I AGREE very much with the main point of my former party comrade Carolyn Leckie’s piece on the need for the SNP to move to the left (SNP need to turn to the left if indy is the destination, The National, June 26).

The recent General Election campaign by the SNP was, to put it kindly, bland and clearly part of an ultimately failed attempt to appeal to a range of voters from ex-Labour supporters in the Central Belt to those in more Tory-inclined, well-heeled rural areas.Centrally, however, it failed to defend the supposed central purpose of the SNP: independence.

In my marginal SNP-held seat (North East Fife) I was bombarded by Tory, Labour and LibDem leaflets all vocally opposing independence. I received six different appeals from the SNP – none mentioned independence.

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The Corbyn surge has built on the radicalisation already evident in large parts of the independence movement and it is clear that a majority of voters support a break with 30 years of market-led policies which have led to austerity for the many and vast wealth for the elite. Where I would diverge from Carolyn is in her emphasis on the SNP transforming its direction to offer resistance to austerity and marketisation. In the light of events it is now clear that, for the independence movement, the post 2014 SNP membership surge was at best a very mixed blessing, as it basically subsumed a broad civic Yes movement into a single party and thus tied indy to the party fortunes of the SNP.

As a member of one of Carolyn’s unnamed “small” parties, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), I yield to none in support for independence. However, that is not the same thing as being uncritical of the SNP. The confusion and evasion on the independence issue and flawed record on schools, the economy and failure to spell out exactly what the hollow slogan “standing up for Scotland” actually means are all areas of legitimate concern with the SNP however much this enrages the tunnel-vision cybernats. These concerns go well beyond the SSP and the independence-supporting left, as was clear at the packed-out discussion forum run by Scottish Socialist Voice in Glasgow at the weekend. Speakers from both within and without the SNP raised concerns about the lack of vision in the current SNP offer and, for example, Glasgow South West MP Chris Stephens confirmed the key role of progressive left policies in holding his seat earlier this month.

Of course the SNP has a crucial role in winning the independence battle, but it will only do it as part of a broad cross-party movement. Similarly austerity will not be defeated and the challenges posed by poverty pay, zero-hours work, chronic housing shortages and curbing the power of vast, wealthy elites met by any one party but by a movement including forces such as the SSP, Greens, trade unions and the many other groups seeking a more just society.

Ken Ferguson
Editor, Scottish Socialist Voice

THE SNP doesn’t have to go left to win an indy referendum. It must persuade a majority of Scots that Scotland is a comfortably self-supporting nation. It goes without saying that a certain “Tory” establishment element in Scotland who have vested interest in the maintenance of the Union will oppose independence as they are unlikely to ever have the sort of power over Scotland that the Union affords them. But no other measurable element of Scottish political interest is irrevocably opposed to indy.

The better country and its possibilities we are seeking is of all sort of different hues to different people. Then we can have our left/right debate. I’ll be with Carolyn on that one.

Dave McEwan Hill
Sandbank, Argyll

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Improving education depends on working to our strengths

REGARDING George Kerevan’s article on education in Scotland, and his valuable defence of the college sector, some thoughts on schools in Scotland (SNP ministers are in danger of losing their grip on political parties, The National, June 26).

Scottish education has three great strengths: it is genuinely inclusive; it is broad; and teachers have always been well-educated, well-qualified, and well-trained. These essential merits continue to produce young people who are well-educated.

In Scotland all children can attend their local state school, an integral part of the community, for seven years, and all progress by right to the local secondary, which has had close links with its primaries. The inclusiveness of a fully comprehensive system “keeps door open” at all times, allowing for such variables as development, maturity, increased effort etc to be rewarded right up to sixth year. Schools must be in and of their community.

The flexible use of “setting” by subject allows pupils to move up or down as appropriate throughout the course. (Contrast England, where children after only six years must compete for a place at a secondary. At 16 they must either opt for a two year A-level course in another institution or leave. This is an “obstacle race” system applied to children who are in process of developing – doors are closed, people are rejected.) The breadth of education is shown in the range of choices. After S4 pupils choose four to six subjects for 5th (Highers) year. In sixth year pupils can take on Advanced, new, upgraded Higher, and other subjects. This broad range of subjects studied till the end of school avoids the over-early specialisation so limiting to learning, and gives young people wider choices and greater scope.

Teachers are highly educated, highly professional people who should not be micro-managed, or weighed down with arbitrary tasks of no educational value, but given the resources needed to help those children whose educational progress has been damaged by poverty, poor housing, ill-health, lack of an enriched environment, and enforced formal schooling too early. Education is a continuing process. The way to improve and sustain good education for all in Scotland depends on inclusiveness, breadth, good teaching, and the “keeping open of doors”: working to our strengths.

Firstly, children up to the age of seven should learn mainly through play (as they do in other countries where formal schooling does not start till seven). Secondly, there should be no “national” testing until the end of the course, when SQA exams do their job of “selecting” – eg passing or rejecting for the next course. There is no useful or constructive purpose in testing a group of children, of varying ages and stages on one day with a random test. That this kind of snapshot is used to “fail” a child, someone by definition in process of learning – without any intention to provide extra support or teaching or a way to “pass” – is essentially destructive. Such tests are unreliable, the “pass” is arbitrary, they take away time from proper education, they provide no useful information, and they are expensive.

Thirdly, all other testing during the school course should be constructive and enabling: mainly classroom-based, testing what has been learned, for an improved performance, or the next stage. All the children are going to move on to the next class or stage anyway. Uprooting plants in mid growth to see how they are getting on is equally short-sighted.

International testing systems give unreliable information because like is not compared to like. Pupils in Scotland sit Highers (university entrance exams) at age 16/17: in other countries like Germany the age for sitting these exams is 18 or 19. In Scotland testing at S2 level is not useful because of the way it is done, after they have changed class to S3. National results at S4, at the END of a course, are much more reliable – and much better, contradicting the doom and gloom of S2 results.

The education system belongs to our communities, so administration must be fully in the hands of the local authorities, under democratic control. Headteachers are important, and should have a say in educational matters, but they move on while the schools, and councils which run them, remain. Scotland’s education system should be praised, and it is the people of Scotland, the community as a whole, who are responsible for improving things for children who are disadvantaged.

Susan FG Forde
Scotlandwell