MSPs clash over Auschwitz trips

Members of the Scottish Parliament have clashed for the second time in a month over funding for school trips to Auschwitz. 

In May, Labour MSPs attacked the ruling Scottish National Party and the Tories for forcing through a decision that individual institutions should decide for themselves how to spend £150,000 given to Scottish schools by Westminster.

The decision meant the money was not ring-fenced for sending pupils on visits to Auschwitz concentration camp, as it has been in England.

Labour critics, led by the shadow education minister Ken Macintosh, castigated the SNP and the Tories for their stance.

Last Thursday, the two parties took the chance to hit back during a debate on Shoah education called by Jackson Carlaw (Con, West of Scotland), which called for Auschwitz trips to be “considered as part of the educational mix”.

Mr Carlaw said: “I deeply resent the implication of one member and his Westminster colleague that I, my colleagues or any members are less concerned that the lessons of the Holocaust be remembered.

“No political party has moral superiority on the matter. Members
have a collective duty to play our part in a wider, sustained national effort to commemorate victims and survivors of the Holocaust and to ensure that
lessons — clear and undiminished — are passed down to future generations.”

Kenneth Gibson (SNP, Cunninghame North) backed Mr Carlaw, saying: “There has never been a specific fund in Scotland for visits to Auschwitz. The Scottish government works with the Holocaust Educational Trust to ensure that children are educated on the Holocaust.

“The government will provide £25,500 to Renfrewshire Council to host next year’s Holocaust Memorial Day, on the anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation, and it has offered to provide £750,000 — half the required funding — for a Holocaust museum in East Renfrewshire, should it progress.”

Mr Macintosh declared “unacceptable” a written answer given in February that “there are no plans to update Holocaust teaching packs”.

He continued: “It is not enough to have a debate at the end of the day, when there will be no vote and when no commitment from the government is called for.

“We need action and funding. The Scottish government has been given funding and we should use it.”

Schools and Skills minister Maureen Watt noted that there were continuing talks with the Holocaust Educational Trust, which has run the Lessons from Auschwitz project for 10 years.

She said: “It is schools’ prerogative to decide the best way for their pupils to learn about the Holocaust. Many more children and young people visit concentration camps through other means that schools promote.

“Together with the Holocaust Educational Trust visits, those visits are valuable. As most members have said, such visits are life-changing.”

As the debate was taking place, the Anne Frank Trust UK announced the launch of its first permanent educational programme for Scotland, which will be managed from offices in Falkirk.

    Last updated: 10:14am, July 22 2008