SNP can inflict a Tory defeat over grammar schools in England

Written by Andrew Whitaker on 28 September 2016 in Comment

Andrew Whitaker on why the SNP should oppose Theresa May's grammar schools scheme

Holyrood’s full powers over education means Scotland is exempt from Theresa May’s plan to bring back grammar schools and what promises to be one of the most bitterly resisted polices from a UK Government since the days of Margaret Thatcher. 

The SNP’s education Westminster lead, Carol Monaghan, has stated that she is “fundamentally opposed to any system that encourages educational inequality and selection”.

Monaghan said the SNP would “closely examine” any proposals brought to the House of Commons to identify any potential impact on Scotland’s budget over grammar schools, which, the MP pointed out, “were phased out of Scottish education 50 years ago”.


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The SNP will face calls from UK ministers to stay out of an issue that concerns English schools in any Commons vote and the party must choose whether to abstain or to join Labour, the Lib Dems and Tory rebels in voting against it.

SNP MPs were accused of acting opportunistically when they voted against David Cameron’s attempt to lift the ban on fox hunting with dogs in England, although in fairness, the charge carried little credibility from a Tory party that sought to rush through the legislation on the quiet within weeks of its 2015 election win.

The fact that the UK Government has pledged to spend £50m a year on the expansion of grammar schools will probably give the SNP enough reason to vote against it, due to the funding impact that spending will have on Scotland’s block grant via the Barnett formula.

But the SNP can also make a case as to why it should vote against grammars apart from on the funding issue.

Since May 2015, the SNP has been the third biggest party at Westminster, occupying a position previously held by the Liberal Democrats.    

At the last election, the SNP sold itself to the Scottish electorate with a very direct pledge from Nicola Sturgeon that the party wanted to “lock out” David Cameron from power and right-wing policies, a message also implied to anti-Tory voters south of the border.

So how could the SNP, which describes itself as social democratic, sit on its hands when a bill comes before the Commons to create what critics have described as “educational segregation”?

How could a party claiming the mantle as the “real opposition” fail to vote against a change that would allocate places to high-flying pupils in well-resourced grammar schools, while those not deemed as top performers would have to make do with schools that will inevitably be seen as second rate, despite May’s insistence the new structure will not replicate the old secondary moderns of post-war Britain?

It seems inconceivable that MPs who hint at being part of a ‘progressive alliance’ with Labour and the Greens at Westminster would fail to vote against a bill that gives the best performing children at an early age, effectively, what will be a superior education, a criticism that’s fully backed up by the £50m sweetener pledged by May for grammars.

While the controversial ‘English Votes for English Laws’ rule may limit Scottish MPs voting on grammar schools, it’s only at committee stage that they will be excluded, with Scotland’s 59 members free to register their opposition in the Commons’ lobbies at the bill’s full stage.   

But SNP MPs will know that introducing selective grammar schools, which are likely to be commandeered by affluent families to a far greater extent, would be a completely beyond the pale in Scotland.

It’s also unthinkable that a party with seasoned Westminster operators like Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson will miss out on a chance to inflict a defeat on the Tories over May’s flagship legislation

 

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