Digging in deep over Section 2A

19th May 2000 at 01:00
THE Executive continues to be wrongfooted by the Section 2A (or 28) story, despite Labour's much vaunted claims to media management. Last week keep-the-clause campaigners appeared for the first time discomfited: the national ballot was throwing up a succession of stories of muddle and mischief. But the Executive intervened to announce a concession, through an amendment to the Standards in Schools Bill. Immediately the harsh spotlight beamed back on ministers and their backbenchers, who had not been forewarned. Pro-clause campaigners subjected the amendment to scrutiny that would gain them a chair in biblical exegesis.

Ministers continually ignore the advice that if you are in a hole, stop digging. Every concession they make seems a victory for Brian Souter's well funded campaign. No concession short of retaining Section 2A will be enugh. It is only when the retentionists' own credibility is put on the line, for example, in launching the so-called referendum, that flaws appear for ministers and the media to exploit.

The relief that appeared to sweep across the chamber when the compromise amendment was moved may prove shortlived. Politicians cannot control the campaigners and themselves remain open to constituency pressures. Yet it has to be stressed over and over that no Scottish pupils have been exposed to homosexual propaganda in school, and none will ever be because teachers do not need deterrent statute on top of professional training and common sense.

Giving ministers powers to issue guidance on the conduct of sex education, as the amendment provides, is superfluous. And it won't send the most committed campaigners back to their conventicles.

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