Why influence on exams shows Greens are key to Holyrood election – Brian Wilson

Credit where it is due so I acknowledge that Green MSPs have earned half a round of applause.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with education secretary John Swinney. Picture: Fraser Bremner - Pool/Getty ImagesScottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with education secretary John Swinney. Picture: Fraser Bremner - Pool/Getty Images
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with education secretary John Swinney. Picture: Fraser Bremner - Pool/Getty Images

Their existence helped force the Scottish Government’s abject surrender over exam results. Without them, it would not have happened and the deeper digging would have continued. At that point, Green logic becomes a little confused. How is it possible to identify a monumental failure of governance yet retain confidence in the Minister responsible for it?

Anyway, we must not expect too much in one instalment and thousands of Scottish teenagers can be grateful that the Greens held half their nerve long enough to tip the balance.

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Therein lies the critical point. While the Greens might not be one’s bulwark of choice, their six MSPs do at least provide some protection against the accelerating movement towards a one-party statelet.

Labour’s no confidence motion created the necessary space for the Greens to exercise that crucial leverage. Otherwise, barriers which Swinney and Sturgeon defended with such vigour just a few days earlier would still be in place. Like it or lump it.

Far more important than political considerations, the losers would be the youngsters who, it is now universally acknowledged, had been cruelly treated by a dehumanised system of assessment.

The question is whether this modest but critical counter-balance to non-dissenting, single-party rule will be preserved beyond May. And – even leaving the constitution aside – it reminds us why it mattered that in 2016, against expectations, the SNP failed to achieve an overall majority.

Heaven knows, their standard of governance is mediocre enough but at least some of the more arrogant excesses have been headed off. I assume it will happen again over the Hate Crime Bill unless the Greens surrender their civil libertarian instincts.

Ironically, when the line changed on the SQA debacle, one of the first in with the new “listening government” spin was Humza Yousaf, the tweet-happy Justice Minister, responsible for the Hate Crime legislation. “Important to apologise when politicians get things wrong,” he opined sagely.

Well, quite so. But there would have been no apology and no admission of getting things wrong over the SQA, if it had not been for the imminent threat to Swinney’s employment. And that would not exist If the Nationalists had an overall majority. Lesson learned, one hopes.

If it needs reinforcing, the appointment of an SNP devotee, Professor Mark Priestley, to head the “independent SQA review” underlines the point. When a party controls all levers of power, there is no room for dissenters.

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I guess a review by, let’s say, Professor Lindsay Paterson would be as welcome as the bubonic plague. Yet it was he who repeatedly warned where the SQA algorithms were leading, months before Swinney discovered “listening” as a necessary option.

As with Covid-19, Sturgeon has taken refuge in the “we were only doing the same as England” line of defence. Just as we have had our own devolved NHS since 1948, Scotland has had separate education legislation since at least 1872. Has nobody told her?

It was understood ever since that we do things differently to reflect Scottish educational traditions and priorities. That’s why we have a different exam system. Long before Holyrood existed no minister with any smeddum was looking over his or her shoulder to England. Yet now, weirdly, that’s the Braveheart defence!

Is Scotland too wee, too poor, too stupid to come up with our own approach? Why, dealing with far smaller numbers than England, could there not have been contact with every school where projected results looked askew and consideration given to individual cases?

The blanket retreat may be the best of a bad job but it is far from satisfactory. If there is an excess of university applications, will all be treated as equals? There will certainly be variations between schools in how generous teachers’ assessments have been.

All this could have been averted if Swinney had listened while the fact that the central injustice has been addressed at all is solely due to the SNP not having an overall majority. Safest to keep it that way



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