Victory roll

18th July 1997 at 01:00
It will come as no surprise to learn that Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, is not a fan of Bill Walker, formerly of the RAF and affectionately known as "Biggles", who was sent packing from Tayside North in the election wipe-out of Tory MPs.

Could John Swinney, the new SNP member for the constituency, now be looked upon with surprising tolerance by Wilson, renowned as a hammer of the Nats? In the Scottish Grand Committee debate on the Budget, the minister described Swinney as someone "to whom everyone is prepared to give the benefit of the doubt on the grounds that he is not his predecessor".

Swinney was not extended such a gracious welcome by Wilson's Labour colleague John Home Robertson, the member for East Lothian. "Oh dear," Home Robertson began after Swinney's speech. "The people of Tayside North have found a worthy successor to Bill Walker. He never failed to depress when he spoke in the Scottish Grand Committee and I am afraid that the member for Tayside North has gone out of his way to depress us again today."

Even the Education Minister was not being universally generous. An early interjection that "there is a difference between a revelation and what appears in the Scotsman" was a prelude to a scornful dismissal of the newspaper's recent assumption that the end of the assisted places scheme would not mean cuts in class sizes.

"That report was totally fictitious," Wilson declared. "No one - certainly neither I nor anyone in the education department - has said that the abolition of the assisted places scheme will not pay for the cuts in class sizes. I cannot deal with stories that are plucked from thin air. If the Scotsman wants to be the mouthpiece of the private education sector in Scotland, determined to rubbish everything that we do, it will end up with an even smaller circulation. "

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