Gird your loins - 2009 has arrived

Brian Monteith

When lined up in a row, the numbers 2009 don't appear to have any particular significance at the moment. Maybe some maths boffins can tell me otherwise - and I have no doubt there are a good few historical anniversaries that will be celebrated, such as the 250th anniversary of the birth of Rabbie Burns, or the 50th year since the Cuban revolution. Still, it is not a year too many of us can be especially looking forward to.

The educational community, from top to bottom, must have its own fears. At the top, so to speak, the Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop must wonder when that telephone call from The Great One will be made, thanking her for all her hard work but telling her she should spend more time with her family.

This may seem unfair, for Hyslop has her admirers - especially those who have had to deal with her and had their way. But politics is a rotten, unforgiving profession and, as the election approaches, The Great One will be looking for some heavy lifting in the education department in future - and the current environment minister Michael Russell has spent more time in the political gym than Hyslop. That's my tip anyway.

The recent international league table results were - for all that they matter domestically - a disappointment that will stick to Hyslop's reputation, even though it reflects the nation's performance during those glorious year of Lib-Labbery when milk and honey flowed.

It must have been a doddle back in 2002: after all, Sam Galbraith - one of the four - had tied up, like some Gordian knot, teachers' pay and conditions. All his successors had to do was, well, unravel it.

Devolution, as we have it, is fundamentally flawed, for our MSPs know how to spend money in the good times without having to raise more than 5 per cent of it. In the coming bad times, when public spending will be under immense pressure and with little ability to raise taxes and no borrowing powers, they will be at best confused but more likely delusional.

Expect unrealistic promises of school teacher recruitment targets from central government - leaving unemployed graduate teachers at the bottom of the hierarchy with much to fear in 2009 - while local authorities face the reality of having to deliver these pipe dreams.

Just before Christmas, the public services think-tank, Reform Scotland, published its paper on the governance of Scotland and recommended that both the Scottish Parliament and local authorities be given the responsibility for raising the majority of the monies that they spend, thereby encouraging responsible government with a realistic sense of what is achievable.

It might seem odd to give some more power to politicians who have such a miserable disregard for the powers they already have. But the lack of financial accountability needs to be addressed. Would it be too much to give them enough rope in 2009?

Brian Monteith, like Alexander the Great, believes Gordian knots should be cut, not unravelled.

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Brian Monteith

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