By Democrat reporter
Updated at 5.30pm Tuesday
The Scotsman is reporting that teachers are set to target the constituencies of senior SNP ministers including the First Minister as they escalate their strike action over pay.
The EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, announced the escalation of industrial action on Tuesday and marked the one year anniversary of when the union submitted its pay claim for 2022/23 which continues to be subject to negotiation.
Alongside previously announced action, the constituencies of Nicola Sturgeon, deputy first minister John Swinney, education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville, COSLA resources spokesperson Katie Hagmann, and Scottish Green education spokesperson Ross Greer will all be specifically targeted by strike action.
This will see four of those five areas, comprising of parts of Glasgow, Perth, Dunfermline and Dumfries and Galloway, hit by strikes between Wednesday, February 22 and Friday, February 24. All five areas, with details of exactly which schools yet to be released, will see a further three days of action from Tuesday, March 7.
Busy doing nothing about teachers’ pay – Somerville, Sturgeon, Swinney and Greer.
EIS general secretary, Andrea Bradley, said: “It is deeply regrettable that the continuing inaction, obfuscation and spin from the Scottish Government and COSLA on teachers’ pay has led to an escalation of our programme of strike action.
“It has now been a year since our pay claim was submitted, and teachers should have had their pay rise in their pay packet last April. Instead, the Scottish Government and COSLA initially offered a pathetic 2 per cent pay settlement – at a time when inflation was nearly four times that amount.
“Since then, the Scottish Government and COSLA have dithered, delayed and dragged their feet while the cost of living has continued to soar.”
She added: “The latest offer, for a well-below inflation 5 per cent, has now been kicking around for six months and has been rejected by Scotland’s teachers twice.
“Our members have already taken part in three days of national strike action, and a further 16-days of rolling action across the country.
“The response from the Scottish Government and COSLA has been, essentially, nil – and this now has forced an escalation in our action. The offer of a 9 per cent real-terms pay cut, which is what is on the table, will never be acceptable.”
Democrat editor Bill Heaney reports on the teachers’ strike debate in the Scottish Parliament today (Tuesday).
Asked what steps the SNP government had taken to bring the teachers’ strike to an end, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Shirley-Anne Somerville, told MSPs: “We remain in talks with unions, and recent dialogue has focused explicitly on the potential areas of compromise, with a view to reaching an agreement that is acceptable to all sides. Only the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, as the employer, can make a formal offer to the teaching unions.
“I met the general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland on Friday last week, and I had discussions with the other teaching unions on the same day. There remains a shared commitment to continuing that dialogue.”
Stirling Tory MSP Stephen Kerr, left, told her: “Déjà vu. This is a mess of the cabinet secretary’s own making. Shirley-Anne Somerville is the cabinet secretary and she is responsible, but she shows not one ounce of energy or urgency to resolve the dispute.
“There is now a clear threat to the exams timetable. After everything that our young people have been through, the cabinet secretary should be ashamed. On Sunday, she was on television, more interested in purging the Scottish National Party of dissidents than in settling the dispute with Scotland’s teachers.
“She said that everyone should get around the table. However, two weeks ago, she made it clear that she was not even in the room, let alone at the table. Will she now take a place at the table and take an active part in the talks to end the teachers strikes?
“Why has the Deputy First Minister [John Swinney] been parachuted into the dispute? Is that an admission of Shirley-Anne Somerville’s failure?”
Shirley-Anne Somerville hit back: “Not for the first time, Mr Kerr’s questioning suggests a lack of understanding of the workings of the Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers, in particular. I point out that the only way in which the issue could be resolved today would be by the Scottish Government and local government agreeing to the union pay demands.
“That is simply unaffordable and unsustainable. If that is what Stephen Kerr is suggesting, perhaps it is just as well that he does not have responsibility for the public finances.
“I said very clearly at the weekend—and I will do so again—that I am confident that the discussions that are being had involving the Scottish Government, councils and the Scottish Qualifications Authority will ensure that the exam diet will not be threatened, even if teaching unions choose to undertake industrial action during that time.
Stephen Kerr said he understood perfectly what the process looks like and how it should be conducted.
“While Nicola Sturgeon is happy to meet representatives of other public service unions, apparently the cabinet secretary is not prepared to get involved in speaking to Scotland’s representatives of teachers,” he said..
Mr Kerr aded: “We are 312 days in, and it is clear that the cabinet secretary’s policy is to do nothing. Despite what we have just heard, there is now a very real threat to the exams timetable. The cabinet secretary has no intention of settling the pay dispute in this financial year.
“It is her deliberate policy to do nothing, and her inaction is letting down Scotland’s children and young people. She is showing disdain for teachers. The cabinet secretary has no interest in negotiating a deal in this financial year. Can she tell me that I am wrong?
Shirley-Anne Somerville replied: “I am not entirely sure that Mr Kerr listened to my original answer. If he had done so, he would have heard that I met the general secretary of the EIS on Friday—that is the latest of many meetings—and that I had discussions with the other trade unions on the same day. We have an on-going commitment that that dialogue will continue.
“It does no one—not Scotland’s children and young people, in particular—any use whatsoever to continue the scaremongering around the exams. I dealt with that in my previous answer.
“The Scottish Government, councils and teachers came together during the pandemic to do our utmost to support young people preparing for exams.
“I appreciate and respect the fact that unions have a mandate to take continuing action should they wish to do so, but there is a shared endeavour to support our children in the build-up to and during exams.
“That remains in place with the Scottish Government and our agencies, and I am confident that, working together, we will have contingencies in place so that the exam diet is not threatened.”
Labour MSP Michael Marra, right, told the chamber: “Yesterday the cabinet secretary took to the airwaves to warn unions not to disrupt exams. The Government has a brass neck to warn anyone about the conduct of exams.
“It is the teaching workforce that has bailed the Government out of its SQA disaster for the past three years. The response to that rhetoric today is more strike dates, and those who are unfortunate enough to have the cabinet secretary as their MSP are among the worst affected.
“We are back in the 1980s, are we not? Michael Forsyth, George Younger, Peter Fraser and Malcolm Rifkind were all targeted by the teaching unions. How on earth did we end up here? When will the cabinet secretary do the job that taxpayers have sent her here to do? When will she sanction an offer, get it on the table and get a deal done?”
Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Willie Rennie MSP said: “This is a last-minute, crack-handled ruling that is no way to run a country.
“The Education Secretary treats councils like the enemy who are determined to cut teacher numbers. This approach is further undermining the relationship with local authorities who are desperately trying to grapple with significant cuts imposed by the SNP Government.
“If the Education Secretary wants to protect teacher numbers, she should probably fund them with a real increase in council funding.”