The Battle against Right wing bigotry

THE PRIVATE referendum currently taking place in Scotland on Clause 28 may turn out to be the last throw of the ill-fated ‘Keep The Clause’ campaign led by Brian Souter, the anti-gay and right-wing Christian boss of Stagecoach.

Lionel Wright

So far the bus tycoon has spent £2 million of his £300 million fortune on his bid to keep Thatcher’s anti-gay clause, known as Section 2a in Scotland, on the statute-books. This includes retaining the Media House PR firm of ex-Sun executive Jack Irvine at £10,000 per week.

Souter’s poll was never intended as an objective inquiry into the views of Scots. It has been mounted on the back of a vicious homophobic campaign, with Scotland saturated by poster hoardings filled with disinformation about children in post-repeal classrooms being taught ‘gay sex lessons’. Youth workers in Scotland have reported an increase in the already high level of anti-gay assaults in the wake of Souter’s campaign.

Whatever its supposed ‘result,’ the Keep The Clause private ballot is an ominous precedent not just for campaigners for lesbian, gay and bisexual rights, but also for trade unionists, anti-racists, environmentalists, civil rights campaigners and others.

Gay rights campaigners on both sides of the border have correctly launched a counter-offensive against Souter and the religious right, with lobbies, torchlight vigils and other actions.

An organised boycott of the referendum has been supported by Scottish Socialist Party’s MSP Tommy Sheridan, whose public burning of his ballot paper has been followed by others. It is thought that a majority of the 500,000 Freepost envelopes returned to Keep The Clause so far are empty.

While the key battle for repeal has yet to be won, it is important that the shambles of Souter’s referendum doesn’t distract us from the fact that assorted reactionaries the length of Britain have already succeeded in breaching the defences of the campaign for repeal of Section 28/2a.

In January Conservative leader William Hague fumbled around with the policy of repealing Section 28 ‘except’ for teachers who ‘demanded pupils become gay’.

Labour’s Hilary Armstrong told the Tories: “Trying to water down bad law is a complete nonsense and they clearly don’t think their amendment is going

anywhere”. The Liberal-Democrats’ Lord Tope added: “Let’s have no truck with weasel amendments…”. A few weeks later “weasel amendments” were precisely what both parties were promoting.

Then David Blunkett, the Cabinet member with the most high-profile anti-gay attitude, prepared ‘safeguards’ to the government’s Local Government Bill designed to placate the tabloid press and anti-gay peers. Blunkett met religious leaders, who had already prepared post-Section 28 ‘guidelines’ which didn’t even contain the word ‘homosexual’.

The final 10,000-word document stresses the “significance of marriage and stable family relationships as key building blocks of community and society”. Given that gay people cannot marry, this approach entrenches discrimination. Also, enhancing the status of marriage stigmatises large swathes of the population generally.

The guidelines also imply that both individual parents and religious interests can exert a veto over the sex education policies of local schools.

While the offensive “promotion of homosexuality” formula of Thatcher is gone, the new position is arguably worse, because Section 28 has not applied to schools for many years, but the new guidelines will have legal force within education.

In Scotland the Lib-Dem/Labour executive has adopted a parallel “comfort clause”. This omits any reference to marriage, and confines itself to pushing “stable family relationships”. The intention is that everyone can read into the policy what they want.

However, a Working Group with prominent religious representation is preparing lengthy policy guidelines, and the Scottish National Party is calling for further “safeguards” to be incorporated before the Scottish Parliament votes on repeal later in the summer.

The lessons of the Section 2a/28 campaign are that the capitalist parties cannot be relied on to repeal anti-gay legislation. Gay rights activists and socialists must fight for full repeal in Scotland, Wales and England, and for the scrapping of the current discriminatory guidelines.