Scottish parents don’t want a smacking ban

Reading the announcement that the Scottish government plans to criminalise parents who smack their children, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that child abuse is already illegal. But rather than serving to protect children, banning smacking will mean that even the slightest disciplinary tap will be treated as abuse.

But this isn’t just about smacking. For campaigners in support of the ban, being a parent isn’t a messy, sometimes frustrating, banal but also joyful part of everyday life – it’s a series of evidence-based techniques. To them, everyday parents are woefully inept at the tough business of family life. Smacking is symbolic of parenting styles with which they are deeply suspicious – that is, anything besides their own faddish ‘positive parenting’. Woe betide anyone who fails to consult the literature before disciplining their child; they’re coming for you next.

There are many ways to raise children, and we’re all entitled to our opinion. But we are not entitled to prosecute those who don’t share our views – this is precisely what anti-smacking crusaders are trying to do.

The current law recognises the unique responsibilities of parents. However, this ‘unique relationship’ is highly suspect to campaigners, who frequently state that children should be given the same rights as adults. It sounds nice, but it is actually a degraded view of the parent-child relationship, seeing it as no different than two strangers passing each other in the street. It takes Margaret Thatcher’s famous line ‘there is no society’ to its logical extreme. From this perspective, there are no families – only individual men, women, children and the authorities.

Parents frequently have to intervene in their children’s lives in order to protect their health and wellbeing. That’s why the unique relationship between parent and child is recognised in law. Confidence in our instincts and abilities as parents can only be undermined by the intervention of busybodies who feel that they know best. The refusal of the Scottish cultural elite to accept this reflects their deep suspicion of ordinary parents.

It is worth noting that this change in legislation is not being demanded by the public. Indeed, smacking bans are one manifestation of the sorry state of democracy in some countries. New Zealand banned smacking in 2007 in spite of fierce opposition. The result of a 2009 referendum on smacking, in which 87 per cent voted to overturn the ban, was completely ignored. Scotland is no different. Indeed, the SNP’s election manifesto specifically promised that the party would not criminalise smacking. Instituting a ban now would belie the claim that Scots live in a functioning democracy.

Policymakers need to ask themselves to whom they are accountable – their own constituents (the vast majority of whom oppose the criminalisation of smacking) or a small group of cultural elites who consider themselves parenting experts?

Ashley Frawley is a lecturer in sociology and the author of Semiotics of Happiness: Rhetorical Beginnings of a Public Problem.

Ashley is at the, Battle of Ideas on Sunday 29 October.

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