Moray Place , Headquarters of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) and its West Lothian Local Association disowned me when I went on strike in solidarity with other Irish trade unionists on February 1st , 1972, following the murder two days earlier by British State forces of thirteen Derry civilians ; two of the dead were past pupils of the secondary school where I had worked the previous year.. Nor did I endear myself to the leadership in the 80s, when I successfully defeated the Executive with a motion on class contact time in my first appearance at an AGM . I don’t recall the year but Peter Andrews was President .
Running for national office was not something that I had considered ; my family, managing a school and demanding duties as local association secretary in Clackmannanshire, kept me fully occupied. However, in well worn fashion, I was sounded out by a senior official with a naked appeal to my vanity, insisting that the Institute needed me in a historical period at the Millennium. Following discussion with my wife, I agreed to put my name forward for election.
Politically, it was a time of substantive change; Tony Blair and New Labour had spent two years , setting out plans for the economy and public services with renewed emphasis on education; Scotland had voted overwhelmingly for a devolved parliament with tax raising powers; Scottish teachers were buckling under workload and greatly diminished salaries. We rejected the results of a COSLA Millennium Review which was management driven and gave teachers very little. The Scottish Executive in the new Parliament ordered a review of Salaries and Conditions to be conducted by Professor Gavin McCrone. With colleagues, I spent a frenetic year, preparing and submitting evidence to the Inquiry.
The EIS President traditionally is invited to visit and spend time in local association areas. Meeting with members, hearing and discussing their problems was , perhaps , the most enjoyable part of my work. The ongoing McCrone Inquiry added an edge to these meetings and may have increased the volume of invitations; members wanted to hear about the case that we were making on their behalf. In most areas, I also met with Directors of Education or whatever title the new , unitary authorities attributed to those charged with the management of schools in their area.
I found the sublimely beautiful Moray Place offices to be a cold house for a volunteer. Its character and organisation were quite different to that which I had experienced in three countries and seven schools at both secondary and primary level. The ambience was a long way removed from staff room banter and the social intercourse of most schools that I knew. It was the industrious headquarters of a trade union where committed professionals worked tirelessly, within their specific areas of expertise, in the service of members . The notion of being superfluous and made to sense it, was a constant feeling.
Three years earlier, I had proposed a motion to the AGM that nursery nurses should be admitted to membership. It was narrowly beaten , largely because of Glasgow elitism, disguised as inter-union sensitivity. My agenda was to recruit all school support staff to the union; it made sense on several counts ; there was proportionately more growth in this area than among teacher numbers; I had witnessed at first hand the low quality of representation that they currently received; EIS members were reluctant to pay the level of membership fee , required to under-write the expensive , professional services they demanded , particularly the provision of legal support. I discretely spent a couple of years , talking to individual members of Council and winning their support. My plan was to prepare a paper for Council on recruitment of support staff and with its crucial agreement to present it to the AGM in the following year. Unfortunately, it was scuppered by a poorly worded and ill-timed motion to the AGM from a local association which rejected my request for withdrawal In a McCrone dominated meeting , it had little chance of success and delegates rejected it by a large majority. An opportunity to grow the Union and provide higher quality representation for educational support staff was lost.
The Times Educational Supplement , on the eve of my Presidency, in a largely positive op-ed, concluded that my time in office would be judged on the ability to square the circle between teachers’ salaries and conditions.
The McCrone Agreement may have done just that.