Monthly Archives: October 2011

Gove’s view of education? Needs to try harder.

Coalition education policy often leaves me shouting at the television. When it is Michael Gove speaking the chances are that swearing will follow.

I work as a lecturer at an FE/HE college and have some idea about the importance of education.

IT’s not that I think Gove is stupid, he’s obviously not.  He is, however, a rabid believer in a system of education that is out of date and doesn’t deliver improvements in universal education.

It reinforces elitism or privilege not based on ability but predominantly based on money.

Diverting resources from the state sector to fund free schools is a disgraceful reallocation of around £800m.

The Libdem’s fantasise about the impact of the pupil premium but need to get a grip of their Tory brothers and stop this return to 50’s style education.

Anything that drives up standards is a good thing.  Good teachers, good schools and good discipline.  so on that front we agree.

However, it is how this is delivered that upsets me.  Deregulating education is no more likely to bring the benefits we expect than deregulation of the financial markets or deregulating the energy markets or even deregulating public transport did.

Mr Gove, Neo-liberal views of markets in education or health do not work.  They are effective for products but abysmal for public goods.  The profit motive has no place in their delivery (Care of the elderly keeps on proving my point).

I always feel that throwing the baby out with the bath water approaches cause as many issues as they solve.  Mr Gove your ‘Radical’ approach to education is reckless.  Education is a long-term strategy with very few worthwhile early gains.  Long not short-term measures needed.

So Good Schools (Labour improved the school building stock massively) are needed invest in these.  (stimulates the economy too. Gove response to axe the program, why not just fix the levels of bureaucracy that were the problem?  Simples)

Good teachers, improve the standard of teachers by attracting the best to the sector. (How?  Make the salary attractive enough to attract the best.  Set a minimum standard of degree to be eligible.)  BTW I think the standards of teaching are mostly very high, but there are no sacred cows, but we can all improve in the right culture.

Good Discipline isn’t like the Rowan Atkinson sketch Fatal Beatings (  There is no need to beat kids up in a coercive environment.  Respect is earned and discipline follows with consistency and a passion to teach.  Solved with a supportive environment and better teachers.  Blame based management structures can massively demoralise staff and it transmits to the students.

Expectations of excellence and success are vital to help young kids develop.  Manage expectations, it works.

A 1950’s style master and beatings doesn’t work, never worked and just perpetuated the problems that we have to deal with today.


Education is the solution to many of our societal problems and we deserve better from those at the helm.  Understanding and a higher vision for all our talents, not just a return to the playing fields of Eton, Fettes et al.

Mr Gove, pause, touch and engage.  Don’t rush, there is time to get it right but first your mindset needs to be right.




Stunt, Beartrap for Labour, call it what you want.

When Alex Salmond set up his speech to the SNP conference he put in a win-win trap for Labour.

Reaffirming the Claim of Rights 1989, which many labour Politicians signed as part of the Constitutional Convention, will be used as a tool to restate  (and spin) the sovereignty of the will of the Scottish people.

Restating the obvious but the will of the Scottish people is exercised on a regular basis.  UK elections, Holyrood Elections, Local Government elections and even European elections.

Now, when I called his call to reaffirm the Claim of Rights a stunt, on twitter, I was rapidly attacked by some of the Nationalist online brigade.  I still hold it to be a stunt (a good move politically- but still a stunt) and here’s why.

The Claim of rights 1989 Text is below

We, gathered as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, do hereby acknowledge the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of Government best suited to their needs, and do hereby declare and pledge that in all our actions and deliberations their interests shall be paramount.

We further declare and pledge that our actions and deliberations shall be directed to the following ends:

To agree a scheme for an Assembly or Parliament for Scotland;

To mobilise Scottish opinion and ensure the approval of the Scottish people for that scheme; and

To assert the right of the Scottish people to secure implementation of that scheme.”

Looks pretty clear to me.

What people (of all political persuasions in the Constitutional convention) signed up to was detailed explicitly in the second part.

Agreed a scheme for an assembly (done), mobilised opinion to get one (done), implemented the scheme (done) all of this led to the devolution act and the founding of Holyrood.

Now that doesn’t help Alex Salmond, because he hardly wants to point out the Claim of Rights 1989 has been delivered by the Scottish constitutional convention.  After all the SNP dropped out of the process early on (toys out of pram springs to mind).

The bit he wants to exploit is ‘the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs’.  However, the Scottish constitutional convention are the Subject of the sentence (those declaring) which his mob abandoned (that will be conspicuous by its absence I expect).

No one is challenging the right to choose, A referendum on independence won’t be opposed by the Westminster Government (they’ll probably even pay) so why does it need reaffirmed?

Has anyone not held the will of Scottish voters as not sovereign?  Has our will been ignored explicitly?  No it hasn’t.  Now that the Westminster Govt is Conservative we can say we never picked them!  This is true, but we are part of a democracy (which is tuff Alex live with it) and sometimes that’s the outcome.

Alex Salmond wants to spin opposition to his interpretation of the Sovereign right bit and make the Opposition oppose (and refuse) so he can say ‘See they don’t see your right to choose as sovereign!’ and then jump up and down like the bombast he is.

He wants to make it sound like Labour / Lib dems are preventing the will of Scots being expressed or don’t see it as important.  This is patent nonsense but he’ll try it nonetheless.

If we do reaffirm it (the SCC has in fact wound up having met its aims) it is redundant but to refuse is an own goal.  To sign it gives free impetus to let Alex Salmond misuse his bit.

A beartrap! A stunt! definitely.

Proving once again that Alex and his team are sleekit, manipulative and scheming.  But Damn they are good at it.

How complex does it need to be?

Independence, the grail of the SNP- Alex Salmond for First Minister Party.

It is a simple proposition isn’t it?

Part of United Kingdom or Not?

Self-determining or Governing as a devolved parliament?

It’s fairly Boolean in nature.  It is a ‘true / false’  proposition.
It’s not that you can be nearly pregnant, nearly dead, sort of Independent.

Now Separatism is used as a swear word in Nationalist circles and used by ‘Unionists’ as a pejorative.
It isn’t really necessary.  It is the question that needs to be discussed and resolved.

Time we were all grown up about this and just asked the voters we trust to decide.

Does anyone think the decision will be taken lightly?

That the Scots are too stupid to realise that this is a life changing decision? Of course they aren’t.

They’ll decide based on a mixture of emotions, aspirations and fears. Facts probably wont be a major contributor to the decision.
It is an emotional response and that is Why Alex Salmond doesn’t want an ‘all-or-nothing’ Yes or no question.

One cast of the dice, one moment alone behind the curtain. It is too much to lose for the SNP.  It is also too much to lose for those who want the status quo to continue.
Enter, stage left, a multi option ballot. What about the mibbe’s mibbe option? You know the one where we can kind of have a sort of independence and not have the total risk. You know that full fiscal autonomy thing.
Its like stabilisers on your first bike.  A cycling proficiency badge without the proficiency.

The current need for a safety blanket says more about the worried combatants than the importance of the question.  This is vested interest at work.  Too much to lose for both sides.  Like drunks desperate to be held back before fists are thrown.


The fact that many have voiced support for Indy-lite or Devo-max shows the uncertainty that resides underneath the surface.  ‘Don’t scare the voters’ or ‘It’s too complex for a yes or no’.  I think differently.


Nationalists may say they are certain that we can do it better ourselves than westminster can.  Maybe that is true, and maybe it isn’t.  But independence isn’t about better  management, it’s not a comparison between shite and really shite.  Devolution has brought some self-determination to Scotland (a good thing) and we are feeling our way forward.  Are we ready? I don’t think so.


The SNP majority was a surprise to everyone (result of good campaign, poor Labour one and LD betrayal in joining Tories) and is probably 10 years too early for Alex.  He now has to put up and stop blaming everyone else.


He knows that now is not the right time hence Devo max / indy lite option.  Alex is a politician and not the prime zealot in his party.  He is pragmatic and his whole approach screams it out loud.


I will be voting against independence (not because I think we are too wee / stupid/ poor/unable to manage) but because there is no need in my opinion.  I said devolution would be the slow march to independence but we aren’t ready yet, good government takes practice not a messy divorce.

Will we be ready in 20 years?  Maybe.  Will it take 20 years to unwind from UK?  Maybe.

But these are beside the point.

So Alex (ya fearty – helpful eh?) yes or no?  That’s it, do it now and let’s get on.  I think you’ll lose and more importantly so do you (despite what Nicola spouts at conference).


Lets not play politics with this – courage of your and my convictions and just let the voters decide.


Win the argument and you might win.  And then what?  You have no idea, and that is what really worries me.


A question that I needed to be able to answer

At my CLP meeting today a question was posed.  We should all be able to say why we are Labour.

Having spent so much of my time and effort campaigning at the Holyrood elections and having knocked on hunners of doors to ask people to support my candidate I had to ask myself.

Why am I labour?

It’s easy to define one’s political position in terms of what we are not but defining in terms of why we choose to be labour is not always easy to say coherently.

Worrying, perhaps.

Internalising the why and thinking through it I realised why I am labour isn’t a simple catchphrase.

It is a patina of my life experiences and background.  It is the sum of who and where I am and where I have been.

So perhaps this rich tapestry was the reason I found it hard to nail it down into a simple little slogan that would make sense to anyone else.

It would be easy to say what I am not for (separatism, Neo liberal economics, free market exploitation, corrupt political system, bombing the shit out of people and hundreds of other nots.) but that hardly captures the why I am for.

Add to that the disappointments of many decisions taken in government by my party and it becomes harder to sum it all up effectively.  I make no attempt to justify actions taken that I disagreed with.

It is not easy to be Labour, it is easy to be silent and mince away.

I am Labour because in the society I want the weakest are treated with dignity and respect and not left behind.

I am Labour because no-one in my society should go to bed cold for want of fuel, hungry for a lack of food and scared for a want of security.

I am Labour because everyone’s talent deserves a chance to shine and the barriers of birth and privilege should be removed.

I am Labour because the efforts of the many should reward the many.

I am Labour because a good education should be for all our children and not just for those who can afford it.

I am Labour because injustice and inequality need to be opposed and overturned.

I am Labour because I want to change my party to be the Labour Party it should be.

There are thousands of I am Labour because statements for me but maybe you should think of the reason you are Labour and if you aren’t define why you are what party you are.

I am Labour and I don’t always agree with the party.  Sometimes we just have to disagree.

Issues or orientation? the way to electoral victory

voters are a canny bunch.

They can spot phoneys at hundreds of yards and that probably accounts for the low esteem in which they hold the political classes.

Anyone who has been up close and personal with a candidate seeking election will know how much integrity they have.  They are great people with a courage to put their head above the parapet and let us throw stones at them.  This is rarely appreciated by those putting X’s in boxes.

In Scotland we appear to be able to differentiate between the relative importance of the different parliaments and our attitudes differ widely, as do our votes.

A million scots voted labour in the westminster elections but about half that many for Holyrood a year later.  The analysis is all over this (poor campaign, wonderful Alex, Iain Gray, SNP brillo) but are any of these true?  Or is it a function of differentiation?

Many commentators think the electorate an unsophisticated mob swayed by Braveheart and tartan biscuit tins – I don’t think they are.

Perhaps they vote based on a collection of issues (if they vote at all) aggregated internally to reach an outcome?

Perhaps they are no longer Left or Right wing, or maybe Nationalist or Unionist?

Perhaps self-interest is the overriding issue?  It’s the economy stupid!

I don’t think self-interest is the driver.  I think it’s the lack of trust of those expected to deliver.

At the Holyrood elections wee fat eck won (not because of independence) but because the voters trusted him to try to deliver enough of what they wanted.  Iain Gray was rejected because he sounded like a politician (This is no reflection of his integrity and earnest desire to serve – He is a great bloke) and that equates to phoney in these post expenses scandal days.

What is important to voters then?  The same thing that is important to us all.  Without becoming all academic – its Maslow stupid.

The hierarchy of human needs determines how we vote.

If our physiological needs are met we can consider security, if we feel safe then we can look towards social / status needs, if these are being met then we can move on towards some self actualisation.

Sorry, lecture mode was enabled.

If voters are trying to make ends meet they don’t give a toss about the promise of a nation.  They need to feel that things will improve under the next mob who inhabit the big chairs.  If things have gotten better (over the last wee while) then, generous to a fault, we will keep on with what we have.  The SNP managed that trick between 2007 and 2011.  They made it feel better.  The putting off of the painful choices notwithstanding.

I don’t accept that the overwhelming victory of the SNP in May is a sea change for independence.  It isn’t.  It was the traditional Scottish ‘They did a no bad job’  so let them keep going thinking.  I refute that they did a ‘no bad job’  but accept that their media savvy campaign (and our lamentable one) delivered that message. (84/94 promises delivered – My arse).

So how do we win next time?

Address sufficient issues that matter.  Independence is not the war to fight.  Offer a better vision of how we can ensure that the things that matter can be delivered.  Damning with faint praise works better in Scotland than being critical of where the underdog has failed.  Alex Salmond plays the wee pugnacious terrier (oppressed by England) very well.  Kicking a terrier never won anyone any kudos.

If voters are issue focussed then the old Left/Right  or Unionist/separatist arguments are bound to fail.

Focus is needed on Maslow lower order needs and after these we can move on to higher plane issues.

In a modern society (like ours)

No one should go to bed Hungry for want of food (the choice of food or fuel is a real dilemma for our old and poorest)

No one should go to bed cold for want of fuel (because they cannot afford fuel to heat their homes – Fuel poverty)

No one should go to bed afraid for want of security (crime and the fear of it needs addressed).

These maslow based needs must be met by the political parties if they expect to be elected until these are, the arguements of constitution are spurious.

Our old, our poor and our weak deserve no less than to have their needs met.  It is the least we should aspire to and the least that Beveridge wanted to achieve with the welfare state.

Anything less is failure.