Pointless postures;Opinion

10th September 1999 at 01:00
PUBLIC debate is healthy but not so when a positive outcome to negotiations is at stake. Teachers and their employers are arguing about the meaning of the deal put forward by the management. There is no dialogue because they cannot define the terms of their differences. Are teachers being asked to work more hours or not? It depends how you do the figuring.

Meanwhile ballots to reject the offer are under way. On the reasonable assumption that they will give the thumbs-down, it would make sense for the two sides to resume their talks, albeit at first in private. Yet there is no sign of that happening. Instead we are at the stage of threat and counter-threat. Points of difference are magnified through the publicity campaigns of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Educational Institute of Scotland. Outside observers must think that Cosla is determined to ride roughshod over teachers' professional autonomy and that staffrooms are populated by obdurate last-ditchers.

Yet at several points during the months of negotiation, the two sides professed near agreement. Certainly, they both want a settlement, but that aspiration drifts away on the tide of ill feeling produced by debate intended to score points rather than reach an accommodation.

The Executive is keeping its distance as it traditionally does when the Scottish Joint Negotiating Committee is meant to be delivering the goods. But ministers will be aware that public pressure for a settlement without disruption of schools is bound to mount and that the self-discipline of MSPs, who have refrained from making capital out of the deadlock, will soon break. Sam Galbraith's influence will surely have to be brought to bear to ensure that resumed dialogue replaces the sniping.

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