Taking the second amendment at Perth

13th June 1997 at 01:00
Educational Institute of Scotland president May Ferries had, by acclamation, "a good conference", deploying her polished "people skills" to all-round advantage.

The only sticky moment came, inevitably, over the usual impenetrable ambush of claim and counter-claim on motions and amendments. In this case, so impenetrable was the discussion we still aren't on top of what it was all about. Remarkably for a procedural dispute, however, there was none of the customary haranguing of the president.

The ostensible subject was union policy on Higher Still, a boycotting resolution on which came all the way from Inverclyde, quickly followed by two amendments cunningly entitled amendment A and amendment B. The latter, from Dumfries and Galloway, provided the frisson of dissent.

There were calls for clarification - at least we think that is what they were. Could it be amended, Ferries was asked. "Amendment B doesn't yet exist so it can't be amended," the president said jocularly.

She then suggested some "textual" rewording might be acceptable. Could the president provide a "textual" example, enquired Geraldine Gould from Edinburgh, a leading hair-splitter. Ferries replied: "You'll have to submit it first and then I'll have to decide whether it's textual or not." This nearly brought the house down, which would have been a merciful release since none of the City Halls staff in Perth appeared to possess a module in air-conditioning.

John Dennis of Dumfries and Galloway, another hair-splitter, agreed to withdraw the amendment. "We shall take everything on trust," Dennis said. Ferries quipped: "I think we should have this minuted."

More improbable merriment emerged from the superannuation debate, in which the Left wanted to organise a strike against the Government's retirement plans - sorry, that should read planned changes to the teachers' superannuation scheme.

This was opposed by Angus local association. Peter Andrews pointed out that the forum for discussions on teachers' pensions was the UK Teachers' Superannuation Working Party, SWP for short. "We want to work along with the SWP," Andrews said innocently. The smiles on the faces of the old Socialist Workers Party lags in the hall were, er, shortlived.

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