What is the Scottish Union for Education?

by Connor Beaton

Despite what its innocuous name suggests, the Scottish Union for Education (SUE) is neither a trade union nor an advocate for the interests of teachers and teaching staff. Instead, it is an obscure political organisation with links to right-wing, far-right and evangelical Christian groups which has been set up for the narrow purpose of campaigning against sex education, LGBT+ inclusion and anti-racist teaching in Scottish primary and secondary schools.

The organisation’s chairperson and spokesperson is Dr Stuart Waiton, a senior lecturer in Abertay University’s sociology department who regularly contributes to the right-wing magazine Spiked (whose founders’ bizarre journey from the far-left to the libertarian right is well documented) and twice ran as a candidate for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in 2019, firstly in the European Parliament election and then for the Westminster constituency of Dundee West.

Waiton, a culture warrior hailed by the Daily Express as “one of the leading critics of ‘woke’ policies in society”, has close links to evangelical Christian groups, particularly The Christian Institute — supporting its recent campaigns against the child smacking ban and new hate crime laws. He is billed as a prominent supporter of its new Let Us Pray campaign against the proposed ban on LGBT+ conversion practices, which are proven to be linked to suicidality among LGBT+ people and have been described in a UN report as a form of torture.

These are fringe positions even among devout Christians in Scotland. In 2022, the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly “acknowledged the practice of conversion therapy is harmful and urged the Scottish Government to ban conversion therapy”. In spite of this, UK government research published in 2021 shows that most people who have experienced conversion practices did so at the hands of a “faith organisation or group”. Evangelical Christians campaigning for a religious exemption are, therefore, seeking to fundamentally undermine the proposed ban.

The Christian Institute is a well-funded organisation; its public accounts show it collected £3.6 million in 2021, almost exclusively through anonymous donations. It has previously collaborated with the US-based Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the Christian group responsible for bringing the case which last year saw the US Supreme Court overturn Roe v Wade in a ruling which legally nullified the bodily autonomy of millions, leading to an upswing in the surveillance and police harassment of vulnerable women. Millions of pounds have flowed into the UK from US-based evangelical groups as part of a global war on women’s and LGBT+ rights.

The ‘Education Not Indoctrination’ conference hosted in Glasgow in November 2022 provides evidence of a direct connection between The Christian Institute and SUE. The conference was organised by a group known as Hands Up Scotland “in association with” The Christian Institute, along with the Academy of Ideas (a think tank closely connected to Spiked), prominent anti-trans pressure group For Women Scotland, free speech absolutists and a parents’ group which unsuccessfully sought to raise money to sue the Scottish Government over face mask requirements in Scottish schools at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The miserable range of speakers at this conference notably included Richard Lucas, leader of the far-right Scottish Family Party. Lucas, formerly a member of UKIP, has compared gay relationships to incest, likened abortion to the Holocaust and openly maintains links with a key Scottish organiser for Patriotic Alternative, the extremist group best known for intimidating refugees and acting as a breeding ground for far-right terrorists. Waiton, who chaired the session in which Lucas spoke, has previously participated in events organised by his party.

Shortly after the Glasgow conference, the organising group Hands Up Scotland appears to have morphed into SUE – its Facebook group for supporters was quietly rebranded as such – and adopted the conference’s title, ‘Education Not Indoctrination’, as its official tagline.

Newsletters published by SUE contain, among other things, conspiratorial claims that the UN is co-ordinating a global push for the “sexual liberation of children, which is… lucrative for businesses”, condemnation of the supposed teaching in schools “that Britain is systematically racist” as “divisive, unethical and politically dangerous”, praise for Florida’s right-wing governor and aspiring presidential candidate Ron DeSantis for having “acted decisively to curb the teaching of gender ideology”, and climate denialism in the form of urging teachers to adopt “balance” and “question whether there could be any benefits to a warmer climate”.

Waiton describes himself as “an atheist on the left of politics” and attempts to frame his political activities as informed by his opposition to the state. In practice, his frequent collaboration with evangelical Christians only bolsters their insistence upon the traditional heterosexual family structure – a married male breadwinner and stay-at-home wife, raising their children in the same mould – as the only acceptable model of social organisation.

This patriarchal model, admired by the far-right for its strict hierarchy and essential dehumanisation of women, is incompatible with the liberation of working class people, women and LGBT+ people. Rather than opposing indoctrination, Waiton is for the exclusive right of parents to indoctrinate their children without challenge from the state or elsewhere.

The rebranding of Hands Up Scotland into the ‘Scottish Union for Education’ is a deliberate attempt to sow confusion with Scotland’s genuine teaching unions, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) and the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association (SSTA) – democratic organisations, led by teachers, which support inclusive education in line with the rest of the trade union movement. It must be openly condemned by Scotland’s teaching unions and its arguments taken no more seriously than those of any of the other small, insignificant right-wing and evangelical Christian groups which have come and gone before it.



Connor Beaton is a republican socialist based in Dundee, where he works as a journalist. He was one of tens of thousands of young people drawn into politics by the 2014 independence referendum campaign. He is now the secretary of the Republican Socialist Platform and a local organiser for the Radical Independence Campaign.

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