SNP bowled over by Labour gymnastics

24th October 1997 at 01:00
What caused the stushie in West Lothian? The proposed removal of incompetent teachers? No. Anti-bullying guidance? No. The report on quality assurance? No.

Rationalisation of community education centres and increases in indoor bowling charges? Yep.

They enjoy their politics on the raw side in shale bing country and last week's meaty education committee discussion was on the red side of rare, all because the ruling Labour administration wanted to close a Livingston community centre and turn it into a centre of gymnastic excellence.

The Donald Dewar-Alex Salmond love-in over the Scottish parliament disappeared as Labour and SNP slugged it out. A procedural wrangle started the strife as Ross Martin, former science teacher and education convener, ruled Peter Johnston, Edinburgh primary teacher and SNP leader, out of order. Tempers flared.

"There's no need to get upset, Peter," the convener appealed. "I'll choose what I get upset about," Johnston replied. "Your chairmanship is diabolical. "

Frank Anderson, SNP member and community centre champion, repeatedly intervened over a poisonous 80-minute debate (and that's a generous description).

Anderson talked of "betrayal", Martin called Johnston "hypocritical and contradictory", and Johnston again decried the "appalling chairmanship".

Told they were moving straight to a vote Anderson again intervened and Johnston said: "I challenge this absurd move. This whole meeting is turning into an utter and complete farce."

Provost Joe Thomas appealed for calm. "It's clear, Frank, you're not going to pay attention to the chair. With your belligerence, you're not doing anybody any favours," he scolded.

Johnston spoke to his amendment and of being "deeply disturbed at the way this committee is conducting its business" and of the "gross betrayal" of the people of Craigshill. It cut no ice.

And then there were the howls about bowling charges for pensioners. "If this was my class, I'd keep them in," whispered an onlooker.

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