Alex Salmond is on his way out. The First Minister gives every impression of enjoying – or at least making the most of – his farewell tour. And why not? Far from weakening the SNP, defeat in September’s referendum has – at least for now – strengthened the party. Its supremacy is unchallenged and while recent polls putting the Nationalists on 50 percent of the vote are unlikely – surely! – to last forever this is the kind of problem worth having.
Nevertheless, the First Minister’s final days in office have also reminded us that policy and, indeed, philosophy are not necessarily Salmond’s strengths. Unusually, First Minister’s Questions proved a useful exercise this week. Both Jackie Baillie, Labour’s temporary head at Holyrood, and Ruth Davidson pressed Salmond on education. About time too, you may say, and you would be correct.
According to Salmond, however, there’s nothing to see here. Nothing to worry about. You see:
Cannot Ruth Davidson understand that, in the vast expansion of nursery education, Scotland is doing well; in the exciting development of the curriculum for excellence, Scotland is doing well; in the Ian Wood commission on vocational education and how it relates to the colleges, Scotland has an exciting opportunity to develop vocational education through the school and college curriculum; and our advocacy of free education has been vindicated by the success of our universities over the past few years?
On all those aspects, Scottish education is performing well. As we go into the future to enhance and improve that performance, let us do it on the basis of the Scottish principles of education—that means that each child should get an equal chance and not have to pay by cheque book for education—and not go down the road of privatisation and disintegration as the Tories south of the border have.