John Swinney has pledged that every schoolchild in Scotland will be given a laptop or tablet by the Scottish Government if the SNP are re-elected in May.

The Education Secretary outlined details of the £350 million policy commitment to a special SNP campaign conference.

He also used his speech to give his fulsome support to party leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, insisting she has “all that it takes to lead Scotland”.

The last year has seen Ms Sturgeon face criticism from some quarters for her Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

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John Swinney made clear his support for Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (Jane Barlow/PA)

The First Minister has also had to deal with investigations into the way her administration handled sexual harassment complaints brought against former first minister Alex Salmond.

As splits within the SNP were exposed, Mr Salmond announced on Friday he wants to make a dramatic return to Holyrood as leader of the new Alba Party.

Speaking about Ms Sturgeon, Mr Swinney said that in a year “like no other” she had “wrestled with impossible decisions”.

In an online address he added: “Yes, I am talking about the pandemic. But yes I am also talking about the baseless attacks on her character.”

The First Minister, he insisted, had been “tested like no other leader in modern Scottish history” and has “come through”.

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The Deputy First Minister added: “We all know she has all that it takes to lead Scotland through these crucial days.”

He spoke out as he revealed details of the SNP’s latest election campaign pledge.

Mr Swinney said: “If we are re-elected in May, the SNP will roll out a new programme to deliver into the hands of every school child in Scotland a laptop, Chromebook or tablet to use in school and at home.

“It will come with a free internet connection and full technical support. It will be updated when necessary, replaced when needed and upgraded as technology improves.”

Mr Swinney said the coronavirus pandemic has shown that such devices are “no longer luxuries” and are instead “the basic building blocks of a good education”.

He stated: “A child cannot do their homework on mum or dad’s phone. And they cannot study online if they can’t connect to the internet.

“Just as in my day the teacher handed out a jotter to all, so in this internet age we will hand each child the device they need to learn and prosper.”

He went on to attack the Westminster Government after it raised concerns Holyrood may have exceeded its powers when passing legislation to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law.

The Bill was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament, with Scottish Secretary Alister Jack saying afterwards there was “doubt about the competence of specific provisions in the Bill”.

Mr Swinney hit out: “Scotland unanimously wants to protect the rights of children – our own children – and Westminster says that we are not allowed.

“That is not just morally repugnant – it is deeply menacing.”

He added: “If the UK Tory Government wants to target the rights of Scottish children they had better be ready for us.

“We are unanimous. We are determined. And – if need be – we will see the UK Tory Government in court.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “The SNP has been in power for 14 years. The First Minister has been in post for 7 years.

“This is just the latest example of the SNP hiding its atrocious record in office by trotting out policies that they have failed to execute, or that they have no plan to implement.

“The facts speak for themselves – under the SNP, the digital divide between the wealthiest and the poorest has grown.

“Time and time again, the SNP has missed its own targets for the roll-out of devices - leaving some of the poorest children without access to vital technology and experts baffled at the sluggish pace of the programme.

“After 14 years of SNP failure, the people of Scotland deserve better.

“Scottish Labour is focused on delivering a national recovery plan that works for the people of Scotland."