2007 - 2021

Altered State


“We have given ourselves the permission to be ambitious.” More than anything among a barrage of new sensations (collective relief, delight, and unbridled optimism) it was the sense of the possible…the hopeful that followed Thursdays election that were unfamilar and very un-Scottish feelings. We are supposed to be ‘canny’, cautious, always looking for the negative. This result seems wild reckless and ridiculously bold. It’s wonderful for that.

This is an altered state, as was witnessed by a phone-call increase in powers on Friday night and David Cameron and Michael Moore’s immediate concessions to Salmond.

For those arguing that the result was either a muddled mistake or masks a deep antipathy to real constitutional change, I’d remind them that only in December 2010 TNS polling had the following numbers: Union 45%, Independence 40%, Undecided 12%. How to win a referendum – and what the process is (legal and political)  – will be next up in a different article, for now let’s look at an ambitious programme might look like?

Working on the assumption that the best way to empower people and feed this growing self-confidence is to see BIG THINGS working well and change that’s good, we are asking: What’s the big idea?

We know that there’s big economic hits coming, so sloshing cash around isn’t possible, this is why the corporation tax, oil revenue and Crown Estate issues are so important. Until we know how these can be resolved we won’t know how the economics will look, but let’s look at what some key ‘ambitious’ policy hits might be. All of these have a common link of being about creating a ‘way in’. This is about departure not arrival.

Sorting the education system is a must, from smaller class sizes to pre-school education to free universities. The new Scottish Government should take on and shake up the university sector with its bloated hierarchical structures. In 2009 Scotland’s 18 university principals received an average salary of more than £225,000 – up nearly three times the rate of inflation. This is unacceptable in the new Scotland of fairness, openess and equality.

The highest-paid principal is Professor Duncan Rice, from Aberdeen University, whose salary package rose by 17% from £256,000 to £299,000. The next-highest-paid principal is Professor Sir Tim O’Shea, from Edinburgh University,who is paid a total salary package of £286,000 after an increase of 7%. Professor Anton Muscatelli, the principal of Glasgow University, is the third-highest-paid with a combined salary package of £283,000. These are ridiculous salaries and a bold and ambitious move would be to set some sort of restructuring of these roles and pay structures. This would be both a real saving and a symbol of a shift towards a more democratic, leaner higher education sector.

Who’s excluded from taking part in society and the debates that shape decision-making? This is a key question for any ambitious programme.

Ambition, if it is about anything, is about something for everybody. Ambition in this context is by definition inclusive, encompassing. We are not hear talking about the bogus culture of ‘consulting’ which has served as a mask for taking responsibility from politicians to quangos and everyone in-between. This is the opposite, devolving decision-making to ordinary and extraordinary people (Us).

So how do we create systems, structures and forums where people can have their voices heard, but where this discussion is meaningful? The basis for open participation and co-creation is (technologically) there for the taking, we now need to understand why this is important and work to deliver it.

Some of this is just basic joined up thinking. If you’re a gaelic speaker this meant having BBC Alba on Freeview (if we’re creating great content it makes sense people can access it). If your a child under six it means having access to better pre-school education. If you’re anyone at all it means having access to your own cultures vast back-catalogue of literature, history, drama and storytelling. You can’t have that if you can’t read, can’t get access to good theatre or if no adult in your life has the time or capacity to narrate.

Raise High the Roofbeams.

It might seem obtuse or obscure to relate storytelling to digital platforms, language and history to political literacy, or Knives in Hens or Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off  or A Disaffection to an emerging deep citizenship. But the debate on who we are who we want to be won’t have any resonance if it’s not bedded in a sense of selfhood. This is not about a glorious glossing re-telling of our triumphs. It’s about putting those triumphs in amongst all of our many failings deficiencies and disgraces in a historical context, good and bad.

Renewing the democratic intellect in digital form would seem to be as good a place as any to start building this ‘architecture of participation’. This would mean understanding the Scottish tradition of generalism, and applying it in policy, education and between the two. It would mean all of us having a grounding in digital technology so we are equipped to participate to the extent that we want or need to. This can allow us to be a dynamic binternational globally connected society. Crowd sourcing, the semantic web, exploring the potential of 3G democratic consultations, the potential is enormous and largely untappped.

But the real task of creating an ‘architecture of participation’ must be a communal one. It will be immediately defeated if its handed down from high.

Nor should this be seen as some sort of techno-haven, divorced from season, earth or the vitality of offline play time, manual work or jumping in the sea. Alongside any transformation of access and digital communications must be an acknowledgement that immersing ourselves solely in this realm is potentially dehumanising. An ‘Unplug’ variant and parameters is as essential as making proper use of the new media forms.


Scotland was the first country since Sparta in classical Greece to implement a system of general public education. Schooling was made compulsory for the first time in Scotland with the Education Act of 1496 since it forced all nobles and freeholders to educate their eldest sons in Latin, followed by the Arts, and Scots law. Now 1 in 5 of young people leave school with literary issues.

Instead of doing deals with Microsoft, the SG should be working to create the world’s first open source schools network linking primary to secondary and connecting the meme of open source with the idea of self-determination through the applied skills of the global digital citizen.

It needs to be closed down now. It’s a completely unacceptable entity in modern Scotland. The UK govt has accepted as such and now should be forced to take action to stop this treatment of children and families that discredits us all.

As a sign of looking outwards and creating a better example to the world and ourselves there could be no more ambitious or ‘participatory’ totem than saying we want to treat immigrants and asylum seekers far better than the British State has.

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  1. rosa alba says:

    All of which you said holds true – absolutely and utterly; however you have failed to mention, in your recommendation of setting up open source education networks – the existence of GLOW which is a national intranet for schools in the 21st C: parents, pupils, teachers to share and expand parameters, and to work together to implement the Curriculum for Excellence in its full, interactive, extra-curricular, cross-curricular and cross-boundaries perspective which is being currently rolled out, serving and developinglearning within and beyond the walls of a stone school. Yes pupils, teachers and parents all need secure log-ins because, to keep children and young people safe and confident in their learning, it must be secure. As GLOW is rolled out – and as part of LTS it is intimately part of the CfE, it will be fine-tuned and any glitches and user-unwieldiness hopefully disappear.
    GLOW already served a useful role in allowing staff and pupils to work at home during the bad weather of last winter when some rural schools were forced to close. Education continued.
    Rosa Alba Macdonald.

  2. Mhairi McAlpine says:

    All of the above is true, however, Rose, you miss the fact that GLOW is based on propriatary technology, owned by RM, who are paid a considerable amount by LTScotland for the privilage.

    I believe the RM contract is coming to the end of its term, which makes this an excellent opportunity to build on the experience and create a true open source platform for Scottish Schools.

    Great article btw

  3. Scotsvote2011 says:

    Great article. Plenty to ponder for the future. One thought that i had and it’s not fully formed or been digested. but I thought I would put it out there for consideration.

    I think one potential (and probably very longterm) solution to University funding and way to avoid the closure of courses would be to look at driving towards a University of Scotland, slowly at first but with the aim of reducing duplication and increasing the breadth of courses on offer in Scotland. So the Universities of Scotland would have to merge to become one giant University, think in terms of California here and UCL. So it would ultimately be the University of Scotland at Glasgow.

    Campuses would be based where our universities are already but expensive courses would be shared, expensive pieces of kit would be pooled (this already happens but more could be done), expertise in research would be grouped. We could start to reintroduce some of the courses that we have lost.

    Sure people would loose jobs as there would be economies of scale, particularly at higher level management, but the core buisness of universities would be retained and we would not suffer a drop in participation or drive students and expertise to the cheaper to run courses. Instead of Scotlands Universities in constant competition for students they begin to work for Scotland and deliver and education for Scotland. I’d welcome comments.

    1. Scotsvote2011 says:

      Two things to clarify. I’m not suggesting HQ in Glasgow and the model for this idea is the University of California or CAL, it has Capuses in Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Cruz that share the same branding but offer specialisms in different locations. Scotland is much, much smaller than California.

  4. Scottish republic says:

    The Scottish government is up to the challenge of the 21st C but are teachers upto the challenge of the computer age. Many need to bring their courses upto date and are frightened of technology; those who use it often don’t so much employ it as use it as an aside. Digital wall paper. It can be great but it doesn’t replace a good teacher.

    1. rosa alba says:

      I think the majority of teaching colleagues ARE up to the challenge of how best to employ technology in the 21st Century firstly in terms of how to deliver the skillsets necessary to allow children and young people to access technology within the curriculum and beyond, and also in terms of using technology – interactive white boards and beyond – as an aid to further learning and teaching.
      As the commenter above rightly said all this does not replace a good teacher who is well versed in a range of teaching strategies and, in some cases, there are indeed colleagues who are shy of computers and gizmos – but in my experience, those who are recognise their shortfalls and in the days of collegiate teaching (team teaching if you will) management will play to individual strengths in arranging timetables.
      At my previous place of work: I delivered most of the ITC curriculum in a cross-curricular format integrating language, environmental studies, maths, health and wellbeing, RME in some cases (with writing), and Art and Graphic Design, often incorporating enterprise, as well as Critical Skills, working in groups and peer assessment. It can be done.
      @Mhairi MacAlpine I knew that GLOW was perhaps not open source but (confusing open source with cross platform – mea culpa – as it works on Macs and PCs, not sure about Linux).
      I do not like RM profiting, of course, and I lubs me my Open Source software (though still to find web design software that is both Open Source and what I want in terms of clean ready made code and flexibility)…but I recognise that efficient, secure Open Source with clean Add-Ons would be hard to produce.

      However Affordable Software of such an ilk – an international exportable product – might be for Scotland what Lego is for Denmark….

      1. Colin says:

        “in my experience, those who are recognise their shortfalls and in the days of collegiate teaching (team teaching if you will) management will play to individual strengths in arranging timetables.”

        Rosa, having recognised their shortfalls should they not be seeking training rather than abrogating responsibility? My own experience is that most education staff just don’t “get” technology, particularly the internet. You just have to look at the state of most school websites to see that. Open Source software now dominates the web with platforms such as Joomla! and Drupal so there is no need to be producing “clean” code. This kind of software approach is now very mature so not difficult to produce and normally cost free to the school.

      2. mrbfaethedee says:

        You surely don’t believe that the open source community can’t produce efficient and secure software?

  5. Stevensonic says:

    Online and open (access) primary and secondary education would be a massive achievement for education in Scotland. I look at resources such as Khan Academy (http://www.khanacademy.org/) and wonder why we aren’t doing this for our national curriculum.

    Creating a resource for the Scottish education system using the skills of the best teachers we have available would not only help children in areas where they struggle, but also parents, and potentially other teachers who seek to improve their delivery.

    I’m sure most people recall having an incompetent teacher. All schools do not excel in all areas. But with such a resource, if a pupil doesn’t understand something in class, they would be able to watch videos of the material being presented by other teachers in other styles.

    As a relative of someone who has missed a great number of classes due to chronic illness, I think that such a resource would also be invaluable for those who miss a lot of school time.

  6. Scottish republic says:

    Just a reminder folks

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  7. Tocasaid says:

    Another good article. Re. BBC Alba… was it not due to come on Freeview in the Spring? Surely the BBC are not dragging their feet as we head into summer?

  8. lenathehyena says:

    I agree this is no time to start creeping around and trying not to rattle too many cages. The animals are already enraged and on the attack.

    It is right that there is a conversation about what Scotland of the future should stand for and education is a major plank for the determination of success. As a point of accuracy, Rice has gone from Aberdeen and replaced by Professor Ian Diamond at a salary of a cool £260,000. Still an outrageous amount.

    Schooling too has to be addressed in terms of standards in education. There has been slippage over the years which would be fairly easily corrected and ought to be through tightening up teacher training and freeing up funding through more efficient purchasing by schools. It’s curious how council providers from computers to jotters charge exorbitant amounts despite having bulk contracts from LAs.

    You might imagine I’m not impressed with the proposal from Scotsvote2011 for a single Scottish university based in Glasgow! Pauses for shake of the head. I think there are enough problems with centralisation and proposed centralisation of other services for we all know what happens when one area assumes too much influence and power.

    Progressive education is not all down to computer-based skills but cross-curricular learning is something that should be more effectively incorporated into schools. There is a website set up some years ago in Aberdeen which attempted to do this using collections from Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums to learn about all kinds of areas of the curriculum. The idea being that young people should know their local areas, be aware of their history, their heritage and have these aspects of their lives placed in context.

    I think like many things in Aberdeen it has not been updated by the Art Gallery education staff – a pity. http://www.aberdeenquest.com

    1. Scotsvote2011 says:


      Sorry i just read that back and i realised i must have cut something out in my editing, I’m going to blame this small box! Just to be clear i was not suggesting a University of Scotland with Glasgow as the central HQ. The idea would be to pool resources and have one overall University of Scotland with Campuses in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, the Highlands. I suppose i am talking about a far off future maybe 15-20 years.

      One thing for sure is that as funding is reduced and it will be. It will mean one or all of the following in varying amounts. Reduction in courses, reduction in places, reduction in research funding and efficiency savings.

      My argument is that i think vast savings can be made by reducing duplication, primarily in upper management across the sector and retain ‘front line’ teaching and places. Scotland has 21 universities and has 21 departments of knowledge transfer, to take a department by random. So to take a relatively less research intensive university such as University of West of Scotland, it retains 8 members of staff in KT with the Director paid a conservative eastimate of £50000. Duplicate that across the sector and we have 168 staff working on KT in Scotland and £1million spent on directors alone, and that is one department. Much is made of high salaries for VC and Rectors but the sector also spends huge sums of money on upper management lots of that can be saved by more centralisation as opposed to reducing places, courses provided or research.

  9. mrbfaethedee says:

    A great article.

    Yes, let’s stop the degradation of Universities from places of intellectual and cultural advancement first and foremost to just another business sector.
    Keeping it free is one part, getting a grip of the gravy train at the top is another, but so also is reasserting what we demand that the facilities of higher education ought to be.

    Open source, open data, open access for all education is a must.

    If I was pushing the boat out I’d also call for an analogous ‘digital commons’ of internet infrastructure (education, access, hosting, tools) to better facilitate your Architecture of Participation – hopefully it’d help bootstrap a democratized bottom-up cultural flourishing, as well as create the required substrate for the systems, structures and forums you mention to emerge by accident, evolution, and design.

    You’re right to note that we really ought to be trying to reconnect positively with the real world too. The maker/crafter ‘movements’ that have been growing for the past few years ought to be another great inspiration for how open, rewarding and stimulating a constructive reconnect with the physical can be – and that the associated knowledge and experience can be freely shared.
    Stepping further from the digital we can surely find easy ways to connect our lives, from cradle to grave, with our beautiful land. I recall a recent story about a nursery that does much (most?) of its stuff with the bairns outside in woods and stuff – brilliant! Finding incrementally more sophisticated and challenging ways for our kids to maintain that kind of process and relationship with the outside world as they grow up is surely not beyond us.

    Dungavel – pressure on the UK should be unrelenting till it is closed.

  10. delia forrest says:

    It gave us a reason to be elated. And we didn’t need permission from Westminster. The Scots people gave themselves permission, at last, to stand up shout our message loud and clear. Very ‘un- Scottish’ indeed as you say, as the elation continues and the next step of this wonderful journey begins.

  11. David MacGille-Mhuire says:

    Some great ideas in here – from the main article to the contributors’ – all grist to the mill in widening and deepening discussion (as an educator-adept of 30ish years approx at home and overseas, this aspect fires me up in particular for it could have path-finding, global impications).

    Anyway, thanks to all: Food for thought, debate/reflection and action in a profound and not superficial sense.

  12. rosa alba says:

    I think…. (and I admit I know less than most about this aspect of ICT) that Open Source is ABLE to produce whatever commercial enterprises can also produce, and I understand the points about Joomla and Drupal – yes; from my position of ignorance my concerns on one level would be secure log-ins* for home and school on cascading levels (is that the term) and the fact currently, although not GLOW as such but the servers in schools struggle to cope with volume (which may be a point in hand to be addressed) and are frequently corrupted by “stuff” people bring in. I appreciate that this may be a red herring to a degree as – to slightly change the issue – the system software could be encoded to prevent random Add Ons being introduced by random users.
    *Not with regard to GLOW but I do know of people who have “got” into the RM server systems of schools with illicit hardware where they should not have been able to, however well-meaning and innocent their intentions
    To be clearer on another point – and cynical – the nature of the program needed for the enterprise in Question (a non RM GLOW-type thing – and there is the q of disregarding the work done so far by colleagues in teaching on GLOW, however unwieldy it currently is) is huge in scope and intricacies and the level of maintenance would be huge…. would any developers wedded to the ideal of Open Source take this initiative on and maintain it for use in Scotland and/or globally?
    It is counter to my socialist principles to suggest capitalist ventures but a halfway house might be a ScotParl-funded development initiative to produce x-platform software of the type we are talking about – a GLOW+ – and then market such software around the world.
    I know that in the US many Homeschoolers use Virtual Academies (which tend, I think, to be state-specific although there are private Virtual Academies/Curricula too) but resources such as we are outlining should be there to enhance and further real face-to-face learning experiences where pupils learn critical skills for life in terms of social interaction.

    Yes there are colleagues who need to develop their computer skills – mostly colleagues who have had many years classroom experience and so we need to foster the skills they need to acquire without throwing out the bairnikie wi the bathwater. It is not so much a question of abrogating, however, as playing to strengths (and not reinventing the wheel in terms of developing new curricular activities): team working (which is something we are imparting to young learners too). Scottish Education “at the chalk face” has got an enthusiasm and go-get impetus at the moment and more experienced colleagues are enjoying the freedoms of the CfE for the most part.

    I agree about the lamentable state of most schools’ websites – with the threats of loss to McCrone time this state of affairs is only likely to worsen as time constraints increase. Now GOOD open source x-platform web building software….because existing easy and quick to use Open Source options are limited..

    1. Colin says:

      Rosa, I currently support two Secondary Schools with web, providing hosting and advice. I set them up with Joomla! and they have taken it from there. The problem lies with greedy outsourcers who are charging schools exorbitant amounts for simple (very poor) services. The two I work with simply got fed up with the cost and hassle of trying to deal with them. My costs are about a tenth of what they were being charged for very poor and inflexible web services. I suggested before that different departments need to work to their strengths. Why not have the Art dept design the site, the English dept write and edit the content and the ICT people look after the techy stuff? Schools tend to dump everything on the willing horse(s) regardless of their subject – I know having spoken to these two schools. Also security is not a problem with Open Source – Joomla! comes with very robust permissions built in for example. The only other point I’d make is that pupils should be MUCH more involved, indeed, they should be running the school site with limited supervision from staff. Anyway that’s my penny worth!

  13. Steven H says:


    A little off topic perhaps (I enjoyed the article, btw) – but one thing that might reconcile my unionist self to an independent Scotland would be a proper, thoroughgoing decentralisation. Power should be repatriated to local councils and communities – I am sick of the tendency since the second world war, that all political parties have been guilty of, of the sucking up of all political oxygen by the centre, be it London or Edinburgh. I do not like living in a country in which the fixations of a metropolitan/central belt political class predominate. Giving (or should I say, returning) power over finance to local councils would be a start.

    A long term goal, to be sure. But a worthy one.


  14. lenathehyena says:

    I know what you were getting at and pooling resources can certainly save on cash but I’m not convinced, not having thought about it, that it would necessarily be good educationally. Already certain universities have strengths and weaknesses and students select them on their own preferences.

    My complaint was the assumption a centralised University of Scotland would be situated in Glasgow – then you add insult to injury by omitting Aberdeen from your list of satellites. A radical shake-up in education requires complete willingness to explore all kinds of possibilities and sticking with the status quo in terms of CB bias is not the way to achieve that.

    On this I find myself, surprisingly, agreeing with Steven – hi Steven – although I have less complaints about Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh, than the would-be interloper a little to the west which has no more claim to anything than any other city.

  15. lenathehyena says:

    Sorry, that should have been fewer complaints.

    1. Scotsvote2011 says:

      I missed Dundee and St Andrews too, it was not meant as some kind of snub to Aberdonians, but that really is besides the point, i said all Scotlands current universities would still exist just that they would be part of a bigger entity, historic strenghts and weakness would still exist in terms of academic specialisms and research but i think lots of the administrative waste in the system could be reduced. Just an idea. Nevermind

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