THE pantomime season is upon us once again. Once more parents and children alike can suffer with their heroes and heroines the injustice, the cruelty and sheer unfairness of their lot, knowing that after appropriate passages of booing and hissing the villains, right and justice will triumph: Cinderella will marry her Prince Charming, Jack will slay the Giant and all will be well with the world. Ah, if only it were so beyond the proscenium arch.
This year there is a new pantomime being played out in every community in Scotland and the script - in as far as it can be read - has failed to convince even the principal players that the outcome will realise those cherished objectives of right and justice.
Let us consider the opening scene. Sitting in his study behind a large executive desk sits The Heedie. He is a man of traditional ways used to the exercise of power and influence (NB: in exceptional circumstances this part may be played by a woman but such instances are not common). The domain over which he rules is known as The Academy and his subjects consist of young persons aged between 12 and 18 drawn from the hinterland of his establishment. The quantity of subjects can vary greatly but, for the purposes of this account, may be considered some 600 in number.
And it is the assigned task of The Heedie to prepare the said young people for entry into the wider world by equipping them to transcend the formidable hurdles put in their way by the Great Sorter, known by the shorthand of SQA. This is indeed a worthy challenge, for not all of these young people are possessed of the desire to triumph and it falls to The Heedie to drive, cajole, persuade and, let it be said, even threaten the recalcitrant in order that The Academy may take an honoured place in the annual roll-call of national achievement.
Fortunately, The Heedie does not have to shoulder this immense burden by himself, but is able to call upon platoons of trained professionals, each under the direction of his junior officers, arrayed hierarchically in the best military tradition (DHT, AHT, PT, etc). In the case of our 600-soul Academy, the number of these operatives amounts to no fewer than 45 persons, of whom fully 20 are members of the Officer class. In addition, this formidable team can call upon the assistance of another 10 non-combatant support and auxiliary staff who are deployed across a range of clerical and other duties.
And lest it be thought that The Overlords ask the impossible of their servant, The Heedie, they annually grant him a largesse of almost pound;350,000 to ensure his Academy has the financial muscle to engage in its great purpose with a real prospect of success.
Meanwhile, not too far from the grand edifice of The Academy lie three smaller domains similarly charged with the development of local young people. The work of these centres bears a remarkable similarity to that done in The Academy, and indeed the toilers within are remunerated at a similar rate for the work they do - though in these centres the young people concerned are required to spend at least seven years under the tutelage of their professional operatives as against a minimum of four seasons at The Academy. Yet despite the similarity of the tasks undertaken, there is a strange and inexplicable disparity in the provision made by The Overlords to those who have been charged with the direction of these enterprises.
While each of these three centres is of itself smaller than The Academy, together they make provision for more than 1,000 young persons. Yet The Overlords stipulate that this much greater number be provided for at a figure less than that generously disbursed to The Academy. And thus it is that each subject of The Academy is granted annually pound;560 for their needs while those of more tender years constrained to attend one of the other three centres get just pound;340 to secure them against want for an entire year.
IMILARLY, where The Academy has above 40 professional operatives including some 20 of the Officer class to assist The Heedie in delivering its required programme, in the other three centres combined a like number of professional operatives are supported by only three members of the Officer class to assist the leaders. Thus in The Academy there is one member of the Officer class to direct the progress of each of 30 subjects, while in the other centres one officer is called upon to take responsibility for more than 300.
Finally, but not insignificantly, it may be observed that the remuneration accorded to The Heedie is on a scale far beyond that to which the persons given responsibility for the centres receive. (NB: those persons are in general of the female gender though it is not unknown for males to be entrusted with these tasks).
Such then is the scene as the curtain rises on the brand new Job-Size Pantomime, playing this winter throughout the land. The inequalities of provision are such as should strike fear and apprehension into the heart of each parent and child. "Can it indeed be true," they whisper in the darkness, "that The Overlords require our youngest children to survive a thin and gruelly diet for seven long years before the bounty of The Academy?"
"And for those seven lean years, is there really only one member of the Officer class to assist in overlooking provision for every 300 children until they reach the gates of The Academy, where there will be 10 Officers to take over that responsibility."
How will our pantomime end? Will truth and justice win out? Perhaps not. The scriptwriting team is, after all, directed by The Overlords.
David Nicholson says he is "an educated member of the audience, watching the panto."