By Mike Small
Gordon Brown has entered the referendum campaign with the subtlety and strategic wit of a wrecking ball. As the No campaign pose for a photo-opp in front of a building known as ‘Edinburgh’s Disgrace’ (thanks for that PR magic) the ‘sort of’ occasional leader of Better Together has crashed the party.
Just as the Unionist-bloc was about to announce a pact offering new powers for Scotland, and trying to maintain the ‘best of both worlds’ narrative, up pops Gordon with an astonishing statement on education.
MSP Kenneth Gibson said:
Having undermined the No campaign last week by calling for David Cameron to debate with Alex Salmond, Gordon Brown has done it again. This week, he has endorsed the idea of a UK-wide education system – which could only mean taking powers away from Scotland and giving them back to Westminster – on the very day Alistair Darling and the No campaign are desperately trying to say that they stand for more powers for Scotland.
The absolute core of the ‘best of both worlds’ story about Britain is that the Scottish people benefit from the ‘security’ (sic) and ‘stability’ (sic) of the Union but are allowed to retain distinctive features of our own culture, identity and political infrastructure.
The latest gaffe from Gordon puts paid to that nonsense as the mindset of those Scots who have been institutionalised to believe everything about their on culture is inferior leaks out. Unfortunately for Better Together, the education system being developed in England is a disastrous sideshow teetering on the brink of collapse as it veers between the fantasy worlds of ‘free schools’ and ongoing privatisation.
Scotland was the first country since Sparta in classical Greece to implement a system of general public education. Schooling was made compulsory for the first time in Scotland with the Education Act of 1496 since it forced all nobles and freeholders to educate their eldest sons in Latin, followed by the Arts, and Scots law.
Not that we are problem free.
Sorting the education system is a must, from smaller class sizes to pre-school education to free universities. The new Scottish Government should take on and shake up the university sector with its bloated hierarchical structures. In 2009 Scotland’s 18 university principals received an average salary of more than £225,000 – up nearly three times the rate of inflation.
The highest-paid principal is Professor Duncan Rice, from Aberdeen University, whose salary package rose by 17% from £256,000 to £299,000. The next-highest-paid principal is Professor Sir Tim O’Shea, from Edinburgh University, who is paid a total salary package of £286,000 after an increase of 7%. Professor Anton Muscatelli, the principal of Glasgow University, is the third-highest-paid with a combined salary package of £283,000. These are ridiculous salaries and a bold and ambitious move would be to set some sort of restructuring of these roles and pay structures. This would be both a real saving and a symbol of a shift towards a more democratic, leaner higher education sector.
1 in 5 of young people leave school with literacy issues.
But none of the UK’s educational philosophies or policies would do anything but bring this into absolute chaos.
This is an education system which advocated two year olds entering the school system (“Two Year Olds in school’) as a response to poverty.
The contribution from Brown belies an incredible ignorance of his own country. The principles of a Scottish education system (to be free for all) and the principles of generalism that distinguish us would be utterly undermined by a pan-UK approach.
This is an appalling mistake by Gordon Brown, but at its heart are confusion about who is running Better Together and a complete lack of belief in the key institutions and ideas of Scotland having any worth.