SNP's victory night claims high-profile victims

13th May 2011 at 01:00
Labour and Lib Dem spokespeople hit out at own parties and voters after defeat

The Scottish elections claimed the scalps of two senior education spokespeople and two former conveners of the Parliament's education committee.

Des McNulty, Labour's shadow education secretary, who lost his Clydebank and Milngavie seat to the SNP by a mere 714 votes, blamed the defeat on his party's inability to combat the Nationalists' decision to conduct the election as a presidential contest.

The former Glasgow Caledonian University lecturer told TESS: "It turned into a personality battle between the party leaders. I think that meant there wasn't a focus during the campaign on the SNP's record."

Education issues were not sufficiently aired, while the EIS's poster campaign had no particular message other than that education was important, he said.

And he suggested that Labour's decisions to match the SNP on ruling out a graduate contribution to higher education as well as an increase in council tax were mistaken and meant that a proper debate on these issues was impossible.

"I am sceptical about how or where the financing was going to come from to provide comparability (in university funding) with England," he said.

"We had things to say about CfE and the curriculum - but education was a relatively weak area. I don't think Labour's education policies were rejected - education policy in general may not have been discussed with as much focus as everyone in education would have hoped. That was to our disadvantage," he said.

Margaret Smith, the former Scottish Lib Dem spokeswoman on education, said voters were "completely unwilling" to listen to her party's arguments about tuition fees. "The perception was that we were in agreement with what has happened with the policy on tuition fees down south. But we scrapped tuition fees in Scotland a decade ago."

Since 1999, minority or coalition government in Scotland had meant the views of other parties had been "taken into account" when shaping education policy in areas such as student support and amendments to the Additional Support for Learning Act, she said.

But the SNP's absolute majority meant this advantage would be lost, she warned.

Labour's Karen Whitefield, who led the education, lifelong learning and culture committee's scrutiny of issues as varied as additional support for learning, school closures, autism, school management and council funding of education, lost her Airdrie and Shotts seat to the SNP's former minister for housing and communities, Alex Neil.

Another former Labour education committee convener to fall at the SNP's sword was Karen Gillon (Clydesdale).

Donald Gillies, an academic at Strathclyde University's School of Education, commented: "The defeat of Karen Whitefield is significant for Labour - as education committee convener and as a combative debater."

The worry for all the opposition parties, he added, was that with reduced numbers, more responsibilities would inevitably fall on fewer shoulders.

"It would be a big loss if robust educational scrutiny were to be compromised because of this."

chris.small@tes.co.uk

Russell's return

Most expect Michael Russell to be reappointed Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning next week.

Labour's Ken Macintosh, shadow schools minister in the last parliament and a frequent sparring partner with Mr Russell, may be chosen by Labour for its education brief - but he might stand in the leadership contest to replace outgoing leader Iain Gray. Liz Smith is expected to retain her role as education spokeswoman for the Tories.

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