SCHOOL dinners will be free for all primary-age children in Scotland, regardless of financial circumstances, if the SNP win the next election. 

In what was one of the first pledges from the party at their virtual conference, the deputy first minister said Scotland should never “go back to kids going hungry in the classroom.”

He told delegates that the prospect of "Tory austerity" as the country recovers from the coronavirus pandemic made expansion of the scheme necessary: “As education secretary I know the impact of poverty on attainment. I know what every teacher will tell you, that the link is direct, obvious and immediate.

“And, I fear that it is about to get harder. The callous cuts to welfare imposed by the Conservatives are bad enough.

“But we now face a tsunami of child poverty if the Tory Chancellor imposes a second wave of austerity. Scotland cannot afford that.” 

He added: “And we must recognise that this is not just an issue for the very poorest. This is an issue for working families, forced to feed children from foodbanks or go hungry themselves.

“Right now, all P1 to P3 pupils are entitled to free school lunches. Given what I fear we are facing from the Tories, that is not good enough. 

“We will not leave a child at the mercy of a Tory Chancellor just because they are in P4, P5, P6 or P7.

“If elected next May, from 2022 we will extend universal free school lunches to all primary school pupils, P1 to P7.”

He also promised to extend “free provision of a healthy breakfast” to all primary pupils too.

And, he added, it wouldn’t just be for term-time. 

“Just as we extended free meals through the holidays this year and next, if re-elected we will extend free school meals through every school holidays.

“All primary school pupils. All classes. All year round. That is the next step in our battle to stop the Tories forcing more and more kids into poverty. The next step to support families.”

Swinney's  policy promise is expected to cost around £230m. 

Over the summer, Boris Johnson was forced into a U-turn over free school meals for families on lower incomes in England, after being humiliated footballer Marcus Rashford