The Scottish National Party’s (SNP) landslide victory in the 2011 Scottish parliamentary election was exceptional under an electoral system designed to prevent majority governments. It was one of the most important events in Scottish politics in recent years. This win was on the back of the Nationalist’s rule as a minority government since 2007. In the most recent elections the SNP gained seats in Glasgow, Fife and Renfrewshire, all long-considered Labour strongholds. The question of why this happened is important in understanding the impact on classroom sizes discussed in this article.
One of the SNP’s key promises of the 2007 election campaign was the implementation of smaller class sizes. They pledged to cap the class size of Primary 1-3 (comprising of children aged 4-8) at 18, this was never introduced. In 2011 a consolation cap of 25 was introduced though given that nearly 99% of P1 classes were already smaller than 25 pupils, it is questionable as to how much the policy achieved. The average P1-3 class remaining virtually the same size from 2007-2011 (a drop from 22.8 to 22.7) is hardly surprising given that in 2010 the number of teachers in Scotland fell to a record low. Perhaps the most notable figure is the meagre 16% of newly qualified teachers who were able to get a full time, permanent post in the same year. These figures represent the madness of capitalism as smaller class sizes fail to be introduced despite their being more than enough teachers for it to be possible. It would simply cost too much money which, under the present system, is unavailable when it comes to educating our children but in great supply when required to prop up banks.
It is not entirely difficult to understand why the SNP narrowly achieved victory in 2007. The election came after 2 terms of a Labour - Lib Dem coalition, which had not been entirely harmonious, and 10 years of Labour in power in Westminster. Leadership also played a part - Alex Salmond, the leader of the SNP, had returned to the head of the nationalists and with it had brought his skills as a ‘charismatic leader’ compared to Jack McConnell of the Labour Party who to many personified the grey, Blairite policies dictated by Westminster.
More importantly the SNP offered a policy of reforms - removing tuition fees for Scottish students and Scottish universities, free prescriptions and smaller class sizes. In their term from 2007-2011, the SNP far from achieved much of what they claimed they would do. They blamed this on their being a minority government amidst unwilling partners.
However, up until the beginning of this year the Labour party did seem to be on course for victory. Yet their inability to rectify their campaign of 2007 meant that they threw away their lead. This was against a backdrop of the SNP once again promising reforms, reinforced by guarantees of defending Scotland against a Tory-led Westminster government determined to cut back the welfare state.
However, the fact is that in light of the global financial crisis which resulted in massive sovereign debts for governments who bailed out failing banks, reforms are impossible for capitalist governments to give. This is why we are seeing parties across the political spectrum - from the Tories in Britain to Zapatero’s “socialists” in Spain - implementing massive cuts. The crisis is at too high a level to be saved without austerity, and even with cuts economies are struggling as the markets are cut, as illustrated by the Euro-zone crisis. It is clear that in order for capitalism to be saved austerity is necessary and the politicians will stop at nothing to ensure austerity is implemented.
In Scotland the situation lags behind that of its European counterparts as Salmond was able to reach a deal with David Cameron whereby the cut to the Scottish budget was not implemented until this year. However, we are already witnessing the inability of the Nationalists to implement their manifesto.
This example also shows the shelf- life and limitation of SNP policies. It is just one more demonstration of the party’s inability to implement the reforms they have promised as they cannot, and will not, break with capitalism.
As the budget continues to be cut they will be forced to revoke their promises and are likely to have to scrap reforms already in place. English students will be forced to pay monster fees as of next year and it seems highly unlikely the Nationalists will be able to continue funding free education for Scots.
As a case in point the SNP represent capitalism’s inability to offer a high standard of living to workers whilst their popularity illustrates what people clearly want - a good standard of education for their children, a decent health care system and secure employment and living standards. Whilst the capitalists may pretend to offer this in words it is impossible for them to do so in practice when they defend a system founded upon inequality. Only under socialism will workers be able to experience a genuine increase in standard of living and services.