New minister, new agenda

9th May 1997 at 01:00
Brian Wilson, the unexpected choice as Education Minister, will be pleased to hear he has little in common with his three immediate Conservative predecessors. But the 48-year-old product of Dunoon Grammar and Dundee University will be less comfortable to have himself compared with Michael Forsyth, his arch political enemy.

Politically the founder-editor of the fiercely community-based West Highland Free Press is poles apart from the libertarian Thatcherite believer in the view that "there is no such thing as society". But in energy, commitment, political partisanship, wit and invective, the parallels are uncanny. Both have a robust public image that takes no political prisoners in debate but gives way to engaging wit in private.

Mr Wilson, who has represented Cunninghame North since 1987, is also an agenda-setter like Mr Forsyth. He is unlikely to be deflected from his objectives by the conventions of the civil service or the Inspectorate. As one of the most talented wordsmiths and effective platform performers of his generation, he will not be content to be worked from behind by his advisers. Like Mr Forsyth he has the capacity to seize an issue and run with it; he will be equally familiar with the political jugular.

If the Prime Minister expects his colleagues to support education as "the passion of my Government", he will not be let down by his Scottish Education Minister. Passion, which some detractors might describe as occasionally bordering on obsession, has been a driving force in his career.

It is a career that has progressed from being the scourge of Highland landlords, a target he has never abandoned, to an impressive run as scourge of railway privatisation and deputy Labour campaign manager in the election. He will also have the industry portfolio, which will give him special delight because it makes him responsible for the Highlands and Islands, his primary passion, where expectations of him will be at their highest.

Education has not been one of his passions, apart from a long-standing devotion to Gaelic (he was a key player in winning over Strathclyde's ruling Labour group to Gaelic-med ium education) and a more recent interest in special needs after his son was born with Down's syndrome. Mr Forsyth also took an interest in both areas. But that is enough irritation for Mr Wilson in his first week.

vouchers top hit-list, page 4

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