Why change berth at St Mary's?

5th January 2001 at 00:00
TONY BLAIR fulminated about the perfidious and crafty tactics of our Gallic neighbours at the recent Nice summit. But a more low-key and perhaps amusing news item concerning England and our nearest continental neighbour has been reported in such desultory fashion that you may not have noticed it.

The extraordinary fact is that the department of Seine-Maritime in Normandy is currently in negotiation to buy the port of Newhaven in Sussex for the sum of pound;254 million. Moreover the French local authority has pledged to regenerate the port. It is even now seeking tenders to provide new services for rundown facilities, and foresees such investment in major improvements as leading to the most direct London-Paris train service.

The ghosts of Plantagenet and Tudor kings would react a little differently to the alleged views of modern-day men of Sussex, who, it is said, shrugged and broadly welcomed the move, having despaired of the sort of investment needed to create new lorry freight and winter passenger services.

Farewell to the glory days of Henry I, King of England, Normandy and Anjou, he who outwitted Louis VI (the Fat) and secured the hand and lands of Eleanor of Aquitaine for his son. Or of that beneficiary, Henry II, who ruled an empire which stretched from the Solway to the Pyrenees. Indeed Henry ruled over more than half of France, and was apparently more powerful in that country than his overlord the King of France himself, hence in course of time the Hundred Years' War.

That was when his descendant Edward III took to himself the title of King of France, and followed this with victories at Crecy and Poitiers and the siege of Calais: after which some might say it's been downhill all the way for British property interests in France.

In those days the weapons of acquisition were wars, teaties and dynastic marriages. At least Prince William must be happy that in 2001 conquest comes through the commercial involvement of international business interests such as Sea Containers. This all set me wondering how Scots would react should for example Bergen in Norway offer to buy and develop some Scottish fishing port on the north-east coast to create jobs or ferry services. It's difficult to imagine such a supine response.

At the year's start there's another national difference on view: attitudes to the pending forced return of St Mary's primary in Dunblane to the local authority fold. (In our country, where conformity is crazily valued above excellence, will it be Jordanhill School's turn next?)

In England, the emphasis from Blair and David Blunkett is increasingly on diversity of provision and parental choice within the state system. But in Scotland political correctness continues to mean that no one shall help himself if it means that uniformity of provision is compromised.

We have one tiny school about to be compulsorily reabsorbed which by every index is a total success. Results are remarkable, staffing and ethos enviable, parents happy, tremendous community support is there and new facilities have burgeoned.

You don't have to subscribe to the views of the chairman of the governing body that "we've found self-governing status works. The pupils are achieving more and this is a very successful and happy school". But at a time when our new Minister for Education tells us that Scottish education has much to learn from countries such as Nigeria - of all places - wouldn't it make sense to continue this one little school in its self-governing format as a controlled experiment in the much quoted search for excellence?

Wouldn't Nigeria give thanks and let well alone?

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