Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy and his Education spokesperson at Holyrood Iain Gray are at loggerheads over support for the SNP’s policy of free school meals for P1-3, it has emerged. Despite a press release from Scottish Labour yesterday in which Mr Gray condemned their introduction, Mr Murphy later stated he supported the proposals – repeatedly and wrongly claiming that his party had voted for them in the Scottish Parliament.
In reality, Labour repeatedly voted against the introduction of free school meals. On January 7 last year, Labour voted against the SNP Government motion to introduce free school meals. While Labour claimed this was because the motion mentioned independence, their own amendment specifically removed taking action on free school meals.
And during last year’s Stage 3 budget debate, Mr Gray singled out free school meals as a measure that Labour could not support, stating that the budget “wrongly in our view” prioritised the policy.
Stewart Maxwell, MSP,who convenes the Education Committee, said: "Labour are absolutely tying themselves in knots over a policy that should have been welcomed by their party from the very start. The whole saga has exposed the fact that Mr Murphy is a leader in Westminster who has no clue what his Holyrood shadow cabinet are up to. Just hours after his Education spokesperson Iain Gray bizarrely condemned the policy, Mr Murphy – wrongly and repeatedly – claimed on TV that Labour had supported the policy in the Scottish Parliament. He also claimed that Iain Gray shared his support – despite the obvious fact this is not the case.
"The reality is that Labour voted against free school meals at every turn – and even singled it out for specific criticism during a vote on last year’s budget. Organisations including Unison, Save the Children and Child Poverty Action Group have described free school meals as a key measure in tackling poverty – and the policy will benefit 135,000 children across Scotland. It will not be forgotten that Labour have been on the wrong side of this argument at every turn."
"If Mr Murphy wants to declare his support for free school meals, he must apprise himself of the full facts of Labour’s disastrous and long-standing opposition to the policy before doing so. As Labour’s new leader struggles to get to grips with the challenge facing him, it’s clear there’s a crisis of competence at the top of the party." Mr Maxwell added.