The ground is shifting. Let's hope education does not trip

12th April 2013 at 01:00
Something is going to give in our sector, but it's unlikely to do so before September 2014

Who would have thought the independence referendum would prove to be a great bulwark against change in Scottish education?

We now know the big day of decision will not come until 18 September in 2014 and yet there are some very big pressures for change mounting up in Scottish education that would normally expect some kind of response from the government of the day. But can this government respond in any way that might put at risk the votes of teachers when they come to decide Yes or No to the question of who we are and who we want to be?

There are those who are already decided one way or another and there are those who have still to be won over by either campaign. Such is the current arithmetic that the Yes campaign has much ground to make up - but it is not so far behind that it cannot win. To do so, however, it has to convince two groups of people: those who genuinely don't know which way to turn and those who are generally on the side of voting No but have already voted for Alex Salmond's SNP in parliamentary elections and could be tempted to vote Yes if they are encouraged and inspired enough - or find the No campaign too off-puttingly negative.

Thus every ministerial decision taken by education secretary Michael Russell will be viewed through the prism of what impact it might have on the likelihood of electors to vote in favour of independence.

We recently had the merger of the eight police constabularies into one Scottish police force in the name of saving money. The argument that it would provide better outcomes was never convincing and has never been widely accepted. Within days of the change, voices were being heard saying that what was needed was to reduce the number of local authorities from 32 - all in the name of efficiency, just like the police.

The tectonic plates of education reform are moving and the likelihood that the status quo will continue is reducing. Something is going to give - but before September 2014? I don't think so.

Then there are other issues such as teachers' pensions, training, employment, the curriculum and more. Many of these need tough decisions, but if Russell makes an unpopular choice he risks that vote on 18 September.

Independence referendum? It's more likely to delay change than the teaching unions - and costs nothing to join.

Brian Monteith, Political commentator and former Conservative MSP.

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