AN SNP MSP who sends her children to private school has been accused of hypocrisy after using her maiden speech at Holyrood to proclaim that "education is not a commodity to be bought or sold."

Ashten Regan-Denham, who was elected to represent Edinburgh Eastern, came under scrutiny during the campaign for sending her twins to a fee-paying institution despite presenting herself as a staunch left-winger.

Using her speech to praise the SNP's defence of free tuition fees, a policy that has been attacked by critics who argue it disproportionately benefits the middle classes, she went on to make a wider point about education.

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After claiming tuition fees represented "the creeping commoditisation of everything" and attacking the approach in England, Ms Regan-Denham said: "I subscribe to the idea education is not a commodity to be bought or sold like a tin of beans or a loaf of bread, but rather an expression of society’s belief in learning for its own sake, a wider benefit to all of society."

She made her first contribution in the Scottish Parliament chamber the day before a Sutton Trust report was published showing Scottish young people from the fifth most advantaged areas are four times more likely to go to university than those born into the poorest 20 per cent of areas. The equivalent figure in England is 2.4 times.

The MSP later added: "Educational opportunity and social mobility must be protected. Universal benefits are a principle worth fighting for."

Ms Regan-Denham also spoke about her former role with a "progressive think tank", Common Weal, which has a motto of ‘All Of Us First’. She has described the organisation as rejecting the "survival of the richest, winner takes all mentality", while one of the body’s policy papers stated: "One step to reducing this inequality would be to remove unnecessary religious segregation from our school system, and remove the charitable status of private schools, with the ultimate goal of rendering them redundant."

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At a hustings event ahead of the election in which she defeated Labour leader Kezia Dugdale in the constituency race, Ms Regan-Denham was forced to defend her decision to choose private education after an SNP voter was critical of the move.

She said her twins went to a state school for six years before her family decided on a fee-paying institution due to a lack of "wrap-around care" in the sector that around 95 per cent of the country's school children rely on. Average independent day school fees in Scotland are just under £11,000 per year.

Scottish Conservative shadow education secretary Liz Smith said: "People will be surprised to see a politician launch a thinly-veiled attack on independent schools in her maiden speech, only to happily send her children to one.

"This is the kind of hypocrisy the public can’t stand. If anything, this SNP MSP should tell the Holyrood chamber about the virtues of independent schools, seeing as she clearly values them so much."

Neil Findlay, the Labour backbencher, said: "This is a remarkable statement from Ms Denham said with no hint of irony that ‘education is not a commodity to be bought and sold’. She may have completely forgotten about her own decision to purchase education for her family but none of the rest of us have."

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An SNP spokesman said: “As Ash made clear in her maiden speech, she is proud to support the SNP government’s education record and our ambitious plans to reduce Scotland’s educational attainment gap. Her family’s education is a private matter reflecting family circumstances."