Good riddance to the Named Person scheme

At last, Scotland’s Orwellian child-watching regime is being scrapped.

Stuart Waiton

Topics Politics UK

The Named Person scheme in Scotland was one of those government initiatives which, even in this era of authoritarianism, made your jaw drop.

The plan was to give every child, from birth, a state-appointed guardian to oversee their wellbeing. It faced some opposition from Conservative MSPs, but it nonetheless passed in the Scottish Parliament as part of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.

I wrote an email to everyone I could find who opposed the Named Person scheme and, helped by Conservative MSP Liz Smith, set up the first meeting that eventually led to the creation of the NO2NP campaign. This campaign, funded by the Christian Institute, was launched in 2014. In 2016, the Supreme Court ruled against the Scottish government, insisting that the Named Person scheme breached the rights to privacy and family life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Ever since, the Scottish government has attempted to hold on to the initiative, organising meetings and consultations to try to save it. But to no avail. Scottish education secretary John Swinney has now announced that the scheme will be scrapped.

This is a major humiliation for the Scottish government – indeed for much of the political and professional class, huge numbers of whom supported the Named Person scheme and branded those who opposed it as ‘extremists’.

However, before the case was taken to the Supreme Court, the Scottish Court of Session had described the case made by NO2NP as ‘hyperbole’ and said the Named Person scheme would have ‘no effect whatsoever on legal, moral or social relationships within the family’. As Jon Holbrook rightly pointed out on spiked at the time, even the Supreme Court ruling was problematic, because despite the court’s specific concerns about data-sharing, it still described the essence of the act as being fundamentally legitimate.

The named persons – from health visitors to nursery workers to headteachers – would have been tasked with overseeing the wellbeing of every child in Scotland. All workers who had contact with children – doctors, nurses, and so on – were to share information with the named person if they had ‘wellbeing concerns’. But what is a wellbeing concern? Answer: almost anything. The highly therapeutic idea of wellbeing, especially when coupled with an exaggerated sense of childhood vulnerability and officialdom’s growing distrust of parents, meant that the potential for intrusion into family life was extraordinary.

In the eyes of the professional classes (who now have a moralised sense of themselves as protectors of the vulnerable), opponents of the Named Person scheme were just irrational throwbacks to a world were privacy meant doing whatever you liked ‘behind closed doors’. For most ordinary people, however, the act was a step too far, an invitation to greater official interference in everyday life. The Named Person scheme was yet another issue that demonstrated the growing separation between the new elite and most of the population.

The scrapping of the Named Person scheme is very welcome. But a problem remains: the ethos behind the scheme – the suspicion of ordinary families and the presumption that parents and children need support in every part of their lives – is still intact. Support for early intervention into kids’ lives and a preoccupation with ‘wellbeing’ are still widespread in the professional classes.

But for now, we can take pleasure in watching the Scottish government squirm in response to us ‘extremists’ who dared to think that parents are better than professionals at bringing up their kids.

Stuart Waiton is a sociology and criminology lecturer at Abertay University in Dundee.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics UK


adrian lord

23rd September 2019 at 9:02 pm

There is a smaller but no less sinister scheme in England – Operation Encompass. I only heard about it 10 days ago when my daughter’s school imposed it upon us collectively as parents without any consent or consultation.

This is the “Safeguarding” agenda now totally out of control, and used to justify State intrusion and interference in family and domestic life. It is the Stasi and Gestapo all over again….for your own good of course!

James Knight

23rd September 2019 at 6:41 pm

But sadly the culture that gave rise to this scheme – the institutionalised distrust of parents – is alive and well. And chillingly they still defend the scheme on the grounds it was “well intentioned”. Well the social workers involved in the notorious satanic abuse panic were no doubt “well intentioned”. When the FBI raided the Waco compound it was done in the name of protecting children. It tragically proved the old maxim that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

What is especially pernicious about this kind of scheme is how it can undermine trust. You cannot put the price of eroded trust on a calculator and it does not likely feature in any “evidence based” policy making. So it automatically has attached to it a value of precisely zero. Such is the way of thinking of the Nasty Parties in Scotland.

John Hamilton

23rd September 2019 at 1:08 pm

I absolutely agree with this article, but can’t help pointing out that this Orwellian law was only struck down because the judiciary was able to overrule a democratically elected assembly, on the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights, a treaty signed by the UK with 46 other states. This is absolutely right and proper, but it does show that spiked’s apparent belief that nothing should stand in the way of democratic majorities could have rather authoritarian implications. I for one am grateful both for judicial ‘interference’ and international treaties that place an obstacle in the path of the ever-expanding authoritarian state.

James Knight

23rd September 2019 at 6:51 pm

How was the law passed in the first place? How much debate was there? Was it even in a manifesto? These things are usually passed by a cliques and devolved assemblies have little more credibility than a Student Union.

And it seems the SC ruling was quite weak, from what I heard the focus was on data protection issues.

James Hillier

23rd September 2019 at 11:30 am

Part 4 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, the part which laid out (with many yawning gaps) the plans for Named Person, was an unholy mess. And many, many people not only pointed this out to ministers, but suggested ways in which the Scottish Government could back out of it without losing face. Sadly, ministers were resolute, tin-eared and arrogant.

The tragic thing is, if Named Person had been what its advocates falsely claimed — a single point of contact for children who had severe problems, and whose parents needed a way to deal with multiple agencies efficiently and the same for children who had been identified as being at risk — it could have been a very good thing for families and children.

But MSPs, in their arrogance, had to try and apply this scheme to all children. At the same time, they reduced the threshold for intervention, and sharing of data between agencies, from the legally defined “risk of harm” to the nebulous “wellbeing”. And they not only empowered but obliged teachers, doctors and other care professionals to record hearsay and supposition on a child’s permanent record.

The potential for misunderstandings and clashes of personality, between parents and professionals, to contribute to the creation of a false record of parental failure, with the most serious consequences for children and parents, was both obvious and appalling. Yet MSPs, minister and professionals asked to reconsider Named Person were determined to see no evil and hear no evil.

In Westminster, there seems often to be a revolving door between government and business. Though I am sure the same is true of Holyrood to an extent, the Scottish Parliament appears to have a far greater problem with its overly intimate and uncritical relationship to the third sector and to social state. More distance is urgently required, if we are to avoid a repetition of this mess every decade.

John Stephenson

23rd September 2019 at 10:54 am

Well done Stuart and everyone else in NO2NP. As Michael Lynch says below (above? I’m not sure the order these comments will appear), a welcome chink of light and all too rare these days.
My wife is from Scotland and we’ve thought before about moving there but the SNPs attitude/policies is a major turn-off for me especially the Named Persons scheme as we’re starting a family.

Michael Lynch

23rd September 2019 at 9:27 am

At last, a chink of reason and sanity. The populace has had enough of this Big Brother nonsense. Could they not see that this policy was open to all sorts of abuse? Who was going to watch the watchers for instance? The SNP’s authoritarianism has eventually started to crumble. Like the Labour Party and Lib Dems, they are starting to implode.

Jim Lawrie

23rd September 2019 at 11:22 am

Their glum, po-faced attitude to everything is what gets the rest of us a bad name.
Their dourness now darkens beyond their own shores. Not quite the internationalism they credit themselves with.

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