The Yes campaign is continuing the fight Photo: Scottish Political Archive
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Conspiracy and paranoia reign in the grassroots Scottish independence movement

At a Yes rally following the Scottish independence referendum result, talk of conspiracy was ubiquitous. 

On Sunday afternoon, several hundred Yes voters today met for a rally outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. It was, as one speaker admitted to me, the political equivalent of “comfort eating”: self-congratulatory lauding of the bravery of Yes voters fused with anger at the grotesque unfairness of it all.

Fifty years ago, Richard Hofstadter attacked “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”. Hofstadter defined its practitioners as displaying “qualities of heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy”, observing that “the feeling of persecution is central” to the paranoid style. Without stretching the point, a comparison could be made to some of the most fervent independence campaigners in Scotland.

In the hour I spent at a Yes rally, talk of conspiracy was ubiquitous. Everyone I encountered believed that only some form of conspiracy had prevented an independent nation. At the mildest end, this was limited to anger at the media – especially the BBC – for bias against the Yes campaign, and failing to give equal airtime and respect to Yes.

But there was more. Much more. During my conversations I heard a collection of weird and wonderful conspiracies. One man simply insisted, “The result was a fix” - Yes had indeed prevailed in the popular vote, but it had been rigged, banana-republic style, to preserve the union. There were also dark allusions to postal voting, and allegations that thousands of postal votes had been sent by the No campaign to boost its votes. A string of fire alarms in Dundee on polling day were even put down to Westminster’s attempts to suppress the vote in Yes strongholds. The police were accused of destroying CCTV footage of Yes supporters being attacked by No campaigners.

It is always an easy game to find a group of oddballs from a political group and make them out to be representative of the wider movement. The paranoia and belief in conspiracy I encountered is certainly not representative of the 1,617,989 who plumped for Yes 10 days ago.

But the mood of these Yes supporters is still deeply problematic for the wider independence cause. If this eclectic bunch is seen as being the only people who bother to keep the independence flame alive, it will put those lacking their penchant for conspiracy off. Floating voters viewing Yes campaigners as weirdoes to be avoided at all costs would be a disaster for the Scottish independence movement.

Unsurprisingly given that many outside the Scottish Parliament did not believe that the vote had been fair, no one seemed very interested in convincing those that had voted No to change their minds in the event of a second referendum. If, indeed, they wanted a second referendum at all: several people felt that the Scottish Parliament should simply unilaterally declare independence and be done with it all.

The emphasis was only on the heroism of those who had voted Yes; they represented what one poster called “Scotland the Brave”. The No campaign was depicted as more than just wrong: fundamentally and inherently dishonourable. Pictures of Alistair Darling, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband – called “The three stoodges”- were on a poster at the front of the rally. The caption beneath their heads simply read “Traitors”.

No doubt all the tub-thumping made a few hundred Yes voters feel rather better about themselves. But it may have made a casual passer-by who, after prevaricating, voted No ten days ago less likely to regret their decision. “Don’t blame me I voted Yes” t-shirts don’t send much of an inclusive message. What, I asked one campaigner, do you say to those who voted No to convince them to plump for Yes in the future? “Open your eyes to all the lies.” 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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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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