Leader : Opportunity to Unite

By Leader | Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh, Scotland), February 8, 2015 | Go to article overview

Leader : Opportunity to Unite


Leader, Scotland on Sunday (Edinburgh, Scotland)


LEADING politicians rarely admit to mistakes. The big beasts do not like to give the impression that they ever put a foot wrong. But the same regret was voiced by both Tony Blair and Alex Salmond when they stepped down from their respective party leaderships. Blair - who made headlines early in his leadership with a promise that his priorities would be "education, education, education" - later regretted that he had allowed himself to become diverted from this path. In particular, he mused that much of the money he lavished on the NHS in New Labour's first two terms in power would have been better spent on schools.His thinking was that every pound spent on education improves life chances and wellbeing in the long term, and that is the best way of making a commitment to the country's future. Salmond came to a similar conclusion after he stepped aside from the SNP leadership in November last year. He said he wished he had made the connection far earlier during his time in power that money invested in early-years education can provide tangible benefits for the economy in both the short and long term.The truth of the matter is that most political leaders prefer big, immediate, epoch-making matters of state to the less thrilling minutiae of education policy. The difficult and complex process of improving our children's prospects seldom detains our political masters for long. Should we expect the same of Nicola Sturgeon and Jim Murphy, who this weekend have been setting out their plans to tackle the attainment gap in Scottish schools? We very much hope not. And to be fair, both leaders appear sincere in their dismay at the close correlation between poverty and poor academic performance, and both seem committed to ensuring that a child from a disadvantaged home in a disadvantaged area can fulfil their potential to the full.Particularly encouraging is Sturgeon's willingness - flagged up in her article in this newspaper today - to look to the innovative London Challenge. Usually, when the SNP looks outwith Scotland for inspiration it is to Scandinavia or Ireland or Catalonia or the Basque Country - anywhere but England. Sturgeon's willingness, enthusiasm, even, for an English policy approach is refreshing and heartening. In this, at least, she is defying our assumptions about what to expect from a Scottish Nationalist leader.Rarely is Scotland's self-regarding view of itself as a left-of-centre country with a burning desire for social justice borne out in the decisions Scots make at the ballot box. We would rather talk about it than vote for it. The last party to propose a tax rise for Scottish education - the SNP in 1999, with its Penny For Scotland - was rejected by the voters. But now, for what seems like the first time in a long time, there is a political consensus on an issue that can make a huge difference to the lives of Scotland's poorest children.We are in the happy position of having the two rival contenders for Scottish first minister agreed on the problem, with a similar analysis of why that problem exists, and similar thinking on the kind of measures required to remedy it. …

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