Labour and Lib Dems slug it out on tax
Jim Wallace, the party's leader, said the full details of its education plans would be revealed shortly but pledged that employing more teachers would be the top priority. If necessary, a 1p rise in income tax rise would raise pound;180 million.
Labour retorted that a penny on tax would raise just pound;150 million and denounced the move as "fiscal Viagra".
Mr Wallace said that the Lib Dems were committed to a "significant" increase in spending on books and materials and would tackle the backlog of school repairs. Fairer funding of students was another aim.
He argued that Labour's first two years in office had been marked by cuts and teacher-bashing and instead promised new money and a new approach.
Mr Wallace backed the Government's initiatives on pre-school education, early intervention and computers but said Scottish Office spending on education had been cut by pound;98 million in real terms since Labour took power. In 2001-2002, the highest spending year of the three-year comprehensive spending review, the education block would still be pound;35 million less than the Tories' spending in their final year.
Mr Wallace also said Labour was pound;200 million down on local government education spending. Overall council spending in the last year the Tories were in office was pound;5.7 billion, against pound;5.3 billion now. Education had taken its share of cuts.
Donald Gorrie, the party's spokesman on education, said it had been two years of cuts followed by three years of restoration under the spending review.
Helen Liddell, the Education Minister, replied that sticking to Tory spending limits in the first two years had been dictated by economic necessity and had paved the way for large increases in the next three years. "By the end of the comprehensive spending review we will be spending pound;400 more on every pupil in Scotland," Mrs Liddell said.
Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, had put an extra pound;108 million into education over the past two years and pound;1.3 billion would go in over the next three.
Labour's Scottish conference in Glasgow last week rallied behind the Government's spending commitments and policy developments. Keith Geddes, joint spokesman on education for the Scottish parliament and president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said existing achievements laid the foundation for the "biggest and most radical programme ever of educational change embarked upon by any Government".
Scotland spent pound;405 million more each year proportionally on local authority education than England and Wales. "The fundamental reason for the difference is that we benefit significantly by the way in which resources are distributed through the Barnett formula. An independent Scotland would not enjoy the benefits of the extra resources Scotland currently gets from the existing system of distribution," Mr Geddes said.
He challenged the SNP to explain how to make up the shortfall and how much taxes would have to rise.
Delegates endorsed a string of developments, from pre-school and early primary initiatives to new technology, community schools and specialist schools. Schools were being repaired across the country and 30 new schools were being built.