Whatever the merits of free school meals for P1-3 pupils, the SNP administration only has itself to blame for turning the issue into a budget dispute.
The Scottish Governmentcouncil concordat says that local authorities should provide nutritious free school meals for all P1-3 pupils in the pilot areas until the end of the current academic year in June 2008. The remainder of 2008-09 will be taken up with evaluation of the trials.
In 2009-10, provided the evaluation of the trials is positive, legislation will be introduced to allow extension of the nutritious free school meals to all pupils in P1-3. Assuming the legislation is passed, local authorities will provide free school meals to all P1-3 pupils from August 2010.
While the evaluation has been completed, it has not come before parliament and should normally be subject to serious scrutiny by MSPs on the education committee, especially as the parliament will be asked to pass legislation.
That Alex Salmond, John Swinney and Fiona Hyslop seem unwilling to submit themselves to the usual parliamentary processes suggests that they would rather pick unnecessary fights with councils and politicians, who might otherwise support the proposals, so that they may be seen as holier-than-thou political martyrs.
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