The new kings on the block

Gavin Clark

SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS - An Introduction. by Peter Lynch. pound;14.95, Edinburgh University Press

Remember the summer of '99? The first elections to the new Scottish Parliament had just been held and modern studies teachers were legends in their own staffrooms. We had slowly accumulated a manageable set of resources, newspaper cuttings and information leaflets on how Parliament would work and we knew it all. Difficult questions could be avoided with a "Let's just see how it works out. One possibility is I".

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be a modern studies teacher was very heaven.

And then the Parliament got down to work. Pre-election speculation evaporated as the new institutions started to affect all aspects of Scottish political life. Turf wars, committees and issue-grabbing MSPs took us back to the newspaper dredge, Internet searches and the pile of (must sort) random resources. The Parliament started to leave modern studies teachers in its wake, rather like novice water-skiers being towed into uncharted waters by the good ship Events.

Much has been written about specific issues related to the changes but Peter Lynch, a lecturer in politics at Stirling University, has done modern studies teachers and students a huge service by writing the first comprehensive textbook on Scottish politics and the Parliament. This accessible, focused book will surely become the modern Kellas (The Scottish Political System by James G Kellas, CUP, 1984) for all who take an interest in Scottish affairs.

Chapter after chapter focuses on issues central to teaching the subject. To check a pernickety detail of how Scotland is now administered, turn to chapter two. To find out how the committee system really operates in practice, see chapter five. To check which Bills have gone through, turn to chapter six. This A-Z means that no slippery question need floor you.

Pleasingly, the book looks at the operational theory of the Parliament and how things have worked out in practice. Case studies analyse issues ranging from so-called Lobbygate (claims that the then Scottish Secretary John Reid's son, working in public relations, gave access to the heart of the Government) to the Scottish Six (the battle over the Scottish television news slot). Consideration of the role of the media and pressure groups in Scotland now is particularly welcome and comprehensive tables provide all sorts of details.

This book will never gather dust. Copies will provide source material for updating Standard and Higher grade units, extension tasks for able Higher pupils and essential information for Advanced Higher students.

Best of all, this book is a really good read because it avoids the stuffiness of many political texts. Buy one or twist your librarian's arm. In two years' time people will hark back to the summer of 2001 "when that Lynch book came out". Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive I Here's hoping a second edition is in the pipeline.

Gavin Clark is principal teacher of modern studies and history at Dunbar Grammar School, East Lothian, and chairperson of the Modern Studies Association

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Gavin Clark

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