Columnist Brian Wilson, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Education Secretary John Swinney.

Credit where it is due so I acknowledge that Green MSPs earned half a round of applause last week.

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.

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.

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!


Opinion polls come and go. Recent ones around Scottish voting intentions are not yet worth getting excited about.

Indeed, the low esteem in which the same polls now hold Alex Salmond is a timely reminder that what goes up also comes down.

He too walked on water and in the days before the 2014 referendum, independence was in the bag. The privacy of the polling-booth provided a different answer.

Frankly, it would be surprising if his successor was not now soaring the popularity heights, giving the relentless campaign of unchallenged exposure she is permitted.

The generals behind any self-respecting military coup know the most important buildings to occupy are the broadcasting studios.

Scotland has witnessed a Covid coup without any signs of resistance.

I am in Ireland at present and each jurisdiction has done around three times better than Scotland, measured by excess death rates during the Covid-19 months. Who would know that?

Astonishingly, this has been achieved without any politician dominating the airwaves or continuing to report personally that another day has passed without a death.  Scotland is uniquely blessed.

In fairness, everyone else seems to have dropped the pretence that this is primarily a “public health update”.  Even the Scottish Government’s web-site publishes her text under the heading “First Minister’s Speech”.

On Monday, the “speech” ran to an impressive 1700 words though  any competent sub-editor could have cut  it by three-quarters without any sense of loss . And that was only the opening gambit. How long is this farce to continue?

Like Mrs Thatcher, it seems Ms Sturgeon intends to go “on and on”.  But then, look what happened to her. And, for that matter, to Mr Salmond.

One comment

  1. Constructive political comment and criticism is always welcome.

    Sadly Brian’s column all too often is nothing more than a tribal anti SNP rant and what comes out in this piece is his resentment at the SNP electoral popularity.

    Yes we all know that the exam results moderation was a disaster. We all know that the SQA thinking was wrong and unfair. And yes we know that teachers marked up huge numbers off pupils raising the spectre of grade inflation.

    But Swinney stood up, took responsibility, blamed no one but himself, and changed the policy issuing a heartfelt apology. Now that is the measure of a good politician. And I think he has earned the respect of many for that.

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