said that people had been left “exhausted” by the pandemic and “years of arguments” about Brexit and independence.
Mr Rennie, speaking at the Scottish Liberal Democrat autumn conference, added: “People want a bit of hope, of unity, of partnership.
“If the last decade was about what divides us.
“Let us make the next decade not just about what unites us but much more importantly about what makes our lives better.”
The Holyrood election in May will set the “direction of the country for the next decade”, he added.
And here he claimed his party could be an alternative to the “chaos” offered by both Boris Johnson’s Conservative government at Westminster, and by the SNP’s policy of independence.
Mr Rennie, speaking at the virtual conference, insisted: “The Liberal Democrats are a vehicle for change.
“A change from the decade of division with the Conservatives and SNP. Of Boris Johnson, of Alex Salmond, of independence, of Brexit.
“And for the next decade we don’t need to choose between the chaos of Boris Johnson and the chaos of independence.
“There is another way. The Scottish Liberal Democrats represent a third way. The third way means working in partnership.”
Calling for changes in education, he said: “I want to set out proposals to raise up Scottish education to be the best again.”
He said the system must be “overseen by people with current teaching experience”, calling for both the Scottish Qualifications Authority and Education Scotland to have more staff seconded in from schools and colleges.
He promised teachers will “lead a literacy task force to change the primary school curriculum to make sure that no child slips through the net on reading and writing”, and added that in secondary schools the Lib Dems would work to bring back back principal teachers for the STEM subjects subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths.
He called for a review of teacher pay and conditions and added: “By this time next year I want teacher-led education in place in Scotland.
“I want teachers to be at the centre of how we make Scottish education the best again.”
He also insisted Scotland needs an “industrial partnership for economic recovery” from coronavirus.
Mr Rennie went on to speak about how the pandemic had created a “moment of reckoning” for the care system.
Here he said there should be a “proper pay rise for care workers” as well as new “career structure to reward them, and give them all a career ladder that boosts their skills and pay at every step”.
Mr Rennie argued: “This should be the positive legacy from this pandemic. A social care system for elderly people, for sick people, for people in need, that we can all be proud of.”