29 October 2015

How the SNP let down the poorest students


The next time you hear a Nationalist MP or MSP bragging about how their party is supposedly morally superior and infinitely virtuous because student tuition fees are “free” for students (not students from England though) remember the truth of the matter.

New figures published this week show the extent to which the SNP policy has let down the poor, and illustrate where blinkered rhetoric by rabble-rousing leaders promising free stuff (paid for by someone else) can lead.

1) Loans of on average £5,900 were taken out by the poorest students, almost 20,000 of them, to cover living costs last year.

2) Grants have been slashed, to help pay for the “free” fees. Grants delivered through the bursary scheme have fallen from £65.4m in 2006 to £40m now.

3) All this while only 9.7% of Scots from the poorest fifth are going to University as of this year, up from 7.3% in 2011. In England, where tuition fees are up to £9000, the figure is 17%, up from 13.8%. The Scottish numbers look smaller, says the Scottish government, because more Scottish student prefer to do their courses at higher education colleges and not universities, which is a pretty thin excuse.

Peter Mcmahon at ITV News has dissected the figures brilliantly, and carries a response from the Scottish government minister Angela Constance that manages to be both banal and mind-bendingly daft.

The figures certainly make a mockery of former First Minister Alex Salmond’s unstatesmanlike decision to have a large monument to himself erected at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, engraved with the words: “The rocks will melt with the sun before I allow tuition fees to be imposed on Scottish students.”

Anyway, who sensible does this? Who gets a giant slab of stone that looks like a giant replica of a holiday knick-knack from Tenerife and has it inscribed with their own words and landed on a university campus?

As David Clegg on the Daily Record puts it today: “We can only assume everyone with a modicum of sense at the university was on holiday the week the daft stunt was approved.”

Alex Massie is also spot on in his column for The Times, when he says that Salmond’s free fees debacle is a reminder of the Milton Friedman dictum, borrowed from the novelist Robert Heinlein, that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone always pays. This time, middle class students have enjoyed a subsidy and been given a warm, fuzzy feeling about how left-wing Scotland is, while the poor have had debts and cuts piled on their shoulders. The SNP, and the voters, should never be allowed to forget it.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX