Mother with a mission to protest

31st May 1996 at 01:00
With a name like Wallace, it is hardly surprising that the feisty mother-of-two co-ordinating Glasgow's Save Our Schools campaign is a determined fighter.

Despite her 5ft 2in, Margaret Wallace, aged 37, goes into the ring to win. Her tenacity is infectious and best summed up in her own words: "Och, I'll bang my head off a brick wall until it gives way if that's what it takes."

She was picked by parents to steer the SOS ship in March, when Glasgow's Pounds 2.6 million school closure programme was first announced, because she says: "I've got a big mouth." She was already well known in the local community as chair of the Norfolk Court Tenants Association and as a member of the community council.

She stood for Scottish Militant in last April's council elections, winning 23 per cent of the vote. "I was bullied into standing because there was no one else," she explained. "I'm still a member of the party, but I'm not active any more."

These days her life is dominated by the schools campaign, so much so that it has affected her family and her health (she's losing weight, but as a size 16 is not too unhappy about that). For almost two weeks prior to the council's final closure decision, she camped out every night at her son Raymond's school, Abbotsford primary in the Gorbals, as part of a round-the-clock occupation by parents.

"It was a nightmare," she admitted candidly. "It caused a few little arguments at home. But Ronald, my husband, was very supportive."

She also took part in a rooftop protest at the 117-year-old, 74-pupil school, which she says was "very scary", and she has marched through the council chambers and joined city-wide demonstrations.

For someone who claims she was a quiet woman until she had children to fight for, it is no mean record. She insists the campaign has been planned and orchestrated by parents. "To say we are being led by the nose by Militant is an insult to every parent who has done occupations, been on marches and filled in consultation documents," she said. "We can think for ourselves. I am a parent. I am doing this for my children, not for Militant."

Mrs Wallace joined Militant two years ago because it was the only party prepared to help Norfolk Court tenants in their fight for better security, car-park barriers and urgent repairs - all successful campaigns. Of Militant's support for the schools campaign, she says: "No other party has really shown any interest."

Despite the campaign her hopes of saving Abbotsford and the eight other schools still on the hit list are pinned firmly on the outcome of a judicial review. To win extra time, three of the eight primaries threatened with closure have also announced that they will be petitioning the Secretary of State for self-governing status. Abbotsford, however, fell at the first hurdle, having no fully constituted board which could seek to optout.

The irony of a Labour-voting community using Tory legislation to defeat a Labour council does not escape Mrs Wallace. "It's a delaying tactic," she said. "We have been forced to do it. I think the council should be embarrassed that people who have voted for them all their lives are now using Tory policies against them."

Mrs Wallace claims she is not against school closures in principle, but argues that Abbotsford does not meet the council's criteria and should remain open. The school is used by community groups and is more than 50 per cent full. By 2001 it could be turning children away after 5,000 new homes are completed nearby. And the maintenance bill is not Pounds 159,000, as the council originally claimed. Parents pointed out that the Pounds 76,000 set aside to convert the heating from coal to gas was not needed, as the job was done 20 years ago.

Mrs Wallace argues the council could make savings elsewhere, starting with foreign trips. "Why are we paying for a councillor to go to Hawaii to look at housing. What has housing in Hawaii got to do with the schemes in Glasgow?" Until the council "sees sense and starts to listen to parents for a change", Mrs Wallace has pledged to remain a thorn in their side. In the meantime she can always dream about the celebration party she plans to throw, "when we win".

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