Sport and the 2021 Scottish Election : A Key Fact Check

By Grant Jarvie, Paul Widdop and Yuxun Xu

University of Edinburgh

Key Fact Check

  • Double the Scottish Government’s investment in sport and active living to £100 million a year by the end of the Parliament (SNP).
  • 10% of the transport capital budget on walking, cycling and wheeling (SNP).
  • £1 million to support more schools to open their facilities to the public during evenings and weekend (Conservatives).
  • Double sportscotland’s budget over the course of the next Parliament (Conservative).
  • Develop a new Active Scotland Plan, enabling councils to reintegrate local services (Labour).
  • Appoint a Minister for Sport (Greens).
  • Back the UK’s bid to host the 2030 World Cup and bid to hold the final in Scotland (Conservatives).
  • Extend opportunities for Gaelic sports (Liberal Democrats).
  • Appoint an Outdoor Recreation Champion (Liberal Democrats).
  • Participate in the UK-wide preparatory work for a 2030 Men’s World Cup bid being funded by the UK Government (Liberal Democrats).
  • Establish an island travel scheme for teams and individuals to compete in national events (Liberal Democrats).
  • Create a ‘Fan Bank’ to empower communities and groups and strengthen local decision- making by supporting communities to acquire a share or control of their local sports club (SNP).
  • None of the manifestos according have been adequately costed. (Institute of Fiscal Studies).
  • Every £1 spent on sport generates £1.91 in health and social benefits.
  • The importance of sport in the national economies usually varies between 1 per cent and 2.3 per cent in terms of gross value added and employment.
  • The education sector is the biggest sector overall in European countries; it is invariably one of the most important sport sub sectors globally. The virtual closure of the education sector during the lockdown had a strong effect on sport.
  • Sport is a major untapped Scottish resource in terms of international engagement.
  • Sport in Scotland should be supported far more in relation to helping Scotland achieve its environmental ambitions.
  • Sport in Scotland should be rewarded much more for its contribution to the SDG’s and sport in Scotland should make much more aware of the world mandate it has been given.
  • Scotland should use sport and sport should use current human rights legislation to enshrine a right to sport and safe places.


On 6 May, people across Scotland will vote to elect 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). The party that wins the most seats will form the government. Given the multiple ways in which sport matters, nationally and internationally is sport in Scotland about to become an important political force field, control over which brings authority, visibility, and power but also delivers tangible outcomes for Scotland?


Why do manifestos matter?  They are an important guide to our politics and priorities in public life. For a governing party it sets priorities, once elected it becomes a programme of work for ministers and a means of holding administrations to account once elected. If required a manifesto can be an important element in reaching a coalition deal, although such a deal has not been needed at Holyrood for 18 years.


If the value of sport to Scotland were measured by manifesto space it would be hard not to conclude that sport is not important to Scottish political parties, but it should be.

Those working in or with sport recognise the value of sport but those working in other sectors or with other portfolios have still to be convinced. This is not a challenge unique to Scotland but sport both in and beyond Scotland needs to be much better at making the case for sport in a way that is understood by different Ministries or sectors of government.

Sport is effective in generating employment because it is community-based and depends on human interaction. As such, one policy implication is that investing in sport can be used as an economic tool to help a country reduce unemployment during a recession, which could be a valuable insight for the post COVID-19 period.

The internal characteristics of the sport economy imply that investing in sport can boost economic recovery and increase employment. However, the same characteristics also imply that sport is much more vulnerable during the pandemic/lockdown period compared with an average economic sector.

Other sporting nations have made the case for sport in a way that has enabled sport to gain traction, long term funding and profile across Government Ministries. Scottish sport must be better at making the case for sport outside of the sports world and beyond just the health portfolio in a way that releases funding for agreed outcomes across a much broader range of government budgets.

Chief Medical Officers have long since argued that it is social capital that is key to addressing poverty and health inequality and sport delivers this in spades.  

An incoming Government could enable Scotland to be a greater sporting nation by being aspirational and including a sports line in each of these budgets where sport delivers on much more than just health.  


For a more complete analysis of sport in the Scottish election see to our Sports Observations Briefing Paper on the University of Edinburgh – Academy of Sport Website.