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  • Writer's pictureMarcas Mac an Tuairneir

Breakfast with Frost

BBC, April 2nd, 2000


The Scottish Executive plans to repeal Section 28, the law which bans the promotion of homosexuality by local councils has come under fierce attack here in Scotland, perhaps even fiercer than in the rest of the country where it’s a hot issue as well. The millionaire businessman Brian Souter the boss of Stagecoach is personally financing a campaign to keep the Clause, he’s even prepared to spend a million pounds to fund a private referendum on whether or not to repeal it. It’s a passionate issue, one which has grabbed the headlines every day for months, particularly in Scotland and I’m joined now by Tom Brown, political commentator, leader writer of the Daily Record, Scotland’s dominantly selling daily. Top of the morning. TOM BROWN: Good morning to you. DAVID FROST: And by Jim Whannel, head teacher of a primary school in Glasgow. Tom what is the thing that drives your campaign and indeed also the Daily Record? TOM BROWN: Well… DAVID FROST: Not to repeal Section 28. TOM BROWN: Yes if I can just get out of the way, it’s impossible to have a dispassionate discussion about this because everybody immediately flies to hysterical positions, it’s one of the, as you said it’s a passionate subject. My and the newspaper’s position on it is it’s nothing to do with homophobia or bigotry as has been alleged, it’s to do with parent’s rights and the right of parents to be consulted about what their children are taught and Section 28 guaranteed that they would not be taught about homosexuality in schools, by repealing it the difference between Scotland and England is that Scottish Executive is not putting in its place anything that will reassure parents that their wishes will be consulted about what their own children are taught and we say it’s not for the government to say what, what my children are taught in school, it’s about such a sensitive subject it’s for parents to decide and if parents don’t want it taught in schools they should be able to say so. And the Brian Souter referendum has been caused by the sheer frustration of the majority of the Scottish people, they have not been properly consulted about this, it didn’t appear in the manifesto for the Scottish government elections last year, and it was such a dominant issue why wasn’t it. There was a consultation exercise which has been largely discredited and we just feel that any, the Scottish people should be given the opportunity to have their say before such a, a drastic and potentially damaging alteration is made. DAVID FROST: Right well Jim you are in fact a head teacher yourself, how do you respond to that? JIM WHANNEL: Well most of what Tom has said is really not the case in Scotland, in Scotland we have a national system, an education system which is based on guidelines, parents will have guarantees and we’re all in favour of those guidelines which will be non-discriminatory, which will affect the curriculum, that’s the guarantee parents get and they’ve had it from the Scottish Executive time and time again. It’s unfortunate that Brian Souter and some other people in Keep the Clause have whipped up a kind of debate which doesn’t exist. They’ve created from their own billboards and from their press adverts fears about things which have never happened in schools, there is not one single school which is in the whole of Scotland which has done the things which are appearing in these billboards, none of them, it never has happened and never will happen. Guidelines will ensure that that is a safety net for all schools and for all Scottish parents but I’m afraid to say that underneath this debate is not really the education it’s about prejudice and discrimination…that’s really what this is about. DAVID FROST: One of the things about this issue is the points can be used in either direction, when you say that Section 28 has never been used in Scotland and never been used in England, the, the response presumably would be well that shows how effective it is? JIM WHANNEL: Absolutely not, this is the only country in the whole world which has got a Section 28, in the Republic of Ireland, in other countries in Europe there’s no equivalent of Section 28, it’s not a problem, it’s not an educational problem. Much of this debate has been hijacked by people who know nothing about education, education is formed in stable and educationally sustainable guidelines, guidelines which teachers then use to teach children for the benefit of young kids and for parents. DAVID FROST: But if it’s never been used why bother to repeal it? JIM WHANNEL: Because it’s a nasty piece of small-minded prejudice, it’s actually wider than education as well and we have seen some parts of Keep the Clause attacking gay and lesbian community organisations and the public funding of those organisations linking to Section 28. So it’s about, it’s a bit like sitting at the back of the bus in Alabama, it’s a bit like a small piece of prejudice which keeps gay and lesbian people second class citizens. DAVID FROST: Yes but most parents, most parents don’t want their children to be encouraged to become homosexual, they want marriage to be the norm, as it were, I mean how, how do they get these guarantees without that, I mean you’re saying guidelines…let me just go back to Tom, guidelines, what about guidelines.

TOM BROWN: Guidelines, guidelines is the same point as if Section 28 isn’t making a difference in the schools then why all the fuss about repealing it, if it’s a dead letter let it lie, but that’s not what it’s about, we have a headmaster here talking about what, what’s important in education, surely parents must have a say in the education of the children and if, if they want guidelines why, why not, why not have them to reassure the parents. And if they want, and if there are these guidelines are to be effective why not have them enshrined in law. If Section 28 was effective, as people, seems to be admitted here, if Section 28 was effective then why not put something as effective in its place, maybe less discriminatory. But what is being, greatest objection is being taken to teaching that will say that homosexuality is as good a relationship as a normal family marriage relationship and that is patently not so. DAVID FROST: If guidelines are not enough for people would you be prepared to have a new statute? JIM WHANNEL: Absolutely not, the, the misunderstanding is about Scottish education, there are no statutory impositions in Scottish education…Section 28 is the only thing, in other words homosexuality, gay and lesbian people were singled out for some sort of discriminatory practice. A chemistry teacher had to, has, there was no legal sanction to prevent a chemistry teacher teaching children about making bombs, we don’t have laws against it, we’ve got guidelines for what chemistry courses and we have guidelines which prevent that happening. The same should happen with the personal social development and Tom’s actually mistaken when he says that parents don’t want non-discrimination in the schools, parents do not want their children taught that people are second class purely and simply because they are gay or lesbian. What they want is sensible teaching with a range of human life, including marriage as an option, but it’s not an option for everybody, it’s not an option for gay and lesbian people and there are large numbers of children who come from divorced households, from single parent households, they do not want to be told by teachers they’re in a second-class situation, you should really aim for marriage. That is the argument, the argument is about teachers not promoting anything, you don’t promote heterosexuality or homosexuality, they promote non-discrimination and fairness, that’s what they’re about. DAVID FROST: What about this referendum, do you think that will demonstrate the level of support that you’ve got? TOM BROWN: Well I think it will, it’s pretty obvious what the level of support is but this would, this would quantify in some way, a properly carried out referendum with the consultation of every electorate, every member of the electorate as is being promised by Souter and his people, yes that would, that would give a certain moral force to the argument and I have to say that there is a difference here between Scotland and England. The Westminster government, the Blair government has given the people of England certain guarantees, clauses that have been drawn up we carried in our paper, a whole foolscap sheet of concessions to the fears of parents and worries of parents. In Scotland there’s one, there’s one paragraph and all it says is that the importance of stable relationships will be promoted. DAVID FROST: And in fact, looking at the figures on the various polls Jim here, at the moment Tom has got the majority support rather than, rather than your side.

JIM WHANNEL: I think that’s highly questionable, they’re going to organise an opinion poll to see if  they can drum up some more support for their position. I think what’s actually happened is that hundreds of thousands of pounds, in fact millions of pounds have been spent to whip up fears about something which doesn’t really exist, there is no school promoting homosexuality, there never has been, before Section 28 it didn’t happen and it won’t happen once we get rid of this pernicious, nasty piece of legislation. If Souter is so interested in young people and education, if you give my school just one of those billboards, the money for that, then I couldn’t make a bigger effect on the education of young people… DAVID FROST: Thank you both… TOM BROWN: It’s insulting to say the people of Scotland can be bought like that. DAVID FROST: Sorry? TOM BROWN: It’s insulting to say that the people of Scotland can be bought by a billionaire’s money… DAVID FROST: They’ve got stronger opinions than that. Well thank you both very much indeed anyway, the debate, as they always say, will continue.

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