Council set itself up for a crucifixion

7th September 2007 at 01:00
Edinburgh Council is in a right fankle. How long ago must that night seem when the Libs and SNiPs clinked their champagne glasses together and toasted victory over Labour. Now they are at each other's throats as the mayhem they have caused with their on-off school closures leaves the city guessing what happens next and where the "vital" pound;14 million savings can be found. And how Ewan Aitken, the city's former Labour council leader, must be chortling, now that his fiercest critics are bathing in the corrosive pool of criticism that is the real world of taking hard decisions.

The poor souls, he probably thought (being a reverend he knows a thing or two about souls, allegedly). They presumed they just had to stroll in, cancel the councillors' free soup and rolls at lunch, abandon a few sports pavilions, and they would be returned in four years as the voice of reason and douche Edinburgh sensibility.

Councillor Aitken knew better; he knew that the financial year was going to be tough and, no matter how experienced and expert at massaging the figures Labour had in the past, 2008 was going to be a time for telling it like it really is.

Still, he would never have proposed closing 16 schools at once, in one brash announcement certainly not without telling the locals about the savings that would be re-invested in new and refurbished classrooms. In its 23 years of unbridled power, Labour had learnt the ropes, but why pass on a tip?

Neither would Councillor Aitken have accepted the officials' word that three secon-daries, 13 primaries, six nurseries and four community centres would have to close to save the council from fiscal purgatory. Like kids at Sunday School eager to please, they supped communion with those devilish officials, displaying no doubts or second thoughts. The parental revolt of biblical proportions arrived and this is one crucifixion the Reverend Aitken was silently enjoying until the SNP realised there would be no resurrection and turned turmoil into chaos.

Looking at the abandoned closures, there were some that didn't make sense. Had the councillors whittled out the obvious blunders such as Abbeyhill they might have had a better case. But they abdicated their responsibilities and were left isolated, with Labour, Tories and Greens on the parents' side.

Then there was the interesting coincidence of the threats to close Castlebrae, Wester Hailes and Drummond three institutions that regularly prop up the rest of Edinburgh's state secondaries. But I confess, as a former Tory education spokesman, the league positions don't reveal everything (they never did). I visited Wester Hailes where Alex Wood does a sterling job, and the school has much to be proud of.

The problem lies in the ridiculous idea of letting politicians decide at all. What some of those protesting parents would give to be in Denmark or Sweden, where they could show two fingers to all politicians and say: "Forget it, we love our schools so much we will take the state money we're entitled to and run them ourselves."

Michael Forsyth who made this, briefly, the law in Scotland in 1989 was ahead of his time with the idea that parents who run schools in partnership with teachers will invest more than just money, but commitment if not blood, sweat and tears too.

Of course, Labour control freaks (and the Libs and SNiPs) thought the idea of parent power was sacrilege and did away with all that devolved power nonsense.

Come back Michael, all is forgiven, I can hear them say in staffrooms across Edinburgh. Well, maybe not quite. Maybe they'd settle for the Reverend Aitken. Who could blame them?

Brian Monteith is an admirer of Danish, Swedish and Dutch schools, as well as their football teams

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