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March 31st 1897

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School Board electioneering

The Education Act of 1872 took over the funding and the notional running of all parish schools in Scotland. In practice the day to day running of the schools was controlled by directly elected School Boards. This inevitably created great interest in the election of these Boards and exhibited before a wider public any disagreements between Board members and their teachers. The proceedings in the parish of Cargill are a case in point. Cargill parish which took in both Burrelton and Woodside required to vote for a new Board in 1897.

The scene was set by a letter from an unidentified member of the public. “About two weeks ago the now notorious Cargill School Board, realising that it must soon give up its official ghost and not wishing to have too many persons jeering at its dying agonies, thought it would be an excellent plan to muzzle all under its control by forbidding them to write to the public press exposing the absurdities concocted by the select council of three…”  No doubt the writer would be unsurprised at the conduct of the Board at its last meeting a week later.

“Cargill School Board meeting ends in confusion,”  reads the headline. The Board meeting which was attended by a considerable number of ratepayers also present, considered a letter from Mr Kermack. He complained that his child had been reduced from standard 4 to 3. There was also a letter from Mr Robertson, the teacher, saying that the child had been very irregular in attendance.

Mr McIntosh, one of the Board members, moved that the teacher’s action should be upheld but he was outvoted by the other members and the meeting then went on to arrange a date for a public meeting to give an account of their stewardship to the electors. At this point, Mr Robertson the teacher arrived with his log book telling the Board that it was impossible for him to obey orders from such a lot of windmills and whirligigs.

Uproar ensued until finally Mr Robertson was prevailed upon to withdraw his remarks and the chairman agreed to read an entry from the log book concerning backward children. By this time Peter Adam, another Board member, had left the meeting “in indignation”  and after further noisy exchanges, Mr Craig, the Chairman also “vacated his seat and the meeting ended in confusion.” 

The stage was now set for the election proper. There were two election meetings. An unofficial one at Burrelton which was announced by handbills at which some candidates and Board members spoke. There was a good turn-out. Mr Craig, the Chairman of the Board was present but refused to speak as the Board had already called a public meeting (cries of Oh! Oh! Laughter and applause). The rifts within the Board showed clearly when Mr McIntosh spoke. He stated that the Board’s work from the first had been unharmonious and unpleasant. They began by insulting the late Clerk and ended by doing the same to the present one. (No nonsense about Board solidarity there.)

Mr Ramsay, another Board member, said it was alleged three years ago that the Board that went out had been weighed in the balance and found wanting. The present Board had never got into the balance but had been in the Slough of Despond ever since it went in. (Laughter. Not much solidarity there either.) Mr McFarlane, Board member, stated that he had acted conscientiously and independently. (The pig in the middle?) The other Board member, Peter Adam, was not present.

At the second public meeting on March 31st Mr Adam was very much present with 300 other persons. The quality and flavour of his contribution may be gauged by the newspaper reporter’s introduction. “Mr Adam, who met with considerable interruption, and whose speech was noticeable for its fine phrases and big words, which along with the speaker’s elocutionary powers, caused great amusement….”  A figure of fun or not, Mr Adam made very plain and public his intense dislike of the schoolmaster, Mr Robertson.

Mr Craig, the Chairman of the Board, attempted to play the elder statesman. He had been a member for twelve years, he said, had he known the troublous times awaiting him in connection with the Chairmanship it is more than likely he would have refused it. After this promising opening he was soon involved in controversy. Mr Robertson, he said, would be able to testify that he had received more in salary and grants than he ever did. Mr Robertson who was present in the audience “not a copper of difference.”  (hear, hear.) There were further questions concerning Mr Craig’s conduct at the last meeting of the Board and his decision to walk out. Everyone commenced to speak, he said, and there were shouts for the police so he rose and came out. (great laughter and hisses.)

Mr Robertson (rising excitedly) “I cannot sit still.”  (general uproar.) Mr Robertson also found great difficulty in putting his case, being involved in what was termed “a public altercation”  with Mr Craig. Finally, he declared that he had been put into a false position and that he left it for the ratepayers to decide.

Mr Craig had more trouble with Mr McIntosh, a fellow member, who mentioned the recommendations of the County Sanitary Inspector regarding the school well. These had been altered by Mr Craig who maintained that the Inspector had agreed to the alterations. The Inspector had not given his sanction to anything of the kind (applause) This was a sample of the way business was conducted. He, Mr McIntosh would never be a party to lend himself against what he conscientiously held to be correct. (applause) Mr McIntosh was saying all the right things; attacking the Chairman and perhaps laying down a marker for the position himself.

What of the other candidates? Mr McGregor, farmer, W Thomson, contractor and Peter Foote, fishing tackle producer all pledged themselves to see to the ratepayer’s interests in both ends of the parish. The fourth candidate, Mr Robertson, no relation to the schoolmaster, considered a new Board was needed and if returned he would serve to the best of his ability. If the past members of the Board had been less than impressive, their potential replacements seemed low profile, platitudinous and dull. But dull the evening was not, and true to form the meeting concluded “amid considerable uproar.” 

Three days later the election took place. There was a record turn-out. Elected were Mr McIntosh 201, Mr Craig 195, Mr McFarlane 154, Mr Ramsay 150, and Mr Adam 136. Unsuccessful candidates were Mr Robertson 124, Mr Thomson 86, Mr McGregor 82, and Mr Foote 38. Mr McIntosh was elected Chairman of the Board. The results were greeted by a large and excited crowd with cheers and groans. After all the campaigning and public vituperation the new Board was almost identical to the old one. It was democracy at work with real interest and participation from the public.

It could hardly be said to be the most efficient way to run a school. It was not, however, until 1918 that the School Boards were replaced by elected Education Authorities for the county of Perth and other counties of Scotland together with separate ones for Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee and Leith.

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