Leonard: Legislation is needed to end charitable status for private schools

CommonSpace’s David Thomson reports from the Scottish Labour leadership hustings in Brighton 

SCOTTISH LABOUR LEADERSHIP candidate Richard Leonard has called for legislation to end the charitable status private schools receive in Scotland.

During a Daily Record-sponsored hustings meeting at the Labour party conference in Brighton on Tuesday [26 September 2017], the Central Scotland MSP said that it is “grossly unfair” that state schools have to pay rates whereas private schools do not. 

Leonard said: “One of the things I have been contemplating in the course of this leadership contest is what we can do to start challenging now, rather than waiting until 2021.

“One of the avenues open to us at the Scottish Labour group in the Scottish Parliament is bringing forward members bills.

“One of the things that we should be looking at is whether we should be getting someone from the education team to come forward with a private members’ bill to end this discrimination once and for all.” Richard Leonard

“Claudia Beamish brought forward an anti-fracking members bill. I think that Daniel Johnson is contemplating a breakfast club private members bill. I am contemplating giving workers the right to buy up the company that they work for in a bill.

“One of the things that we should be looking at is whether we should be getting someone from the education team to come forward with a private members bill to end this discrimination once and for all.”

Fellow leadership candidate Anas Sarwar responded to the criticism he faced recently for sending his children to a private school by saying that he “hopes that people will respect the fact that what we decide in the privacy of our home should be respected”.

Sarwar went on to focus on how he would close the attainment gap, saying that education “is a huge issue in Scotland”.

“We have adverts going out on Facebook asking parents to come in and take classes because we have a shortage of teachers.” Anas Sarwar

Sarwar said: “In Scotland right now, we have the attainment gap widening. We have 4,000 fewer teachers in our schools.

“We have adverts going out on Facebook asking parents to come in and take classes because we have a shortage of teachers.

“We have morale low among our school system, partly because of the public sector pay gap, partly because of the lack confidence in the curriculum.

“We have seen the centralisation of education happening away from local government, not respecting local government. I think that we have to reverse that.

“David Cameron went to Brussels promising to bring back an elephant and came back with a mouse.” Richard Leonard

Sarwar concluded by saying that “the way that you would do that is actually investing in our education system”.

He said: “I want to use the tax system of the Scottish Parliament actually to increase tax for those who have the broadest shoulders; to pay that bit more, so that we can invest in our education system and guarantee the opportunity for all.”

Meanwhile, both leadership candidates disagreed with former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale that there should be a second EU referendum after she blasts her party’s approach to Brexit.

The Lothian MSP who dramatically quit as leader of the party last month accused Jeremy Corbyn of running a “lazy and lacklustre” Remain campaign at last year’s EU referendum and insisted that Labour should be fighting harder to maintain access to the single market. 

“There is one pitch I would make, though: we cannot close the door on retaining membership of the single market and staying part of the customs union.” Anas Sarwar

Leonard responded by saying he is not persuaded that there should be a second EU referendum, but added that Dugdale is “pinning the blame on the wrong guy”.

Leonard said: “The person who is responsible for the mess that we are in over the EU is David Cameron.”

Leonard added: “David Cameron went to Brussels promising to bring back an elephant and came back with a mouse.

“He wasn’t able to deliver on the reforms that he has promised.”

Read more – Scottish Labour leadership race takes shape as Sarwar and Leonard enter contest

Sarwar believes that there is not an appetite for another referendum due to “election fatigue in Scotland”.

Sarwar said: “There is one pitch I would make, though: we cannot close the door on retaining membership of the single market and staying part of the customs union.

“If we are true on protecting jobs and protecting trade and protecting what is right for Scotland, I think that we should be open to protecting the single market and remaining in the customs union.”  

Picture courtsey of David Thomson

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