Scotland has high rates of youths "not in education or employment" and a shortage of plumbers. Britain is importing skilled blue-collar workers from Eastern Europe. "The Polish plumber" is in high demand.The Scots are rethinking elementary education, in a way that raises the spectre of tracking.
The move is a radical attempt to deal with the thousands of demotivated school-leavers who head into the workplace without either qualifications or job skills.It smacks, however, of the traditional academician's attitude, usually expressed by someone who couldn't carry water for a patternmaker, that those who dislike or aren't up to algebra or close reading are somehow cut out to wire your house and weld your car.
I repeat: the more serious problem is in thinking that people who can't do poetry are somehow suited to be plumbers. Fritz the Plumber managed both.
David Lonsdale, spokesman for the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in Scotland welcomed the proposal.
"Employers tell us that too many school-leavers lack the basic skills required to be productive in the workplace, so the First Minister's plan to improve standards in basic literacy and numeracy and give youngsters the chance to learn a trade, sounds spot on," he said.
But unions were scathing. David Eaglesham, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, said: "This is all about election posturing and not about education. It is the worst form of selection."
He added: "It is an arbitrary process. You are doing these kids down in a big sense. There is no reason why plumbers shouldn't do poetry.
"They have their whole life to learn a trade and there is no reason why the whole breadth of the curriculum is shut off just because they are going to go for a trade. It is going back to the bad old days."