WHEN the Scottish Government announced its intention to press ahead with legislation giving same-sex couples the right to get married, celebrations from the equal rights lobby were tempered with a warning.
It was far too early to claim victory, they said. There was a long way to go before this landmark legislation made it on to the statute book. And there would be many attempts along the way to derail it. This weekend it looks as if that caution was justified. On balance it is likely Scotland will still go ahead and put this historic reform into Scots Law – but the shape of the challenge it faces is becoming clear. Perhaps knowing that they have lost the main argument – with polls showing most of the public now backing same-sex marriage – opponents now seem to be turning their attention to the highly contentious area of how this law should form part of lessons in Scottish schools.
We have been here before. In the late 1980s, the then Conservative government passed a law which became known as Clause 28 – Section 2a in Scotland – which outlawed the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools. “Promotion” included expressing the view that homosexuality was normal and acceptable. When Labour tried to overturn this iniquitous law in the Scottish Parliament in the early days of devolution, tycoon Brian Souter funded a million-pound propaganda campaign to try to stop them. He was ultimately unsuccessful.
At present, there seems to be a clear majority of MSPs in favour of equal marriage. But there are MSPs of all parties who may see a distinction between the principle of allowing same-sex couples to marry and the issue of how this aspect of law is dealt with in schools. We need to tread carefully here amid a number of important and competing rights. There is the right of parents to withdraw their child from classes for religious reasons. There are teachers who may feel they have a right not to teach something to which they have a religious objection. There are schools – including Catholic schools – that might have views on how same-sex marriage forms part of certain lessons.
But let us not forget another, much larger interest group – one that rarely has tycoons, lobbyists and public relations professionals arguing its case in the corridors of power. That group is made up of tens of thousands of Scottish schoolchildren and their parents who simply want schools to teach about the world as it is, and to be able to have a serious and open discussion in classrooms about all aspects of love, sex, sexuality and relationships. Who will be speaking for them in this debate? We trust at least some of our politicians step up to this role.
As Section 2a demonstrated, when you try to use the law to dictate what can and cannot be taught in schools you send a message to young people that the classroom is not, after all, a marvellous window to understanding the world they live in. Instead you send a message that it is actually is mechanism for telling them what adults think they should know, and to stop them discussing what adults would rather they didn’t hear. Are we really going to allow ourselves to get into a position where it is not allowed for some teachers to teach the law of the land? If the law eventually says – after a thorough and democratic process – that same sex couples can marry, will some faiths dictate that this is not mentioned? Or, if it is mentioned, to teach children the law is wrong? This is truly a Pandora’s Box.
The excitement is mounting, with just 500 days until the Commonwealth Games open in Glasgow and bring worldwide attention to Scotland. But behind the razzamatazz that is modern sport – the route of the Games baton will be announced tomorrow in an attempt to repeat the heady success of last year’s Olympic torch – lies the hard graft of hosting such an important and visual event and the multi-million pound budgets that will make it happen. For Police Scotland, the new single national force, the Games will be the first big test of its capability to provide security against potential threats under the global spotlight and, as we report today, it cannot do that alone, given the complexity of the operation across multiple venues around the country. The failure of G4S, the private company that won the contract to provide security at the 2012 Olympics, to recruit sufficient staff to fulfil its contract – resulting in the army and extra police being drafted in at the last minute – was a major embarrassment for the Prime Minister and his government, although its importance diminished when the Games began and the gold medals began to flow to Team GB. So, Police Scotland’s intention to split security contracts between a number of companies – rather than one major supplier – is the right way forward in ensuring that the security issue remains behind the scenes, where it belongs.