A week of
You won’t have missed the week just
past if you watch Scottish politics – a time of upheaval and
tumult, a time of change and a time of ambition. We
had the launch of
Your Scotland, Your Voice – continuing the
National Conversation on the way to the Independence
Referendum followed closely by a mini-reshuffle which saw
Fiona Hyslop MSP move from being Cabinet Secretary for
Education to become Minister for
Affairs and Culture and a debate on education. My
speech in that debate, which you can read in the Official
was used to mark some of the successes that Fiona Hyslop had
while Cabinet Secretary and to point out that the record of
Labour and the Lib Dems on education was terrible.
Here’s a few of the things
Fiona achieved in two and a half years
that Labour and the Lib Dems couldn’t manage in eight:
In 1999 Jim Wallace
said that the abolition of university tuition fees was
non-negotiable. In 2007 Fiona Hyslop abolished them,
restoring the principle of free education – access to
education based on the ability to learn, not on the
ability to pay.
She introduced the Baccalaureate to Scottish education
and was in the process of reforming the whole
examination system to help it finally recover from the
chaos which ensued when Labour managed to run it into
the ground in 2000.
The Treasury wouldn’t change the rules on student loans
to allow the SNP Scottish Government to pay them as
grants instead of loans but
Fiona still managed to find an
extra £30 million for student support.
She delivered the smallest ever class sizes
She delivered the legislation for free school meals for
every pupil in primaries 1, 2 and 3 beginning in the
next scholastic year.
She extended the provision of free school lunches to
children whose parents or carers are in receipt of
maximum tax credit.
There’s a massive increase in nursery provision.
There’s more money for teachers’ professional
There’s extra support for apprentices.
Fiona Hyslop made
sure that the SNP Scottish Government built more new
schools in two and a half years than Labour and the Lib
Dems did in four years.
21 more new primary schools were announced at the end of
November to add to the 14 new secondary schools
announced in September.
There was money for universities to help them clear the
backlog of capital works that had built up under the
The Schools Consultation Act will give communities more
control over whether their schools get closed.
The SNP Scottish Government delivered the Curriculum for
Excellence that the other bunch just talked about.
of that in just two and a half years. It’s a record to
be proud of and a record that stands as a testimony to the
hard work and dedication of
Fiona Hyslop. The afternoon
session on Thursday was another education debate as well,
Getting it Right for Every Child – the Scottish Government’s
strategy for ensuring the very best possible service
for children in need of social services. Adam Ingram
MSP, Minister for Children and Early Years, has been leading
on this and doing an excellent job. He’s a man with a
sound grasp of the policy and a desire to make a difference
for the children of Scotland.
Also coming up in the chamber this week
was an issue which keeps getting raised, which has a lot of
cross-party support and which we’d like to see a lot of
progress made on – it’s the detention of children in
Dungavel. Dungavel is a removal centre for people who
have failed to make their cases as asylum seekers, it used
to be a prison and it still carries the aura of a prison.
Scotland has raised its
voice several times in protest at the way asylum seekers are
treated, especially over the detention of children prior to
repatriation. That is in no way a criticism of the
staff at Dungavel, people who are caring and trying to do
the best they can in a framework imposed on them by the UK
Government. There has been some progress but not a
great deal; children are now detained for no more than three
days but there is still the argument that children should
not be detained at all in what remains a prison.
I visited Dungavel itself on Sunday and
met with a small group from Justice and Peace – they’re
there regularly, not just when the media are on hand.
It’s small, dedicated bands of people like this who really
make the difference – they keep the protest going.
Justice and Peace maintain a vigil outside Dungavel in the
same way as the Scottish Parliament vigil kept that issue at
the top of the agenda. It is these “watchers after
democracy” who keep the country moving forward, acting
almost like the conscience of the nation. I salute
them for their efforts at Dungavel and similarly the other
groups elsewhere who keep that flame of conscience burning
all the time.
I’ve been added to the Equal
Opportunities Committee as well, so Tuesday mornings are
filled every second week as well as the Education Committee
being on every Wednesday morning, meaning more time spent in
Edinburgh and less time spent out and about in Central
Scotland. Then there’s the fundraising events for the
election coming (Rutherglen this week) which will, no doubt,
keep going right through 2011 and the events for
constituency organisations – the Kilbryde Hospice Appeal was
this week. It’s going to be a busy time, but an
exciting time; it’s a real privilege doing this job and I’ve
got to do it the best I can.