21 years on from the Section 2a fight

Posted on 17/02/2021


It’s LGBT+ history month and 21 years since Scotland was gripped by plans for a wild cat referendum. No, not on independence, but on keeping a ban on ‘promoting homosexuality in schools.’

This ban (known as Section 28 or 2a in Scotland) was used by local authorities to ban any discussion of same sex relationships in a positive context. Led by Labour minister Wendy Alexander, the Scottish Government planned for repeal.

But damning the Scottish Parliament as ‘Barmyrood’ for supporting plans for repeal, the Daily Record published a lengthy article titled:

If this is prejudice, I’m proud

Subtitled, ‘Gay way can never be happy,’ commentator Tom Brown went on, happily calling his piece the:

CONFESSIONS of a Gaybasher

But, it didn’t stop there, with the Record going onto slam the right of gay men to even kiss in public. The Scottish Daily Mail editorial called plans for repeal:

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

Cue Brian Souter, Stagecoach / MegaBus boss and millionaire, who bank-rolled a “Keep the Clause” campaign, with the Mail and the Daily Record as his campaign cheerleaders. The media organised a wildcat referendum, skewed to show public ‘opposition’ to repeal of the clause.

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. 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 former 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 / 2a 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 of a future independence referendum, it is further proof that Scotland will not become a socially-just, liberal paradise without hard work for those who believe in equality.

And it proves why LGBT+ history month is so important.

(And in case you were wondering why I have so many old press cuttings lying around my house, I was Equal Opportunities Adviser at Edinburgh Student Association during this time.)