Pay fights to come

28th August 1998 at 01:00
The significance of a constitution, whether unwritten or set down in statute, can only be understood by locating where power resides. So whether the Scotland Act becomes a long-standing expression of how the country is governed, or turns out to be only a staging post on the way to something else, will be determined by the balance of power between Edinburgh and Westminster. When the new MSPs are not wrestling with that, they will find their attention directed to the balance of power between national and local government. Nowhere will that be better illustrated than in education.

Whatever the dreams at Victoria Quay, education will not be removed from council control in the immediate future. It would take the new parliament to do that, and yet another upheaval in local government will not be high on the agenda. Certainly, reports that the millennium review will venture into that territory are mistaken.

More likely would be a recommendation to enhance the autonomy of councils by reducing the involvement of national negotiating machinery in aspects of teachers' conditions of service. Teachers might be tempted to side with central government's invasion of council territory. But at the same time the unions would not trust Government ministers and their officials any more than they do council leaders. And there is another feasible alliance between national and local government against any reassertion of teacher militancy, either over pay or the implementation of Higher Still. The pattern and outcome of three-sided conflict is always hard to predict.

The millennium review may end in indeterminate skirmishing. It does not itself represent a centre of power. Progress, if that is the word, may come only when one party has the incentive and the muscle to impose its will. That is what has happened in further education where college self-government has shown the unions incapable of resisting determined management.

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