Issue 5

EDITORIAL

It’s sometimes hard to separate the impact of any discussion on possible Independence from the wider turmoil of ideas that surround current discussion of developing public policies in Scotland. Protagonists on both sides often present their arguments as though an overlaid constitutional change would either make any proposal much easier to introduce; better resourced and generally much better or the exact opposite – just much worse in every respect.

It’s also sometimes hard to separate the consequences of a continuing financial crisis that has now been 5 or 6 years in the running - with no clear end in sight - from changes and developments that could well  have emerged anyway.

The recent creation of one Scottish wide police force ‘Police Scotland ‘ and the ‘Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’ is an example of the latter and this edition of SPN has a featured interview with Chief Officer,   Alasdair Hay. The development of this new  Scotland wide fire service will provide a fascinating and living example of how we reconcile budgetary pressures with ever growing public expectations of developing and common service standards across a very diverse and challenging society. The real challenge facing the new service is how to improve the outcomes for all citizens and their property when there are wide differences of geography and social character and both impact equally on the work of fire and rescue services and staff.

How we best organise school age education in Scotland and enable the development of education services that are of consistently high quality across the country will also continue to be the subject of a very lively discussion. This has been prompted by the report of The Commission on School Reform and the trigger for that discussion can be found in the title of the report: - “By Diverse Means – Improving Scottish Education“.  Sometimes, as a society, we don’t seem comfortable about diversity and all the features associated with that, even when it occurs naturally and organically as a characteristic of the society we have and the way in which we live. So school choice, for example, is far more a feature of the local government  education system in city and other urban areas than it is in more dispersed small town and rural areas. That is why our take on the education debate is a piece by an East Lothian councillor and member of the Commission that produced the report. But note that he is discussing what his party - the SNP - would have done were they in control of East Lothian council.

The starkest challenge that faces this society in education; in health; in fire and rescue; and countless other aspects of our public services in Scotland is the gap between the best outcomes and the worst – for both communities and individuals. As ‘Diverse Means‘ shows, generally school outcomes are good for most pupils and bear comparison with other developed countries. The worst outcomes are generally found for those at the lowest levels of household income distribution; a similar pattern emerges for household fire emergencies – just watch the broadcast news. The litany of worse outcomes continues through health incidents and outcomes and many other aspects of life in the 21st century.

This set of differential social outcomes is not confined to Scotland, the UK or to these islands.  A recent study in the USA suggested that the educational attainment gaps between poor and rich cohorts of students are now wider than those gaps between blacks and whites. For those who argue that the USA is not the most challenging of comparisons to make, similar patterns obtain in many European countries - not as wide as the US or Scotland – but still apparent.

Set against that background, our discussion of income impacts of the changes in social protection obviously have immediate importance for many households but seem to miss the wider picture.

Issue 5

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