THE rain-drenched Secret Garden Outdoor Nursery – based in a 25 acre woodland near Cupar, in Fife – was the scene for the launch of the new independence white paper on education today.

Of course, education is already devolved to the Scottish Government. But Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth said there are a “number of things” that the paper – the 12th in the Building a New Scotland series – outlines which are reserved and that, in an independent Scotland, would improve outcomes for children.

“Not least in relation to children's rights. This paper sets out the opportunity to fully enshrine the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC),” Gilruth told journalists – flanked by Minister for Independence Jamie Hepburn.

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“And I think that, of course, given the challenge that's existed in relation to the UK Government and the Scottish Government on that issue, it would be certainly welcome,” she added – referring to a challenge by the Westminster government in 2021 which threatened to derail Scotland becoming the first devolved nation to incorporate the UN charter into domestic law.

Gilruth said that there are also “opportunities to strengthen parental leave” – which is reserved.

The paper proposes that an independent Scotland could see the current statutory two-week leave and pay provision for partners extended as well as providing additional weeks of shared parental leave taken at the end of the 52-week maternity period.

She also argued that there are opportunities in “school education” including increasing capital spend on improving school buildings.

“We know that in an independent Scotland, we've got greater options in terms of what we might be able to do in the future to improve the school estate,” Gilruth said.

The white paper looked to heavily underline the importance of rejoining the European Union for Scotland, including participation in exchange programmes such as Erasmus which Gilruth said were “opportunities for our young people” and Scotland’s higher education system.

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She also highlighted the EU’s eTwinning programme, which sees teachers run on-site and online activities with their students along with colleagues from schools across Europe.

However, when pressed by The National on the importance of foreign language learning – which has declined dramatically – for an independent Scotland and future EU membership and what plans the government has, Gilruth said it would be part of a forthcoming update she will make to Holyrood as part of a response to Professor Louise Hayward’s review of Scotland’s curriculum.

Alongside the policy considerations Gilruth highlighted at the launch, the paper also proposes protecting free university tuition in a permanent constitution as well as 16 and 17-year-olds being given voting rights in every election covered by Scottish legislation.

Gilruth also argued in the paper that independence would give Scotland “full powers” to tackle child poverty, such as scrapping the two-child benefit limit.

She said: “Our education system shows why making decisions in Scotland, for Scotland, is better for people who live here.

“Since 1999, we have been able to take choices to improve opportunities for our young people – including abolishing tuition fees, expanding free school meals and investing in transformational early learning and childcare.

“But the outcomes for our children and young people continue to be harmed by decisions taken by the UK Government – particularly in terms of social security cuts, which are impacting children and families the most.

“Independence puts the full powers to tackle child poverty in Scotland’s hands, and would allow us to build on existing policies.”

She added: “As we have already set out, we would enshrine economic, social and cultural rights – including the right to education – in the interim constitution, effective from day one of independence.

“The Scottish Government would propose that our policy on free university tuition is enshrined in the permanent constitution of an independent Scotland, subject to the deliberations of the constitutional convention.

“Independence would put significant economic and legislative levers in Scotland’s hands and give future Scottish Governments a range of opportunities to do things differently on a range of key issues, like children’s rights, tackling child poverty, reserved childcare support schemes and parental leave.

“This paper sets out just some of the opportunities open to future independent Scottish Governments to build a successful and thriving Scotland.

“It shows the potential that can be unlocked for our children, young people and families – the best start in life in a fair and prosperous independent nation.”