Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers

1. The Tories are trying to buy the election (Independent)

Jack Straw says that David Cameron's plan to fight the most expensive election campaign in British political history is at odds with his "age of austerity", and accuses the Tory leader of attempting to buy his way to power.

2. A dying refrain (Times)

A leader attacks China's execution of Akmal Shaikh and says that it has illuminated "the state-blessed barbarism" of that country's penal code.

3. What this execution doesn't say about China and Britain (Independent)

But a leader in the Independent says it is hypocritical to criticise China for using the death penalty while we appear to turn a blind eye to its use elsewhere.

4. David Cameron's campaign suggests a belief in nothing except money (Daily Telegraph)

Like Jack Straw, Simon Heffer argues that an £18m Tory election campaign is likely to trouble a country "in the grip of austerity".

5. Broken Bosnia needs western attention (Financial Times)

William Hague and Paddy Ashdown warn that Bosnia's "cold peace" is under threat and say that Europe must act to prevent the breakdown of the state.

6. A decade of global crimes, but also crucial advances (Guardian)

Seumas Milne argues that the death of the Washington consensus and the emergence of a multipolar world give reason to be cheerful.

7. Amid dark times, meet the most inspiring people of 2009 (Independent)

Johann Hari names the most inspiring figures of 2009, including Peter Tatchell, Amy Goodman and Evo Morales, and says they have followed the advice of the newsman Wes Nisker to "make your own news".

8. The trouble with Twitter (Guardian)

James Harkin says Twitter has done little more than allow us "to stare at our own narcissistic reflection".

9. The challenges of managing our post-crisis world (Financial Times)

Martin Wolf warns of a "perilous complacency" that ignores the continuing fragility of our global economy and civilisation.

10. Inheritance tax penalises aspiration (Daily Telegraph)

A leader praises the Tories for defending their plan to cut inheritance tax and calls on the party to take a similarly robust line on the new 50p income-tax rate.


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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia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