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Jack Irvine of Keep the Clause
"This decision is an affront to democracy"
 real 28k

ERS chief executive Ken Ritchie
"Our professional balloters do not want to compromise their intergrity"
 real 28k

Brian Taylor, political editor
"I'm sure ministers will be relieved if this referendum is stalled"
 real 28k

Equality Network lawyer Derek Ogg
"Millionaires are not going to privatise our democracy"
 real 28k

Friday, 31 March, 2000, 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK
Souter poll hits major setback
Brian Souter graphic
The decision is a blow for businessman Mr Souter
Stagecoach millionaire Brian Souter has suffered a major setback in his proposals for a referendum on reform of Section 28.

Mr Souter had hoped to commission Electoral Reform Ballot Services to organise the poll on proposals to change legislation governing teaching on homosexuality in Scottish schools.

However, the Electoral Reform Society, which owns ERBS, said it would not be offering its services to the Keep the Clause.

I have seldom come across a more gutless, spineless bunch of people in my life

Keep the Clause spokesman
In a statement, ERBS said it felt the referendum would not be a "legitimate democratic exercise" and denied it had been put under any pressure from the Scottish Executive.

Keep the Clause campaigners, who have been promised more than 1m from Mr Souter to fund their fight, have consistently argued that the executive has proposed repeal of Section 28 but failed to give clear guidelines on what would replace it.

However, that allegation has been strongly denied by ministers who said new rules would be put in place, safeguarding key elements of lifestyle teaching such as the importance of marriage in teaching.

In an ironic twist, the ERBS, in declining to carry out the poll, concurred with the Keep the Clause argument that there were no clear and legally enforceable replacement guidelines and therefore it would be difficult to frame a balanced ballot paper.
Jack Irvine
Jack Irvine: Fierce attack
In a statement, it said: "The guidelines that are proposed to replace Section 28 are a very important element in the debate, a fact confirmed by the Keep the Clause campaign's own continued pressure to influence them.

"The more ERBS have considered the issue, the more they have become convinced that it would not be a legitimate democratic exercise to ask people to give an opinion on the repeal of Section 28 without knowing the detail of what would replace it."

The decision drew a fierce response from Keep the Clause spokesman Jack Irvine.

He told BBC Scotland: "I have seldom come across a more gutless, spineless bunch of people in my life.

"We're utterly appalled by their decision, we think it's an affront to democracy."
Keep the Clause
Campaigners want to keep Section 28
"The society's mission statement says they give effective representation to all significant points of view within the electorate. Well, they've got a very funny way of showing it."

First Minister Donald Dewar said the decision has exposed the faults in what would have been Britain's first privately funded referendum.

He said: "It shows that there are complexities and difficulties in this kind of populist approach.

Public democracy

"It sits uneasily with parliamentary democracy and I can well understand that the Electoral Reform Society doesn't want to be associated with it.

"I hope Mr Souter will reconsider the matter."

Derek Ogg, lawyer for the gay group the Equality Network, said he believed the society had done the right thing.

He said: "This is a democracy, a public democracy. Millionaires...may have made their millions in privatisation of everything else in Scotland but they're not going to privatise our democracy."

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See also:

28 Mar 00 | Scotland
Delay for Souter's Section 28 poll
26 Mar 00 | Scotland
Activists back Section 28 repeal
20 Mar 00 | Scotland
Section 28 protesters back down
21 Mar 00 | Scotland
Churches in Section 28 plea
16 Mar 00 | Education
Section 28 debate a 'charade'
06 Mar 00 | UK
The Section 28 battle
15 Mar 00 | Scotland
Boards seek S28 word change
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