Brian Monteith: If the dunce cap fits, the SNP must wear it

Educational standards have fallen under John Swinney's watch. Picture: John Devlin
Educational standards have fallen under John Swinney's watch. Picture: John Devlin
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‘Facts are chiels that winna ding!” was an oft-heard expression when I sat in the Scottish Parliament, mostly it has to be said, by the most condescending characters that graced the debating chamber. For those not familiar with the auld Scots phrase it means “facts are fellows that cannot be overturned” and SNP members just loved to utter it when some uncomfortable fact would arise to the embarrassment of the Labour and Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive.

How long ago that seems now. Mind you, if things seemed bad back then – and sometimes they did, they are in so many ways far, far worse now. And who have we got to thank for that?

Alex Johnstone has died at the age of 55

Alex Johnstone has died at the age of 55

Westminster? Brussels? Donald Trump?

Well if you believe everything the SNP spouts you might want to sit down or take a powder, for this week the latest international statistics came out and they did not make good reading for Scotland. Frankly they were an embarrassment to the SNP and are a scandal damaging a whole generation of our children. Maths, reading and science are all significantly worse than they were in 2007.

So let’s just clear up who’s responsible. Donald Trump isn’t US President yet, that happens in January, so while people might want to blame him for a great deal the collapse in numeracy and literacy in Scottish schools is not one of them. Donald Trump, it’s not you!

Brussels? Well, we might want to blame the EU Commission but it has it’s hands full saving Italy, propping up the eurozone, sorting out relations with Turkey or Ukraine and of course coming up with its own plan for Brexit. If it had responsibility for education I’m sure it would be a disaster but let’s cut them some slack, for once. Brussels, it’s not You!

Westminster? Well why not? This is the age of austerity isn’t it? All those cuts the SNP has made to school budgets, it must be Westminster’s fault? But wait! Westminster decided to protect school budgets and that means Scotland’s share of that money came here. Also, the old Scottish Executive massively increased expenditure on education at the turn of the millennium and yet the reading, maths and science attainment went into free-fall. It has been on a downward trend ever since – more money or not. So money’s not the problem, whereas education is the responsibility of Scottish politicians – it always has been since Church of Scotland schools were taken over by the state in 1872. So there you go; Westminster, it’s not you!

That leave one, and only one place that the buck stops, and that’s at the desk of the Scottish Secretary for Education, John Swinney, and those before him. Take a bow Fiona Hyslop, Michael Russell and Angela Constance. It’s all of you!

The reason is simple, despite promises to the contrary the Scottish Government has dictated more and more how Scottish schools should be run and at the same time reduced the visits by inspectors, cut teacher numbers, denied information about school performance to parents and reduced parents’ influence over school management. Meanwhile, other countries, including those Westminster IS responsible for, are improving.

There’s only one thing left to say. Our SNP politicians are failing us, get them out of there!

All these deaths are hard to take

2016 has been a bad enough year for deaths but this week has been the worst!

Surfing the internet I found out that Professor Sir Donald MacKay (79) died last month, then on Wednesday I learned of former MP Allan Stewart (74) had died – and within two hours I was then told my former colleague and drinking buddy Alex Johnstone had died from the Big C.

One was sad, two was upsetting but three was a genuine shock! Alex was a down to earth, no-nonsense, Doric-speaking dairy farmer who with Linda, his wife of 35 years, was great company and a big softie for all his size.

I was moved by all of their passings, but Alex, at only 55, was especially hard to take. How will 2016 end?

Wake up and smell the coffee

Earlier this week a report by a chum of mine, Bob Lyddon, exposed that multinationals like Starbucks and the rest are able to avoid paying nearly £10 billion of UK Corporation Tax by routing their turnover through Ireland and Luxembourg. Only by leaving the EU’s Single Market can we get the companies to pay the tax due to us and not the Irish, or others.

Losing that tax revenue back to the UK where it belongs would be a huge shock to the Irish economy. A hard border between Ireland and the UK? Ireland would be better leaving the EU and being successful outside it as our partners, than being poorer in it. I bet they are already thinking about it in Dublin.

Tomatoes like they used to taste

I’ll never forget Scottish tomatoes when I was a kid. They had real taste and were marvellous. I ate so many I came out in heatspots every summer. Then we joined the Common Market, our tomato farmers were ruined and tomatoes became tasteless.

Now we’re leaving the EU I don’t expect our tomatoes to suddenly be grown in Ayrshire again – but we could import them from Uganda instead of Europe through a new trade deal we’re not allowed by the EU. Being in Uganda for a short job again, I have them grilled for breakfast and they remind me of the old times. A Scot must have planted them! I’ll be coming out in heatspots if I’m not careful.