My 40 minutes with Nick Clegg

How did it go? I haven't decided yet. It would be nice to get the voters to say even that.

Sunday morning in Birmingham and I find myself in a executive suite 6 with three other bloggers and Nick Clegg.

There are numerous occasions when a politician would favour the company of some enthusiastic amateurs over a bunch of seasoned professionals (just ask George Osborne), but an on-the-record interview from four bloggers eager to get him to provide click bait probably isn't one of them. On the fair assumption that none of us know what we're doing, this could go badly wrong.

Nick, however, shows no sign of nerves.

The joy of all party conferences is, of course, the fact that you can button-hole MPs in the queue for Starbucks, and demand answers to any question you fancy. And unless they want to miss out on their skinny decaf latte, or Michael Crick happens to be standing behind you, they don't have much option but to answer.

But spending quality time with the party leader in a locked room and a brief to "ask me anything" is a rare treat.

The problem with a brief like that is: where do you jump first? Macro-philosophical issues or the minutiae of policy? The smorgasbord of delights that is the coalition agreement, or what I should say to the people on the doorstep who have stopped smiling benignly when I say I'm a Lib Dem and started spitting instead? Should I pass on the message my kids have given me for Nick about university funding, or would that be rude? Fortunately, someone else asks the tuition fees question first. It's still raw in the party, you know. As it should be.

We cover a lot of ground. Only some of the contents of Nick's speech on Thursday is taken off the table. My bear traps remain unsprung. Nick says he doesn't know enough about the police using the Official Secrets Act against Guardian journalists to comment -- but that anything that restricts journalist from getting to the truth makes him uncomfortable. And yes, he does read blogs from time to time. So we can't write "Clegg ignores the online activists".

A quick discourse on Labour vitriol, a photo for Lib Dem Voice and we're back in the corridor. We've been with Nick for 40 minutes.

Later, Hugh Grant gets 10. I own Hugh Grant.

I spot Chris Fox, the LIb Dem Chief Exec, who asks "how did it go?"

The honest answer is, "I haven't decided yet".

Be nice if we get the voters to say even that.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which has been named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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