Russell shrugs off "Minister of Fun" tag over American trips

CULTURAL: Mr Russell (right) is a keen supporter of Scottish tourism

By Michael MacLeod

EDUCATION secretary Mike Russell has been accused of losing focus of the Scottish education system and having “far too much fun” in his job.

The SNP minister was criticised for making transatlantic visits to the likes of whisky events, a golf tour firm and a visit to Apple’s HQ in California.

His travel and engagement diaries were released after a Freedom of Information request by the Scottish Labour party, who said the implementation of the new Curriculum for Excellence should be his priority.

But Mr Russell – who openly blogs online about his globetrotting adventures – defended the visits, most of which came during the USA’s Scotland Week , saying they were to “further Scotland’s interests.”

The diaries include entries such as “drinks and coffee with Talisker Whisky” on 7 December last year and a meeting with the San Francisco Adventure Travel Trade Association on 9 April this year.

Education in “disarray”

Labour MSP George Foulkes said he feared education in Scotland was facing a crisis requiring stronger leadership.

“These diaries show Mr Russell is Scotland’s new Minister for Fun.

“With thousands of young budding teachers out of work, a school building programme in disarray and a challenging set of cuts ahead, the education secretary should have had his 100 per-cent undivided attention on the education crisis facing his government and our country.

“There is a job to be done in promoting Scotland abroad, its culture, its histories and traditions.

“But that’s a job for the Culture Minister and Michael Russell is no longer it.

“I have no doubt that he’s a cultured man with a variety of personal interests, but it looks like he’s having far too much fun while the education system, that he is responsible for, collapses into crisis all around.”

“No apologies”

Labour also questioned a pre-Tartan Day meeting Mr Russell had with Toronto’s Ultimate Golf Vacations director Rob Warrington.

In his online blog, Mr Russell explained the golfing holiday firm “brings lots of Canadian golfers to Scotland’s many great golf courses, and the current rate of exchange makes such trips every more affordable.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said that they made “no apologies” for any of the engagements he had in America.

He said: “The Cabinet Secretary’s visit to Apple – one of the world’s most innovative companies – was to discuss possible links between Apple and ICT in Scottish schools.

“It is ridiculous to suggest that this was not related to the core purpose of education, and indeed senior Apple education officials from World Headquarters and Scotland and England were present at the meeting.

“The meeting has already resulted in the extension of Apple’s educational discounts from universities’ and colleges’ purchases to schools’ purchases thus creating a substantial saving for Scottish education.

“The visit to Ultimate Golf was set up by Visit Scotland as part of ongoing efforts to encourage more visitors to come to Scotland.

“Indeed, while overseas, Scottish Government Ministers will often seek to undertake a range of work to further Scotland’s interests as a whole – not just meetings which relate to their portfolio only and we make no apologies for trying to selling Scotland during important visits such as these.

“The various visits and events associated with Scotland week were flagged up and publicised at the time.”


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