Scottish scapegoats

July 10, 1998

The controversy over the "Scottish anomaly" will not go away, much as the government would like it to. It continues to fail to justify its policy, because the policy is unjustifiable.

Ministers, Tony Blair included, reply to those who point out the inequity of their position with non sequiturs, including the claim that many non-Scottish United Kingdom students will be exempt anyway and that it would cost too much for equity to be achieved.

The first argument applies to all years of study for all students in all parts of the UK; it has nothing to do with charging English, Welsh and Northern Irish students a fourth year of fees at Scottish Universities. The second is simply an admission of the inequity, not a justification for failing to rectify it.

The situation can only have arisen as the result of a policy division between London and Edinburgh. Brian Wilson and the Scottish Office Education Department, with responsibility for Scottish and European Union students studying at Scottish universities, decided to use some of their budget to create a UK-wide level playing field for those for whom they are responsible. David Blunkett and the (Anglo-Welsh) Department for Education and Employment seem to have decided not to dedicate any cash to rectifying this anomaly for those under their jurisdiction and, presumably, a similar decision was made by Tony Worthington at the Northern Ireland Office.

Why is Brian Wilson being forced to justify other people's refusals to help "their" students in the way that he has helped "his"?

One can only suppose that, because he broke ranks to pay for "his" students and Blunkett and Worthington will not follow suit, Wilson is being made to take the flak at the despatch box and in the media, while those who are responsible for the anomaly hide behind him. So the public is allowed to believe that it is just those mean Scots being anti-English again.

Alan R MacDonald

Cellardyke Anstruther, Fife

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