Sir, I write to express concern at the way the Headteacher of Webster’s High School, Kirriemuir, has been vilified by Alex Salmond, Ian Rankin, Scottish PEN and others over the reported issue with the play Black Watch (Courier, March 9 and elsewhere).
They all talk about freedom of expression. In fact, by twisting facts and rounding on an excellent headteacher in this way they are themselves attempting to suppress that freedom of expression.
They are making political cheap shots and indulging in what could be seen as a form of bullying. At the very least it is contemptuous of the professionalism of headteachers.
Black Watch is a powerful drama, but it is not necessarily everyone’s first choice of theatrical experience. In schools heads and English departments make decisions every year about which texts to study and which not to. They do so based on their own professional expertise and experience.
The SQA itself makes decisions as to which Scottish texts to recommend and which not to. Interestingly they have not included the said play Black Watch.
Perhaps Alex Salmond should therefore first vilify the SQA for “blackballing” this play. Just because a play has “brought a tear” to the former First Minister’s “een”, as he says, does not mean it should be required reading for all school pupils. The problem is that in his “een” it clearly should.
Cultural decisions as to what should or shouldn’t be studied in schools should never be made by politicians. The law can intervene if a text is illegal (ie racist or inciting hatred etc). Otherwise it should be left to the professionals in liaison with parents and pupils.
In the words of the SQA guidelines on the list of Scottish texts for Higher (albeit already very restricted): “The list (of Scottish texts) will be reviewed and refreshed every three years to ensure it remains relevant and allows new texts to be introduced. However, teachers and lecturers will still have complete freedom in selecting texts for the critical essay paper which means a wide range of literature will be studied at both National 5 and Higher English, including Shakespeare and other classic texts.”
Power corrupts, and political power corrupts politically. The former First Minister is entitled to his view on Black Watch, but he should resist the temptation to intimidate headteachers into choosing the culture that supports his own political ideology. Politicians in power tend to want to control the minds of young people. There are too many unpleasant historical models for that. As for the Scottish PEN, they should know better and seek out the oppression of writers and censorship where it really exists, namely almost always with those with political power.
Dr John D Halliday (Rector). High School of Dundee.
It will need to be a ‘rainbow’
Sir, What is all this Tory hysteria about Labour inviting the SNP into coalition with them to form the next Westminster Government? As I understand it, the polls are predicting 272 seats to both Tory and Labour which means that to form a government either will require another 53 seats.
If there is a coalition, it will need to be a rainbow one of three or more parties.
If Scotland does return a sizeable number of SNP members, it would seem undemocratic and arrogant to deny them influence this would confirm to Scotland that Westminster regards their vote and opinion with contempt.
Perhaps the poster showing Alex Salmond with Ed Miliband in his pocket could be more accurately redrawn to show David Cameron being carried off on the back of a braying UKIP ass with the facial features of Nigel Farage?
Brian Rattray. 124/2 Gylemuir Road, Edinburgh.
Be careful what you wish for . . .
Sir, With the general election fast approaching, voters should think long and hard before casting their votes. The newspapers are presently full of conflicting claims, and counter arguments, from all the political parties. Let us not be too hasty in voting for change.
The UK economy is in very good shape under the present administration compared to most competing economies in the EU and other parts of the world. Do we really believe that the Labour Party would be in a position to maintain the momentum, especially if they were forced into forming a coalition with the SNP?
I hope voters in Gordon, Aberdeenshire, think very deeply indeed about the consequences of casting their votes in Alex Salmond’s favour at the general election.
They should give some thought to his claims before the Scottish referendum about “Scotland’s oil, Scotland’s gas and Scotland’s self-sufficiency in power supply through the use of wind turbines”.
He decried Sir Ian Wood for daring to suggest caution over future oil incomes but who turned out to be correct at the end of the day?
Robert I G Scott. Northfield, Ceres.
Mess couldn’t be worse
Sir, Fife’s education authority could not have made a bigger mess of their plans for secondary schools in north- east Fife. Everyone is aware of the chaos over Madras and the broken promises for a Tay bridgehead school, pushed for decades by the MP and his Focus Team of Liberal Democrats.
When push came to shove, and the Lib Dems had the power, they copped out and the Madras saga ensued.
We would be so much better off if the Scottish Government had a policy enabling and encouraging free schools, as they are called, such as that available in England. The intransigent belief shared by Scotland’s parties that the state knows and that councils alone should run schools, is an unnecessary handicap.
Mike Scott-Hayward. Sawmill House, Kemback Bridge, Fife.
Why no school solar panels?
Sir, The news that a “super campus” is to replace existing primary and nursery facilities in the Longhaugh area will be welcomed by parents (Funding for city super-school, March 6).
This is the latest Dundee school building project to be supported by the Scottish Government’s schools for the future programme, but why have none been built so far with solar panels on the roof?
It is baffling that the Scottish Government is failing to back up its challenging climate change targets by insisting that every opportunity is taken with new schools, hospitals and other public buildings to generate renewable energy.
While these have to meet energy efficiency standards through the BREEAM scheme, ministers have overlooked the benefits of schools’ generating their own electricity.
This can pay for itself through FIT payments, reduce school running costs andprovide a real life case study for the classroom.
It can also help local authorities meet their commitments under the Climate Change Declaration. Councils such as Stirling, South Lanarkshire and North Ayrshire have been building and retro-fitting schools with solar panels, but Dundee seems to be missing a trick here.
It’s Scotland’s sunniest city, and yet the impressive new Harris Academy isn’t going to make use of its magnificent south-facing outlook to generate electricity. It really isn’t good enough.
Andrew Llanwarne. Co-ordinator, Friends of the Earth Tayside, 8 Glasclune Way, Broughty Ferry, Dundee.
NHS database, reverse is true
Sir, John Swinney is an intelligent man which makes his letter on the change of use of the NHS database to Saturday’s Courier inexplicable. He maintains that because it is a pre-exising database there is no problem.
The reverse is true. If he had set up primary legislation for a national ID database, that would have been clear. Instead he subverts an essential principle of data protection by using data gathered for one purpose for general government and outside agency use.
He says ‘it is not about handing over data to public bodies’ yet at the top of annex A schedule 2 of the consultation document the heading is: “Information which may be provided from the register and the persons to whom it may be provided”.
There then follows pages of the definitions of shared data and the bodies with whom it may be shared.
George Hayton. 6 Montgomery Way, Kinross.