Editorial: A voice for schools in the people's parliament

19th September 1997 at 01:00
The step has been taken quietly but decisively. In the end the people ensured + that there was no slip-up as in 1979 and no doubting the scale of the mandate + given to Westminster to lose its control of domestic Scottish business. Last + Friday the result was greeted with widespread pleasure but also with restraint.+ It had been awaited for so long that there was no real surprise except to + media commentators from outwith Scotland. People also realised that the + referendum was only a first step, a gesture with no constitutional or legal + significance. Long debates in both Commons and Lords have still to come. The + first elections to a parliament which has yet no home will not be for 18 + months, and millennium celebrations will precede its first meeting.The + groundwork had been prepared during 18 years of Conservative rule. Whatever the+ much debated contribution of Tory measures to the Scottish economy, the + treatment of public services - education, health and local government - was so+ distasteful to voters that few could doubt our ability to run things more + efficiently. The universities, where unionism had run strong in 1979, have + experienced administrative devolution and fared better than those south of the + border. The more widespread devolution has spread, the less fearful people are + about their capacity to take further control. In Wales this week the referendum+ debates have included education and whether schools and colleges whose courses+ and exams are modelled on those of England would flourish under rule from + Cardiff. In Scotland, education was not debatable territory. It was a first + and obvious candidate for the Edinburgh parliament.The concern now is to ensure+ that the balance of power is correctly distributed. The first elections will + see parties arguing about how budget shares should be allocated and that will + affect the decisions of the Scottish executive. Local authorities will strive + to retain their domain but may come to regard MSPs' efforts at involvement as + unwelcome intrusion.Schools could find that the devolution they have learnt to + enjoy, or have had foisted on them, is no protection against the territorial + aspirations of MSPs and councillors. No headteacher can serve two masters.Since+ the referendum there has been well-meaning but vague talk of practising "new + politics". The extent of bipartisanship will depend on the effects of + proportional representation and the composition of the executive, but effort + now should be put in to devising procedures to involve individuals and + communities in the work of the parliament. Policies must not be handed down by + ministers waving a party manifesto or pursuing a personal ideology. The + education community has to be consulted before decisions are made. That will + mean committees on which parliamentarians and non-parliamentarians work + together. It will also a mean review of policies and practice as a matter of + course and not in response to alleged scandal or shortcoming. National bodies -+ for example, those on the curriculum, qualifications, technology and + community education - will need to adapt to new ideas of openness. An assembly + well balanced by gender will guard against nonsenses of Westminster flummery + and fractiousness. Of the women MSPs, who hopefully will make up half of the + total, a large proportion will choose to concentrate on issues of education, + social work and health. The media enthuse about the parliament revivifying + Scotland. That will happen only if its members keep faith with ordinary people + who last week set aside fears of another layer of self-regarding government and+ entrusted it with their concerns.

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