Education secretary Jenny Gilrtuth has urged SNP colleagues to be “a little more circumspect and thoughtful” in their use of social media after a row over the summer saw schoolchildren dragged into an attack on Labour’s candidate in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election.

Last month, former children’s minister Clare Haughey shared a post from the pro-independence Talking-Up Scotland blog which suggested exam marks in the modern studies department at Park Mains High had slipped in recent years and were poorer than the national average.

The blog's author, John Robertson, said the results were “disappointing in terms of temporal decline and comparative weakness”.

He concluded: “I’m not sure how the Labour candidate can be presented as the kind of ambitious, energetic and demanding person, the folk of Rutherglen and Hamilton West deserve as their MP.”

Ms Haughey — who employs the SNP candidate Katy Loudon — reposted a tweet about the blog using the startled eyes emoji.

The Herald:

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That tweet was liked by the Twitter accounts of local SNP branches in South Lanarkshire and SNP councillor Maureen Chalmers, the community wellbeing spokesperson for Cosla.

The comment sparked a flurry of criticism with a number of users on the site, including many teachers, attacking the politician. 

Scottish Labour deputy Jackie Baillie accused Ms Haughey of "gutter politics"  and weaponising school pupils to "score grubby points."

The tweet was deleted and a party spokesperson apologised on Ms Haughey’s behalf.

In Parliament on Thursday, Labour’s Paul O’Kane asked Ms Gilrurth about levels of attainment in Modern Studies in the most recent SQA exam results in Renfrewshire.

“I congratulate the ambition, hard work and resilience of the young people in Renfrewshire who achieved a strong set of results in modern studies,” the minister said.

“In 2023 pass rates for modern studies at National 5 in Renfrewshire were above the national average, and the same as the national average at Higher.

“The achievements of these young people should be celebrated.”

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Mr O’Kane said was “glad to hear that answer from the Cabinet Secretary.”

“She knows how important modern studies is in teaching good citizenship and respectful debate. Young people and their teachers across Renfrewshire work extremely hard to achieve their results in the subject.

“So what would the Cabinet Secretary say to a colleague encouraging the denigration of young people's exam results in order to attack a political opponent and will she join me in condemning the actions of her colleagues from local SNP branches, council groups and even this chamber who seem to believe that the life chances of pupils at Park Mains High, an excellent school in my region, are fair game in desperate political attacks?”

“I think we could all learn to be a little more circumspect and thoughtful in our use of social media and in particular, how and what adults say and do impacts on our children and young people,” Ms Gilruth said.

“I understand the tweet the member has alluded to has since been deleted and the member has apologised at that time, but I'm intrigued by the care that Mr O'Kane appears to attach to one tweet from an SNP backbencher.

“The Scottish Labour Party has of course attached no such care to the 1,620 children in Rutherglen and Hamilton West who have been affected by the two child benefit cap.

“It is the Tories' heinous rape clause which is harming children and their outcomes the length and breadth of this country and instead of coming to the chamber today with a backbone, Mr O'Kane comes to bemoan a tweet on social media.”