What Midlothian’s music tuition decision says about democracy – leader comment

And the music will play on: protesters outside Midlothian Council (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
And the music will play on: protesters outside Midlothian Council (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)
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Campaigners successfully overturn plans to cut music tuition in Midlothian’s schools as councillors approve above-inflation council tax rise.

As a musical flashmob played outside, Midlothian’s councillors stepped back from the brink.

Highly controversial proposals that would have meant the council became the first in Scotland to cut musical instrument tuition in its schools – except for those taking Higher or National Five music exams – were rejected at the 11th hour.

More than 12,000 people had signed a petition against the cuts as campaigners desperately sought to persuade the council to change its mind, arguing passionately that the plan would “completely destroy music education” and that it would mean many children would not be able to learn an instrument at all. Councillors listened to the public outcry and yesterday they responded to it.

At the same meeting, they agreed a council tax rise of 4.79 per cent.

If the protests and petitions been against that above-inflation increase, while the cuts to music tuition had attracted little public comment, the situation could have been reversed.

The success of the protesters will be celebrated in Midlothian but it is a decision of broader significance.

READ MORE: Midlothian Council votes to scrap music tuition cuts as musical flashmob protests outside

Had Midlothian Council passed the proposed cuts, other cash-strapped local authorities looking for ways to make savings may have quickly followed suit. For some years, councillors have had to make some increasingly hard choices, but now they will think twice about silencing the music in Scotland’s schools.

But it is also a lesson that democracy does work.

We vote for people to represent us but the ‘will of the people’ does not stop being expressed after election day, it is a continuous process. Councillors and MPs know if they do not listen to the public, they will be voted out.

In order to ensure they hear that voice above the general hubbub, it is sometimes necessary to assemble a chorus to send the message as loudly and clearly as possible.

Cynics say voting does not matter, that politicians are all the same, and nothing ever changes. But the successful campaign waged to save music tuition in Midlothian proves otherwise. Anyone in favour of the cuts, if that meant lower taxes, who kept quiet just missed out.

Democracy and all it entails – voting, campaigning and protesting – can achieve real, significant change that makes a difference to people’s lives.

READ MORE: Music experts ‘dismayed’ over Midlothian Council’s proposed tuition cuts