Tories tell First Minister to 'give it a rest' on independence plans

Nicola Sturgeon has hit back at Tory claims she should "give it a rest" when it comes to Scottish independence.

The First Minister came under fire from the Conservatives after she appeared to ditch improving Scotland's education as her number one priority.

When pressed on what the most important issue facing Scotland is, the SNP leader stressed the importance of "growing the economy".

Both the Tories and Labour accused her of spending more time making the case for Scottish independence as they called on her instead to focus on improving schools and the NHS.

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Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: "She has repeatedly claimed education is her number one priority, and so it should be, but the facts show different.

"With her, it is independence first and everything else a long way behind, and the country is asking 'Why won't she give it a rest?'"

Ms Davidson challenged her on the issue the day before the SNP is due to publish a long-awaited report on the economic prospects for an independent Scotland, produced by the Sustainable Growth Commission that was established by the party in 2016.

The Tory accused the First Minister of "dragging Scotland back down the rabbit hole of a debate on independence".

She claimed there are fewer school pupils getting Highers in key STEM (science, technology, education and maths) subjects now than there were in 2014 - the year that Scots voted against independence.

The Conservative added: "It is a mystery to me how spending months restarting the debate about independence is going to do anything to improve that."

She also said just four of the 91 P1 to P3 classes in Ms Sturgeon's Glasgow Southside constituency met the target of having 18 pupils or less, which was set by the SNP in 2007.

Ms Sturgeon insisted the Scottish Government had set out "an ambitious package of reform on education", going on to say the number of people with Highers in science subjects rose by 9.6% between 2007 and 2017.

She also hailed initiatives such as the government's School Attainment Fund and the Pupil Equity Fund, saying these were "transforming education".

The First Minister added: "If Ruth Davidson got out a bit more and spoke to more teachers, she would find that that is exactly what they are saying as well."

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She recalled that Ms Davidson had called on her to "give it a rest" earlier this week - but pointed out she had made those comments in a speech in London that was focused on the constitution.

"Some people might say that is a tad hypocritical of Ruth Davidson, I of course couldn't possibly comment," she said.

"The truth about Ruth Davidson is she loves nothing more than talking about the constitution, she just doesn't want the case for independence to get a hearing. Well, I am sorry we are going to have to disappoint her on that front."

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard urged the First Minister to "put the NHS before the SNP".

More than 54,000 people waited longer than the health service's 12-week treatment-time guarantee last year, he told Ms Sturgeon.

Mr Leonard added that the launch of the growth commission's report on Friday would "exasperate the millions of people right across Scotland who just want the First Minister focused on public services like out national health service".

He said: "The SNP promised that people would be treated within 12 weeks.

"In Nicola Sturgeon's first year that promise was broken to one patient in every twenty. Last year it was broken to one patient in every five."

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He insisted there were "serious problems right across the health service" and added: "That's what the people of Scotland want the government to be focused on.

"Not another referendum, not more division. When will the First Minister finally realise that the people want her to put the NHS before the SNP?"

Ms Sturgeon responded: "The Scottish Government will remain focused on improving our NHS each and every single day.

"That is why right now in Scotland our emergency services perform better than they do in any other part of the UK, it's why so many of the other services provided by the NHS are better than they are in any other part of the UK, including the only part of the UK where Labour is in government right now, which is of course in Wales."