SNP risk electoral damage after exams fiasco - Conor Matchett

The SNP may have inadvertently damaged their chances of majority in Holyrood next year following the SQA’s handling of exam results, writes Conor Matchett

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Take it from experience, but there are few things as destructive as an angry group of teenagers. While the more common reasons for fury will still bubble under the surface, through the utter calamity of the release of the SQA results, the SNP have potentially inflicted a serious wound on their brand ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections next year.

Something which is hardwired into young people from a very young age is the concept of fairness. It’s something your three-year-old will understand if you give two sweets to his bigger brother but only one to him, yet the inherent – at least on the face of it – unfairness around the SQA results did not seem to chime with those in charge of the country.

The political car crash was helpfully kicked off by Ciaran Jenkins of Channel 4 who succinctly asked Ms Sturgeon whether she could look a pupil in the eye and say it was a fair system, given those from the poorest backgrounds had seen their grades changed around eight per cent more often than those from the richest sections of Scotland.

Deputy First Minister of Scotland and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills John Swinney visits Stonlelaw High School in Rutherglen on the day pupils receive their exam results on August 4, 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland.

More than 20,000 have already signed a petition for the moderation system to be re-evaluated due to being “classist”.

At times during the briefing it verged on being cringeworthy to listen to John Swinney parrot endlessly the same four or five facts and figures, including his favourite that around 75 per cent of teacher estimates were upheld by the SQA.

The Deputy First Minister and Education Secretary seemed intent in tying himself in knots over the controversial decision to reduce a quarter of all grades in Scotland.

How is it possible to judge this year’s cohort on historical data alone to secure “credibility” of the exam system, to repeat that the attainment gap had actually narrowed in 2020 compared to previous years, and that attainment overall had gone up year-on-year as a justification for the system having worked, all while prefacing the results with the caveat that they did not provide a credible basis for year-on-year comparisons.

One wonders how Mr Swinney performed in his statistics modules at school.

On the crux of the matter both Mr Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon’s answers failed to cut the mustard. It won’t be of any comfort to pupils missing out on university places to claim there would have been equal controversy if the results had not been moderated down.

If the First Minister is unwilling to speculate about potential future restrictions to stop the spread of Covid-19, it seems a contradiction to do so with something so important to Scotland’s young people as their exam results.

The fiasco could have deeper implications for the SNP.

They have seen a surge of support not just for their party but also for independence since the start of the pandemic and would justifiably be able to demand a second independence referendum should they secure a majority at the Holyrood elections next year.

But let us not forget that for the first time in Scotland’s history, those aged 16 and 17 will be able to vote in the Scottish Parliament elections next year.

Those who will be handed ballot papers for the first time in their lives will now be asked by Ms Sturgeon to back her and her party at the polls less than a year after dreams were shattered on results day.

It could lead to a situation where those handed the franchise will reject those who handed it to them, and it could scupper a second chance at Scottish independence.

Do not underestimate the anger of spurned teenagers is a lesson Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP may regret to have learned too late.

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