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No, Theresa May, the DUP will not join a formal coalition

The unionists have no interest in reducing their own leverage over a doomed prime minister.

Theresa May, according to ITV News' Robert Peston, has dispatched her chief whip, Gavin Williamson, to Belfast in the hope of negotiating a formal coalition with the DUP. Of all her rash and shortsighted moves on Northern Ireland, this is by some distance the most ridiculous.

Why? Because, as the DUP themselves have made abundantly and repeatedly clear, they have no interest in entering into a formal, full-blown coalition. Nigel Dodds said so in 2015, when the six months before the election were dominated by talk of how David Cameron and Ed Miliband would cobble together a commons majority.

I am reliably told the same is true now. Entering into a formal coalition would reduce the party's substantial leverage over the government. They have no interest in doing so. The eight DUP MPs in the last parliament were very useful indeed to a government hobbled by a slim majority. The 10 in this one are essential to its slim chances of surviving. While some codified deal is possible, it is unlikely to be a coalition as popularly understood. 

Nor do they want to be shackled formally to a prime minister who, as Arlene Foster is concerned, is more or less finished. The DUP leader said yesterday that it would be "difficult" for May to survive such a disappointing election result. As the best-practiced bargain drivers in the commons, her party will not want to be contractually obliged to act as a doomed May's life support machine. If they wouldn't do it for Cameron, they certainly wouldn't do it for his irredeemably tarnished successor.

Then there are the politics of Northern Ireland itself. Mainland commentators have seemed to suggest with various degrees of sincerity – and, indeed, familiarity with objective reality – that the DUP would be willing to tear up Northern Ireland's post-Troubles settlement for the sake of some pork barrel spending and, even more implausibly, a state attack on women's and LGBT rights across the UK. (The 1967 Abortion Act does not apply in Northern Ireland, and the DUP oppose its extension to the province, as is the case with equal marriage legislation). 

This, to put it plainly, is nonsense. While the DUP's approach to the devolved institutions has often left much to be desired, there is no reason to disbelieve its politicians when they say they would like to see a devolved executive restored, even if their terms for restoration are unacceptable to Sinn Fein.

Despite the sectarian posturing that is inherent to Northern Irish politics, there is, in 2017, one fundamental point of consensus. And that, in the words of one DUP MP, is that the Troubles – and the long years of direct rule – were "crap". The unionists want a good deal but not at any cost. Nobody has any interest in Northern Ireland becoming an ungovernable basket case again (not least the parties that get to run it), which is what May risks by attempting to broker a deal with the DUP which goes way beyond the backroom schmoozing of the last parliament.

Nor does the DUP, which has played its hand well in the months following the collapse of the executive, want to look in any way culpable for anything that further exacerbates the impasse. That is why, unlike the Prime Minister, they have been very careful indeed not to commit publicly to anything specific. And that is why Theresa May is wasting her time seeking a formal coalition.

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.

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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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