The 2021 Scottish Parliament elections took place on Thursday 6th May. 

In preparation for the elections, we looked at parties’ pledges from a children’s human rights perspective. Our round-up considers key pledges from the following manifestos:

  • Implementing human rights

    All five parties refer to implementing human rights in some manner but direct reference to children’s human rights is rarer.

    Four support incorporating international human rights treaties, including:

    The SNP also commits to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child within the first six months of the new parliament.

  • Right to be heard

    A range of pledges support the right to be heard under Article 12 UNCRC. Most references are to “young people” with a gap in relation to “children”:

    • Greens: commits to ensure children’s voices are heard in education including by establishing independent Pupil Unions and reserving a space for a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament on the SQA Management Board. Commits to ensuring disabled people have a role in designing their “Young Person’s Guarantee”.
    • Labour: commits to ensure young people are represented in national and local bodies through a statutory right to consultation.
    • Liberal Democrats: a greater role for the Scottish Youth Parliament in shaping and reviewing public services used by young people.
    • SNP: establish a Citizens’ Assembly for under 16s.
  • Child poverty

    All five parties commit to increasing the Scottish Child Payment to £20/week.

     Additional pledges include:

    • Conservatives: deliver full employment as the “best route out of poverty”; free school breakfasts and lunches for all primary and special school pupils.
    • Greens: increase Best Start Grants and School Clothing Grant by £100; free school meals for all pupils and free breakfasts to pupils who want or need it; work to end the Benefit Cap, Two Child Limit and Rape Clause; expand in-school income maximisation programmes.
    • Labour: free school meals to all primary pupils; £5/week supplement for families with disabled children or parents; work to end the Two Child Limit and Rape Clause.
    • Liberal Democrats: free school meals to all primary pupils; consider top-up payments for families with a disabled parent or child; new campaigns to increase uptake; call on UK Government to make permanent the £20 uplift to Universal Credit introduced during the pandemic.
    • SNP: free school breakfasts and lunches to all primary pupils and pupils in state-funded special schools; expand rollout of the Scottish Child Payment to under 16s in low income families by the end of 2022; invest in employability support for low income and disabled parents; new Child Disability Payment; increase Best Start Foods to £4.50/week and expand eligibility to all in receipt of Universal Credit.

    Three parties (Greens, Liberal Democrats and SNP) commit to exploring a Universal Basic Income. All five make commitments to reduce the number of households who are homeless or temporary accommodation with a range of pledges to build more affordable homes or those for social rent, and other support schemes.  

  • Childcare and family support

    All parties commit to delivering the current expansion to 1140 hours by August 2021. Four parties also make commitments to improve or accelerate access to childcare for families choosing to defer their child’s entry to Primary 1 (Conservatives, Greens, Labour, Liberal Democrats)

    Additional pledges include:

    • Conservatives: free wraparound childcare for Primary 1-3 equivalent to 5 hours/week.
    • Greens: expand access to nursery teachers through increased funding and new statutory guidance.
    • Labour: year-on-year expansion with an aim of 50 hours/week for every child; move to more blended transition between nursery and early Primary by maintaining a focus on play with more formal schooling from age six or seven.
    • Liberal Democrats: expand funded provision to include all two-year-olds with the ambition to extend to one-year-olds; introduce a “nursery premium” to support children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
    • SNP: expand funded provision to one- and two-year-olds from low income families within the next parliament (and all one- and two-year-olds thereafter); build wraparound childcare system for other ages, free for the least well-off families and with others to make “fair and affordable contributions”
  • Education and play

    Early learning

    The Greens, Labour and Liberal Democrats focus on the importance of play in early education. The Greens commit to raising the school starting age to seven, ending the routine use of homework in primary school and increasing outdoor learning. Labour says it will retain the current school starting age but move towards more blended transition into primary school with an increased focus on play and more formal schooling from age six or seven. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats commit to play-based education until age seven. All three parties commit to ending P1 Scottish National Standardised Assessments. Meanwhile, the SNP commits to renew every play park in Scotland.


    All five parties make pledges relating to attainment, including actions to address the poverty-related attainment gap. Every manifesto includes a commitment to recruit more teachers, ranging from 3000 (Conservatives and Labour) to 5500 (Greens). Three parties (Labour, Liberal Democrats and SNP) commit to ensuring all pupils have access to electronic devices and/or connectivity to assist their learning.

    Further commitments include:

    • Conservatives: £1billion attainment funding made available to schools alongside a menu of evidence-based interventions to inform spending; £1m for early language support to reduce the “word gap” on entry to Primary 1.
    • Greens: reduce class sizes to a maximum of 20; reduce role of exams and expand continuous assessment; remedy issues with subject choice and ensure access to courses.
    • Labour: reduce class sizes; remedy issues with subject choice and ensure access to courses.
    • Liberal Democrats: cut class sizes; more in-class support; new opt-in supporting study programme for Secondary 4 – 6 with financial bonus for teachers who choose to participate; teacher-led literary task force.
    • SNP: £1billion investment to closing the attainment gap; reform assessment system to ensure it does not disadvantage pupils from more deprived backgrounds.

    COVID-19 recovery

    Parties take differing approaches to addressing the impact of the COVID-19 on education. For example, the Conservatives place a focus on “catching up”, committing £120m of funding to include a £35m national tutoring programme for disadvantaged pupils who were hardest hit. By contrast, Labour and the SNP place more focus on wellbeing and rebuilding social connections over summer, before academic support on return.  


    All parties commit to reviewing the current curriculum and wider opportunities available to pupils. There is a particular focus on music tuition, with all five parties committing to introducing free provision for all pupils, and expanding outdoor education opportunities. Other common areas include teaching about Scotland’s links to slavery and its colonial past (Greens, Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP) and climate change (Conservative, Greens, Labour, Liberal Democrats, SNP) and LGBTI inclusive education.

  • Health

    All parties commit to reforming the NHS to some degree. A particular focus is placed on children’s mental health, with pledges including:

    • Conservatives: £8m investment in mental health training for school staff and support from charities; a trained mental health lead should be introduced in every school.
    • Greens: £161m additional investment in CAMHS by 2026; doubling the budget for children and young people’s community mental wellbeing services; a right for all pupils to access school-based counselling.
    • Labour: every GP service to have dedicated mental health worker (to support all ages); mental health assessment and support for every pupil on their return to school following the pandemic.
    • Liberal Democrats: end long waits for treatment; abolish “rejected referrals”; train more mental health specialists for schools, double number of specialist psychiatrists training to support young people.
    • SNP: at least 1% of NHS frontline spending to go to CAMHS by the end of the next parliament.

    Labour and the SNP commit to producing a National Transitions Strategy to support the move from CAMHS to adult services.  

  • Addressing violence against children

    Violence against women and girls 

    All parties make commitments to tackle violence against women and girls. This includes a national campaign for schools (Conservatives), a cross-party commission (Liberal Democrats) and increased funding for organisations such as Scottish Women’s Aid (Greens, Labour, SNP).


    Several parties make commitments to address bullying. The Greens commit to introduce mandatory recording of racist incidents and prejudice-based bullying in schools, whilst the SNP commit to improving reporting and publication of data on such incidents.

    Equal protection

    None of the manifestos address what parties will do to encourage positive, non-violent forms of discipline by parents/carers.

  • Disabled children

    All parties make commitments to support disabled children, with a focus on inclusive education. Pledges include:

    • Conservatives: weighting their two-year COVID-19 “catch-up” towards pupils with additional support needs; new bespoke advice service on the most effective interventions; ensure teacher training fully prepares teachers to identify and support pupils with ASN; formalise role of pupil support assistants.
    • Greens: recruit 2500 more ASN teachers over next parliament; make ASN teaching a promoted post to attract more teachers; ensure teacher training equips all to fully support ASN pupils; formalise role of pupil support assistants.
    • Labour: 1000 ASN teachers, additional funding to address gaps between ASN legislation and practice; enhanced ASN resources with focus on those most at risk of long-term disengagement during lockdown; every school should public annual plan to improve inclusive practices;
    • Liberal Democrats: new statutory guidance to eliminate the unnecessary use of restraint and seclusion, supported by comprehensive training.
    • SNP: invest in funding to expand the number of pupil support assistants; additional funding to enable local authorities to offer free BSL tuition for deaf children aged 5+.

    The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and SNP commit to implementing the recommendations of the Additional Support for Learning Review led by Angela Morgan. Labour and the Liberal Democrats commit to establishing an Autism and Learning Disability Commissioner.

  • Care-experienced children

    All parties commit to implementing the recommendations of the Independent Care Review to keep The Promise. Additional pledges include:

    • Conservatives: developing a “Mockingbird Programme” to build supporting communities around foster families; implementing a register of foster carers to “further professionalise the sector”.
    • Labour: introduce a “care endowment” to address inequalities in inheritance; review foster care allowances; support introduction of a national minimum allowance for foster and kinship care; strengthen support for kinship carers; invest in a national adoption strategy; double the Job Start Grant for care leavers and disabled young people.
    • SNP: introduce a new Care Leaver Grant to support transition.
  • Young carers

    All parties make pledges towards unpaid carers, including:

    • Conservatives: commit to a new action plan for young carers to ensure there is a coordinate approach to identification and support.
    • Greens: double the Young Carer Grant to £600/year and expand eligibility so that siblings who care together can both receive this payment; increase Carer’s Allowance top up to £105/week.
    • Labour: develop new action plan on Young Carers.
    • Liberal Democrats: campaign for UK-wide uplift to Carers Allowance of £1000/year.
    • SNP: one-off double payment of Carers Allowance in December 2021; replace Carers Allowance with Carer’s Assistance which will increase value of payment.
  • Refugee and asylum-seeking families

    The Greens, Labour, Liberal Democrats and SNP make a range of commitments to support refugee and asylum-seeking families. This includes a pledge to work to end private sector housing provision and replace with public/third sector provision (Greens), developing national standards on refugee resettlement including the accommodation and care of unaccompanied children (Labour); prevent eviction from temporary accommodation (Liberal Democrats); take forward existing strategies to support families to have access to safe accommodation, food and specialist advice (SNP).

  • Child justice system

    Few commitments are made in relation to justice-experienced children. The Liberal Democrats support bringing the minimum age of criminal responsibility into line with international standard, while Labour supports a further review once the current legislation is “firmly established”. Labour further supports a review of secure care units, while the SNP commits to expand secure care so that no under 18s are held in Polmont who should not be there. The SNP also commits to implement a new Youth Justice Strategy for Scotland.

  • Child victims and witnesses of crime

    Four parties support the implementation of the Barnahus system for child victims and witnesses of crimes (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats and SNP). Meanwhile, the Greens, Labour and SNP commit to appointing a Victim’s Commissioner.

  • Transport
    • Greens: free ferry travel for children and young people
    • Labour: free ferry travel for under 25s; free buses for under 25s.
    • Liberal Democrats: extend free bus travel for young people to include ferry links.
    • SNP: free bike to all school age children who cannot afford one; extend free bus travel to under 22s.