This has attracted the attention of our impish Conservatives, ever eager to impose wrong and unnatural things on Scotia.
During an education debate in Holyrood yesterday, waspish Elizabeth Smith (Con) announced: “I hear on the grapevine that it is very difficult this weekend to get a flight to Scandinavia.” She seemed to be suggesting that most of the seats had been booked by Scottish ministers and Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott.
They were a bit late, she averred. Former Tory leader David “Taxi!” McLetchie had made the same flight years ago, and had learned all there was to know.
And what was that? Well, according to Elizabeth, the Swedes had improved their education system by giving parents the choice – ah, the “c” word; already I smell an “r” word – of different education providers. “They have got it right,” she hollered triumphantly. They were driving up standards rather than being content with the lowest common denominator. What’s wrong with the lowest common denominator? Never did me any harm.
It wasn’t just Sweden, she said. The Netherlands and Canada were also at it and they, like Sweden, are traditionally not very Tory-style countries (the conservatives in them are usually somewhere to the left of our Labour Party; mind you, isn’t everybody?).
Said Elizabeth: “I fully acknowledge that in Sweden it took eight years to convince a sceptical public that the new freedoms in the state sector would work.” She claimed that even socialists in these countries backed the system now. One fears that, in the matter of choice, they have no choice.
My view is that Sweden has started to lose its nerve in recent years. Traditionally light years ahead of the murky Europeans, it was nagged relentessly by followers of the so-called Anglo-Saxon, dog-eat-dog model of life to drop their progressive palaver and get real. One of the first casualties was the postal service, now privatised to a level of ludicrous inefficiency.
Now they were mucking up their schools, much to the Tories’ delight.
Elizabeth hollered: “Doing nothing is not an option.” Oh, don’t say that, gal. It’s only when politicians do something that all the trouble begins. Better to say: don’t just do something, sit there.
Education secretary Michael Russell acknowledged that he was going to Sweden, and indeed Finland, this weekend, to ask teachers there about strengths and weaknesses in their systems.
The aforementioned McLetchie rose and said: “Are schools in Finland and Sweden not closed at the weekend?” Mike let the laughter linger and acted as if he’d been caught out, before explaining that, while he was flying forth on Sunday afternoon, he’d be visiting the schools on Monday and Tuesday.
I like to think he’ll be going out on the piss on the Sunday night but I expect he’ll just sit in his room and keep telling himself: “I must not spend the taxpayers’ money.”
He rejected an accusation that he and Mr Spock look-alike Ken McIntosh (Lab) were having “a socialist love affair”. I’m not quite sure what that is. Do you have to queue for your conjugal rights? Are there forms to fill in? A tax on every snog? Whatever the case, Michael insisted there was nothing “x-rated” going on between him and the Vulcan.
However, he stunned the mob with this telling confession: “I was at a rather odd school.” You would never have guessed. Marr College, he said, was a grant-aided comprehensive. He said it admitted every child in Troon, but nobody from outside it, which sounded rather sinister. What had they to fear?
All this fearfully entertaining fare came to an end when top dullard Des McNulty (Lab) rose to drone. I wondered why the security guards were locking the doors and scurrying away. Even the pigeons on the roof flew off. He said he admired Sweden – it is, to be fair, a boring country – but was not impressed with the educational reforms.
In maths, he said, it had suffered the biggest drop in standards after Bulgaria. Maths. Bulgaria. Des. I was losing the will to live. I don’t mind Des being boring, but he’s double-boring because he keeps repeating his own words. At last, thankfully, he said: “I am at the end end of my time time.” Yeah, ta-ta, ta-ta. Don’t hurry hurry back back.
Bubbly Margaret Smith (Lib Dem) is always a breath of fresh air. She breenged in with a quotation from that Aristotle, to wit: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” This was rather reminiscent of the definition of a gentleman: someone who can play the accordion, but chooses not to.
Margaret went on: “We have heard a lot about Swedish models.” Oh, talk to me about it. Really, don’t go there. In my experience, they just use you and break your heart.
Adenoidal Bill Aitken (Con) rose to declaim: “Presiding orifice, to paraphrase what they say in Yorkshire: when something is broke you do fix it.” I see. And your point, baldie? “All is not well in Scottish education.” Well, cripes, we know that. No one produces more neds and thickies than us. Even Bill referred to “childrens” at one point. I kids you not.
He said that he, “a boy from a poor area”, had gone to a grant-aided school that was so successful it was shut down by socialist Glaswegians. They didn’t want to hear about … aw, shurrup.
Christina McKelvie (SNP), declaring herself a fan of Swedish pop music, invited Elizabeth to “Take a Chance on Me” and embrace other Swedish models, such as progressive taxation. It was “Money, Money, Money” which funded their education system, and she was sure John “Super Trouper” Swinney would love to pump millions into Scottish education. I’m getting an image of the accountant-style finance secretary dancing and snapping his fingers. Most distressing.
Karen Whitefield (Lab), who speaks like a four-year-old, described Sweden as “the country for which the Tories want us all to look”. Aw, isn’t it sweet to hear them struggling with the language? By next year, when Karen starts attending school, I’m sure she’ll be chorusing with the rest of us: “Du gamla, Du fria, Du fjällhöga nord/Du tysta, Du glädjerika sköna!” That’s from the Swedish national anthem. It’s a song I know well. It means: “Du-doobie, du-doobie, doobie-doobie-du.”