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Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist activist and writer.

SNP set “state guardians” above parents as teacher numbers fall

The Scottish Nationalists have come under fire this week for putting their new state guardians at the heart of new children’s welfare proposals whilst entirely forgetting to mention keeping parents equally informed.

For those unfamiliar with the policy, the idea behind “state guardians” is that every child will have a NHS-appointed health worker responsible for their welfare. This “Named Person” will be assigned to a young person until the age of 18, regardless of their background or family circumstances.

In new guidance issued to schools to prepare for the introduction of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act in 2016, the Scottish Government tells teachers to consider informing this Named Person in the event that they have concerns over a child’s wellbeing. They make no mention of telling the parents.

According to campaigners such as NO2NP, and to the Conservatives, this demonstrates the extent to which parents and families are being marginalised by the Nationalists’ arch-statist thinking.

This is the second time SNP education policy has drawn fire since the last column, as late last week the press revealed that their pledge to reduce class sizes had unravelled. There is now more than four thousand fewer teachers in Scotland than there were when the SNP first took power, as a minority administration, in 2007.

According to the annual report of Scotland’s Chief Statistician there has also been a marginal increase in average primary school class sizes over the last year, from 23.2 to 23.3 – against an SNP target of 18 or fewer. The proportion of such pupils in classes of the SNP’s ideal size fell over the same period from 13.6 to 12.9 per cent.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has described the numbers as “disappointing”, whilst new education secretary Angela Constance blamed the current Westminster government for shrinking her budget by ten per cent and highlighted the near-abolition of classes of 25 or over amongst the cohort examined.

Sinn Fein prepared to collapse Assembly, claims UUP leader

At the weekend, I wrote about the Prime Minister’s failed attempt to find a negotiated settlement to the on-going governmental paralysis in Northern Ireland. Most of the blame, I suggested, lay not with Cameron but with an intransigent and wilfully tribal local political class.

With talks set to resume tomorrow, Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt has accused Sinn Fein, the largest nationalist party, of being willing to collapse the devolved government of the province in pursuit of political advantage south of the border and its greater Ireland ambitions.

He demanded that the republicans set out their bottom line ahead of negotiations, including specific proposals for who they wanted to shield from the impact of welfare reform and at what price.

The UUP leader also criticised Sinn Fein for having a political policy of “Brits out!” and an economic policy of “Brit money in”, as Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers warned both sides that the British Government’s offer to devolve corporation tax to Belfast would be delayed until after the May general election if the two sides could not thrash out a deal on welfare reform.

Simon Hamilton, a Democratic Unionist MLA and the Northern Ireland Executive’s Finance Minister, also argued that nobody fully understood Sinn Feins’ position on welfare reform and this was impeding the talks.

Meanwhile Sinn Fein’s development from a fringe concern into a major political player in the Republic continues, and it appears almost immune to scandal: singer and child abuse campaigner Sinead O’Conner has recently joined the party (following a time “immersed” in 1916 literature) despite its current trouble on that very subject.

Labour could lose a quarter of its 2010 voters to the SNP

The news that combative Blairite MP Jim Murphy had won the Scottish Labour leadership election on Saturday was met with guarded optimism by a rather hapless-looking unionist establishment whose every misstep – especially ‘the Vow’ and the rush to EVEL – is being exploited by a resurgent separatist movement.

But earlier in the week polling showed quite the mountain that Mr Murphy has to climb. According to YouGov, Labour are on track to lose more than a quarter of their Scottish vote to the Nationalists. Labour are also losing more voters to Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives than vice versa and whilst this is offset to an extent by gains from the Liberal Democrats, thus far three times as many Lib Dems are switching to the SNP.

Meanwhile, half of Scots support Alex Salmond’s bid for a second (third?) political life in Westminster.

The extent of inter-party transfer since the 2010 election is fully represented in a fascinating graphic over in the Times Red Box.

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