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Vote Yes onSeptember 18th, 2014
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Persuading our heroes – an open letter to Carol Craigs

Carol Craig

by Matthew Wilson, English Teacher, Edinburgh

In response to Carol Craig’s Guardian article.

Dear Carol,

I can see from Twitter that you have had many people shocked at your decision to vote NO. I am one of them. As a huge admirer of your two books The Scots’ Crisis of Confidence and The Tears that Built the Clyde, I thought that you analysed in-depth and with great erudition the problems that beset Scotland, and Scotland specifically. Your highlighting of economic dislocation, followed by economic repression, its consequences for women in traditional male-dominated society, especially mothers, and then the life-determining impact that can have on a child was, as far as my own reading goes, completely and refreshingly accurate.

Your analysis of Scottish Literature that illustrated the traumas of Scottish history, which is retained and replayed generation after generation in contemporary society, was a great cultural study. A study that Scotland has been crying out for. I used to think I was an individual (!) but there were so many attitudes, beliefs and assumptions that I hold that are so Scottish that your book made me realise how deeply shaped I have been by the world and others around me. Coming from Glasgow and a working class background yourself, you not only provided wonderful studies, you were also an inspiring figure and entered a personal pantheon that included Janice Galloway, James Kelman and James Hogg.

This is perhaps why it is so difficult to accept that you are voting NO. I expected you to be an obvious YES. I have no hope of changing your mind. I don’t think you would do so publicly anyway. It’s unfair of readers like me to make assumptions about an author just because they like the authorial voice, or to make any demands (which I am definitely not doing). I would like to respond to your article in a coherent way to show why I believe you are wrong. Working as a teacher in an area with its fair share of deprivation and having read Scottish Literature for now decades, I hope to at least challenge your thinking on some issues. (I’ve included some response to Alf Young’s most recent article which I assume you agree with to try and further convince you.)

Your first argument centers on economics. Scotland leaving a 300 year old union would mean that Scotland can no longer be protected by the greater strength of that union. There is the combined strength of the EU which small countries happily and democratically use to promote their interests and safe-guard themselves. An EU which would, when all is said and done, be delighted to have the continent’s largest oil producer as part. However, that is not your point. Your point is that in an economically globalised world we are vulnerable to things like the great crash.

There are a couple of points about the great crash that it is worthwhile pointing out. It was man-made. House-sellers lied to banks, who lied to rating agencies who lied to Germans who bought trillions of economic garbage.  This is part of the reason why the crash was calamitous. The other reason was that the banks were so unregulated, especially in the UK where the City of London dominates, that they were offering loans based on almost no reserves and hardly requiring a deposit. Sensible regulation would mean this would never happen in Scotland. It never happened in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland…

However, there is the assumption in your point that Scotland could not cope with the financial fall out of such a crash. Banks are bailed-out by the countries in which their economic activity takes place. The Royal Bank of Scotland was bailed out by the US Federal Reserve and the Australian Central Bank. Fortis Bank and Dexia Bank, two banks that operated in France, Belgium and the Netherlands were bailed out by each country in proportion to their economic activity in each country. This would mean that a bank like RBS, if it had failed in similar circumstances but Scotland had been independent, rUK would have had to bail out 90% of the bank and Scotland 10%. It is a similar point Alf Young willfully ignores or maybe he doesn’t understand it: banks pay tax where they are economically active. Santander, the Spanish bank, pays tax in the UK even though its Headquarters are in Spain. To say that money generated in an independent Scotland would be funnelled without taxation to London or abroad is nonsense and very close to a lie.

You have written that the SNP and the yes campaign want ‘independence’ at any price. Aside from being a slightly tribal point, that is just not true. I have not seen anyone from the YES campaign utter a provocative word or do a malicious deed. No doubt a few things have been said, maybe some posters ripped down, but that is not just the YES campaign. The NO campaign are equally guilty of this. And it has hardly happened to be fair: it is very, very marginal. The YES campaign is not prepared to engage in civil disobedience, threats, violence or kill, even as I write this it seems absurd! I think that all of your assertions in this paragraph are fairly wild. I have never encountered a campaign where so many people have drilled down into reports, blogs, books to find out what is the truth of the matter. I have not attended one meeting where ridiculous propositions have been put forward and wildly applauded. It is a very, very ‘Scottish’, often quite quiet, and reasoned campaign.

There’s nothing wrong with being positive. You need a vision to succeed. I take Martin Seligman’s point about the importance of pessimism, yet we can accept the upside and the downside and still come to a positive, rational conclusion which I believe an independent Scotland to be. There is also a great danger of limiting yourself because you believe that the pessimistic conclusion is ‘reality’. It is so terribly ironic to think that this might apply to you.

Yes, Alex Salmond encouraged Fred Godwin. I think the Queen gave him a knighthood and he was voted the world’s top banker by a very august banking body. Did he understand Collateralised Debt Obligations? No. Yet Alex Salmond’s decision discredits the campaign for independence, but the Queen’s, on recommendation from the Labour Party, does not discredit the Queen or the Labour Party, nor are all bankers discredited, as you are still listening to them. This is really choosing pessimism and calling it reality.  It’s the same with Ian Wood. Ian Wood did not make millions out of being a geologist or drilling for oil. He made millions out of supplying parts to the oil industry. I do not ask the panel beater to comment on the fuel injection of an engine, so why listen to Ian Wood? Actual experts, such as the company running the website oilandgaspeople.com state there are oil and gas deposits in the Clyde basin worth ‘trillions’. The largest oil fields in the world are in the Atlantic Margin. We are extending rigs in the North Sea due to developments in pumping sea water into declining wells, making the 50% of oil left now attainable. Of course, this is all ignored by Ian Wood and the mainstream media. Doubtless, Ian Wood knows about oil and gas, but two years ago he gave an interview where he says, if ‘we get it right’ there is $2.6 trillion left.

Please don’t say the price of oil fluctuates. We are drilling in the basin of the Gulf of Mexico; we are extracting oil from Canadian tar sands and the UK government is issuing fracking licences because the easy stuff is running out and the new wells are harder to get to, but there’s still plenty left: hundreds of years in some cases. Renewables will replace oil. We will not run out of oil. It will ot go to $10 a barrel. It has to be $60 a barrel to frack. Companies won’t sell for less than it costs, obviously, so they must be confident to be making these investments.

Again your characterisation of the YES campaign is just wrong when you say  it is Pollyanna and it thinks there will be ‘No losers anywhere, from Lerwick to Dumfries’. There will be definitely be losers: the Labour Party are finished; landowners with unregistered, untaxed and subsidised land will be losers and there should be a clamp down on unregulated finance and tax avoidance. As you know from your work, some of the poor are gone – emotionally, psychologically and economically – and it will take a long time before some areas are recovered to facilitate everyone to live a fully human life. This takes work, decisions, fall outs, disappointments, and failure. I have not met one single Pollyanna on the campaign trail. Is it absurd to believe life can be improved? Our history suggests not. If you are suggesting that then why bother to vote?

To your great credit you are worried that an independent Scotland will be the preserve of the ‘money men’ (the ones left it would have to be, according to Better Together) What do you think the UK is? It is completely captured to the extent that the wealthy pay no tax and are subsidised by the state! It couldn’t be worse in that regard. The Quantitative Easing program put £375 bn into the backpocket of the top 5% with very little impact for the money spent. You could have funded health and education for years with that money. Built renewables! Eliminated material poverty! Instead – make the rich richer! The poor poorer!

I’d like to come to Alf Young’s point  before returning to the role of money in a future Scotland. Alf thinks that Scottish banks depositing money with the Bank of England makes it legal tender. It does. But so does the fact that it is accepted as taxation. This is matter of passing a law. If the Bank of England returns £4 bn deposited with it under independence, then Scottish bank notes will still circulate as legal tender because there will be a law in Scotland that accepts them as legal tender. If there is no currency union then we do not have to keep billions in ‘reserve’. We have to have sensible lending pratices and we can issue currency directly or borrow based on our assets, as households and businesses do now, exactly as Sterling used to do, until it engaged in Quantitative Easing. We can be even more creative and radical but I’ll definitely lose Alf Young at that point.

Alf’s point about Panama using the greenback is daft. I don’t know if Panama does print its own notes or not but it is hardly material to their value what’s on it. Scotland has printed its own notes for hundreds of years. Even under Sterlingisation, the banks would still be able to issue Scottish notes. For Alf’s sake, most people use cards now. We may be forbidden to by the rUK, but why would they care to do that when they will be the same value and the Bank holds an equal amount in its reserves? It also would mean moving an independent currency in Scotland closer to realisation and therefore a massive, massive risk to rUK’s own financial situation. This is something that is not talked about. Perhaps there are self-hating Scots who prefer weakness, but the rUK, without Scotland, has pretty huge financial risks of its own making. It is in both our interests to co-operate. Reading Alf Young’s article you see how stress can act on the mind. No one is talking about nationalisation seriously, but it is easily to nationalise a company headquartered anywhere in the world. You just pass a law nationalising it. Has Alf read history?

To me it is clear, that you have chosen to listen to the doubters, and the say-anything-brigade, who, to a person who studies these matters, seem unhinged at times and continually contradict themselves between saying disaster for Scotland as we’re weak and poor, and then saying we can bring down the world. It is hysterical and time will show that they were not only wrong, but self-interested and narrow. I would urge you to change your mind. Your vote may not make a difference in terms of the result, yet you are an important cultural figure in Scotland and can be even more so in an independent Scotland. Don’t vote for the war machine that co-operates in the some of the most horrific deeds humanity has perpetuated on people such as the families of Fallujah. Don’t hand us over to the financiers that will continue with financial repression until the poor and middle-class are asset-stripped (we’ll not let an independent Scotland be handed right back either to the City). Vote for what’s best in life: freedom, responsibility, vision. Let us exercise our courage to build a future that is progressively more just. Let’s develop true confidence, not with a parliament that controls only 7% of revenues and a successful one-off games, but a confidence based on responsibility for day-in, day-out, week-in, week-out, year-in, year-out, successes, failures, recoveries and triumphs!

Kind Regards,

Matthew Wilson

Which Path to Tackle Inequalities?

scotland-inequality

by Prof Aline-Wendy Dunlop MBE

Prof Aline-Wendy Dunlop MBE; is an Emeritus Professor in Education in the School of Education at the University of Strathclyde following her retiral as Chair of Childhood and Primary Studies in October 2010. This change has allowed her to develop her commitment to two main fields of research, enquiry and publication. These fields are early childhood policy and practice and autism studies.

Since qualifying as a teacher 45 years ago I have been closely involved in the process of children’s education. Despite the comings and goings of policy the provision of education of our 5 to 18 year olds has always been secure.  For those under-five, the provision has been less certain and opportunities often too few.

That’s not to say there has not been achievements in recent years; the drive for access for all 3 and 4 year olds to early childhood education, the debate about a fully qualified workforce, and improved offer in terms of hours of attendance, among other steps.

With the inception of our Scottish Parliament, for the first time in my career, national discussions in early childhood education and care have felt much closer and more accessible.

That is not to say a narrative of shifting policy directions in early childhood is unique to Scotland, the ambition and investment in early childhood as a tool to turn our country around is reflected elsewhere. What is consistent in Scotland, though, is the attention we have collectively been paying to these early years.

However, welcome though recent achievements are, and heartening as it is that we are more engaged with the importance of development in the earlier years, I believe we are still constrained from truly tackling the root causes of too many of the problems that Scotland faces.

That in 2014 child poverty is rife is a scar on this one of the wealthiest nations on that planet. Devolution has helped us make progress,  but it has failed to do is narrow the gap that exists between the majority and the minority – a fifth to a quarter of all Scottish children live in poverty – policy rhetoric focuses on such figures, but what this means is that a fifth to a quarter of families live in poverty.

With the referendum upon us the question for me is what path offers the best chance to eradicate child poverty, the best opportunity to develop early years provision, and the best hope for creating a fairer Scotland?

What is striking from the No side in the referendum debate is that even after 2 years of campaigning the only offer they now seem to be  making is to create a talking shop, without a hint of a guarantee of the further powers need to meet Scotland’s ambitions.

The only promise of the No campaign’s jam tomorrow talking shop is that control over many aspects of our lives will remain with a far away and too distant Government– in miles yes but more significantly in culture, in philosophy and in social values.

In the absence of meaningful guaranteed further devolution – which has only come back on the agenda after the No campaign panic over recent polls – then a Yes vote and independence is the only way forward for Scotland to secure a fairer future for all of its citizens based on their interested and committed involvement in decision-making about our shared future.

With the full powers of an independent Scotland we can narrow and eradicate inequalities in our society. We need to act decisively and build now on what has already been achieved in Scottish early education and childcare.

System reform aimed at the exercise of civil and political rights for all requires an educated society, across all sectors of that society and from an early age.

I have huge faith in children, I’m less confident about the rest of us to do the job they need from us. We have the potential, together with children and their families to change the systems that cause inequalities in order to develop a fair society.

Independence for Scotland brings an opportunity for societal renewal, where we stop demonizing the poorer members of our society, and bring together policy affecting children’s education, health and care with policy affecting parental income, housing, urban regeneration, the position of women, employability, mental health, physical life chances.

In short, a socially just society, taking responsibility for itself and its own decisions.

My mind is made up to vote for a more vibrant, more debated, more interested and interesting politic – one which I now believe can only be achieved in ways that will genuinely make a positive difference for Scottish voters in the future through a vote for Independence.

For the benefit of Scotland’s children, I’d welcome if you did the same.

 

 

An Open Letter to JK Rowling

JKRowling

by Allan Crosbie, PT English, Edinburgh

Dear Joanne,

You won’t remember me but nearly 20 years ago we worked together briefly in a school in Edinburgh. Your talents have since made you a lot of money and given you considerable status and influence; I have continued to channel mine into that Freirean project of opening minds and changing the world from the classroom. You now have millions of Twitter followers; I have six.

People should always act on their conscience and yours has obviously prompted you to speak out in order to try to prevent Scotland voting for Independence. In doing so over the last few days you have claimed to be speaking not out of self-interest but on behalf of ordinary Scots who, you claim, are set to suffer immeasurably under Independence.

You speak of three kinds of Yes voters – the first are gamblers on oil and blackmailers on the currency; the second are crazed zealots; the third don’t want to talk about the economy.

You pose self-deprecatingly as no ‘world leader’ and proud to be associated with Billy Connolly. The problem with this intervention is that it is supremely arrogant and a biased, uninformed distortion. I expect those kinds of behaviour from a ‘world leader’ but I don’t expect them from a writer. A writer, one would hope, would first be a wide reader and a good listener. It is clear from your intervention that you have been neither over the past months.

If you had, you would realise that September 18th isn’t a referendum on the White Paper, or on Alex Salmond and his proposal to cut corporation tax, but a vote about power and where that power should reside. In advocating a No vote, you are asking ordinary Scottish people, who you claim to care so much about, to keep themselves as distant as it is possible to be in a democracy from having any kind of influence over the decisions that affect their lives.

“Who’ll be hurting,” you ask about Independence, “paying increased tax/losing public services/paying off the deficit? Not me.” Joanne – change the question from the future to the present tense to feel the full impact of your arrogance. People already are hurting and the system in the UK leaves them powerless to change it, and the system isn’t going to change itself.

Only radical action from the grassroots can shake things up – for everyone across the UK. And the groups at the heart of the Yes campaign, who you completely ignore or haven’t listened to, are that radical hope. Commonweal, Radical Independence Campaign, Women for Independence, Teachers for Yes, the Greens, the Socialists – these are the groups who have earned the right to speak for the voiceless, not you.

They are the ones who are helping ordinary Scottish people to realise that a Yes vote is in their interests because it gives them back some semblance of power over the forces that are currently crushing them.

Stop aligning yourself with those forces, Joanne. Being a Yes voter isn’t about being a gambler or a blackmailer, a zealot or an economic imbecile. It’s about being a force for bottom-up change across all the countries of the ‘Union’ so that the 99% are calling the shots, not the 1%. You are part of that 1% financially; you don’t need to be part of it ideologically. Those of us voting Yes are not abandoning our counterparts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – we are inspiring them to take the same kind of power back into their hands.

Vote No if you want that for yourself – but don’t pretend it’s in the interests of people who you have not been talking to or listening to.

I will happily debate these issues with you in any forum up to September 18th. I understand if you decline that offer, but it would be nice to get a reply from you of some kind.

Kind regards,

Allan Crosbie

We need an empowered country to be effective in the classroom

Scottish schoolsby Matthew Wilson, English Teacher, Edinburgh

One of the more interesting parts of teaching is the daily confrontation with reality. Thanks to instantaneous feedback such as rolling eyes, yawns and wandering hands attempting to stir disruption, you quickly know if you haven’t read the mood of the class correctly, or your lesson is too hard, too easy or too boring. Unlike some occupations where the consequences of actions are not felt until months or years later (I’m thinking bankers here), our young charges make the adult in the class very conscious of whether they have read the runes of the circumstance that confronts them and responded appropriately.

The reality of the classroom is what a teacher tries to shape, with the active co-operation of the pupils, for the purpose of learning. However, there are forces that act upon the classroom and the quality of learning that are beyond the power of a teacher or a school. Poverty is an obvious one. Poverty is growing in Scotland. Save the Children’s most recent report on Scotland claims that 1 in 5 children will now be born into deprivation. 90 000 will be born into what is called ‘severe’ poverty which is defined as a family of four surviving on less than £14 600 a year. By 2020, on current trends, this will increase by 50 000 children. They might not know the exact figures but most teachers in the state sector will know about pupils arriving to school not having eaten breakfast or families finances under extreme pressure.

If only the effects of poverty stopped with money troubles they could then be partially mitigated by a school with breakfast clubs, free school meals and second hand uniforms. But poverty feeds and is fed by another more insidious factor: chronic stress. This is stress so acute it is to the bone; it’s part of the muscle tissue. Sir Harry Burns, the former Chief Medical Officer of Scotland, has pinpointed chronic stress as a crucial factor in child development. A stressed parent, overwhelmed by their economic circumstances, provides a chaotic background for their offspring that prevents a ‘sense of coherence’ growing in the child. The ability of the child to make ‘coherence’ of the world surrounding them is of the utmost importance to their future: it allows a child to understand what is happening around them, to manage their own resources and then to purposefully apply them. Deprived of this capability, a child is swept along helplessly at the mercy of events, both external and internal, and is set-up to suffer in turn from chronic stress for the rest of their lives with a ripple effect on those around them.

The extent, depth and nature of these issues have long been noted as markedly Scottish and the impact of this on the individual and Scottish society is enormous. A study in Finland found that hopelessness, pessimism and negativity in men results in them being four times more likely to die of heart disease. ‘Negative’ men even deposit fat in their arteries faster than their positive peers. More obvious impacts are fractious relationships, drug and alcohol addiction, debilitating ill-health and continued economic dislocation. As often noted, Scotland’s health issues are unique in the developed world and sadly embrace all these evils. These problems, directly, or indirectly through their effects, break-out in a variety of guises in our classrooms every day, and they are on the rise. Our current direction of travel is storing-up damage that will disfigure Scottish society for generations.

These issues require time and resources to be addressed. However, the continuing deterioration of school budgets means that the ability of the classroom teacher to mitigate the financal and emotional impoverishment of pupils is severely restricted. Class sizes are up. For the first-time last year, I had more pupils than chairs when they all turned-up due to collapsed classes. Staffing is being cut by stealth as some teachers retire unreplaced and others go part-time. Headteachers have less funds and their budgets are ring-fenced to the extent that the only few areas of flexibility remaining are budgets like stationary. The reality is that the quality of teaching and learning is slowly deteriorating with no end in sight.

When this truth is faced, it seems almost churlish to point out that a teacher’s predicament is, in many ways, worse than before the 2001 McCrone Agreement which was intended to raise the professionalism, status and pay of teachers. There is substantial evidence that the 35 hour working week limit is regularly transgressed, not only with regard to teachers’ workload, but with requests to cover classes because supply teachers are either unavailable or unaffordable. In real terms, teacher pay is down 15% since 2008 and will be reduced a further 3% to 6% with the latest pay agreement. My signature dish of chicken and peaches now costs £7, up from £4.50.

I feel we must turn from this rather depressing state to an invigorating possibility: the opportunity an independent Scotland presents is both practical, realistic and exciting. Scotland is the host of a very vigorous and uplifting debate aiming to satisfy genuine Scottish needs in health, society and economic development. Sound ideas and policies, based on robust research and other progressive international models, are being proposed in abundance. Scotland is fizzing with ideas.

Yet the resources to enact them is missing. This is a puzzle in what is Europe’s largest oil producer and one of the few nations on the continent that actually produces an economic surplus. Why do we suffer from scarcity when our resources, production and capital are so vast? Because, I think, we do not believe in our own good fortune and ourselves enough. ‘Sounds too good to be true’ is a Scottish refrain. But our riches realised and the enormous potential to be realised is…true.

The reality is that Scots, the people who live in Scotland, already have and run a wealthy, talented, resource-rich country. We only have to look around ourselves to see that. In our schools, in our councils, in our government, in our business, the people who live in Scotland already run Scotland. The simple truth is that we do not run it for the benefit of us all.

Why do all of us not gain from our own efforts? The reason: Scotland is governed within the narrow financial and political restraints laid down by a Westminster Establishment. We may have the pipes but Westminster controls the spigot. Why are our services cut year-on-year when there is £375 bn spent to make the top 5% richer and £70 bn available to solve London’s airport connundrum? It is a constitutional and political settlement that benefits the established power. To continue with this state of affairs is to preside over a declining education service in Scotland and an enfeebling of Scottish society. Independence offers a way to re-orientate and re-build our education system as well as to tackle the social issues that so bedevil us. This is why I will be voting YES on the 18th of September.

Voting NO is a gamble on UK plc

IMG_0515.JPG

by Matthew Wilson, English Teacher, Edinburgh

Many teachers don’t take a huge interest in the details of economics but realise that economics underpins the quality of the service that we deliver and the morale of the staffroom, something as important as resources when it comes to teaching and learning.

I’ll start with a confession. I’m a politics and economics junkie for reasons too boring to go into. And in this blog, I’d like to outline why an independent Scotland is the best prospect for education in this country on purely economic grounds.

Teachers will have had a 20% pay cut in real terms by the time the most recent pay deal ends. This is greater than during the Great Depression. Budgets in schools have been cut and will continue to be cut for the foreseeable future. This means class sizes will go up. In my own department, we have gone from 8 full time teachers to 6; class sizes from low 20s to the 30s.

There are some who believe that if we just see this period through that things will start to pick-up. This is just another ordinary recession. It’s not. UK debts stands at 1.5 trillion. To give you an idea of how enormous this is here’s a fact: the UK spent 300 years building-up a debt of £500 bn. By 2015, a 1000 billion will have been added in just 8 years! Incredible. Yet the issue is not only the amount of debt, it’s the fact that the debt is stilling rising. The deficit of what we spend and what we earn is at 6%.

Without wanting to send you in to a tailspin of despair, there are some other important things to note. Real wages are down by 8.4% and the wages for the self-employed have dropped by 31% in real terms. Given that a lot of people have been registered as self-employed by job centers to make the figures look good, you can see that there has been a massive drop in personal income for many. All of this happening, despite hundreds of billions spent by the government to get the economy going.

What this means is that cuts are going to continue. Although it seems that the economy has improved, this has been due to short term stimulus to the housing market where the government pays part of the deposit? It boosts the building trade and supports the supply chain. Manipulation of the housing market has also helped. There are thousands of empty properties in the UK that cannot be sold by the banks in case they cause house prices to fall. A house price fall would mean people are in negative equity; they might then try to sell their house, or lose confidence and stop spending. Either would be a disaster for the economy.

To believe that the situation will improve in the near future, would mean believing that 1.5 trillion is going to go away, that the deficit can be turned into a surplus by borrowing more and that genuine growth is going to come back strongly to a society that is maxed out on credit cards and over-stretched on expensive mortgages. All of that looks impossible. It looks especially impossible when we realise that to realistically get out of this situation we will have to ask the rich to take a serious hit on their investments. Ask yourself if that is very likely in today’s UK? What it then does mean, if your answer is No to the rich taking a hit, is that there are more cuts and the cost of living crisis will accelerate.

The cost of living crisis is caused by wages not going-up and inflation eating into the spending power of your money. This has been going on for years now. My signature dish of chicken, peaches, creme fraiche and curry powder has increased by over 50% in price!

Inflation was the government’s traditional way of making debts smaller. The growth of inflation means a debt is worth less than it was. However, it only works if inflation outpaces interest rates and wages rise along with inflation and that requires low interest rates and high government spending. It is a sign of how much debt we’re in as a society that high government spending and ultra low interest rates cannot get wages to rise.

Where does an independent Scotland fit into all of this? Well, if there is no currency union we’ll be debt free and so are in a pretty good position. However, there will be a currency union so what will be the consequence of that?

A CU does entail us taking on debt, yet we will have more flexibility. Although we’ll still have a large government debt, we can expect to benefit from a quite a few things: we will be able to set up a state-owned energy company that can deliver oil and renewable at better prices. We will spend on infrastructure projects that will put money into people’s pockets, and this will improve the tax base. The extra money that Scotland pays to subsidise London will be returned to support spending up here. Our level of defence spending will be less, down from 3.3 bn to 1.8 bn, and all of it will be spent in Scotland, unlike now when only £800 million is spent in Scotland. The £4 bn of exports that are counted as UK exports because they leave from ports down south will now be taxed as they leave Scotland, further adding to the tax base.

When you add it all up an independent Scotland is in a very healthy financial position, and there’s potential for even more growth to improve things further. The Scottish government would be able to fund schools to the level of a few years ago and still pay down debt, if we elect a government to do that.

I am not saying that on day one of independence, teachers will get a pay rise and smaller class sizes. Nonetheless, the direction of travel will be the opposite of the UK at present. At the moment, the UK is slowly collapsing under the weight, not so much of debt, but of lack of vision. It should be learning from Germany, not trying to cover up its problems by letting the City of London have its way with everything which, in truth, means bailing itself out and passing the bill onto us. (The teacher pension scheme was in surplus.)

Scotland is learning. We know we have to re-industrialise, move away from an economy based on personal indebtedness and invest in the future. Our models are Denmark, Switzerland, Norway and other successful countries. Scotland has an unbelievable amount of natural resources and human potential. The tidal technology being trialled in Orkney could makes us 100% renewable in the next decade alone. If we’re smart, we’ll vote in a way that will allow us to use the what we have for the benefit of us all.

The School System in England: a vision for Scotland?

Mikey G

by Ann Ballinger, Former General Secretary of the SSTA

A number of Tory MPs have recently stated their desire for Scottish Education to become part of the English educational system. I thought it might be helpful to take a look at how schools in England operate.

First, and perhaps most important difference, is that some English schools follow a National Curriculum (NC) but a surprising number can amend the curriculum, and for a wide variety of reasons.

Community schools are Comprehensives controlled by the local council and follow the NC. They will all have a Board of Governors who make a variety of admin decisions like appointing new staff but do not alter the curriculum.

Free Schools are all-ability schools funded by the Government but run by a Charity, community group, faith group or business. The Governors can change the length of the school day and term, set different pay and conditions for staff and can amend the national curriculum.

Academies are run by a governing body, are independent of local councils and can follow a different curriculum. If you think that’s a good idea, think again. Have you a spare couple of £1M to invest and a pet theory you’d like taught in school? Academies are just the thing for you! My all-time favourite example is Intelligent Design taught, not in RMPS where it belongs, but in the science dept as an alternative theory to Evolution.

Grammar Schools can be run by a Trust, by the Local Council or by a Foundation Body and select pupils on the basis of academic ability. Effectively they operate the 11+ system which operated in Scotland some 30+ years ago.

City Technology Colleges are independent schools that do not charge a fee. They’re owned and funded by companies and central government but not by local councils. They have a particular emphasis on technological and practical skills. A cynic might suggest they replace a rounded education and skillset with fodder for local companies to use.

Faith Schools come in all of the above varieties. Most of them will follow the NC except for RE/RMPS where they are free to teach only their own religion.

Fee-paying Schools (known as Public Schools in England) are free to teach a curriculum of their own choosing. About 7.2% of 13yr old English pupils attend a fee-paying school. By age 16 that figure rises to 17%.

A Teacher’s salary and conditions of service depend on what type of school you work in. In recent years England has moved to a graduate profession and most teachers in schools will now have a degree. There is no Probationary year and an NQT is thrust straight into the job market usually via the supply route.

The Burgundy Book, remarkably silent on working hours but has 4 pages on policy for redundancy, governs teacher conditions. A pay and conditions document covers working time and is worth quoting:

A teacher may be required to teach and perform other duties for 1,265 hours (directed time) each year, allocated reasonably throughout those days in the school year on which s/he is required to work. In addition, a teacher is required to work “such reasonable additional hours as may be needed to enable the effective discharge of their professional duties”.”

Imagine trying to work that one out when you’re asked to take a class or attend a meeting! It works out at 6.5 hours per day plus reasonable additional hours. All depends on your definition of ‘reasonable’ I suppose! Absence cover is most likely to be provided by a Learning Assistant unless the absence is in excess of 3 days in Primary or 1 day in Secondary.

I’ll leave you to work out what you think of these conditions and if you’d like to work in this environment. The pay is slightly better though.

Poor pay for our young people has to change

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by Matthew Wilson, English Teacher, Edinburgh

‘How much ye getting?’
‘It’s minimum wage and I’m just 18 so Ah’m gettin’ £5 an hour.’
‘That’s no bad.’
‘Yeah, but the minimum wage is about to go up in September by 20p…’
‘Yeah?’
‘…I know that 20p doesnae sound like a lot but if I work for 5 hours that’s an extra pound, an’ if I do that over a week that’s an extra £5 a week.’
‘That’s alright.’

This was a conversation that I heard between two teenage girls on the bus coming home from helping out with Jim Sillars on the Margo Mobile. Jim is going to working class communities and speaking to working people about having the confidence to shape their own future and protect their rights in an independent Scotland. The above conversation chimed with so much of what Jim and others are speaking about.

This conversation seemed to say something to me about where we are as a society and why an independent Scotland is so important. The minimum wage has been greatly reduced by the continual erosion of buying power caused by inflation. Teachers have had a 14% reduction in real wages over the past 7 years so this gives an insight into how the lowest paid have had their pay packets shrunk.

The first thing that struck me was that 20 pence is not a lot of money. I lost £20 the other day. It was annoying, but not upsetting; after all, what’s £20 in the scheme of things? Yet it would take that young girl 100 hours of overtime to earn that amount extra in her pay packet. I don’t think the outrageous thing is that I’m not bothered about £20: I think the outrage is how poorly paid that girl is.

Of course, being only 18 she has still to enter the highest bracket of the minimum wage. At 21, she will be eligible for £6.31. And that will be it. No more rises, except ones to keep the minimum wage in line with inflation, which in effect means no real rises. I have to wonder what kind of future she can build on £6.31 an hour?

The problem isn’t just the fact that the minimum wage is low. It is also the fact that Scotland does not have the industries to raise people’s pay levels. We don’t make stuff. Germany makes stuff and has millions of well-paid workers. In Scotland, at present, the working class has fewer choices of well paid work. An independent Scotland is promising re-industrialisation. Why can Scotland not do the same as Denmark, Norway and Iceland? We have greater resources than any of them, after all.

The other thing that struck me was how low the girl’s expectations were. A life of 20p pay rises is not one that many people would characterise as ‘good’. Low expectations indicate low self-esteem and, I can’t help thinking, leads a race to the bottom. Working people with low expectations will be played-off against each other so that they put up with poor pay and poor conditions. We’ll be going backwards.

As a teacher, I feel that all our efforts to boost skills and confidence count for very little if the society our young people enter in to offers the majority of them poor pay, poor conditions and poor prospects.

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