Chasing hares on devolution

22nd August 1997 at 01:00
There are only two reasons why anyone should object to education coming within the powers of the proposed Scottish parliament. The first is a general opposition to devolution, or at least to the version outlined in the Government's White Paper. For adherents of the Think Twice campaign the costs of devolution can be weighed against alternative use of the money for education. But no one seriously believes that if the referendum were to return negative answers there would be extra cash for public services. More likely, the credibility of Scottish Office ministers in dealing with the Treasury would be undermined for years to come.

The second objection has more point: members of the Edinburgh parliament, searching for something to do, might interfere with local authority control of schools. In so far as Think Twice is the Conservative party in another guise, such an argument is rich, for it was the Tory governments of the last 18 years that tried to reduce local autonomy.

The Educational Institute of Scotland, which is spending Pounds 50,000 on the Scotland Forward campaign, says that overwhelmingly members support devolution. There is no reason to doubt that. The institute's support for the cause is certainly of long standing. Education is the most clear cut of areas to devolve since administratively all functions are already in Scottish hands, in the recent case of the universities thanks to the Conservatives. No one expects a Scottish parliament markedly to increase resources for education, but most people in schools, colleges and universities want debates and decisions to centre on Edinburgh rather than London.

The simplicity of the matter may be the reason why Tam Dalyell, usually so adept at identifying flaws in a case, has flailed about vainly in trying to raise an educational hare. He questions the power that a Scottish parliament would have to reverse the 1918 settlement which gives Roman Catholic schools equal access to public funds. Westminster could at any time in the last 70 years have changed the law, but chose not to. The same will apply in a Scottish dimension and it would take a strange reading of Scottish history to suggest that the power of Catholicism is less in Scotland than in the UK as a whole. The son-in-law of Lord Wheatley should know better.

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