The Scottish Labour Party’s central proposition at the moment is that we should accept Brexit and long-term Tory rule because these are simply distractions from key policy issues we aren’t tackling properly in Scotland. They’ve hired a Daily Mail guy not just as a regular staffer, but to personally lead their case in the media. Like Eddie Barnes, another journo hired by the Tories to do exactly the same thing, the Labour Party Daily Mail guy is using his new job to improve his own public profile. So he puts out the stuff of his day job in his own name, like leaders do. A lot of his stuff naturally reflects his Daily Mail values. Yesterday, he used Twitter to flag a Scottish Daily Express headline which in turn seemed to justify Scottish Labour’s present concern about a Scottish education system apparently in such a parlous state that we should ignore literally everything else to fix it. The tweet’s below.
Inside, the report is headed; “SNP accused of ‘failing our children'”. The article references a new report on education delivery by Scotland’s local authorities, published by The Improvement Service and the accusation the article refers to comes from Scottish Labour’s education spokesperson Iain Gray. The central feature of the Daily Express article is Gray telling us that the Improvement Service document shows that the Scottish Government is letting everyone down on Education in schools.
Well, here’s how the actual Improvement Service source document Iain Gray refers to summarises its report on educational progress in Scottish schools over the last six years:
“Despite real reductions in the education budget since 2010/11, the number of pre-school and primary places in Scotland has increased by over 30,000 and measures of educational outcome continue to show positive progress, particularly for children from the most deprived areas….the trend on senior phase attainment shows a very strong improving trend. Overall attainment (average tariff score) improved by around 14% but, within that, the most deprived pupils improved the most (25.5%)”.
You can read the report and make your mind up for yourself. But the report categorically says that local authorities, schools and professionals across Scotland have done a fine job over the reported period. Pre-schools, primary schools and secondary schools have all made considerable progress and most progress of all has been made in the education of children from more deprived backgrounds. All of this has been done against a backdrop of difficult economic circumstances. By any standards, we should be proud of our schools and teachers.
What’s not in doubt is that early on in its time in UK government, The Labour Party radically increased expenditure on Education and Health, and this directly impacted upon the Scottish government’s budget and helped the Scottish government to prioritise it too. Now that the Tories in UK government are slashing public spending as a matter of ideological priority, then all public expenditure is under continuous and extreme pressure across the UK. Our education system in Scotland is doing well in spite of that. Would it do better without a Tory government slashing public expenditure across the board? Probably. But in the meantime, it’s quite clear that the Scottish government is funding education, in competition with other public services battling for public resources, well enough to ensure year-on-year improvement. And of course it’s equally clear that our educational professionals are doing us all proud.
It’s undeniable, then, that in this episode Scottish Labour and Iain Gray (Education spokesman, remember, not Finance) deliberately misdirected the Scottish public on schools performance through a cheap-crap piece in the Daily Express put up by the Daily Mail guy they’ve hired. And that’s literally the best they can do, because remember that this ‘educational mess’ they’ve made up is the reason they give for telling us to ignore Brexit and long-term Tory rule.
It’s not complicated. If you want cheap crap, misdirection and Tory values then you hire a Daily Mail guy who’ll likely go back there once he’s used the wee bit of profile to boost his future earning power. Disastrously for Labour, but bang-on for the Daily Mail and the Tories that paper supports, that cunning plan will also involve marginalising criticism of the ideological, public-expenditure slashing Tory government and instead actually being their support act on the dominant political issue of the day.
There are plenty of folk in Scottish Labour who think that neglecting a serious political critique in opposition and instead cosying up to the Tories is a terrible thing. And they know why this present effort at opposition is so dire. It’s because Scottish Labour’s present leadership has made ultra-unionism – not Education, Health, the deprived or any other area of public policy – its signature feature.
The present Scottish Labour leadership’s obsession with supporting the Tory position on the constitution to the exclusion of all else is turning the Scottish Labour Party into just another mouthpiece of the Tory-supporting Daily Mail. There’s time to change yet; but not much.