Reportedly, education has assumed high importance in these talks, second only to haggling over a new proportional voting system for local government. Gosh! The key elements are said to be a new deal on vocational education, smaller class sizes and the recruitment of more teachers. The Liberal Democrats also had a manifesto pledge to delay the start of formal schooling to the age of six, and it would be difficult not to reach agreement on this, particularly if Nicol Stephen, the former deputy minister, is given full Cabinet responsibility for education and lifelong learning. No doubt this particular pledge could be kicked into the long grass which might grow ever longer in the form of extensive consultation.
The other ingredients in the bargaining process have varying merits. But, to adapt Jack McConnell's phrase, the key emphasis must be on "doing less, better". Implementing existing policies more effectively would be a start.
The survey by the Educational Institute of Scotland on disaffected youngsters (page one) shows the Executive is in danger of creating disaffected teachers, if that has not already happened. This issue must be top of the new minister's in-tray. It would be perverse indeed if an inclusive policy, supported by teachers in principle, was hoist on the petard of ineffective implementation. If Mr McConnell's rhetoric about being guided by "the people's priorities" is genuine, he must surely realise that he will not be able to deliver anything in education if he does not also act on teachers' priorities.