Jim O’Neill takes on the Queen, Maybot’s incompetent government and the SNP’s latest failing education minister, John Swinney.


One of the few enjoyable bits of watching the Queen’s Speech this year was the sight of the Lords and Ladies all dressed up in their finery, while Liz and young Chuckie dressed down – as much as they ever dress down. And HRH read her speech, still printed on goat’s vellum, with as much enthusiasm as the proverbial dead goat on which it was written. For all the detail contained in it, they might as well have cancelled this year’s event as they have already cancelled next year’s. Liz might have got to Ascot in time to have a wee flutter on the first.

Then we had the Maybot channelling her inner Kaa – Trussssst in me! (For those philistines who do not know the Jungle Book, Kaa is the snake.) Well someone may not have told you yet, but the electorate was saying they don’t trust you when they removed your majority. And where were all those radical policies she touted in her manifesto? Probably in the recycling bin at the back of No.10. The Speech was so threadbare that Boris, stumbling through another car crash interview, found he had nothing to say on it.

Meanwhile, the great Brexit “negotiations” have started with David Davis losing the first round, on the Agenda, 3 – 0. Indeed, Philip Hammond got his retaliation in first by telling Andrew Marr it’s about the economy, stupid, thus signalling a direction of travel directly opposed to all those Brexit is Brexit speeches from the Maybot before the election.

The Tories seem to be so good at negotiations that they have even failed to stich up the simplest of deals with their fellow travellers, the DUP, before the Queen’s Speech debate has started. And, on the horns of a typically Irish dilemma, they have foregone their requirement to be impartial in the Assembly talks, probably ensuring that the talks will fail. All those years of delicate negotiations towards peace in the Province thrown away on the arrogance of the Prime Minister.

Now let’s see how long it takes for the Tories to fold in on themselves. Anyone for another election?

Meanwhile in Scotland, John Swinney has become the latest Education Minister to seek to redesign education in his own image. I wrote about this tendency of Education Ministers of all parties a few years ago. After ten years of continuous failure, which has seen attainment slip down the world leagues, he has come up with a cunning plan. Let’s get rid of all these interfering councillors and put everything in the hands of the headteachers.

As a former trade union official for teachers, this seems like a massive change in the terms and conditions of headteachers, to be imposed and not negotiated. Is that not illegal under labour law? And what about the training for these additional skills they will need? What about recompense for the increase in their workload and responsibilities? And where are the funds for the increase in support staff they will require, support staff already in existence at council level but now required separately for every school?

And, again, what about the democratic deficit it will create? Schools are under the control of councils for very good reasons. They are paid for by the taxpayers, and those taxpayers can hold the councils to account. Who will hold the headteachers to account?

This is not new. The SNP’s first failure as Education Minister, all those years ago, Mike Russell, also threatened to take schools away from council control if they did not do as he wanted. He so alienated the teaching profession that Alex Salmond had to sack him.

So, Swinney has missed a wide open goal. By seeking to change the systems rather than improve the resources available, he has been deaf to all the professionals who, once again, are on the verge of industrial action. Teachers, like nurses, don’t take industrial action lightly. The last great flare-up was as far back as the 1980s. That they are talking about it again shows how frustrated they have become with this Scottish Government.

Change your mind Mr Swinney. Look for new resources, not new systems. If you insist on continuing on your current path, only our children will suffer.