Trade unionist and Edinburgh Labour member Mike Cowley argues that Richard Leonard is the only leadership candidate determined, on the basis of wealth redistribution, to resource the further education sector.

 

Further education has traditionally been perceived by many as a Cinderella sector. On the one hand our service has on occasion been relegated in the public mind to a ‘last chance saloon’ for working class drop outs, troubled teenagers and the academically challenged. On the other, this caricaturing of our social role has been a factor in the sector being starved of resources for far too long, leading to an exhausted workforce overly familiar with the challenges facing other services more widely in austerity Scotland.

The first is undoubtedly linked to the second. Perception matters, and the more we are regarded as of a lower status than the higher education sector, the more difficult the task of effectively applying leverage on successive education ministers to meaningfully intervene and increase the level of resources has been. In particular, the last three SNP administrations have, despite their hollow social democratic rhetoric, left this essential lifeline to improvise and manage with ever decreasing teaching budgets and resourcing for our classrooms.

Richard Leonard’s planned wealth tax on the most affluent Scots will deliver a qualitative shift in the resources available to a redistributive Scottish Labour government.

Further education offers a second opportunity to students for whom attainment at school followed by a successful application to university is not the norm. A continuing commitment to no tuition fees is critical. But unless a Labour government confronts the fundamental causes and consequences of poverty, many thousands will never have the chance to exercise the opportunities university offers.

A continuing universalist pledge to maintaining a no tuition fees position is critical to our party’s future electoral prospects. But if in practice that commitment is not to entrench itself as a default subsidy to middle class university applicants, wealth and income must be redistributed progressively elsewhere so that the policy actually follows through on its collectivist logic.

For so long as our resources are depleted, as long as lecturers struggle with the multiple social penalties incurred by our students because of stagnant family incomes, cuts to services and social security, the system will struggle to maintain itself in circumstances wholly unsupportive of educational values. The SNP government has consistently cut the sector’s teaching budgets, and compounded the insult by failing to resource a poorly judged mergers programme.

Only a Scottish Labour Party led by Richard will free up resources so that all of our kids can access the liberation of education. Watching our students visibly grow in confidence, witnessing their accumulating of ideas, insights, skills and aptitudes are the most rewarding experiences of a lecturer’s career. We want more and more capacity in our sector. We want the advantages and disadvantages of class – material, emotional – and access to educational opportunities widened for all.

Only by voting for a candidate who offers a systemic critique of poverty and its root structural causes can we hope to squeeze the educational attainment gap. Resources, freed up by a wealth tax, will be essential to realising that ambition. As Richard clearly argues in his manifesto, a wide range of structural factors lock our children into poverty for life. Challenge them, and we free them to move confidently into a well-funded education sector and on into adulthood with options in front of them.

That’s why I am voting for Richard, the only SLP leadership candidate determined, on the basis of wealth redistribution, to resource an FE sector which has for too long struggled to pull our students out of poverty while labouring under financial restraints itself.’