Distance is no object to Scots voters

15th April 2005 at 01:00
In the week following the Grand National, it is appropriate to record that the horses are out of the starting gates and perhaps on course for an unpredictable outcome - as we contemplate the progress of the UK general election. Of course, it is commonplace to observe that the issues have little to do with the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales. But that ain't necessarily so.

Gordon Brown's Treasury dictates the pace, if not the prudence of which he is so fond. In other words, the Westminster ballot determines what will shape the public sector and the economy on both sides of the border irrespective of the devolutionary settlement. This does not mean that the Scottish Parliament is of little consequence: it can, after all, set its own spending priorities.

So how should teachers in Scotland treat this UK general election that appears to have little direct relevance to them? The results of this week's BBC Scotland opinion poll point to part of the answer - which is not dissimilar to the findings of the poll conducted for The TES in England. By an overwhelming majority - 76 per cent to 19 per cent - the Scottish public support raising taxes to pay for health and education. And among 20 political priorities, this forms the largest group - 37 per cent .

Yet the main parties refuse to bite that bullet. Perhaps this accounts for the slump in Labour's fortunes recorded in The TES poll last month, showing support declining from 43 per cent in 2001 to 29 per cent now. Labour in Scotland has worked more with the grain of the teaching profession than has the Blair Government in London, and the degree of disaffection is unlikely to be so great here - although one should never discount the "Iraq factor", particularly for such a politically aware profession, whatever the educational arguments.

Scots will vote, as they must. The sound and fury of a general election signifying a distant battle may seem marginal to Scottish education, but it is not irrelevant. If Enoch Powell was right that "power devolved is power retained," the whole UK electorate has to be involved.

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