The Scottish state’s reckless war on parents

Parenting diktats and state surveillance will do more harm than good.

Jamie Gillies

Topics Politics UK

The American comic Groucho Marx said that politics is the art of ‘looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies’. This cynical observation rings true when you consider recent diktats on parenting pushed by Scotland’s political elites.

Holyrood’s legislation on the family has become increasingly authoritarian. In 2014, Scots were subjected to the controversial Named Person scheme, and this month MSPs voted to criminalise parental smacking. The impetus for these illiberal laws is a well-intentioned but flawed attempt to improve child protection.

Finding trouble everywhere

In recent years, Scotland has witnessed awful instances of child abuse which were not caught by the authorities in time. These tragic cases produce a visceral reaction from the public, who rightly demand answers and assurances that they will not happen again. Politicians have a duty to respond with direct action.

However, a totally justifiable desire to improve child protection has led to sweeping proposals that place every family under suspicion. In seeking to improve safeguarding, politicians have looked for trouble and found it everywhere.

Under the Named Person scheme, the Scottish government wanted to appoint a ‘state guardian’ for every child – regardless of the need or the wishes of parents. Although a statutory version of the scheme never actually came into force, and was abandoned by the Scottish government this year, pilot versions of the scheme were run by local authorities across Scotland from 2014. Non-statutory Named Persons – quickly dubbed ‘state snoopers’ – were encouraged to gather information on families, on everything from a child’s happiness levels to whether or not they were allowed to watch their preferred TV programmes.

Before long, parents began to report that Named Persons were engaging in creepy and unnecessary meddling in the family home. In 2016, a respected academic at one of Scotland’s top universities learned that Named Persons had secretly compiled a 60-page dossier on his two sons. The document included ‘concerns’ that one child sucked his thumb and had a nappy rash. The academic told Scotland on Sunday: ‘I felt angry and powerless when I saw these notes made of very trivial things and constant surveillance of small things that are part of everyday parenting – a total lack of respect and confidence in the parents.’

That ‘lack of respect and confidence’ is equally apparent when it comes to the smacking ban, voted into law earlier this month. Until now, the law in Scotland prohibited all violence against children but allowed parents to use very mild discipline – like a tap on the hand or the backside – without them being labelled an abuser. When the smacking ban comes into force in 2020, parents who smack a child will be committing a criminal offence and could end up in the dock.

Proponents of a smacking ban assume that parents who smack their children have lost control or are seeking to harm them in some way. Many in the political class seem unable to comprehend that a parent who taps his or her child on the hand does so out of love – to show that reaching out for a hot thing will cause harm or to instil a sense of right and wrong at an age when verbal reasoning is not possible.

An incorrect diagnosis

These authoritarian proposals show that politicians have made an incorrect diagnosis. They believe the problem is that state monitoring and intervention in families is not carried out rigorously enough or does not start at a young enough age. Policymakers repeatedly speak of a need for ‘early intervention’ in families to try to ensure state-approved outcomes for children.

Not all academics are convinced that a lack of intervention is the problem. Dr Stuart Waiton, a sociologist and outspoken critic of the Named Person scheme, has roundly condemned the many recent attempts by politicians and professionals to ‘intervene and educate us all on how to be correct parents’. Early intervention, he says, assumes that every problem in the family can, and perhaps should be, addressed by the state. But the state makes for a lousy parent.

Applying the wrong remedies

The Named Person scheme and the smacking ban are two wrong remedies to problems with safeguarding. One of the reasons cases of child abuse are sometimes missed is that beleaguered professionals are overworked, leading to more frequent errors. (Some staff may be incompetent, too.) There may be many solutions to these problems, but loading yet more work on to child-protection professionals is certainly not one of them.

In legislating for these proposals, politicians have inadvertently ramped up the pressure on professionals and have expanded their remit beyond what is reasonable. The smacking ban will result in social workers and others pursuing hundreds of ordinary parents who have disciplined their children, instead of focusing on identifying and tackling genuine child abuse.

In order to improve safeguarding procedures and help identify vulnerable children in years to come, Scotland’s political elites need to give up the parenting diktats, which put every family in the crosshairs, and instead lend help where it is truly needed.

Jamie Gillies is spokesman for the Be Reasonable Scotland campaign against moves to criminalise parental smacking. If you live in Wales, sign the Be Reasonable Wales petition against the Welsh government’s plans here.

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Coram Deo

7th November 2019 at 8:37 pm

How can anyone feign a real concern for children by –

1. Undermining parental authority (Names Person Scheme)
2. Outlawing legitimate deterrents (Smacking Ban)
3. Encouraging and promoting the murder of children (abortion)
4. Subjecting innocent minds to pornography, sodomy, masturbation and every kind of sexual deviancy (Sex Education)
Children belong to their parents – NOT the state.

John Marks

7th November 2019 at 6:57 pm

It seems Scotland is being used as an experimental test-ground by the Globalists for total control of the population.
And threatening the parent-child bond is about as low as you can go.
It seems the “Scottish Nationalist Party” is nothing of the sort and will be the midwife for the first totally controlled population.
What’s happened to Scots’ sense of true independence and irreverence?

James Knight

7th November 2019 at 6:22 pm

The Scottish Nasty Party is out of control.

Ven Oods

7th November 2019 at 11:59 am

On the other hand, should your child prove uncontrollable, you just drop it off at Holyrood with a cheery “You sort it; I can’t!”

Jim Lawrie

7th November 2019 at 9:43 am

When in discussion with proponents of this Scottish Stasi-ism, I always declare that neither myself nor anyone connected to me stands to gain career wise or financially in any way from these proposals. It is surprising how many of them cannot say the same. One creep tried to avoid the question by saying he was due to retire soon. I pointed out that retired and connected ex public sectors “professionals” like him were exactly who was in line for the contracts, and that he knew that.
It is not an argument directly against the proposals, but it certainly torpedoes the credibility of many of its supporters and calls into question their principles, or lack thereof.
BTW that guy started to explain how it would have to be professionals (meaning himself) that did this “important work”. I would like, at this point, to be able to say that I intended that as a baited hook, but I didn’t. Sometimes you just get lucky, and some people just cannot resist.
His expertise was giving first aid, hygiene and handling training to care workers in the field of adults with learning disabilities. He opposed the “Stay up Late” campaign because he thought those people should not be encouraged to drink.

The same people, under a different umbrella during the Independence Referendum Campaign, enacted a campaign of identifying, photographing and collating into a central database “Better Together” Activists, for use after independence had been won. Such activists to be treated with “merciless contempt” said the organiser.

The heavy reliance on the public sector of The Scottish Economy and The Scottish People puts enormous power in the hands of The Scottish Parliament and government at all levels. The SNP want to increase that reach at every level, and are utterly hostile to the private sector. Except for the awarding of contracts to the right people/their people.

Tim Hare

7th November 2019 at 9:34 am

A tap on the hand is not a smack and it is dishonest to equate the two. A smack intends to cause physical pain. Some parents justify this deliberate attempt to cause pain as being discipline or a way to teach a child. Many parents say that it is necessary to cause pain because the child is unable to be reasoned with. If it cannot be reasoned with how can it understand that the violence inflicted upon it is reasonable?

The child learns that its parents can resort to violence at any given time. This creates great suspicion about its own behaviour. It cannot tell which behaviours will cause pain at the hands of its parents. It makes no sense of this violence and grows up expecting violence without reason to occur as a matter of course.

There are many options open to parents to get their message across. If they do not know how to do this without resorting to physical violence then they should not be parents. Smacking should be dealt with by the state like all violent acts that inflict pain.

Jim Lawrie

7th November 2019 at 11:37 am

In an ideal world ….

The next step from your premise is the banning of verbal violence.

You do not trust parents. The law as was dealt with the violent ones.
The change was not in the SNP manifesto.
You support the legislative imputation of criminal intent because you know it cannot be proved. It cannot be demonstrated because it is not there, as Brendan O’Neill showed in his article on here. Have you any idea how dangerous it is to relieve the prosecution of that burden?

Tim Hare

7th November 2019 at 1:06 pm

There is no such thing as verbal violence. Violence by definition is physical.
I don’t trust anyone who tries to solve a problem by the use of violence.

Lord Anubis

7th November 2019 at 1:51 pm

All Animals use physical force to enforce rules and establish the hierarchy. Pecking order is called Pecking order for a reason. Pain =/= permanent physical/psychological harm and appropriate (Always the difficult thing to define) and timely application of it can help prevent a whole load of future problems.

The behaviour and discipline problems in schools today are utterly beyond the comprehension of somebody such as myself who attended school in the 1960’s. It is like “If” every day now. And yes, I think there is a direct link between the failure to apply a good spanking at the appropriate time by a teacher or parent and the world we live in today where a significant proportion of all homicides are now involving school children stabbing (And sometimes even shooting) one another.

Back in the day, every schoolboy (And a good many schoolgirls) carried knives of various types, air pistols were pretty common too. And you know what. Hardly anybody ever got hurt and even when they did it was mostly by accident (Perhaps in a game of “Split the Kipper” that went wrong. Look it up)

The idea that the day would come when schoolchildren killing one another would ever become so routine that it isn’t even news any more would have been utterly beyond belief.

But hey, spanking naughty children is wrong! 🙁

Tim Hare

7th November 2019 at 9:30 pm

Human beings are not ‘all animals’. Human beings have the capacity to reason and teach reason to children at the appropriate level.

Children who behave out of fear of their parent’s violence are not behaving reasonably. If they are too young to be reasoned with then you have to find other ways to teach. The idea is to teach not punish by physical violence.

There is no ‘pecking order’ – all human beings including children have a right to respect. That includes the right to be free of physical harm at the hands of others.

John Marks

7th November 2019 at 7:10 pm

Children trust their parents, Mr Hare.
They conclude that if they were physically chastized, it was for good reason.
Where it isn’t for good reason, and the parents are “violent” (a tiny minority), the child will show signs and, sooner or later, a good school or social system will pick it up.
We had a good system before this malign State intervention.
Exceptional cases make bad law, Mr Hare.
Perhaps you didn’t trust your parents?
Because they were violent to you?
And you seek revenge by giving all children over to the Plutocracy?

Tim Hare

7th November 2019 at 9:24 pm

Children do not trust their parents – they are too young to know what trust even is. The whole rationale behind the physical violence is to teach them what they are unable to comprehend by reason. But physical violence is admission of failure on the part of parents. If a parent cannot find another way to teach right from wrong then that is their problem and the state should enforce the fact that it is their problem.

It is not a good system when violence is the answer to any problem.

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