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Letters / Odious piece of democracy-thwarting

Thank you for your coverage of the SIC debate on the proposed closure of Skerries School secondary dept. which, judging by the arguments reported, was won easily by those against closure.

Sadly, the power politics of the SIC in-crowd managed to sway, first, the education committee and later, the full council, to decide on closure by the casting votes of education committee chair Vaila Wishart and SIC convener Malcolm Bell, respectively.

But for the vote and abstention, respectively, of unelected education committee religious representatives Martin Tregonning and Radina McKay (who claimed she had been “asked by councillors not to vote”), democracy would have prevailed and the closure proposal would have been rejected before going to the full council.

Setting aside, for now, the ongoing, inexorable demise of SIC democracy and the hypocrisy of people like George Smith, Allison Duncan and Gary Robinson who voted to save their own schools and about-faced to close Skerries, arguably, signing the death warrant of that precarious community, let’s consider the Wishart/Budge/Wills argument for closure.

The stated reason for the proposal is that the children’s quality of education will be so improved by transferring from Skerries to AHS that all other concerns of family and community well-being, economic prosperity, etc, are of lesser consequence and lower priority.

Opponents of closure beg to differ, however, assume for argument that quality of education carries sufficient weight to justify overruling all other considerations.

It’s a condition for Scottish Government approval that quality of education must be demonstrably improved before closure will be sanctioned and the Wishart/Wills/Budge/ group claim that it will be, emphatically so. Children will benefit from participating in team sports and becoming more streetwise during the intervals and evening visits to “Downtown Lerwick”!

Vaila Wishart reportedly said she did not believe the council was currently providing the best educational experience for pupils in Skerries and that children’s services was unable to provide equality of opportunity in certain areas, such as team sports.

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“Children have rights. They have a right to a quality of education that allows them to achieve their full potential.”

Children, surely, must also have a right of equal opportunity to be with their families, which they will now be denied. Indeed, they do have that right and it’s enshrined in the Human Rights Act, 1993.

“You have the right to enjoy your family relationships without interference from the government. This includes the right to live with your family and, where this is not possible, the right to regular contact.”

It is clearly “possible” for the Skerries children to live with their families as they are doing that now and being forced to leave home by the SIC’s school decision is clearly “government interference”.

I expect SNP education minister Mike Russell will call this one in, anyway, since it has explosive political potential beyond any considerations of the cost of overturning SIC’s decision, for example, the possibility of Skerries folk taking the matter to the European Court of Human Rights over the family disruption involved.

Russell will be aware, too, that SIC is trying to push through as many closures as possible prior to the Scottish Government’s implementation of its proposal to amend the Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 via the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill. The amendments will, among other things:

(i) introduce a presumption against closing a rural school and importantly,
(ii) prevent a closure proposal from being repeated for five years.

Mr Russell will decide on the basis of the evidence and the potential political fall-out from his decision, such as the risk of presiding over a third legal setback inflicted on the Scottish Government by “gadfly” local protesters (Sustainable Shetland on Viking Energy and Jean Metcalfe of Kichrenan on wind farm consultation via the Aarhus Convention being the first two) in twelve months, this time in the European Court of Human Rights, should he fail to overturn SIC’s closure decision.

The petition “Michael Russell MSP: Save ‘Out Skerries’ Secondary School” currently standing at 681 signatures, features a photograph of Skerries school in former times with twenty seven children and now SIC is closing the secondary department because it has only three pupils. That speaks volumes.

This lamentable drain of pupils has transpired due to neglect of Skerries by successive councils over the years and it is tragic, indeed, that such a go-ahead community which contributes £5.1 million to the Shetland economy, far from being assisted to return to its former healthy population, is being actively torn down by SIC curtailing their ferry transport links and now closing the secondary school.

I daresay a large number of referendum “Yes” votes may be earnable, or at least, not losable, too, by overturning this odious piece of democracy-thwarting “jookery-packery” by the SIC in-crowd.

John Tulloch


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