The Tories are out and the comma's in place

9th May 1997 at 01:00
It was like the old days at the annual congress of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association. The constitutional watchdogs were on duty at Aviemore's Coylumbridge Hotel and the grammarians did not fall asleep on their watch.

Jimmy Docherty, the grand old enemy of sloppiness, would have been proud of the latter-day perfectionists. Needless to say, constitutional amendments provoked some of the most heated exchanges.

First on his feet was that well known stickler Donald Halliday, assistant head at Madras College, St Andrews, who was not happy at the suggestion that "the president shall convene all meetings of congress", or indeed of the executive or even the council.

Halliday had nothing personally against the president. It was just that presidents did not convene. "We have a president and presidents preside, " he declared triumphantly.

Alan Taylor, the minutes secretary, told Halliday that convening was an additional responsibility and that the presiding function was assumed. At least we think that is what he said.

It was some time into the proceedings before delegates seemed to realise that theirs was the first union conference to convene (we believe that's the word) after the general election. David Eaglesham, the general secretary, at last succeeded in welcoming "the first day in almost two decades when there is not a Conservative government in power".

The applause in the newly socialist republic of Aviemore was heartfelt. But, Eaglesham wondered with the previous debate fresh in his mind, "was it two-thirds applause?" "It didn't sound like it to me," said his deeply downcast deputy, Craig Duncan, in mourning for the passing of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton in Edinburgh West.

And so to education. But there is no business like constitutional business, as the new Scottish Office ministerial team will soon find out. Our only regret was the absence of any debate over the place of the comma, a famous moment from a Rothesay congress of a few years ago.

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