GOODBYE austerity. Scotland’s 50,000 teachers want a 10 per cent pay rise and may strike for the first time in decades in an attempt to get it. Unrest is already obvious in the classrooms.

In December, one of the smaller teaching unions, the NASUWT, organised a series of one-day strikes over pay at six schools in Glasgow and East Dunbartonshire. These were halted after a threat of legal action by Glasgow City Council – perhaps not the best response to a problem that needs a political solution. A 10 per cent uplift sounds a lot, and to be frank the main teachers’ union in Scotland (the EIS, of which I used to be a member) has a track record of asking a lot and settling for far less.

But in this case, 10 per cent is not unreasonable. Since 2008, teachers’ pay in Scotland has declined in real purchasing terms by around one-fifth, if you include rising housing and mortgage costs. When increases to pension contributions and national insurance are factored in, Scotland’s teachers have suffered a real cut of almost 25 per cent in take-home pay since the bank crash and the onset of austerity.

If Scottish teachers can win back all or a substantive part of what they have lost, then they open the door for other workers to reclaim what was stolen from them as a result of Tory and Labour austerity policies.

To give credit, the Scottish Government has resisted Westminster-imposed austerity. Despite the Tory wage cap (forced on Scotland via Treasury cuts) SNP governments since 2007 have offered better public-sector wage settlements than down south.

Just before Christmas, Scottish teachers secured a two per cent pay rise for 2017/18. True, this is being paid in two stages, but it is fully funded. However, the Brexit-induced collapse in sterling has boosted inflation. So that two per cent rise has been swallowed by rising prices. Why should hard-working teachers go on paying for the bankers’ mistakes a full decade on?

The Scottish Government could rightfully reply that it was the first UK administration to say it would scrap the public-sector pay cap – Chancellor Philip Hammond has been forced to follow suit. Plus the Scottish Government’s new Budget for 2018/19 pledges that all public employees earning up to £36,500 will receive a minimum three per cent pay increase, beating inflation.

Is the large EIS claim justified? My answer is a decided yes. After a decade of austerity, and despite the positive efforts of the SNP administration, the pressure on the Scottish teaching profession is reaching breaking point.

While teacher numbers in Scotland have been kept up (unlike in England), the demands on teachers as a result of the introduction of the Curriculum for Excellence and other child-centred reforms have increased considerably. Filling vacant posts has become difficult. The extent of the recruitment crisis became apparent in January, when it emerged that councils were re-advertising 2275 school posts they had been unable to fill at the first attempt. A salary hike is necessary to fill vacant posts, boost teacher morale and maintain excellence in the system.

Because our child-centred education system is good despite the ideological carping of Tory and Blairite naysayers. The English educational model is not one Scotland should follow. School education has been effectively “nationalised” in England and put under the authoritarian, top-down management of central government. More and more schools have been transformed into so-called “academies” which are run by private trusts but directly funded by and policed from Whitehall. Their agenda is a Thatcherite focus on rote learning to pass exams, as a passport (for a minority) to enter the middle-class Oxbridge elite.

As a result, teachers in England are subject to an intense control regime. Academies are a modern version of the Victorian workhouse. Teachers have been turned into robots, forced to use standardised language in every classroom.

Stress levels among teachers in England have soared: the suicide rate among primary school teachers down south is nearly two times higher than the national average. Teachers are leaving the profession in droves in England – staff numbers fell by more than 10,000 between 2010 and 2015. To add fuel to the disaster that is English education, spending on schools is being slashed by Theresa May’s administration. Funding per pupil flatlined between 2010 and 2015, once inflation is taken into account. After that, funding per pupil dropped like a stone as total student numbers rose.

The biggest crisis is in the remaining local authority schools, where savage budget cuts are deliberate (via reduced grants to local councils) in order to drive pupils into the centralised “academy” system. In the “academies”, cash is being syphoned off to pay absurd, fat-cat salaries to senior management. Recently, MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee criticised the fact that no less than 102 academy trusts paid their senior managers in excess of £150,000 a year. Memo to John Swinney: ignore siren calls to emulate English school education, with its unhappy, over-stressed pupils and teachers quitting in droves.

But how can the Scottish Government afford the approximate £200 million the wage rise will cost, especially as a 10 per cent hike is not fully funded in the 2018/19 budget settlement for the local authorities.

First, we can’t afford not to pay our teachers. Besides, they are asking for only half of their losses due to previous austerity cuts.

Secondly, Hammond has dropped hints about increasing NHS spending in his coming Autumn Budget, doubtless doing so now to buy votes in the upcoming English local elections. Let’s call his bluff.

If the Scottish Government grants teachers and NHS staff an austerity-busting wage increase, the English unions will demand the same. Hammond will be forced into concessions and the Scottish Government will pick up the Barnett consequentials.

Thirdly, remember that from £200m per annum in extra pay, teachers will pay a lot of extra taxes. In fact, once you take into account stuff like VAT and petrol duty, most of us hand back in taxes around 65p in every pound we earn.

Of course, much of that goes to the Chancellor of the Exchequer rather than Derek Mackay, but the bottom line is that the state will get back most of any wage increase. Finally, there are inventive ways in which a Scottish Government could find new financial resources of its own – especially an administration determined to protect Scotland from austerity. For instance, by creating its own “fiscal money”, as proposed by the left-wing Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis.

It would allow a Scottish Government (even inside the UK) to issue its own internal form of currency to settle debts domestically, including paying taxes. Fiscal money could probably not be introduced instantly but it might be operational in a matter of a few years. (I’ll write more about this another time.)

The SNP has been home to tens of thousands of teachers over the years. We are first and foremost a movement for independence and social reform. We do not exist to bide our time meekly in government for decades to come, in the hope another referendum comes along eventually. We make our own history. Let’s start by paying Scottish teachers what they are worth, and damn the consequences.