Tory leader Ruth Davidson said another vote on the future of the UK would only “distract” the First Minister from her stated priority of closing the attainment gap in Scotland’s schools.
Ms Davidson told the SNP leader that “Scotland’s children won’t get a second chance”.
The Conservative will use a speech at the London School of Economics today to urge Nicola Sturgeon to make a choice.
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Nicola Sturgeon faced calls to ditch independence plans and focus on Scotland's education
Ms Davidson will say that since the SNP came to power in 2007 ministers have been “asleep at the wheel on education” and that “constitutional division has taken precedence over education reform”.
The Scottish Government has outlined “ambitious and far-reaching” reforms to education, she will add.
But Ms Davidson will say: “If the First Minister now says she wants an ‘absolute focus’ on education, why is she considering another referendum campaign which will inevitably distract her from that goal?
“How can education be ‘the priority” for her, if she plunges us back into another all-consuming fight over Scotland’s place in the UK?
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Nicola Sturgeon visits Glaxo Smith Kline.
Ruth Davidson warned an independence referendum was distracting the First Minister
“If she spends the next two years fighting over a second referendum, how will her government have the time to deliver the changes in education she says she wants?”
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School reforms “only really work with a committed and focused government at the centre, driving change forward”, the Tory will argue.
She will say: “So I believe the First Minister now faces a choice.
“Either to focus on her own priority, and ensure our schools are turned around.
The SNP were accused of abandoning Scotland's education problems
“Or to push ahead with a second referendum which will only distract her from that goal.
“She says she wants a second referendum. I say, Scotland’s children won’t get a second chance.
“Either she focuses on her own-stated priority of education. Or she betrays that pledge in favour of the SNP’s constitutional obsession. She simply cannot have it both ways.
“Simply put, I do not think the majority of people in Scotland will tolerate the SNP setting all things aside over the coming two years to re-fight a campaign on independence.”
I do not think the majority of people in Scotland will tolerate the SNP setting all things aside over the coming two years to re-fight a campaign on independence
A spokesman for the SNP said: “The Tories are desperately trying to distract from the complete shambles that is their handling of Brexit – a situation imposed on Scotland despite our overwhelming Remain vote.
“After the Brexit vote, Ruth Davidson said that protecting our place in the single market should be the ‘overriding priority’. Now the born-again Brexiteers in the Scottish Tories expect us to let Theresa May push on with a hard Brexit that could cost 80,000 jobs in Scotland over the next decade.
“Tackling the attainment gap is the SNP’s number one priority in government – and our budget, which the Tories voted against, will give schools an additional £120million in increased resources to give all children the best start in life.”
* Meanwhile, figures show that the number of newly qualified teachers in Scotland has fallen by nearly 15 per cent in the past year.
Ruth Davidson will talk to the London School of Economics
Analysis from Labour also reveal a six per cent drop in entrants to teacher training in the last year.
Labour education spokesman Daniel Johnson said: “These figures look like the makings of a deepening workforce crisis. Under the SNP government there are already 4,000 fewer teachers in our classrooms, now we are seeing falling numbers of people training to be teachers.
“Given the lack of support the SNP has given teachers in the last decade it may come as no surprise, but it cannot be accepted. “
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Nicola Sturgeon, Leader of Scottish National Party and First Minister of Scotland
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Mr Johnson added: ‘This will surely add more pressure to class sizes across Scotland.
“The SNP’s promise that education would be its top priority looks an awful lot like pre-election spin rather than a real commitment.
“John Swinney needs more than a few posters to encourage more people into teaching – a start would be to give our schools the resources they need.
“The reality is the SNP-Green budget deal will mean local councils having their budgets cut by £1.5billion since 2011.
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