Primary school politics

Last year, the local council decided that it needed to close some local schools. The process generated a great deal of controversy, because the consultation process was seen by many as a sham. The local Liberal Democrat MP, Jo Swinson, came in for particular criticism: she told parents of local schools that the decision was entirely up to the council and then threw her considerable clout behind the campaign to save a single school in the affluent area of Bearsden.

Incidentally, I don’t have a dog in this fight: the school my daughter goes to wasn’t one of the ones marked for potential closure.

In the end, the council decided to close St Joseph’s Primary School, the only Catholic school in the area. The decision was made by 14 votes to 10, with SNP councillors voting against and 9 Labour, 3 Lib Dem and 2 Tory councillors voting for the closure.

So it was rather odd to see our local MP tweet this:

The tweet has led to angry responses from St Joseph parents and a rebuke from the Keep St Joe’s campaign, the very local families who are devastated by the decision. So why are they pissed off at the messenger?

The answer’s simple enough: Swinson’s carefully worded tweet is trying to paint the “SNP govt” as the bad guys, even though the decision to close the school was made by Lib Dem, Labour and Tory councillors – and the Lib Dem councillor for Milngavie, where St Joseph’s is, voted for the school’s closure. He’s the Education Convener.

So how on earth is the government the bad guy here? The answer probably won’t surprise you: it’s spin. Swinson again, replying to a critic:

“Backed”? As Swinson knows very well, the government’s involvement is what’s known as “calling in”, which is when a complaint about a council decision is escalated to the Scottish government.

Calling in is very simple. It’s not up to the government to judge whether the decision is a good one; their remit is merely to ensure that procedures have been followed. If you care about such things it’s detailed under section 17(2) of the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010, which says that a call-in can only be made if ministers believe that the education authority may have failed to comply with the law, or if they have failed to take proper account of a material consideration relevant to the decision. The “SNP govt” judged that the council had indeed followed procedures. The letter is here if you fancy a read.

I’m picking on my local MP here but this is part of a wider malaise, a kind of playground politics where politicians on all sides indulge in yah-boo attempts to score points off one another and hope that people don’t look beyond the headline or the tweet. It’s no wonder that so many people have become so cynical.