Every primary school pupil in Scotland will be eligible for free breakfast and lunch all year round if the SNP is reelected next year, the party's deputy leader has promised.

The bold policy announcement - estimated to cost around £230 million per year in additional government spending - was made by John Swinney on the first day of the party's virtual conference.

It signals the start of what promises to be a long and hard fought election campaign before voters go to the polls in May 2021.

Swinney said the extension of free school meal provision - which would begin in August 2022 - to all pupils would help the country tackle child poverty, which has grown markedly over the last decade.

The education secretary laid the blame at the door of the UK Government, claiming its welfare reforms had left too many families struggling.

In a prerecorded speech to party members, Swinney said: “The callous cuts to welfare imposed by the Conservatives are bad enough.

"But we now face a tsunami of child poverty if the Tory Chancellor imposes a second wave of austerity. Scotland’s children cannot afford that.

“This is not just an issue for the very poorest. This is an issue for working families, forced to feed children from foodbanks or go hungry themselves.

“Right now, all P1 to P3 pupils are entitled to free school lunches. Given what I fear we are facing from the Tories, we will not leave a child at the mercy of a Tory Chancellor just because they are in P4, P5, P6 or P7.

“If elected next May, from 2022 we will extend universal free school lunches to all primary school pupils, P1 to P7.

“We want every child to have every chance to learn every minute of every school day, starting from the moment they arrive in class. So, we will also extend free provision of a healthy breakfast to all primary school pupils as well."

He added: “But one of the lessons of 2020 is term-time isn’t enough. Hunger doesn’t take a holiday and so neither can we.

“If re-elected we will extend free school meals through every school holidays.

“All primary school pupils. All classes. All year round.

“That is the next step in our battle to stop the Tories forcing more and more kids into poverty, support families, and make Scotland the best place to grow up.”

The SNP previously extended eligibility for a free school lunch to all P1 to P3 pupils while P4 to P7 pupils are eligible based on a range of income and benefits criteria. Eligibility for breakfast varies from council to council.

John Dickie, Director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), said: " This is a massively welcome commitment. With struggling families under increasing pressure as the economic impact of coronavirus plays out, the time has unquestionably come to remove the means test from school meals.

"We know from our work that tens of thousands of children across Scotland are officially recognized as living in poverty but are not currently getting a free school meal.

"For many more hard pressed families the cost of school lunches and breakfasts is a huge financial burden."