No open and shut case for ministers
That said, it is surprising that ministers intend to hold on to the powers they already have. If their general abstention is based on the argument that they cannot be in possession of all the local facts, why in these devolutionary times should they act as a "court of appeal" over the closure of remote, popular and Catholic schools? As the hierarchy has demonstrated in North Lanarkshire, recourse to the real courts is always available.
It is surely time for the Executive to accept that local decision-making should mean just that and put the ball where it belongs, in the authorities' court. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities should have another go at reaching agreement among its member councils on a national template. Highland's excellent "mothballing" approach, giving communities time to reinvigorate local schools, would be a good place to start.