Scottish Parliament Election Manifesto Overview 2021

I have looked at the manifesto commitments of the five main political parties in the Scottish Parliament, relating to school age childcare and set them out in the table below so you can see where the parties stand on this issue.

Of course, children, families and services are widely affected by every policy - pledges on tax, environment, business rates, transport, rural and island issues, cities regeneration, social security, disability care, and changes suggested to planning laws are all important too. A link is provided below to each manifesto for you to read them in full for yourself if you want to find out more about the above policies. The table below concentrates on childcare and play related policies.

Whilst there are commitments relating to the real living wage and piloting a 4-day working week (SNP), which could affect how school age childcare services are used, it is important to remember that employment policies in general are not devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and neither is the main funding for social security, general income tax, minimum wage, defence and foreign policy.

Manifesto promises are about the whole 5-year term of elected, so radical policy changes tend to be gradual, and of course are highly dependent on enough public funding being available to carry out such pledges.

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Two parties explicitly commit to school age childcare:
  • The Scottish National Party (SNP) promise wraparound before and after school care all year round, free to low-income families with a fair and accessible price for higher income families.
  • The Scottish Conservatives (Conservatives) promise free five hours of after school care for children in primary 1 to 3 and work with schools and community groups to build capacity - this statement comes after mentioning lack of access to sports and music tuition for those who cannot pay for it, so there may be some ambiguity on whether this is registered childcare or activities after school here, it is possible it could be both.

[Note: On twitter some of you have voiced concerns about the SNP pledge, worrying that schools will be asked to take-over the running of services. We do not see this happening: it would be more likely that lessons will be learned from the roll out of the 1140 hours, and this policy would be delivered in partnership with the private and voluntary sector, going by the work already done on the draft framework for school age childcare.]

Both the Scottish Liberal Democrats (Lib-Dems) and the SNP promise holiday care and activities for “eligible children” (Lib-Dems) or a £20 million package for a summer 2021 programme of activities for children and young people (SNP). The Scottish Labour Party (Labour) would give every young person a Summer Comeback Pass to provide free access to sport, transport, outdoor activities, and culture.

The Scottish Green Party (Greens) and the Lib-Dems both commit to raising the school starting age to 7; with the Greens pledging a kindergarten stage at 3-6 with specialist kindergarten teachers. The emphasis for both is play and social development, which is, of course, what school age childcare already provides for primary school children. Labour, while not supporting raising the school starting age calls for a more play based blended learning model in primary 1, including outdoor play.

All parties commit to free breakfast and school lunch for primary school children with the Greens and SNP promising to extend this to free breakfast in secondary schools, Labour, Greens and SNP mention all year-round food provision - so during school holidays too. Labour specifically mentions clubs with food and play provision.

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There are specific mention of policies relating to expanding outdoor play and learning (Greens), and to renew every play park in Scotland (SNP). Labour will bring in a Right to Play, access to a free extra- curricular activity and ensure access to sport grounds.

The Conservative, Greens, Labour and Lib-Dems all mention providing a free week of residential outdoor education for every child and more outdoor classroom time (Lib-Dems).

All parties are committed to doubling the current Scottish Child payment of £10 to £20, while the Greens also want to increase Best Start and school clothing grants, and the SNP will also give a payment of £520 to families in need as the roll out of the Scottish Child payment is developed. The Lib-Dems, Labour also call for the uplift of £20 in universal credit to be made permanent by the UK government.

All parties are committed to the roll out of 1140 hours of early learning and childcare with the Lib- Dems and the SNP committing to extending this to 2 years-old and 1 year-old children, while the SNP also mention continuing with the Baby Box for every baby born in Scotland. Labour plan that childcare should be considered a key growth sector in Scotland so also want to see a year-on-year expansion of the hours available, with the eventual ambition of offering 50 hours a week for every child. (Note our reading of this is every child under school age but it is unclear in the manifesto).

All in all, there is a strong raft of commitments which are testament to strong campaigns across the childcare and play sector and some which meet our own manifesto asks in full, (SNP) or in part (Conservatives) and all try to deal with poverty and food insecurity and recognise the value of play and activities, especially outdoors. Many also mention access to free music tuition in schools and other sports and cultural recovery activities we have not space to cover here.

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Here are the links to the full manifestos:

Digital-Manifesto-Final.pdf (

Our Common Future - Scottish Greens


Our 2021 Manifesto (

SNP 2021 Manifesto: Scotland's Future, Scotland's Choice - Scottish National Party

The Extracts in the table below are directly lifted from the relevant manifestos.

It is possible we might have missed a key measure so it is always best to go to the sources directly to look into the pledges in more depth.

We at SOSCN will continue to work with whichever party/parties gain power as the next Scottish Government to ensure they are well informed on the current sector. Although we should say broadening the definition of school age childcare to include activities seems to be a direction for the current policy framework.

Irene Audain, SOSCN, 22nd April 2021

Download table of manifestos relating to school age childcare:

Specific pledge on school age childcare
ConservativeAfter school activities also provide essential childcare for working parents. We would introduce free wraparound childcare for children in Primary 1-3, equivalent to five hours a week, and work with schools and local community groups to build capacity and create choice for parents.
Lib Dem
SNPAnd we'll go even further, by building a system of 'wraparound' childcare - providing care before and after school, all year round. Those on the lowest incomes will pay nothing, and others will make fair and affordable contributions.
Specific pledge on holiday care/provision
LabourWe would give every young person a Summer Comeback Pass to provide free access to sport, transport, outdoor activities and culture.
Lib DemWe will extend holiday clubs and activities to meet the needs of eligible children during the holidays
SNPWe will deliver a programme of activities for children and young people over the summer, backed by £20 million investment, to help them socialise, play and reconnect
Raise school starting age
GreenRaise the school starting age to seven and introduce a kindergarten stage for three to six year olds. Scotland has an unusually early starting age for primary school, often pushing young children into a formal learning environment before they are ready. Raising the school starting age to seven will bring Scotland in line with countries like Finland, where attainment and wellbeing are higher. A play-based Kindergarten stage will prioritise physical activity, outdoor experiences, and building social skills. This will be led by qualified kindergarten teachers.
LabourScottish Labour wants to see the current compulsory school starting age of four or five years old retained, but there is a need for our early learning and childcare provision to be more about learning and play. For early years, Scottish Labour favours a shift to more blended provision within the current school hours, with increased play-based learning and free-play, including outdoor play, and then more formal schooling from the age of six or seven.
Lib DemWe will help more children get off to a good start at school by using play-based learning until the age of 7. Our plans will help children acquire important learning and social skills before formal schooling.
School Meals
Scottish Conservative Partywe would deliver free school lunches and breakfasts for all children in primary school, ensuring that they get a decent meal twice per day.
Scottish Green PartyDeliver free school meals all year round for all pupils. The Scottish Greens have already secured funding for free school meals for low support other measures, such as free school meals, as part of a programme to end child poverty, children during the holidays and the expansion of free school meals for all primary children. We will further expand this to secondary pupils. Introduce universal breakfast clubs. All schools will be supported to provide a free breakfast to those who want or need it.
Scottish Labour PartyAs part of our wider anti-poverty policies, we will develop and properly fund free school meal provision, including the use of breakfast clubs, and seek to extend the current universal provision of free school meals to include all primary school years. We will also establish summer catch up clubs during the summer holidays with activities and free meals for both primary and secondary pupils so young people can catch up with their friends.
Lib Demsupport other measures, such as free school meals, as part of a programme to end child poverty
Scottish National PartyWe will provide free school breakfasts and lunches to every primary school pupil in Scotland, all year round, and for all children in state-funded special schools in Scotland. Looking longer term, we will pilot the provision of free nutritious school breakfasts in secondary schools, and, based on the findings of the pilot project, explore the feasibility of universal breakfast provision in secondary schools.
Outdoor Play
GreenExpand outdoor play and learning provision. The outdoor environment helps child development, particularly problem-solving skills and assessing risk. We will ensure that all children and young people have regular access to outdoor learning.
LabourWe will also introduce a Right to Play, ensuring that all children have access to spaces to play and be active. Scottish Labour will ensure that every child and young person in Scotland has free and equal access to an extracurricular activity of their choice within or around the school day.
Lib Dem
SNPAnd we will renew every play park in Scotland, so that all children have access to quality play in their own community
Residential/ School trips
Conservativewe will ensure that all children have the opportunity to participate in at least one week of residential outdoor education in their school career. These experiences have proven to be life-changing in terms of building confidence and self-esteem.
GreenGuarantee every primary and secondary pupil at least one one-week residential outdoor experience. Remove financial barriers from residential trips. We will establish a fund to assist families with the costs of going on primary school residential trips to ensure that no child is excluded due to their family income.
LabourThere should be resources for school trips to outdoor activity centres for all young people over the coming two years and, following this summer, we will also guarantee that every primary and secondary school pupil has at least one week away at an outdoor centre.
Lib DemGuarantee that every primary and secondary school pupil has at least one week away at an outdoor centre, as well as taking regular classroom lessons outdoors. This will play an important part in helping young people relate to nature and each other, and to understand and respect their access rights and responsibilities
Scottish Child payment/ Universal Credit
ConservativeIn addition, we would complete the rollout of the Scottish Child Payment and increase payments to £20 per week by the end of the Parliament.
GreenDouble the Scottish Child Payment to at least £20, lifting 50,000 children out of poverty. Increase all Best Start Grants and the School Clothing Grant by £100, worth an extra £400 to some of our poorest families.
LabourScottish Labour will automate the Scottish Child Payment, double it to £20 a week and accelerate the roll out for six to 16-year olds. We will work with UK colleagues to fight for the maintenance of the Universal Credit uplift.
Lib DemWe will double the Scottish Child Payment. We will continue to call on the UK Government to make permanent the £20 uplift in Universal Credit introduced during the pandemic to address child poverty.
SNPIf re-elected, we will go further - doubling the Scottish Child Payment to £20 by the end of parliament to lift thousands of families and children out of poverty. To bridge the gap until the Scottish Child Payment is fully rolled out, we will provide a cash grant of £520, paid across four quarterly instalments, for every family with children in receipt of free school meals.
Expansion support for youngest children
LabourScottish Labour supports a flexible, all-age, all-year, wrap-around affordable early years service centred on the needs of the child. Childcare should be considered a key growth sector in Scotland so we also want to see a year-on-year expansion of the hours available, with the eventual ambition of offering 50 hours a week for every child
Lib DemWe will increase the 1140 hours entitlement to cover all two-year olds. We will go further still to introduce an ambition to extend funded early education and childcare hours to oneyear olds.
SNPWe will also expand free early years education to all 1 and 2 year olds, starting with children from low income households. We will continue to provide Baby Boxes for all of Scotland's new children, ensuring every baby born in Scotland has an equal start in life.
last updated: 22/04/2021