After the rhetoric, the sober reality;Opinion

14th May 1999 at 01:00
IT IS May 7, post-election morning, as I write. On this historic day I scan, without conspicuous success, the rush-hour faces of my fellow inhabitants of Edinburgh's Stockbridge for signs of joy, gladness or even passing interest in these momentous events.

Is this really the New Dawn trumpeted by the Herald's front page? Or did Margo MacDonald hit the nail on the head in today's early morning interview when she suggested that this has been a campaign of the chatterati?

Bad weather, lacklustre campaigning and voter indifference to policy posturing via soundbite - these undoubtedly underlie public apathy, demonstrated by a turnout of barely more than 50 per cent in some areas. Perhaps we are seeing in today's better educated electorate a public disinclination for old-style confrontation and ya-boo politics.

The campaign wonder was the slide of the Nats, partly because policy detail often remained obscure in the realm of rhetoric. They also gambled - presumably in the interests of not frightening us - by presenting themselves as more socialist than nationalist, in the mistaken belief that Scotland is at heart a more socialist nation than others.

The Nats' campaign did show one thing clearly. The current position of the SNP is considerably to the left of where Scotland needs to be in the global economy of the early 21st century. Perhaps it is now the view of many Scots that a high-tax, anti-Nato agenda is hardly a recipe for prosperity and stability.

The teaching year has its own rhythms. Much of the profession is currently immersed in the annual demands of the external examination system, planning ahead, helping pupils through the summer rites of passage.

Outside of the top union echelons, already considering future corporate positioning in relation to emerging political coalition, most teachers will want to wait and see, praying perhaps for a period of calm consolidation.

The first post-election casualty of coalition, and a potential serious crack in the united face of UK plc, comes with the threat of the abolition of tuition fees - the price perhaps of consensus.

An interesting scenario presents. Is every Scottish university to be filled to overflowing as the young from Devon, Dorking and Darlington trek north in their thousands to enjoy "free" university years? Just around the corner looms the spectacle of another handful of Scottish colleges rushing to clamber into the university ball park. How will it all be paid for?

The word casualty is deliberate. Labour is right about tuition fees. Opposing are the Conservatives, frivolously promoting a policy of fee abolition they know to be unworkable in the luxury of not having to implement it; the Liberal Democrats, whose lack of clear thinking is breathtaking; and, predictably of course, the parties of the far left.

Forty-five per cent and rising are now going into tertiary education. Do we really expect the other 55 per cent to pay for such mass opportunities out of their personal taxation? These are the folk who do not get the chance to go for a degree, who do not have that privileged opportunity for self-development and a better job.

They are often the people who do the humbler jobs around. We would be asking them to subsidise the comfortable middle-class lifestyles to which most graduates successfully aspire.

Students all over the world are asked to invest financially in their own future prospects. The cost of the mass featherbedding of Scotland's young will be a reduction in what the Government can afford to outlay for those who missed out on education and life chances first time round: the adult returner or mature student. The concept of lifelong learning Scottish style is under threat.

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