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Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist and writer. Follow Henry on Twitter. He is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.

Welsh
teachers ‘demoralised’ by assessment and reform

According
to a poll by the Times Educational
Supplement
, three
quarters
of teachers and head teachers in Wales disapproved of reforms
brought in by the Labour administration there. One head described the sorting
schools into bands by results (which sounds like a sort of vague, compromise-style
league table) as “worse than a waste of time”. Teachers also objected to the
introduction of standardised tests in mathematics and English to allow for
accurate progress comparisons.

According
to TES Welsh reporter Darren Evans,
quoted by the BBC, “the "overwhelming message" from the survey was
"listen to us, trust us, we're the experts – just let us teach".”

There’s
a reason the Welsh government isn’t going to do that, though.

To
find it, look no further than this
article
from the Economist’s Bagehot
column published last March. It’s generally a rollicking attack on some leftist
pandering Clegg indulged in at the Liberal Democrat Welsh conference, but one
section on Labour’s legacy on Welsh education really stands out. If you don’t
want to read the whole thing, here’s the gist:

In
2001 Welsh Labour, looking for an alternative to England’s nasty and ‘consumerist’
education policy, scrapped league tables. The result:

“Welsh
exam results fell so precipitously during the Labour era that academics from
elsewhere flocked to the principality to investigate what had gone wrong. They
discovered not a funding gap but a man-made crisis triggered by Welsh
politicians, who bowed to bullying from teachers' unions and scrapped
examination league tables.”

The
full article is well worth reading in full, as it quotes extensively from one
of those academic surveys. Since league tables were the only portion of the
pre-devolution education system that had changed at the time, England and Wales
essentially served as a controlled experiment on the virtues of publishing
school data and letting parents make informed decisions.

Controlling
for all other variables – including the usual excuses like resource disparity –
the Welsh disaster was laid square at the feet of the decision to render
educators completely unaccountable to their consumers. As Bagehot put it: “Trust
me, in education and public sector reform circles, the self-inflicted Welsh
education debacle is famous, the stuff of dinner-table conversation.”

It’s
good to see the Welsh government has started to take steps to put power back
into the hands of parents and make education provision more transparent –
uncomfortable as that may be for some of the providers.

An
independent Scotland would ‘not have rejected military action’ in Syria

You
read that right. According
to Alex Salmond
, an independent Scotland would not have ducked out of
taking action on Syria as the UK has done. The fact that an independent
Scotland would have avoided getting caught up in ‘Blair’s wars’ is also an SNP
talking point, so they’ll have to forgive us finding this new hawkishness
surprising.

Of
course, reading further into it reveals that the tough talk isn’t quite all it’s
cracked up to be. The SNP backed a Labour amendment that did not rule out
further action via the UN, but the Conservatives tabled a similar amendment
which means that whilst parliament may have voted both down, the sentiment
clearly carries the endorsement of most of the UK Commons.

Moreover,
since an independent Scotland is apparently going to have a ‘Defence Force’
rather than an army and a fairly miniscule defence budget, the unstated fact is
that an independent Scotland might have had an easier time voting for ‘action’
on Syria because there would be considerably less riding on it.

Unless
I’ve completely misread Scotland’s post-Union defence situation, there’s no
real risk that it will have to send troops anywhere except as part of a UN taskforce
or a vast coalition. The UK, on the other hand, has one of the world’s largest
defence budgets and globally-capable Armed Forces which are capable of being a
genuinely useful partner to the US military in any theatre of operations.

It
is this that, as David
Blair put it
for the Telegraph,
elevates us above other Western countries in American eyes – at least until
recently – and it means that when the UK votes for ‘action’ it faces the
serious prospect of having to put its money where its mouth is. Salmond can
claim that Scotland would “work with our allies to help the victims of
conflicts, contribute to conflict resolution and ensure that war criminals are
brought before the international criminal court”, but he’s basing that claim on
his party supporting an amendment that keeps on the table the option of sending
the British army into Syria – the one
option independence would certainly deny him.

Upcoming
election cycle ‘most important since 1998’ for Northern Ireland

Alex
Kane, a commentator for Belfast’s Newsletter,
provides an interesting
analysis
of the upcoming major cycle of elections due across the UK in the
next three years – local government and Europe in 2014, Westminster in 2015 and
devolved in 2016 – which covers each of the Province’s myriad parties.

The
most important trend is that, whilst ‘green’/nationalist politics seems to be
solidifying around Sinn Fein, the pro-Union side is fracturing into lots of
competing alternatives – great for voter choice, but opens the (still somewhat
remote) possibility of SF overtaking the Democratic Unionists as the largest
party in the Northern Ireland Assembly. That would have a truly seismic effect
on politics there, although not because it would make a united Ireland any more
likely (the border poll guarantee prevents the decision being made as a result
of a fluke election).

Kane
thinks that this will likely be the ‘last hurrah’ for the once-dominant UUP and
SDLP, with the latter increasingly hard to tell apart from SF and neither
really carving out a distinctive case to put to the electorate compared to
their larger rivals. Meanwhile the Alliance Party are pitched against NI21 for control
of the ‘nice’ pro-Union vote. The NI Conservatives are dismissed as “to all
intents and purposes, dead”. Alas.

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