07 September 2006

S2M-4755 Education

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 7 September 2006

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]


The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4755, in the name of Peter Peacock, on education first.


... ... ...


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The Executive's motion starts with the words:

"That the Parliament welcomes the priority given to improving education standards".


Members will understand the position that the SNP is coming from if they care to dip into the Scottish neighbourhood statistics and compare my constituency of Banff and Buchan with that of Motherwell and Wishaw. It is interesting that the average tariff score for all pupils on the S4 roll is 10 per cent worse in Motherwell and Wishaw. The percentage of the S4 cohort that attained level 3 or better in the Scottish credit and qualifications framework is worse in Motherwell and Wishaw. Similarly, if we move on to other matters, we can see that reported admissions for drug misuse in Motherwell and Wishaw are 18 per cent higher than in Banff and Buchan. Finally, the estimated percentage of the population in the First Minister's constituency who have been prescribed drugs for anxiety, depression or psychosis is 46 per cent higher than in my constituency. Perhaps we can understand why the First Minister is worried.

Mr McAveety: If the member wants to draw those kinds of parallels, would it not be appropriate to do as most teachers would do and judge one constituency with a comparable constituency? The idea that Banff and Buchan can be compared to Motherwell and Wishaw is a misjudgment. It is not appropriate for making an assessment.

Stewart Stevenson: It is interesting to compare urban areas that the SNP represents with urban areas that the Labour Party represents. If the member goes through those constituency by constituency, he will find that the Labour Party faces the bigger challenge on the ground. If the First Minister is putting education at the centre of his future commitments and is being driven by the experience of his constituency to do so, I welcome that—it is good news. However, my central question is, is the Labour Party sincere?

In his opening speech, the minister said:

"We have given education top priority ... For me and my colleagues, education comes first."

Colleagues know that the internet is home from home for me. Naturally, I thought that I would look up what Labour parliamentarians had to say on the subject of education. I started in the north-east, driven from the Labour Party's website via some interesting byroads. For example, the party's home page states:

"Bloggers4Labour brings hundreds of Labour-related blogs under one roof, offering a wide range of intelligent and incisive views on a wide range of topics."

That sounds encouraging.

We then move to the core of Bloggers4Labour. I confess that I cannot cite the concluding remarks in the first article, as standing orders do not permit me to provide the four-letter word, starting with F, that refers intelligently and incisively to an opponent of Labour. However, I was directed to Marlyn Glen's website. I printed out her blog, in which nothing about education was to be found. However, let us put that to one side.

Marlyn Glen's website gave me the opportunity to click on a button to see what there might be elsewhere. There may be some technical deficiencies in the site, because I received the response "nothing found". I then decided to look at the websites of the members for the Highlands and Islands, Maureen Macmillan and Peter Peacock, the Minister for Education and Young People. I do not know how recently the minister has looked at his website. I looked thoroughly at every page of it and found a single reference to education. That reference is in the Highlands and Islands survey, in which he asks the question:

"What change would do most to improve education in your area?"

In other words, the only reference to education on the minister's website is a question to his constituents, which asks them what he should do about it. I hope that when they tell him, he will listen to whatever they choose to say. The proposition that education is central to the Labour Party's future programme does not stand up to scrutiny.

Dr Elaine Murray (Dumfries) (Lab): I wonder whether the member has looked at my website, where he would find references to all the speeches that I have made on education, the questions that I have asked about it and the press releases that I have issued on it.

Stewart Stevenson: I very much look forward to the member's return to office and hope that Peter Peacock has a worthy successor in the brief period during which the Labour Party fills that post.

I am largely an autodidact. In the several dozen speeches that I have made on the subject of education, I draw on my own investigation, rather than the education that I received from my teachers. The fault for that lies in my domain, rather than someone else's. My responsibilities for the SNP include prisons policy. One issue that is fundamental to this debate is the fact that 85 per cent of people in prison are functionally illiterate. That shows us once again the absolutely clear connection between the failure to learn and achieve and ending up at the bottom of the social pile. The words "Arbeit macht frei"—"Work will make you free"—appeared above the entrances to the camps in Nazi Germany. Education will make our generation free, but the Executive has yet to prove its commitment in the real world.


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