MARIA FYFE welcomes a renewed concern for Scottish pupils to learn about their nation, but says the SNP cannot be trusted to develop an effective Scottish Studies curriculum


It is doubtful whether this Scottish Government can be trusted with the teaching of Scottish Studies when they are so fond of twisting the facts to suit themselves.  Alex Salmond told us all that the recent elections were not about independence. Yet as soon as the results were in,  El Presidente claimed the Scottish electorate was behind him on the road to independence.  He has a majority of seats, but he does not have a majority of votes.

Then there is the endlessly repeated mantra that our Scottish Parliament has been “reconvened”.  Why?  On the spurious grounds that when the Scottish Parliament of 1707 met for the last time it stood adjourned. We have had over three hundred years to get used to the combined Parliament and play our part in reforming the franchise. Both  Holyrood  and Westminster would be unrecognisable to the tiny band of rich men of 1707 who stood for political parties  so long forgotten only historians of the period can even name them.

This is not a question of whether, but how our history is taught. I was taught that James Watt invented the steam engine as a result of watching a kettle boil.  The true story of this man’s crucial contribution to Britain’s industrial development is not only much more interesting, it teaches pupils that such great strides forward do not, usually,  arise from some mysterious lightbulb switched on  in someone’s head.

Then there’s Bruce, our national hero. Will our pupils get history, or hagiography?   We may complain of our rulers today, but they do draw the line at murder of a rival in a church.

Who is to teach Scottish Studies?  A decent education system requires that secondary teachers have passed  appropriate  courses  in their degree.  An economic historian may not necessarily have much knowledge of Scottish literature.  And you can have immersed yourself in Robert Burns and not have a clue about Robert Owen.  Why not, instead, simply mainstream, and let pupils benefit from depth of knowledge in each relevant subject?  It is simply not appropriate for a government minister to chair a body that will decide curricular matters, even if he has experience as a teacher. That is when we risk politicising of what is taught.  A little more modesty, and a lot less diktat, would be welcome.

Maria Fyfe was MP for Glasgow Maryhill from 1987 to 2001 and is a former teacher of economic history.