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The settled will of the Scottish people?

THREE MONTHS into the sparkling new millennium and detectives in England and Wales are said to be overwhelmed by the potential extent of the networking of paedophile activities and child abuse currently surfacing.

Operation React is a massive inquiry, and will last up to five years. The cases involve thousands of boys between the ages of 10 and 16 previously in care - possibly 20 per cent of the total. Scotland has not been without scandals and court cases: no room for complacency here.

An upbringing in a local authority's euphemistically named "care" has traditionally cheated the vulnerable in less dramatic ways. Teachers are only too aware of the link to academic disadvantage, poor educational outcome and low self-esteem.

A further routine disgrace is the fact that too many institutionalised young people found themselves on their own at 16, never having budgeted, shopped for food or learnt to prepare a simple meal. Lacking friends and shelter they are greatly at risk from the predatory and paedophilic-minded, not helped of course by this Government's intention to lower the age of consent to 16.

Bureaucratic inertia and flawed social work ideology have denied too many "care" children the possibility of consistent long-term parenting by foster or adoptive parents. Sadly, these children are over-represented among the homeless, long-term unemployed, street beggars, drug users. They may drift into abuse, exploitation or the gay lifestyle without ever having had the luxury of an alternative life-path choice.

Brian Souter's campaign to retain Section 28 and the recent survey by the Scottish School Board Association of boards' opinions have raised accusations of naivete and discrimination by the trendy and politically correct. But the sight of Donald Dewar's ditherers on the Mound split down the middle by the argument as to whether "marriage" (prsumably heterosexual) or "stable family life" (presumably open to interpretation) should be promoted has been both amusing and unedifying.

The settled will of the Scottish people? Politicians should beware of scorning the values of middle Scotland. The folk who sit on school boards are probably those who by and large believe that the ideal when achievable is stable family life with both a reliable mother and father figure. Most teachers would probably not argue with the undesirability of teenage boys having no male role model (or for that matter, no female role model).

School board members and other community activists are probably trying their best for their own children whatever their individual circumstances. They may even subscribe to the view of the Kirk in the present debate that parents should take greater responsibility for guiding their young through the moral maze.

They may also subscribe to the rational view that mostly the propensity towards a homosexual lifestyle, just like the propensity to high intelligence or heart disease, is not just genetically determined. It is also a product of family environment, social context, media and peer pressure.

Community-minded adults the length and breadth of Scotland are increasingly aware of the vulnerability of "care" children and the criminal abandonment so many have suffered in their precious growing-up years.

Public support for retaining Section 28 may be irrational. After all, the legislation has not resulted in a single prosecution of a local authority. It originally came into existence on account of the antics of the far left . . .

remember those little books distributed in certain London boroughs with pictures of four-year-old Jenny in bed with Eric and Martin?

Okay, Section 28 is not a Scottish problem, but opposition to its removal surely comes from the heart.

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