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Scottish mergers a distant dream

The Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association meets for its annual conference in Dundee this weekend no nearer a link with its major rivals.

This year, for the first time in recent memory, the four teacher unions in Scotland agreed to submit a joint pay claim of 4.7 per cent to the local authority employers. That is the extent of professional unity.

The number one voice of teachers continues to be the Educational Institute of Scotland, which claims subscriptions from an estimated 80 per cent of teachers.

A year ago the EIS sent out tentative feelers to its secondary sister about a possible merger. But little has been heard since.

The initiative was sparked by the personal interest of Angus McCormack, a past EIS president and member of the union's executive council.

Ronnie Smith, EIS general secretary, wrote to his SSTA counterpart David Eaglesham about talks and mutual interests.

Mr Eaglesham wrote back to suggest his secondary teachers' association would indeed be interested in a federal arrangement.

In other words, he wanted separate unions for primary, secondary, further and higher education teachers within one umbrella organisation. But a straight merger was never on the cards.

Since then, according to Mr Eaglesham, the trail has gone cold: ``We've had no response. But there is no political imperative for mergers in Scotland.'' The EIS and the SSTA, which claims just under 7,000 members, are both viable Scottish unions. But the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers and the Professional Association of Teachers rely on the support of their United Kingdom bodies.

"There is a need to cooperate, as we have done on pay this year. When there's a common interest of teachers, there's no reason why we should not get together,'' Mr Eaglesham says. For instance, if the EIS organises a demonstration and the SSTA agrees with the cause, members should join in.

With the exception of the PAT, all the other teachers' unions were represented this week at the Scottish Trades Unions Congress in Perth. At the annual fraternal gathering they sit in one block, somehow both close and distant.

And as ever, the NASUWT was opposing the line on pay and conditions taken by the EIS, the major education player in the STUC with powerful friends.

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