Jim O’Neill takes a look at the SNP’s big idea for education, and finds a surprising number of things not being mentioned.
Nicola Sturgeon has set out her ninority Ggovernment’s Programme for Government. It included some interesting projects and some notable omissions. Let’s look at some of them.
The “highlights” of the programme were the proposals on education. Recognising, although not admitting, the SNP’s failures on education over the past nine years, Nicola announced an international board of specialists to find out where they have gone wrong, and to recommend a way forward.
Indeed, John Swinney has recognised the mess that previous SNP Education Ministers have made by asking for “some time and space” to work out a new plan. Sorry John, our children’s futures are too important to afford you much of that. And what does this say about the performance of such “luminaries” as Mike Russell and Angela Constance, now in charge of communities including welfare issues? I trust she will make a better fist of that than she did of education, leaving, as she has, the sector in turmoil and teachers on the brink of national industrial action for the first time in a generation.
However, the most important announcement on education was not mentioned in Nicola’s speech. Some readers may remember my comments on the reshuffle when I noted that the person in charge of the money makes the policy. So it was not really a surprise when Derek McKay, the Finance Minister, and not John Swinney, announced a shake-up to local council control of education. He admitted that there were no problems in local authority delivery but he thought that there might be ways to do better.
This is enormously dangerous. Not only does it challenge local democratic control of schools, it could lead to the fragmentation of the sector, as has happened in England, with attacks on national terms and conditions for employees. If this happens watch for a wave of strikes which could damage children’s education.
So that was the highlight of what was in the speech. But what was missing. Well there was no mention of fracking. With the first licence to frack being awarded in England, despite the opposition of tens of thousands of local people, we still await a statement about its future in Scotland. We must be told soon.
It was also surprising, with bus services being cut all over Scotland, most recently by First Group in East Lothian and the Borders, and Stagecoach in North Ayrshire, there was no mention of bus re-regulation. Even the Tory government in England has recognised the value of re-regulation in some circumstances.
With the success of Transport for London (TfL) controlled and regulated by the Mayor’s office, this has been used as an incentive for areas across England to vote for elected Mayors. Now, in those areas which have elected a mayor, regulation and control of bus services will be devolved using the same model as TfL. Indeed we already have a model for successful local authority control of transport services in Edinburgh. I would hesitate to note that re-regulation is not in the interests of big SNP donor Brian Souter. Surely that has not influenced the Scottish Government transport policy.
Finally, on a different issue, and following my comments of Scottish Labour’s need for transparency, has anyone seen any reports of the meeting of Scottish Executive following the election? As CLP Secretary I have already received two reports of the most recent NEC meeting from constituency representatives, which I have circulated to members. Why can’t they hear what happened at Scottish Executive? We should be told.