Friday, 4 December 2009

Class Warfare

Fiona Hyslop was demoted this week, a Scottish Government cabinet re-shuffle saw her take over the culture portfolio and Mike Russell take on the responsibility for education.

When the announcement was made the opposition leaders at Holyrood nearly tripped over themselves in a scramble to claim credit for the move. Tavish Scott appeared to have won that particular race and promptly declared that his party’s plan for a vote of no confidence in Fiona Hyslop had forced the First Ministers hand.

Labour’s Iain Gray wheeled out the worst cliché of all when he announced that “the wheels had come off the SNP bandwagon”. Annabelle Goldie made much the same banal pronouncements as Unionists exchanged metaphorical high fives over this marvellous achievement.

Hyslop’s ‘crime’ was to have failed to deliver on an ambitious target of reducing class sizes, worse though was recent figures showing that teacher numbers had dropped by around 1300.

Fiona Hyslop leaves many achievements, not least of which is the removal of tuition fees for Scottish students and of course her relatively well received work involving the Curriculum for Excellence.

She also leaves Scotland’s schools with the lowest class sizes in history and improved exam results; the new Baccalaureate qualification also recognises the need to encourage students to study languages and the sciences.

So, what was behind the demotion of Hyslop?

Well, the press are clear that this was a plot by the Unionist parties. Bizarrely such a revelation hasn’t been met with condemnation by our media – on the contrary this scheming by the Unionist alliance is being portrayed as a marvellous piece of political manoeuvering.

The demise of Fiona Hyslop has also been put down to naivety on the part of the Scottish Government. Their ‘mistake’ was apparently in providing Scottish council’s with the funds together with an agreement that they would be used to at least maintain teacher levels, the lower class sizes coming about through the expected drop in pupils.

Amidst the current media firestorm the role of the councils has been lost; quite remarkable given their role in recruiting and keeping teachers.

Moreover a quite startling fact emerged at First Ministers Questions when, in response to a question from Iain Gray, First Minister Alex Salmond revealed that one third of all local authorities were responsible for two thirds of the total drop in teacher numbers in Scotland -  these local authorities were all Labour controlled.

Indeed one of these councils, Labour run Glasgow Council, is responsible for around half of the total number of these lost teachers.

If, as the media say, the demotion of Fiona Hyslop was a plot hatched by Unionist politicians then it is surely incumbent on them to ask what role, if any, these Labour run local authorities played in this plot – is their apparent inability to retain teachers simply coincidence.

Further, if the opposition are correct in suggesting that the SNP were naive to expect councils to retain teachers then again, those councils must surely be questioned.

The media’s refusal to scrutinise the worst offending council’s is bizarre, given that these councils are clearly operating a policy that is leading to the loss of teachers.

However the behaviour of the Labour party immediately after Hyslop’s demotion is even more perplexing. For instead of demanding that the Scottish Government and councils now get together in order to resolve this issue they instead have decided, yet again, to accuse Alex Salmond of misleading parliament.

[Salmond apparently announced to Holyrood two years ago that he felt the policy would be met within that term of office, a civil servant had advised Hyslop that in his opinion it could not be met – misleading? No - difference of opinion? Yes]

Remember, the issue here is the education of Scotland’s children, yet Labour suddenly appear unconcerned with falling teacher numbers. This raises questions as to the real agenda of Labour and indeed the other two Unionist parties in this ‘plot’.

Meanwhile the media have picked up and ran with this latest allegation that Alex Salmond misled parliament – the third such allegation since 2007 – the first two being the false allegations over Trump and the equally unjustified allegations over prison abscondments.

As this media frenzy ensues, Newsnet Scotland will remind readers of two facts:
  • The Scottish Government awarded local authorities in Scotland a more generous settlement than they themselves received from Westminster.
  • Some local authorities have refused to honour an understanding that teacher numbers would be maintained.
This week, new education minister Mike Russell personally telephoned Glasgow Council leader Steven Purcell to suggest the two have a meeting. Mr Purcell will have to explain exactly why Labour have allowed teacher numbers to drop to an unacceptable level in Glasgow.

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