Hugh Reilly - Politics provides a haven for country's fleeing pedagogues

IF YOU put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig, albeit a rather more alluring sow to a rutting male of the species. In recent weeks, the image of teaching has been damaged by the fact that newly qualified teachers are more likely to be spotted entering a Benefit Agency office than a classroom.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Slowly but surely and, let's face it, insidiously, teachers are taking over the country. Ex-dominie Iain Gray, he of the grey hair and nightshift nurse pallor, was elected leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

A charisma-free politician, his elevation to greatness is a spit in the eye to those who say our country is obsessed with personality politics.

In his victory address to the party faithful, Mr Gray spoke movingly of his time teaching maths and physics in a tough Edinburgh school. One can only imagine the emotional turmoil of Mr Gray on realising that this educational hell-hole allowed girls to be educated, unlike his old school, the then all-boy George Watson's College.

Physics is fun, say physicists, a statement that in terms of veracity is right up there with arbeit macht frei. Most of us are mentally scarred by memories of monotone science teachers drearily informing bored students of the properties of momentum.

On hearing Mr Gray's speech, I wondered how many kids in his classes had desperately sucked on Bunsen burners to get them through one of his life-ebbing lessons.

He also recalled his experience as a lecturer in an agricultural college in war-torn Mozambique. Listening to the new Labour leader's tales of facing adversity, one could be forgiven for thinking that John McCain's five years of room service at the Hanoi Hilton had been a somewhat easier gig.

When Mr Gray decided it was time to get out of Africa, he joined Oxfam, and after 12 years spent solving the problems of the continent, he considered teaching in Germany, but the silver-haired Sir balked at the thought of being called Herr Gray 50 times a day by students.

In the deputy leader contest, Johann Lamont, another former pedagogue, beat off the challenge of Bill Butler, who until 2000 was a teacher of English and history at Stonelaw High in Rutherglen. Ms Lamont also has experience of working in a war zone, having taught at Springburn Academy for several years before entering public life.

The runner-up in the leadership election, Cathy Jamieson, is not a teacher and therefore had no chance of winning a seat at Labour's top table. Ayrshire's answer to Sarah Palin failed to impress Labour voters with her twin hobbies of breeding pedigree ferrets and whippet racing. Andy Kerr fought hard to secure third place in the three-candidate contest, a respectable achievement no doubt aided by the fact that, by wearing glasses, he looked like a teacher.

But it's not only the Labour Party that has been successfully infiltrated by fifth-columnist educators. Ex-teacher Robin Harper is the co-leader of the Greens alongside Patrick Harvie (Eco and the Bunnyman?). At the 2007 election, the public poured paraquat over Green Party candidates and consequently, with only two MSPs, a leadership contest is not on the horizon. Nevertheless, Mr Harper announced his decision to step down from his onerous position to spend more time with his multicoloured scarf.

Trotskyist-type entry tactics have enabled teachers to attain positions of power in the Tory party, eg, lurking in the background is the shadow minister for children, Elizabeth Smith, a woman who only recently left her part-time teaching post.

Even the SNP is not immune from a takeover by teachers. Among others, the SNP boasts ex-teachers Christine Grahame and Rob Gibson.

If Iain Gray really wants to help the nation, he should resign his position and start teaching physics at Musselburgh Grammar where, unbelievably, some Higher students are learning online due to a specialist teacher shortage.