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SNP tackles Labour on spending

The Scottish National Party has chosen education to launch its election campaign, promising to invest Pounds 745 million over four years to employ 700 more teachers and renovate tattered school buildings.

The money would come from North Sea oil revenues and extra corporation tax, by withdrawing from the Trident submarine programme and by getting more people into work.

Alex Salmond, the party's leader, urged voters to follow the example of Ireland which had an education system that was "the envy of Europe". Ireland's growth rate, five times that of the United Kingdom, was attributable to its investment 20 years ago in education.

Mr Salmond said it was time to move away from the "negative southern-focused agenda from both the London-based parties" and renew Scottish education. The behaviour of the Conservatives towards education was "not surprising" but Labour had deserted the principles and traditions of the Scottish system.

He said: "Most devastating of all is the total refusal of New Labour, given the extent of the crisis that Scottish education is suffering from at the present moment with hundreds of teaching jobs in jeopardy and huge concern among parents and teachers about maintaining quality in the face of local expenditure cuts, to commit even a penny more to education."

Labour's only spending commitment, based on phasing out the assisted places scheme, would not be enough for even a single extra teacher in each Scottish constituency. "We have spelt out an agenda of real additional resources for a four-year period totalling Pounds 745 million," Mr Salmond said.

Plans for a student loan scheme signalled the end of Labour's commitment to free education and a disregard for the Scottish four-year degree. The SNP is committed to restoring grants and benefits at a cost of Pounds 70 million a year.

Cuts in higher education funding came in for special criticism. The SNP's manifesto, "Yes we can: renew Scottish education", states: "This is not just a tough policy; it is destructive, wasting highly trained and expensive people and undermining the efficiency and productiveness of Scotland's future. "

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