Sturgeon, Swinney and Somerville targeted in 'escalation' of teacher union strikes

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon <i>(Image: PA)</i>
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (Image: PA)

Teaching unions have announced “an escalation” of strikes over a pay dispute that will lead to targeted industrial action in the constituencies of Nicola Sturgeon and other key decision-makers.

But Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has insisted that "targeting pupils, parents and carers in certain parts of the country does not change the financial reality the Government is operating in".

Unions have rejected a deal that which would see most classroom staff receive a five per cent pay increase, although the lowest earners would get a 6.85% pay hike. Instead, the EIS union is demanding a 10% increase.

To mark a year since teaching unions first submitted their pay claim for the 2022/23 financial year, the EIS has now announced days of targeted action aimed at politicians.

Read more: Contingency plans in place as teachers set to strike over exams

As well as the already-announced national strike action on February 28 and March 1 and 20 rolling strikes from March 13 – the EIS will target strike action in the constituencies of the First Minister (Glasgow Southside), Deputy First Minister John Swinney (Perthshire North) and Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville (Dunfermline).

The union has also announced the targeted action will include Greens’ education spokesperson Ross Greer’s ‘constituency’. However, Mr Greer is a regional MSP for the West of Scotland.

Cosla resources spokesperson Katie Hagmann, who is a councillor in Dumfries, will also be targeted, despite her acting on the behalf of the 32 leaders of Scotland’s local authorities.

Read more: EIS announce 22 more days of school strike action

Details are yet to be finalised but EIS members in four of these five areas will be called out on three consecutive days from Wednesday, February 22 until Friday, February 24.

All five areas will be targeted for a further three days of action from Tuesday, March 7.

EIS general secretary, Andrea Bradley, said: “It is deeply regrettable that the continuing inaction, obfuscation and spin from the Scottish Government and Cosla on teachers’ pay has led to an escalation of our programme of strike action.

“It has now been a year since our pay claim was submitted, and teachers should have had their pay rise in their pay packet last April.

"Instead, the Scottish Government and Cosla initially offered a pathetic 2% pay settlement - at a time when inflation was nearly four times that amount. Since then, the Scottish Government and Cosla have dithered, delayed and dragged their feet while the cost of living has continued to soar.”

Read more: SNP minister warns teacher strikes 'some way' from being resolved

She added: “The latest offer, for a well-below inflation 5%, has now been kicking around for six months and has been rejected by Scotland’s teachers twice.

"Our members have already taken part in three days of national strike action, and a further 16-days of rolling action across the country.

“The response from the Scottish Government and COSLA has been, essentially, nil – and this now has forced an escalation in our action. The offer of a 9% real-terms pay cut, which is what is on the table, will never be acceptable.”

Scottish Conservative education spokesperson, Stephen Kerr, said: “These strikes are a mess of Shirley-Anne Somerville’s making, and this latest escalation makes that inescapably clear.

“The EIS’s targeted strike action – in the constituencies of Shirley-Anne Somerville, John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon – leaves the public in no doubt as to who they hold responsible for the repeated failure to resolve the pay dispute.

“It is a pity that children in the affected areas will suffer extra disruption as a result of the SNP’s disgraceful dithering."

He added: “Scotland’s young people have already endured so much uncertainty during the pandemic and they deserve so much better than further upheaval to their education.

“Shirley-Anne Somerville is out her depth in this crisis and has refused to fight for our young people. Her apathy is unacceptable.

“The future prospects of Scotland’s children are on the line. The onus is firmly on the SNP to get back round the table with teachers, find a solution and finally end these strikes.”

In response, Ms Somerville said: “We have been clear that a 10% pay increase for all teachers is unaffordable within the Scottish Government’s fixed budget.

“We’ve also been very clear about the need to progress opportunities for compromise so we can reach a fair and sustainable settlement for all involved.

“Escalation of strike action by targeting pupils, parents and carers in certain parts of the country does not change the financial reality the Government is operating in.”

The Tories’ education spokesman Stephen Kerr hit out at Ms Somerville, saying “she shows not one ounce of energy or urgency to resolve this dispute”.

He said there is now a “clear threat” to the exams timetable.

But Ms Somerville insisted that the "exam diet will not be threatened".

The Education Secretary accused the Conservatives of “scaremongering” on the threat to exams, saying she had last met with union leaders on Friday.

Labour’s Michael Marra said: “How on Earth did we end up here?

“When will the Cabinet Secretary do the job that taxpayers have sent her here to do, when will she sanction a new offer, get it on the table and get a deal done?”

Ms Somerville said union demands remained “unaffordable and unsustainable”.

A Cosla spokesperson said: “We regret any strike action and even more so when it is targeted at individuals especially given that any decision taken in Cosla is a collective one taken by the 32 council leaders.

"Specific targeting is a matter for the EIS to explain as it is their decision to do it.”