TAXPAYER Scotland has criticised a local authority for running Road to the Referendum night classes saying it should not be providing subsidised political education for residents.
The classes, run by former Labour leader of Edinburgh City Council leader Alex Wood, are attracting dozens of participants to sessions examining issues including Scottishness and Britishness, devo-max, welfare and the impact of crisis such as the Grangemouth dispute in the run up to the 18 September 2014 independence vote.
The new course held at two venues in the city -Wester Hailes education centre and Craigroyston high school - is part of the council’s 2013 adult education programme with fees ranging from £35-£13.
Jonathan Isaby, of TaxpayerScotland, said there was already sufficient information on the referendum.
“Taxpayers will be baffled that Edinburgh City Council thinks it is appropriate and justifiable to be running classes about the referendum campaign.
“The Yes and No campaigns will be providing plenty of information about the issues, and there will of course be considerable objective and in-depth coverage of the independence question on the TV and radio over the next eleven months. It is not the role of local authorities to be providing subsidised political education for their residents.”
Mr Wood said the classes were the right place for people to discuss the issues around the referendum.
“It is the educational function of local authorities to run classes and community education and adult education are the appropriate organisations to do this.
“There is a real thirst for knowledge around the whole referendum debate. What has pleased me is that people are interested in more than just the pounds, shillings and pence of it. They are asking things like ‘how will things work?, “what about governance?’ and ‘what’s the deal for women?’
“No-one is being told how to vote. People will sift through all the conflicting ideas and reach a conclusion on balance considering who they think is believable.”
Peter Dougan, 45, a contact centre worker, who signed up for the referendum class at Wester Hailes, said he hoped it would help him argue his case in a more structured way.
“I’m for independence. There is information out there and I have access to the internet. But sometimes, despite knowing what I feel about it I’m not really understanding particular subjects.
“My girlfriend who encouraged me to come to the class is a “don’t know” about the referendum. I’m hoping I might be able to convince her with what I learned here.”
Nancy Wallace, 81, a retired teacher from Corstorphine, said she was against independence but that her views might change.
“I think the classes are an excellent idea but I don’t know if they will sway people as some might have fairly fixed views. I had decided that I was a very definite “no” in terms of the referendum but I’m now more open to ideas and become a “probable” no. I’d like to think it will make me more receptive to other ideas.
“I don’t want to see the United Kingdom split up and would hate people coming here they were going to a foreign country.
“More should be getting done by the No campaign but I think we are all assuming there will be more information out there in the last few months.”
Stan Blackley of Yes Scotland’s community team, welcomed the classes and said they were a forum for people to discuss issues in small groups.
“People begin their referendum journeys at different times, travel along different routes and get information in different ways. These classes are a welcome addition to the various platforms through which people are learning about the issues involved in this crucial debate.
“At Yes Scotland, we have always made it clear that people should have as much quality information as possible about the referendum because the decision we’ll make next September will determine our future path as a nation.
“With just under a year to the vote, more and more people are seeking information and becoming involved in the debate. That’s good news, not only for Yes Scotland because the more people learn about independence the more they are attracted to it, but it’s also good for democracy.”
A Better Together spokesman said: “We would encourage people to get the facts on separation. The more people learn about the consequences of going it alone for our mortgages, pensions and currency the more likely they are to support staying in the UK.
“Better Together regularly holds public meetings, with over 200 local groups set up all across Scotland. We want people to get involved in the debate and to speak out, no matter their view.”
A spokesman for the council said: “The aim of the course is to encourage debate on the issue.”