"We're at a very positive stage." That was Jack McConnell's instinctive assessment of the likely outcome of the current negotiations on funding the teachers' pay and conditions deal.
In a wide-ranging interview with The TES Scotland this week, the Education Minister said he hoped there could be a final agreement at today's planned meeting of the national implementation group which he chairs and which involves unions, education authorities and the Scottish Executive.
"We have agreed a very comprehensive package of conditions of service changes, support arrangements for schools changes, negotiating machinery changes and contract changes. That's all in place so long as there is a deal on salaries.
"The combination of a good deal financially and the stability it provides should be enough to pull together the full package. Everyone's eyes are on that prize."
But Mr McConnell, who gave a progress report to Parliament on Wednesday, appeared relaxed at the prospect of a final deal taking a little longer to achieve. "What I don't want is to strike an agreement that, during a ballotof teachers, starts to come apart at the seams because of differing interpretations or causes problems for local authorities because it is not costed properly."
The Executive's insistence on switching to a three-year deal, worth on average what Mr McConnell describes as "a very generous" 21.5 per cent over that period, contributed to the delay in settling last week. An initial increase of 10 per cent payable from April looked assured.
But the argument earlier this week was the extent of staging the remaining 11 per cent, with ministers keener than unions that more should be end-loaded towards 2003 to spread the cost.
Mr McConnell said it had taken time to work out the impact for each teacher and he paid tribute to the patience shown by all sides. "You can't transform a set of pay grades that covers six scales, one of which on the unpromoted scale is nine points long, to four scales where the unpromoted scale is six points long without taking time to do that properly and for individual teachers to be able to track over three years where they will be over that period."