When the Scottish Parliament rises officially on 4th May 2021, Iain Gray will be retiring as an MSP. Iain is one of the class of ’99 the group of MSPs who were elected for the first session of the new Scottish Parliament. He has had a range of experiences as a teacher in Scotland pre-devolution and Mozambique post-revolution. As well as a MSP and Scottish Labour Party Leader Iain has served as Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning and shadow education spokesperson during his participation in the Parliament.
The SEAS caught up with Iain before his retirement to discuss his career in teaching as well as his view of progress in education in Scotland. Iain is a politician with a hinterland as he talks us through his contribution as teacher, cabinet minister and education spokesperson. Iain gives us his view of the successes and impact of resource issues in Scottish education in recent years.
We did manage to tackle on his work with the Hibs Community Foundation on building collaboration to tackle food poverty and mental wellbeing through football. All in all a fascinating journey described by Iain which we are sure you will enjoy.
This is our first video and I did manage to get round to clicking the active speaker view after a while. And, yes, Iain’s dog did let us know that his mid-morning walk was being delayed due to the recording! Enjoy!
On 11th March Iain Gray MSP made his final final speech in the chamber of the Scottish Parliament having served as leader of the Scottish Labour Party but also as the key Scottish Labour Party figure in education in that time. He spoke to the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill. In his speech he reviewed the parliament over his 22 years as MSP and offered a vision of the work of the Scottish Parliament needing to shine light on darkness! We share his speech and share our view that he will be missed.
Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab): Thank you, Presiding Officer. I speak in support of the bill, which finally promises some redress for people whom we collectively let down so badly for so long. As children, they looked to us for care and we delivered them up to hurt, terror and torture, sometimes for years. Then, as the cabinet secretary said, for decades we refused to listen to them, but, in their courage, they would not be silenced. The bill has taken too long to achieve, and it could have been better. I wish that we had removed the waiver on rights to civil justice, but the bill is a substantive acknowledgement—at last—of survivors’ suffering and our responsibility for it.
As Jamie Greene indicated, this is my final speech. He will be too young to know that it is actually not the first time that I have made a final speech in the Parliament. The difference is that, the last time, I did not know that it was my final one. [Laughter.] It is better to make that decision ourselves than to have the electorate make it for us. I am glad that my final speech is about righting a wrong of the past.
I am privileged to be one of the class of ’99, as I believe that, over 22 years, we have put right many such wrongs. I helped to take through the very first act of this Parliament—the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000—which supported families who had been stymied in their care for loved ones by cruel incapacity laws, some of which were 400 years old. We abolished a feudal system that, for 1,000 years, had excluded the people of this country from vast swathes of their own land, and we opened it up to all. We closed down the long-stay hospitals in which our brothers and sisters with learning disabilities had been imprisoned for generations. It has been a privilege to be just a small part of all of that and of so much more that the Parliament has done when it has been at its best.
On that unforgettable opening day in 1999, Donald Dewar said that the Scottish Parliament is about “how we carry ourselves”. I do not believe that he meant how we strut on the world stage or swagger along the corridors of power. He meant how closely we are willing to walk alongside those who need us most and how willing we are to stand with those who are hungry, who are hurting or who have no hope—not craving the limelight, but rather braving the darkness that it is our duty to try to dispel. We have not always succeeded, of course.
There are plenty of present-day wrongs that I will be looking to those members who come back in May to put right. After all, we opened up access to our land, but it is still owned by a tiny, wealthy, powerful elite. We liberated people with learning disabilities from long-stay hospitals, but into a social care system that fails them again and again. There were precious few food banks back in 1999. What were we doing that so many came to depend on them? Child poverty is rising. Drug deaths are Scotland’s shame.
The Parliament’s best days are the days when we refuse to accept that we cannot change those things and we believe in our power to do that. The Parliament that I leave is not the one that I entered 20 years ago. Following the Smith commission, on which I had the privilege of serving, it is one of the most powerful devolved legislatures anywhere. I know that many members will continue to argue for its sovereignty, and that is their right. However, I sincerely believe that the pandemic has demonstrated the power of devolution, taking our own decisions here—some of which I agree with, others which I do not—about public health measures, schools, the national health service and how we support business. However, we do so while we are underpinned by being part of a bigger economy with a broader tax base, more borrowing power, greater research funding and greater purchasing power for vaccines and personal protective equipment. In any case—pandemic or not—our daily obligation is to use every power that we have, with all the urgency that we can muster, to right those wrongs of poverty and injustice.
I turn to that Donald Dewar speech again:“A Scottish Parliament. Not an end: a means to greater ends. ”A noble end—like today: a measure of justice at last for survivors of abuse. It has been a privilege to be part of that. It has been an especial privilege to represent East Lothian for the past 14 years, so let me place on record for the last time that East Lothian is the best constituency, the best county and the best part of Scotland in which to live or work. [Laughter.]
I could not have be part of any of that without the support of so many staff in Parliament, the Labour researchers and the staff in my local office—currently Chris, Ryan and John, but many others over the years, not least Pat and Simon, whom we miss. Above all, my thanks go to my family, especially to my wife, Gil. I would never have been here without her encouragement nor have survived without her holding my hand through the ups and downs. This bill is an up. It is a good bill—some light in a terrible darkness. We will support it this evening, and that will be me loused. Thank you. [Applause.]
The SNP’s decision to postpone releasing the OECD’s review into Curriculum for Excellence till after the elections in May 2021 has merely led to heightened speculation about its contents. The Socialist Educational Association Scotland has its view on what will either be missing or edited out. The SEAS’ views were not invited to participate in the Review. When we approached either Scottish Government or the OECD our views were not sought as a contribution either.
The SEAS welcomes the review. Any curricular system benefits from a process of review. This is not necessarily permanent revolution but some form of built-in renewal and change. Such renewal should not have to wait for a crisis and the need for a new normal or even building back better. Planning for a decade long change would be beneficial till we renew once more.
Talking of the pandemic one of the key elements in discussing the new future is taking account of a year of radical change. In the year from last March to March 2021, in countries across the globe and particularly where the impact of the pandemic was poorly managed (i.e. here); society was effectively de-schooled.
In part, for too many children and young people, this led to a “schooling loss” the impact of which is yet to be fully measured. Some young people never missed attending a school building that much and with their teachers adjusted to forms of online teaching and learning. Other children and their families found ways to engage in home learning that compensated for missing their school.
All of this means that there has been a radical consciousness-raising exercise about the value of attending school education, or as a neighbour’s P1 child had it in early March 2021 being “back at proper school “. The opportunity is being missed to re-engage with Scottish society about a renewal of Curriculum for Excellence drawing on the past two decades as well as the range of experiences over the past year.
Below are the proposals from the first National Debate. In 2002, the Labour-led Scottish Executive Education Department launched a national debate on schools for the 21st century. The debate elicited over 1500 responses and it is estimated that 20,000 people took part. It is a shame that that the views of the Scottish people have not yet been put into practice fully two decades after they were proposed.
It is not too late to engage in a National Renewal Debate to match the thousands of contacts and the model of civic participation in education policy-making from the national debate at the start of the century. We need a new future now shaped by the Scottish people not the OECD, not just the Parliament, definitely not the international advisors and not solely the professionals. It takes all of us to raise a child.