The election's giving me a headache

French journalist Frederic Niel explains why the poll makes you want to reach for the aspirin

Here goes the typical conversation in the France nowadays:

So come on now, who are you going to vote for?

I’m still hesitating. Generally, I vote Green in the first round and Socialist in the second round of each presidential election. But when Le Pen got to the second round in 2002 – to everyone’s surprise, since he was behind both Chirac and Jospin in the polls – I was sorry I didn’t vote Jospin from the first round onwards.

Many left-wing voters like me thought that enough voters would go for Jospin straight away, to let the socialist candidate get in just behind Chirac, and then that we could come together and beat Chirac in the second round. The result was that I had to hold my nose and vote for Chirac in the second round, to crush Le Pen. So, this year, I’d decided to vote pragmatically - “voter utile”. That is to say, I’d vote Segolene Royal from the beginning, so that she will get in behind Sarkozy and stop Le Pen from getting through to the second round. And so much for my sweetheart, the Greens’ Dominique Voynet.

So, you’ll vote for Royal?

It’s not that simple. When Francois Bayrou began to climb up in the polls, I told myself that voting for Royal might actually do nothing, and that splitting the votes of the centre-left public like me between Royal and Bayrou would simply play into Le Pen’s hands.

So, you’ll vote for Bayrou?

Not sure: I’m waiting for the final moment, I’m going to look at the last polls, and I’ll vote for Bayrou if he’s ahead of Royal, and for Royal if she’s ahead of Bayou. The important thing is that Le Pen doesn’t get to the second round. It would be too shameful.

So that’s the plan…

I don’t know. According to the polls covering second-round scenarios, only Bayrou could beat Sarkozy. Royal has basically almost no chance of winning the presidential elections. So why push her into the second round? But if I vote for Bayrou, since he’s behind Royal in the polls at the moment, I would simply have stopped Royal from having enough voices to take over Le Pen. And if he got into the second round again…

Well then, what are you going to do?

Well, since Le Pen is pretty low in the polls, and since there’s maybe little risk that he’ll get ahead of Royal and into the second round, I’m wondering if I won’t, after all, vote Voynet…


Yes: Royal, ultimately, may not need my vote, so perhaps I can afford the luxury of voting of voting for the Greens, for pleasure… having said that, if we all make the same calculation, neither Royal nor Bayrou will have enough votes to get past the first round, and we’ll have Le Pen versus Sarkozy. A surprise is always possible, like in 2002… I’ll decide in the voting booth. And you, who are you voting for?

Me? I’ve got too much of a headache this year. I’ll vote next time.

Frederic Niel is a French journalist based in Paris, who has worked for Reuters, Phosphore magazine and other news organisations.
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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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