No-confidence motion defeated after Sturgeon backs Education Secretary

John Swinney has survived a vote of no confidence amid opposition calls for him to resign over Scotland’s results “shambles”.

The SNP and Scottish Greens backed the under-fire Education Secretary, defeating the motion of no confidence by 67 votes to 58.

The motion was tabled after the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) revised down more than 124,000 pupils’ results, disproportionately downgrading pupils from poorer backgrounds.

The exam board said it was following Mr Swinney’s instructions to suppress grade inflation in an attempt to make results “credible”.

After a week of criticism and pupil protests, Mr Swinney ordered the SQA to reverse the downgrading and instead award affected students the results estimated by their teachers.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said the backlash and subsequent u-turn over this year’s results was “just the latest catastrophe in Mr Swinney’s tenure in education”.

Opening the debate, Mr Leonard said the motion was “not about retribution for what happened last week with the SQA shambles” but was instead “a time of reckoning for a long line of failures”.

He said the Scottish Government’s u-turn was “a victory for all those young people who refused to take this injustice lying down” and that Mr Swinney only reversed his decision when the motion of no confidence jeopardised his job.

Calling for him to resign, Mr Leonard added: “John Swinney showed us that he had no confidence in Scotland’s school students and teachers.

“It is this Parliament’s duty to those school students and teachers to say that we have no confidence in him to sort out this mess which he has created.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described Mr Swinney as “one of the most decent and dedicated people in Scottish politics” and added: “The Deputy First Minister is probably the most honourable individual I have ever known in my life.”

Responding for the Scottish Government, Ms Sturgeon expressed her confidence in Mr Swinney and claimed the “opportunistic” no-confidence motion was “not about principle, this is simply about politics”.

“The last few days have been more difficult than they should ever have been for many young people in Scotland. I know that, and I am sorry, and so is John Swinney,” she said.

“I readily acknowledge that we focused too much on the system and not enough on individuals.

“A desire to avoid something that would look like grade inflation meant students lost out on grades that their teachers believed they deserved.

“The statistical model used meant many more students were downgraded in poorer areas than in other parts of Scotland.

“That was wrong, which is why the Deputy First Minister set out a solution on Tuesday and restored the grades of young people across the country.”

Setting out the Tories’ support for the no-confidence motion, Ruth Davidson said: “The Education Secretary’s failings are so great and the damage to his authority so fatal that he simply has to go.”

She continued: “The Education Secretary had the results for five days before they were published and could see the car crash that was coming and didn’t act.”

She said the Scottish Government only changed its position on the results when the no-confidence motion was raised.

Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer said his party had been raising concerns for four months about the grading system.

He said: “When the results arrived we took no pleasure in being vindicated.”

Saying the Greens would not be supporting the motion, he said the Scottish Government had accepted the solutions put forward by his party.

He said: “What has come about in England today is demonstrably worse, measurably and quantifiably worse, than what has happened in Scotland.”