The unwelcome political return of Mr Megabus

Posted on 04/09/2014

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Section 28 Scottish media coverageThe No campaign in the Scottish Referendum may have issues with its sexist and patronising adverts, but Sir Brian Souter’s appearance on the BBC last night serves as a reminder that the Yes campaign has its fair share of undesirable views.

Let’s go back to 1999/2000 and what the Scottish Daily Mail editorial called:

Labour’s Poll Tax … a seriously destabilising force in Scottish society

Immigration? War? Declining industry?

No, the repeal of anti-gay Section 28 (or 2A) in Scotland, which had been used to prevent discussion of homosexulaity in schools.

Cue Brian Souter, Stagecoach / MegaBus / South West Trains boss and millionaire, who bank-rolled a “Keep the Clause” campaign, with the Mail and the Daily Record as his campaign cheerleaders.

In the days before mass online media, the invaluable Scottish Media Monitor website was a key resource for quotes detailing the febrile atmosphere at the time in Scotland (which I remember only too well). With that site gone, some of the key posts have been extracted from their original home in ScotsGay magazine and re-published below.

The Sun’s editorial screamed:

God put his own son in a household with a mum and dad… We are the ones who are today grateful to Brian Souter,the raiding of his charitable fund, and the righteous stirring of sensible Scots everywhere. To use a Biblical term, the thought of removing Section 28 is an abomination. To use another, the idea deserves the same fate as Sodom and Gomorrah.[Feb 2000]

Former Sun columnist, Labour turncoat and SNP Deputy Leader, Jim Sillars bizarrely warned that repeal would lead to:

The sperm of homosexuals conveyed artificially to women’s ovaries, in order to give homosexuals full rights [Feb 2000]

The Scotland on Sunday allowed bigots, like archetypal “nasty party-man” Gerald Warner, to exclaim:

Homofascism is now, aggressively and shamelessly, the ideology of the Scottish Executive…The useful idiot fronting this offensive is Wendy Alexander, the thirty-something Minithter for Communitieth [sic]… These are the dark forces which will blight the next generation if a stand is not made against them. [Feb 2000]

And that the Scottish Executive showed:

Every malign instinct to make society more squalid by marginalizing marriage, normal family life and heterosexuality…[May 2000]

As the campaign built up a head of steam, gay-bashings in Scotland reportedly increased. The Herald (28/1/2000) warned of increases in homophobic bullying in schools. Some pro-repeal journalists, like the Sunday Herald’s Iain Macwhirter, were even being threatened:

Even newspaper editors are being threatened by [anti-repeal] sinister figures on the fringes of Scottish media life. Some gay journalists are seriously thinking about leaving the country altogether.

The Scottish School Boards Association and other members of the coalition pulled out of the Keep the Clause campaign saying they had been hijacked by Media House (Sunday Herald, 30/1/2000), the PR agency which worked on the campaign.

Media House’s boss PR-man Jack Irvine still represents clients including the UK’s Dairy industry and the New Zealand High Commission (he claimed to be “no bigot” despite ScotsGay reporting at the time that he denounced “slobbering queers” and PR-ed both anti-gay US evangelical preacher Pat Robertson, and the Daily Record).

Section 28 may be long gone now, but this was a hideous chapter in the history of Scottish life, orchestrated by Souter and his cronies. And whatever the result on the 18th September, it proves that Scotland will not become a socially-just, liberal paradise without hard work for those who believe in equality.

But then a Sunday Times interviewer in April 2000 also noted that Souter:

Says he did not experience such a [gay teenage] crush himself, but has a close friend who did…