Labour MP Ian Murray was forced to miss Liberton High’s prizegiving because of a key vote in Commons
There are many issues with the UK Government having a small majority in parliament but one of the most frustrating is having to rely on Government rebels to win votes. That means a lot of work, and an even greater lot of faith, to win the numbers game.
Last week, the expectation levels were raised, but would the Conservative MP, Dominic Grieve, hold his nerve and press his well-crafted amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill? Those amendments would allow Parliament to take back control of the Brexit process if the Government either failed to get a satisfactory deal or parliament voted against any deal. Unfortunately, he blinked, so the Conservative rebels faded away and we ended up with a compromise position that both sides claim as a victory. That probably means it is a defeat for everyone.
The parliamentary arithmetic is such that in order to win a vote the Opposition needs to persuade about a dozen Conservative MPs to vote against their own Government. Coincidentally, that is exactly the same number of Scottish Conservative MPs. However, they have not deferred from their own party in any Brexit vote to date. So much for “Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservative MPs” doing their bit to soften Brexit! Maybe she will be held to account properly for her broken Brexit promises at some point in the future.
The other aspect of tight parliamentary arithmetic is that it impacts on attending local midweek constituency events. One such event that I missed last week was the annual Liberton High School prize-giving ceremony where they celebrate the incredible achievements of their students. I’m very lucky to represent a constituency with some of the best high schools in the country. Each have their own way of celebrating the success of their students and the great work they do in their schools and the wider community.
I pick out Liberton High as they are the only high school in the south Edinburgh cluster of Boroughmuir, James Gillespie’s, Firhill, St Thomas’, Holyrood, and neighbours, Gracemount that has not had either a brand new school or refurbishment.
Last week, I accompanied the Liberton High Parent Council and a sixth-year student, Sarah Hand, to the city council’s education committee to make the case for a new Liberton High. Many promises have been given to the school community that they would be “next” to be rebuilt. The school just missed out last time and were top of the new school rebuilding list. However, a reprioritisation by the council has seen them drop to near bottom.
It is more than four years since 12-year-old Keane Wallis Bennet was killed by a falling wall at the school and nothing substantial has happened since. Parents rightly, during an emotional plea, impressed upon the council that they were given strong assurances that the school would be rebuilt and that they would not accept the continuation of an inadequate “sticking plaster” approach.
It is simply a matter of fairness. Yes, there has been a tragedy and serious security breach at the school, but Liberton also suffers from having to spend the money it has, and the resources that parents raise, on equipment that comes as standard with new schools.
The council has difficult decisions to make in an environment where their resources have been decimated by Scottish Government cuts but, on the same day as the deputation to the council, the Scottish Government reported an underspend of £493m. There will be a million requests for this funding but I think, in the interests of fairness and in response to the impressive case made by the parents and pupils, that Liberton High should get some of that money to fulfil the promises made to rebuild the school.
Let’s give the students and future students of Liberton High what they deserve – the best possible learning environment that they and the wider community can be proud of. It would be a fitting tribute to the teachers, staff and pupils.