IT should come as no surprise in this age of hypocrisy, that those among us who shout the most about how special and empathetic Scotland is as a nation, should turn out, when the crunch comes, to be the least kind, the most lacking in consideration, the last to offer sympathy.

Right now, teachers in Scotland are terrified for their health and wellbeing. With vast swathes of the country back in lockdown, teachers, like nurses and police officers, have to man the frontline, unlike most of us. They’re at risk in their own packed classes. Would any of the rest of us happily spend every day in a closed room with up to 33 other human beings, with no chance of effective social distancing? Quite simply teachers believe their lives are at risk. The Scottish Government has shown it just doesn’t care – but what makes this issue all the more distressing for teachers is that most of the public don’t seem to give a damn either.

Some of the worst attacks on teachers are coming specifically from SNP supporters. We should be wearily familiar by now with SNP hardliners doing anything to defend their party, including casually resorting to sustained bullying campaigns and harassment of anyone seen as awkward, difficult, or a challenge to political group think. But to turn hate and attack on to teachers – the people who care for our children every day of their working lives – is beneath contempt. It’s genuinely a new low – one which it’s hard to even countenance the massed ranks of faceless, nameless online trolls sinking to, but then it is 2020 after all, so by now we really should expect that even when we think we’ve hit rock bottom there’s actually much further to fall.

I’ve lost track of the number of mean, cruel and spiteful attacks against teachers speaking out about their fears on social media. One featured a teacher with cystic fibrosis, who’s genuinely fearful of the risk to their life from working in Scottish classrooms. They were vilified – for being scared. One comment said: “Who classed you as high risk? You might believe you are high risk but the stats say otherwise. Not a maths teacher then?”

Who, in all decency, would say such a thing to another human being – especially one who’s a public servant, and scared and vulnerable. 

Everyone who’s not a teacher should just stop for a few moments – we should all try and think ourselves into the shoes of teachers. Imagine if you were a car mechanic and the rest of society not only told you how to fix cars but said all your worries surrounding your safety at your work weren’t just wrong and ill-judged but plain lies. Or maybe you’re a chef, and the rest of us tell you that you know nothing about kitchens and food, and that your ideas on health and safety in restaurants are fabricated nonsense. Or a soldier. Or a nurse. Or a lawyer. Or a park keeper. Or a shop-owner – or quite literally any other profession on the face of the planet.

I argued last week on these pages that what the Scottish Government is up to with teachers amounts to gaslighting – teachers say they’re scared under current conditions, they provide evidence to back up their fears, the Government says “nothing to see here”, and teachers are made to look as if they’re liars in the eyes of the public. The Government has a bully pulpit, teachers don’t.

The teaching union, EIS, is canvassing members about possible strike action over risks. Teachers don’t want schools to close – they want to be safe and for kids to excel. The preferred choice is blended learning where some pupils are in class one day, and some study at home, easing pressure over safety measures especially social distancing. You’d have to be a fool not to see what Nicola Sturgeon’s government is up to. 

The SNP knows many – though not all – working parents want schools operating as normal. Teachers, however, are not a glorified state nanny service – they’re professional educators. Teachers are going to be backed into such a corner that they’ve no option but strike – at which point the profession can be painted as the baddies. It’s cynical, vote-seeking, contemptible and dangerous behaviour. The Holyrood Government should be ashamed of itself. What the SNP is doing, though, will also lead to a haemorrhaging of votes from teachers – a group of people who should be among the SNP’s natural constituency.

There’s real concerns over evidence the Scottish Government is putting out to justify not shifting to blended learning. The NASUWT teaching union says government claims are “misleading at best”, some data used “applies to England rather than Scotland”, and contains a “high degree of uncertainty”. Statistics are “also a month old”, the union says, and “includes the period at the start of the school year where any school-based transmission is unlikely to show due to the incubation period of the virus”.

The union’s analysis reveals that even if the Government’s own data is taken at face value it still proves the risk to teachers is wholly unacceptable. The NASUWT points out that government statistics “around the number of positive staff cases on 10 November” show “a prevalence rate of 758 per 100,000 staff”. Glasgow, lockdown central, has a “prevalence of 278 per 100,000”. Such differences, the NASUWT says, are “striking and alarming. It certainly suggests that contrary to the Government’s assertion, education staff are at a significantly higher risk of infection than the general population”. The union wants the Government to withdraw “misleading claims” and explain why figures “clearly suggest an extremely high infection rate”.

Some would be forgiven for detecting the whiff of cover-up.

What’s utterly bewildering is that some of the campaigners lobbying the SNP to keep schools open are part of the anti-mask brigade. Jo Bisset, co-founder of Scottish parents group Us for Them, calls face coverings “ineffective”.

Is this who Sturgeon and John Swinney listen to, rather than teachers and the EIS and NASUWT? It looks like it. Perhaps, as many teachers have already suggested, the SNP’s top brass should spend a week in a classroom – and then come to a judgment on just how safe our schools are in Scotland.