Jock Tamson's parliament?

10th October 1997 at 01:00
Last month's referendum brought back an early political memory, that of accompanying my father as he went to vote in Elderpark primary school, a building bequeathed to Glasgow by Govan Parish School Board, when - as local belief had it - Govan incorporated Glasgow in 1912.

It was the early fifties, when councillors painted their names on the roads near the pavement edge. Vote Campbell - Progressive was the slogan (this in the days before that same soubriquet was adopted by the left) and I never quite knew whether to believe my father when he replied to my query about his vote. "I spoilt my paper - wrote 'More pay for Teachers'."

All this from a man whose father was a founder of the National Party in Govan.

The legacy parents can bequeath can be ambiguous - financial, emotional or educational credits and debits that provide a springboard for the next generation or perhaps a shackle that is never broken.

An 80-plus acquaintance of mine, one of a large family, who left school at 13 to become a butcher-boy, and fought as a Cameronian in North Africa, has never lost his respect for education and his determination to provide opportunities for his family. His three children went to university, and all are established in professions. The double shifts in the Post Office, and buying the "heavy" Sunday papers during their formative years, were a necessary part of his interest in their opportunity and success.

My own father became a teacher through the Special Recruitment Scheme and his achievement in completing a university course after giving up a menial clerical post was considerable. The fact that his children felt no financial constrictions at a time of personal sacrifice makes it more remarkable.

My father-in-law, too, had a range of cultural and political knowledge that led to later students of the Labour movement beating a path to his door, and he never matriculated in a university. Beside both men, any knowledge or achievement or awards from a more formal educational background seem incomplete and superficial. Sometimes I console myself that they didn't have to spend time preparing differentiated homework policies, or assimilating 5-14 strands, or learning to love Higher Still, and therefore could separate the real cultural and educational issues from the paste.

I thought of political legacies last month when a former pupil completed her school qualifications before moving on to the next stage in her career. A stunning haul of results - five A passes at Higher and five A passes at CSYS - left the way clear. Universities would fall over themselves to capture such potential. Apart from these certificates, the fact that this pupil had learnt English only four years before made the results truly amazing.

But then we found out that the previous government had changed the rules on funding, and though she would have previously been eligible for payment of fees last March's decision had tightened the fiscal purse-strings. As one official brightly informed me: "You have a right of appeal, but of course if you have no new evidence the appeal will fail."

And I thought of the referendum and the difference it might make to future generations of able young Scots (even those born overseas) and of the brave new world they might some day inherit, and felt the sadness that it seems all to be too late for this one student. A case of all Jock Tamson's bairns - but not just yet.

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