New year resolutions or wishful thinking?

11th January 2008 at 00:00
It's that time of year when the Christmas decorations are being taken down, the sherry put away in the cupboard and the letterbox taped up in the hope of preventing the arrival of bank statements and credit card bills. Yep, living on a heidie's salary ain't what it used to be.

It's also the time when politicians hope that, maybe this year, their dearest wish might come true, or that they might hold to their New Year resolution for just this once.

Fiona Hyslop, the forever smiling Education Secretary who, in an example to all of us of Christian charity, gave away her manifesto commitments free, must be hoping that 2008 will repay her with some kindness.

First, she must say to herself: all those Poles, Estonians and the like that are coming here to work must stop pushing Scotland's birth rate back up. How will she ever get class sizes down if, as the Registrar General tells us, immigrants continue to do what we Scots won't do - create another baby boom?

Second, if there are any more smoking guns left by her predecessors, such as the study Peter Peacock commissioned into Scotland's comparative education performance with other countries, or the suppression of embarrassing statistics about violence against teachers in the classroom, can her officials stop putting them in her handbag as if they belonged to her?

These pesky revolvers keep being detected at the Holyrood security screen, leading journalists and SNP MSPs to run around saying that Fiona's lost her smile, when it's only been misplaced.

Up the road at Edinburgh City Council, it's no different, with its Liberal Democrat education convener, Marilyne McLaren, wishing the tooth fairy would put a wad of notes under the education director's cushion so the department's overspend would go away.

Life was meant to be all sweetness and light, and decisions about the colour of school uniforms or the health and safety regulations for visits to museums were meant to be easy. Nobody told Marilyne there might be some big puddles in the playground. By this time next year, she will have found out the tooth fairy doesn't exist - but keeping this from her is giving the education director a great deal of fun for now.

Reverend Councillor Ewan Aitken, Marilyne's predecessor, knows a thing or two about tooth fairies, but he's not letting on. Christmas came early last year when the electorate decided he didn't have to deliver the school closure programme. Now he's hoping his New Year resolution to give up socialism can be kept for another year; that would be two in a row and would make Wendy Alexander very happy.

Karen Whitefield, convener of the parliament's education committee, just wishes to be taken seriously in 2008. She's been wishing for this every year since she turned up at the parliament in 1999, but it seems a forlorn hope: the Holyrood media reptiles hear her high-pitched Lanarkshire voice and mark her down as an innocent abroad.

Yet Karen is a walking example of lifelong learning, working hard to advance herself through education. If she can just hold on to the convenership for a couple of more years - and help wipe that smile off Ms Hyslop's face - then those reptiles will have to reassess her.

The real boss of education in Scotland, EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith, has a far simpler wish than any of this power-politics malarkey. In Scottish education, it's often said that, like the Chinese, you have to play the long game, so Ronnie must be thinking of 2009 or 2010 for that promotion.

Surely not this year? That would be wishful thinking and in Scottish education, even in the new year, that would be as likely as Karen Whitefield becoming the media's pin-up.

Brian Monteith is a result of a previous baby boom.

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