LABOUR’S attempt to try to force John Swinney out of office failed yesterday, with MSPs voting 67 to 58 to keep the Educa-tion Secretary in his job.

The motion of no confidence was backed by the LibDems and the Tories, while the SNP were supported by the Scottish Greens.

It was tabled over the weekend following the fallout from last week’s exam results.

There were protests after the SQA downgraded 124,564 pupils’ results using a system that kept “credibility” with previous years but disproportionately impacted students in Scotland’s most deprived areas.

Opening the debate, Scottish Labour’s Richard Leonard said the SNP veteran should resign over a “long line of failures”. He added: “This afternoon is not about personalities, it is not about retribution for what happened last week with the SQA shambles.

“It is about the principle of the democracy and accountability of the Scottish Government to this Scottish Parliament. It is about a time of reckoning for a long line of failures.

“But, more importantly, it is about the future; the future of our schools, of our pupils of Scottish education.”

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 Swinney as “one of the most decent and dedicated people in Scottish politics”.

She told MSPs her deputy was “probably the most honourable individual I have ever known in my life”.

Sturgeon accused Labour and the Tories of opportunism, saying the no-confidence motion was “not about principle, this is simply about politics”.

The First Minister said the Scottish Government had taken responsibility for the SQA exam mess: “We owned it and we fixed it. We haven’t hidden.

“We haven’t tried to blame anyone else. And we haven’t objected to the criticisms made of us. 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.”

Sturgeon said that neither she nor Swinney had “any desire to hide from the fact that we initially got this wrong.”

She added: “We acted from good intentions but we got it wrong. In putting it right we have listened and we have learned. We’ve listened to parents to teachers and indeed we have listened to parties in this parliament more than they have been prepared to listen to anyone else.

“But most of all, we have listened to young people. They have been impressive passionate and persuasive advocates for changing course.”

The SNP leader also pointed out that the system used in Scotland was broadly similar to the one used by “different governments of different party colours in England, and in Wales”.

She said it spoke “volumes about the motivations and the priorities of the opposition” in Holyrood.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon defends John Swinney in no-confidence vote

Ruth Davidson said Swinney’s failings were “so great and the damage to his authority so fatal that he simply has to go”.

The Greens were criticised by Labour and the Tories for voting against the motion of no confidence, but the party’s education spokesman Ross Greer said their only priority was “restoring the grades of 75,000 young people who had been treated so unjustly”.

He added: “That is what was achieved. So I find it pretty entertaining that the Tories in particular are screaming in outrage at a terrible error made by the Scottish Government, but as always ducking the issue of their own party, doing the same thing, on a measurably worse scale, in this country’s other government.

“To be calling for John Swinney’s resignation, but apparently have full confidence in the disgraced former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson really does take some brass neck.”