Three ways the Lib Dems could fail themselves if rumours are right

Rejection of “progressive alliance”, bottling out of cabinet places and electoral reform with a gove

This is clearly a very time-sensitive post, so let's get to the point. If the rumours about the Clegg-Cameron agreement are correct, there are three potential ways in which it would fail both progressive politics and, in the long term, the Liberal Democrats themselves.

1. By avoiding a "progressive alliance" with their natural bedfellows in Labour and others, the Lib Dems will have let go of the possibility of not just proportional representation and a number of seats -- perhaps six or seven -- in the cabinet. They will also have failed in the immense historic possibility of reunification between two movements -- Labour and Liberal -- that belong together and that were, once, together. From such a reunification, there might have flowed a fairer Britain, if not a fairer world, with a more progressive tax system and a more ethical foreign policy.

2. Much is being made of this bizarre concept of "supply and confidence", under which the Lib Dems would prop up a minority Tory government, passing through the "emergency Budget". The Tory-supporting press in particular is excited about it. Not surprising. But what is not clear is how it benefits the Lib Dems, other than to retain an element of their already heavily qualified "purity" as they avoid becoming tainted by a party with which they have been in intense talks for days. It is hard to see how a one-party government of the Tories would support the progressive politics advocated by people such as Charles Kennedy. Further, it would mean the Lib Dems have bottled out of sitting in the cabinet and making politics better and more plural. I do know some anti-Tory voters who are happy for a Tory-Liberal coalition, but -- far away from the Westminster village -- it has not occurred to them that there will not be any Lib Dems in the cabinet. "Supply and confidence", they would neither understand nor welcome.

3. Even if there is some sort of perceived Tory concession on electoral reform, it would be a mirage, not least because the Tory government would campaign for a "No" vote, resulting almost certainly in just that, and in the Lib Dems having squandered their most real chance in decades for genuine change.

Nonetheless, some version of the above seems likely to happen, if rumours are to be believed. If so, a progressive moment this is not.

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James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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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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