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.

5 thoughts on “Primary school politics

  1. Tony Kiernan says:

    “Playground politics”, surely?

    We had a hustings in our school during one election. All the candidates could do was point at the incumbent (massive majority) and scream “loony left” (showing mt age) as many times as they could.* It was transparent then, it’s just as transparent now. Nothing changes.

    If only it wasn’t Russell Brand…

    *And, within five minutes, the modern studies classes lost any interest in party politics.

  2. Tony Kiernan says:

    ** Actually, I mean the political process. Not party politics. One of the folk in there is now the MP. So, yeah, we just lost all interesting in debate and the political process. All of us.

  3. Gary says:

    I think you’re right that it’s gone on for ages, but I think social media makes it more obvious – previously you’d have had to be there to get pissed off about it :)

  4. Mupwangle says:

    I’m starting to think that picking on your local MP is quite justified. Her response to being called out on the original tweet (via Kirkintilloch Herald site):

    “My tweet was straightforward and factual. The SNP Government finalised the decision to close St Joseph’s and many local parents are devastated.

    “Comments that I never met with parents or campaigners were complete and utter nonsense. On numerous occasions I met with concerned parents, and convened a meeting with council officials and parent representatives to discuss alternative solutions and to raise the many objections that I had received from parents.”

    Can’t comment about the second bit, but the first bit is a lie of omission. Her next comment is even better:

    “My tweet has clearly provoked much debate by SNP supporters across the country – what I said remains true”

    Shit. I’m not actually an SNP supporter, but since I noticed that she’s deliberately tried to mislead people as to the role of the Scottish Government in local politics then that means I must secretly support the SNP. That forces my hand somewhat.

    Had fun commenting on the KH page though. :-) (http://www.kirkintilloch-herald.co.uk/news/local-headlines/mp-jo-s-tweet-sparks-a-furious-reaction-online-1-3643473)

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