Scottish Daily Mail


++ Warn­ing of fresh dis­rup­tion for fam­i­lies as leaked memo re­veals min­is­ters are con­sid­er­ing longer school break ++

- By Michael Black­ley Scot­tish Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

SCOT­LAND’S schools could close for an ex­tra week over Christ­mas un­der plans be­ing con­sid­ered by the SNP.

There are fears pupils could miss more time in the class­room af­ter the pro­posed three-week shut­down was re­vealed in a leaked memo.

This would see schools close on De­cem­ber 18 – around five days ear­lier than cur­rently planned in most ar­eas – and not re­turn un­til Jan­uary 11.

Min­is­ters yes­ter­day con­firmed the plan is un­der con­sid­er­a­tion but in­sisted that no fi­nal de­ci­sion has been made. They also ac­knowl­edged the po­ten­tial neg­a­tive im­pact on pupils of miss­ing teach­ing time.

The memo, writ­ten by coun­cil um­brella group Cosla, said: ‘The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment are ex­plor­ing a na­tional ex­ten­sion to Christ­mas hol­i­days cov­er­ing 18th De­cem­ber 2020 to 11th Jan­uary 2021, ei­ther on the ba­sis of schools re­main­ing closed or the tem­po­rary in­tro­duc­tion of re­mote

learn­ing. The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials have in­di­cated that the ob­jec­tives of an ex­ten­sion would be to en­sure that school staff are not in­volved in con­tact trac­ing into the Christ­mas pe­riod.

‘An ex­ten­sion would act as a “break” fol­low­ing the wider re­lax­ation of re­stric­tions over the Christ­mas pe­riod.’

Coun­cil lead­ers de­bated the sub­ject, pro­posed by Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment min­is­ters, at a Covid-19 Ed­u­ca­tion Re­cov­ery Group meet­ing on Thurs­day.

The memo ac­knowl­edged that con­cerns had been raised about the po­ten­tial im­pact a fur­ther loss of class­room time would have on pupils.

It asked for feed­back from se­nior coun­cil of­fi­cials on is­sues in­clud­ing how the wider five-day re­lax­ation of rules over Christ­mas is likely to af­fect staff and pupils.

It goes on: ‘Ev­i­dence to date from the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment has in­di­cated that schools are a low trans­mis­sion risk.

‘This pro­posal may have im­pli­ca­tions for fu­ture con­sid­er­a­tions on schools re­main­ing open, par­tic­u­larly con­sid­er­ing the con­cerns of trade unions.

‘There would be no op­por­tu­nity for emer­gency child­care as this was pro­vided by school staff pre­vi­ously, and there­fore there is an im­pact on key work­ers and vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren and young peo­ple.’

It also states any de­ci­sion to ex­tend the hol­i­days ‘may have im­pli­ca­tions for fu­ture con­sid­er­a­tions on schools re­main­ing open, par­tic­u­larly con­sid­er­ing the con­cerns of trade unions’.

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment said there had been ‘mixed views’ on the is­sue within its Ed­u­ca­tion Re­cov­ery Group.

Jo Bis­set, of the UsForThem Scot­land par­ents’ group, said: ‘The most vi­tal thing is that chil­dren do not lose out on time in the class­room. If schools do close for an ad­di­tional week over Christ­mas, then that time must be made up in the spring.

‘Par­ents un­der­stand that the fes­tive pe­riod will be com­pli­cated for ev­ery­one, not just the schools sys­tem. And while t his will un­doubt­edly cause dif­fi­culty for many from a child­care per­spec­tive, that will be eased some­what by a guar­an­tee that their chil­dren won’t miss out over­all.

‘Blended learn­ing doesn’t cut it – that was made painfully clear dur­ing the first lock­down.

‘The so­lu­tion to an ex­tended winter break can only be ad­di­tional days put back in the cal­en­dar be­fore cru­cial end-of-term ex­ams.’

Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive ed­u­ca­tion spokesman Jamie Greene said: ‘We want young peo­ple to grow up to have the best ca­reers pos­si­ble and any fur­ther wa­ter­ing-down of their class time must be prop­erly catered for at home.

‘Ev­ery child should have ac­cess to proper IT equip­ment and learn­ing ma­te­ri­als to en­sure they don’t fall be­hind with their stud­ies.

‘We should not un­der­es­ti­mate the enor­mous pres­sure that an ex­tended Christ­mas break would put on count­less work­ing par­ents and ev­ery ef­fort should be made to sup­port them.

‘Re­open­ing key worker hubs to share the bur­den of child sup­port is a must if an ex­tended break does get the go-ahead.’

At the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment’s coro­n­avirus brief­ing yes­ter­day, Health Sec­re­tary Jeane Free­man con­firmed that an ex­tended school holiday is be­ing con­sid­ered but stressed no de­ci­sion has been made on the is­sue.

She said: ‘They’re look­ing at the fes­tive pe­riod and the school hol­i­days, and how we re­turn to school at the end of that pe­riod.

‘We’re very con­scious that par­ents, teach­ers and kids at school want to know what is go­ing to hap­pen, and we will make sure that, based on the ad­vice from the Ex­pert Re­cov­ery Group, we reach a view as soon as we can so that peo­ple do have advanced no­tice.

‘We want to give peo­ple as much no­tice as pos­si­ble if there is to be any change at all. But at this point that de­ci­sion hasn’t be made.’

Asked whether or not she would be wor­ried about the im­pact of an ex­tended holiday on the ed­u­ca­tion of pupils, Miss Free­man said that the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment was fo­cused ‘ab­so­lutely on the im­por­tance of keep­ing our schools open’. She added: ‘We value very highly in­deed the op­por­tu­nity that gives our young peo­ple to pur­sue their ed­u­ca­tion.

‘We know that clos­ing schools, as we had to do at the time when that hap­pened, did have an im­pact, not­with­stand­ing the huge ef­forts teach­ers, and in­deed par­ents and pupils them­selves, put into main­tain­ing their learn­ing.

‘The best place for chil­dren and young peo­ple to pur­sue their learn­ing is in the school en­vi­ron­ment. So we will take all the steps we need to take to en­sure that is as pro­tected as pos­si­ble.

‘But un­til that Ed­u­ca­tion Re­cov­ery Group reaches its con­clu­sions and of­fers its ad­vice, and the Deputy First Min­is­ter sets out the steps, if any, that need to be taken, we’re sim­ply spec­u­lat­ing on that.’

Fig­ures yes­ter­day showed a fur­ther 969 con­firmed coro­n­avirus cases in Scot­land, in­clud­ing 315 in Greater Glas­gow and Clyde, 201 in La­nark­shire and 12 in Loth­ian.

The num­ber of peo­ple in hos­pi­tal with the virus de­creased by 26, to 1,099, and there were 37 deaths.

Miss Free­man re­fused to spec­u­late on whether a ma­jor re­lax­ation of re­stric­tions for the 2.3mil­lion peo­ple in Level 4 ar­eas – close to full lock­down – will go ahead as planned on De­cem­ber 11, say­ing more time is needed to see if ef­forts to sup­press the virus in the 11 coun­cil ar­eas had suc­ceeded.

The coun­cil ar­eas are Glas­gow, East and South Ayr­shire, East and

West Dun­bar­ton­shire, Ren­frew­shire, East Ren­frew­shire, North and South La­nark­shire, Stir­ling and West Loth­ian.

Ni­cola Stur­geon pre­vi­ously de­scribed Level 4 as ‘short and sharp ac­tion’, which she said would be lifted on De­cem­ber 11.

But Boris John­son has an­nounced that all but two coun­cil ar­eas south of the Border will be in the tough­est tiers of his sys­tem when Eng­land’s na­tional lock­down ends.

Miss Free­man said: ‘We set Level 4 ar­eas for three weeks for a rea­son. We needed three weeks to try and sup­press the virus in those ar­eas as l ow as we pos­si­bly could, not be­cause of Christ­mas but be­cause we know winter also brings ad­di­tional pres­sures onto the NHS.

‘We want the virus to be as low as pos­si­ble to pro­tect our NHS.’

She said re­views of the lev­els take place each week, and the de­ci­sions on Level 3 ar­eas will only be set out at the end of the cur­rent three­week pe­riod to De­cem­ber 11.

‘Blended learn­ing doesn’t cut it’

NO pro­nounce­ment by any politi­cian – here to­day and gone to­mor­row – and no ref­er­en­dum on this or that is­sue of the day will have any ef­fect on my un­der­stand­ing of my­self and where I be­long. It makes me feel bet­ter just to put those words down on the page.

The Cana­dian an­thro­pol­o­gist Wade Davis said: ‘The world into which you are born does not ex­ist, not in any ab­so­lute sense, rather it is a model of re­al­ity.’

I lis­ten to those words and re­alise that Bri­tain does not ex­ist ei­ther. Nei­ther does Eng­land, Ire­land, Scot­land, Wales nor any other coun­try, not re­ally.

There are phys­i­cal land­scapes on the face of the Earth – made of dry land set apart from the sea. But the lines drawn and coun­tries named are fig­ments of col­lec­tive imag­i­na­tion and made all the more mean­ing­ful as a re­sult.

They are what we say they are. The ex­is­tence of our home­lands is noth­ing more nor less than an act of will, and also of love.

Just as crea­tures that once walked, swam or flew are long gone now, so there is a long list of coun­tries that once were here but are here no longer. Sumer, Chi­mor, Kush… the list goes on and on.

You might say that a coun­try is a dream shared by its in­hab­i­tants. As long as enough of the in­hab­i­tants be­lieve in the ex­is­tence of Bri­tain, or Scot­land, or wher­ever, then the dream re­mains alive and the coun­try in ques­tion is made real.

If too many peo­ple stop be­liev­ing, or choose to be­lieve in some place else, then the dream is over and the coun­try ceases to ex­ist as com­pletely as a can­dle flame blown out by the wind.

I will al­ways be­lieve in Bri­tain, come what may. That will never be taken from me.

The most fa­mil­iar line of the Dec­la­ra­tion of Ar­broath, a let­ter to a 14th cen­tury Pope, con­cerned the ne­ces­sity of 100 Scots re­main­ing alive if Scot­land were to pre­vail.

My dream of Bri­tain re­quires just me my­self alone – it will last as long as me – but as many as want to are wel­come to join me.

The ques­tion of whether or not Bri­tain should con­tinue to ex­ist has been haunt­ing our lives for years now.

In 2014, a ref­er­en­dum asked the pop­u­la­tion of Scot­land whether or not it was deemed a good idea to re­main part of Bri­tain, to main­tain its ex­is­tence. A ma­jor­ity said they did wish the Union to pre­vail – 55 per cent of vot­ers in fact.

The 55/45 split is well known. Less fa­mil­iar to most is the fact that of the 32 coun­cil ar­eas in Scot­land, 28 said they pre­ferred to main­tain the three-cen­turies-old Union.

MANY of those coun­cils were small, with small pop­u­la­tions dwarfed by those of conur­ba­tions else­where. But we are all told, are we not, that small voices must be lis­tened to as well as large, and that small, de­ter­mined, self-con­fi­dent places might know their own minds?

In spite of that de­ci­sion, that clean and clear ‘once in a gen­er­a­tion’ de­ci­sion – that de­ci­sion that both Ni­cola Stur­geon and Alex Sal­mond swore, in writ­ing, they would accept and up­hold – the ques­tion has never gone away.

On the last page of his pop­u­lar clas­sic, Cul­lo­den, about the 1745 Ja­co­bite Re­bel­lion, John Preb­ble el­e­gantly ex­pressed the na­ture of dreams, or at least their power over us even when all seems lost.

He wrote: ‘ A lost cause will al­ways win a last vic­tory in men’s imag­i­na­tions.’

The Na­tion­al­ist cause in Scot­land is stub­born. I will ad­mit t o un­der­stand­ing stub­born­ness, be­ing sym­pa­thetic to the trait and also ad­mir­ing of it. This is be­cause I am stub­born too, as stub­born as any na­tion­al­ist could ever hope to be.

My dream of Bri­tain will al­ways live in me. There is un­doubt­edly a re­quire­ment for re­lent­less stub­born­ness and de­ter­mi­na­tion when it comes to the ques­tion of whether Bri­tain – the dream of Bri­tain, that is – should con­tinue or be blown out. As far as I am con­cerned, it is nec­es­sary most of all to see that it is that dream that mat­ters most. In the end it might be all that mat­ters.

Like ev­ery­one else in­volved in de­cid­ing the fu­ture of Bri­tain, I have read and lis­tened to count­less thou­sands of words on the sub­ject.

When it comes to pre­dict­ing the prospects of a Scot­land alone I have driven my­self half de­mented try­ing to de­cide who and what to be­lieve.

The na­ture of the Border, the own­er­ship of the oil, the cur­rency, the shar­ing of the na­tional debt, the Bar­nett for­mula, re­la­tions with the Euro­pean Union, the Armed

Forces, the fish­ing grounds… on and on goes the litany of con­cerns, opinions, prom­ises, ac­cu­sa­tions, t hreats and de­nials.

Both sides have at times de­clared vic­tory – out­right vic­tory – in the eco­nomic de­bate. At the same time there have al­ways been those on the sep­a­ratist side ev­i­dently of the mind that the risk is worth it – come hell or high wa­ter it will be all right on the night. While oth­ers (with brains wired for the task, un­like my own) con­tinue to fight that good fight, I have moved in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.

I know what I have come to be­lieve about all of the above, but I will leave that much aside. Why? Be­cause long ago I re­alised that the eco­nomic ar­gu­ment was not what mat­tered to me. Dream­ers of dreams and those who pur­sue causes, lost or oth­er­wise, care not a jot for eco­nomics.

In my heart I re­spect this. A dream as grand as a coun­try to be­lieve in, to be­long to, to stand up for, to speak for, to fight and to die for is a prize be­yond gold or any other trea­sure. The eco­nomics mat­ter – of course they do and for many peo­ple such is the be-all and end-all of the nec­es­sary dis­cus­sion. I get that and re­spect

that. But I am well be­yond mak­ing the so­called ‘eco­nomic ar­gu­ment’ my­self. Just as I would not ask a mother to put a price on her child’s heart, so I will not seek to chal­lenge, to tar­nish and sully a dream, with talk of money. What is truly at stake here, at least for me, is the busi­ness of the heart.

His­tory has been in­voked – again and again and again un­til ev­ery­one is blue in the face (well, one side cer­tainly).

BOTH sides – Union­ist and sep­a­ratist – reach back­wards in time in pur­suit of ori­gin myths and su­pe­rior claims of own­er­ship of place and peo­ple, hearts and minds. This is among the oldest tricks in the book and has been tried more times than any­one might count. While try­ing to ham­mer the Scots into sub­mis­sion, King Ed­ward I wrote to the Pope to as­sert the an­cient na­ture of Eng­land’s claim on the whole is­land. Quot­ing his­to­rian Geoffrey of Monmouth, he said his coun­try­men were de­scended from a Ro­man named Bru­tus, that Bru­tus was the root of the very name Bri­tain.

Since the English were in Bri­tain first, went Ed­ward’s logic, then the whole place must be his by right. The Scots replied by send­ing a party of church­men led by one Bal­dred Bis­set to talk to the Pope in per­son.

There in the Holy Fa­ther’s sum­mer home in the hill town of Anagni, Bis­set de­clared that the Scots were de­scended from Noah, that his de­scen­dants had fled Is­rael, all the way to Scythia on the Black Sea.

One of them had mar­ried a princess called Scota, who led them on an odyssey to the land sub­se­quently named af­ter her, bring­ing with her as an heir­loom the Stone of Des­tiny upon which Scots kings were crowned ever af­ter.

(Bri­tain is cer­tainly an old name – much older than Eng­land, Ire­land, Scot­land or Wales. It seems likely that when the Ro­mans first en­coun­tered th­ese is­lands, splash­ing ashore some­where on the south coast, they asked the lo­cals what they called the place.

The re­ply would have been some­thing like Pry­tain and the Ro­mans’ at­tempt at pro­nounc­ing the word – called an eth­nonym – be­came Bri­tan­nia.)

But I ask you… Bru­tus, Scota – who re­ally cares about the truth or oth­er­wise of those ghosts now? Just as the eco­nomic ar­gu­ment is too shal­low, so fairy­tales told to a Pope seven cen­turies ago are in­ad­e­quate.

Nei­ther ghosts nor f airy tales make foun­da­tions deep enough for per­suad­ing peo­ple of the best path to take now, into the fu­ture.

The Union is more than 300 years old. The com­ing to­gether of Scot­land and Eng­land, on May Day 1707, was hardly a happy one and no one de­nies it. The bride was poor and the groom knew he was be­ing mar­ried only for his money. Un­happy or not, it was to prove the best thing that ever hap­pened to ei­ther of them.

The Scot­land and Eng­land that came to­gether then no longer ex­ist, how­ever. This, as much as any­thing else, is worth rememberin­g. Our par­ents, happy or not, are gone now and never com­ing back. It is we, the chil­dren of that union who must de­cide what is to be done with our shared in­her­i­tance.

More re­cently Scots, some Scots, have sought to dis­tance them­selves from the long years of Em­pire and Com­mon­wealth.

What was once cause for com­mon pride has been re­cast as na­tional shame and some of those Scots have sought to pre­tend, to them­selves most fer­vently of all, that im­pe­rial Bri­tain was none of their do­ing.

Ap­par­ently a big boy – Eng­land – did it and ran away. This stance is so wide of the mark, the claim so ut­terly false, as to be noth­ing short of a bare-faced lie.

We Scots were tal­ented and en­thu­si­as­tic builders and ad­min­is­tra­tors of em­pire – as wed­ded to the en­ter­prise as any­one else and grown rich and fat on the prof­its in the process. If there is shame to be ap­por­tioned then it is ours as much as any­one’s.

While there might be lit­tle to be gained now from know­ing whether Bru­tus or Scota made the ear­li­est foot­prints on the home­lands, it is surely vi­tal we re­mem­ber the truth of all our be­hav­iours dur­ing the last three cen­turies of our cou­pling at least – the bad as well as the good.

So much for eco­nomics and his­tory – both mat­ter but not enough, ei­ther to­gether or alone. What mat­ters is who we are now, who we think we are, who we could or should be in the fu­ture.

In seek­ing to por­tray Bri­tain and Bri­tish­ness in a bad light – a cor­rupt and sin­ful en­ter­prise best dis­man­tled and dis­carded – the cham­pi­ons of Scot­tish sep­a­ratism have some­how claimed the moral high ground in its en­tirety.

Not only were the sins of Em­pire com­mit­ted be­hind our backs, with­out our know­ing (don’t you know) ap­par­ently it is the Scots, the Scots alone, that are the egal­i­tar­ian, car­ing de­fend­ers of free­dom.

SOUTH of the Border, there­fore, lies the em­bod­i­ment of all that is cor­rupt, self­ish and heart­less – the Mor­dor that is West­min­ster. It is worth not­ing that since it has long been un­fash­ion­able for the SNP and its sup­port­ers to openly voice ha­tred for Eng­land and things English, ‘West­min­ster’ has be­come the handy proxy.

Some­thing sim­i­lar lurks furtively be­hind ev­ery dis­dain­ful ref­er­ence to the ‘ Lon­don par­ties’, by which the SNP mean Con­ser­va­tives, Labour, the Lib Dems and any­one else that might speak up in favour of a United King­dom. If not eco­nomics or his­tory, then what? How to make the claim that we, the in­hab­i­tants of th­ese is­lands, are one fam­ily? In the end I can only speak for my­self and from my own heart. That much is all I truly know.

More by luck than good judg­ment, and mostly by means of the magic car­pet pro­vided by mak­ing tele­vi­sion, I have seen a great deal of th­ese is­lands.

I have cir­cum­nav­i­gated the coast­line mul­ti­ple times. I have criss-crossed the in­te­rior. I have seen the land­scape from the sky, from the cock­pit of fighter jets, vin­tage bi­planes and mi­cro­lights. I have been on i t s en­cir­cling wa­ters i n kayaks, battleship­s and just about any­thing in be­tween that floats, and un­der its wa­ters in scuba gear and a nu­clear sub­ma­rine.

I have had a thor­ough look around. Long be­fore the end I re­alised it was all one place, that the na­tional bor­ders drawn across it had no mean­ing for me and were in­vis­i­ble any­way.

I have seen for my­self how fish­er­folk in Corn­wall have more in com­mon with oth­ers of their kind in Fife than ei­ther has with any in­hab­i­tants of the in­te­rior.

You might say the same com­mon ground is there with fish­er­men in France or Spain, but there is no deny­ing the added strength of bonds made by shared lan­guage, shared cul­ture, shared his­tory, shared cen­turies.

I have also found it un­avoid­able to see the con­nec­tions be­tween the char­ac­ter of folk in Liver­pool, Belfast and Glas­gow on ac­count of shared ship­build­ing her­itage.

My English fa­ther-in-law learned his trade as an en­gi­neer in the coalmines of Kent be­fore com­ing north to make the fam­ily that

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 ??  ?? Tak­ing the long view: Neil Oliver says that in at­tack­ing Bri­tish­ness, the Na­tion­al­ists have tried to lay claim to the moral high ground
Tak­ing the long view: Neil Oliver says that in at­tack­ing Bri­tish­ness, the Na­tion­al­ists have tried to lay claim to the moral high ground

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