Scottish Daily Mail

Nightmare of SNP’s Stalinist blueprint for a happy childhood

- GRAHAM Grant

IT PAVED the way for a seismic change in the relationsh­ip between the state and the family. But there was every chance this key moment could have gone unnoticed.

At a recent conference of childcare workers, a civil servant called Bob Fraser stood up and – in terms that appeared entirely reasonable – spelt out the importance of children receiving love and attention from their parents.

Anyone whose attention had wavered may have missed the import of Mr Fraser’s words: he wasn’t just saying children should be happy he was, in effect, saying it should be a legal requiremen­t.

As with all such obligation­s, someone has to deliver it and under the SNP that will be the role of the ‘named person’: state-appointed officials tasked with monitoring children’s developmen­t.

Ostensibly, these state guardians would be charged with ensuring that children are not neglected or abused, and that they do not disappear from the radar of the authoritie­s – a laudable ambition.

But Mr Fraser – who works for the Scottish Government’s Better Life Chances Unit as a ‘Getting It Right for Every Child’ adviser – outlined a disconcert­ing new dimension to the plan. Using jargon alien to most parents, he said: ‘It’s about linking positive well-being and positive outcomes for all children.

‘Not just the usual suspects, not just for those that we identify as those in need. Every child deserves to have positive well-being. We have had suggestion­s of different indicators, of love, hope and spirituali­ty.’

Mr Fraser explained that these ‘indicators’ could change in future or could be added to.


He told the NHS Health Scotland National Maternal and Early Years conference that there are ‘ many children and young people with needs who are not in the usual targeting or profiling groups’ and ‘we want to help young people achieve all they can be’.

It may have sounded at first like a calm explanatio­n of a sensible policy. But, in reality, what was presented was a chilling manifesto for effectivel­y outsourcin­g parenting to the state and to its legion of officials – the state guardians the SNP proposes to appoint for every child in Scotland up to the age of 18.

In essence, government officials have been quietly drawing up guidelines for a happy childhood – a kind of Stalinist, state-endorsed blueprint for a healthy and contented upbringing, which must be adhered to at all costs.

This idea of compulsory compliance with a set of government-imposed i deals i s, of course, a facet of totalitari­an states, which rely on the micromanag­ement and strict regulation of private and family life.

The ‘enforcers’ are the named persons themselves – mainly health visitors and head teachers – who will log perceived deficienci­es in the child, perhaps demanding confidenti­al medical records to back up their concerns.

The true extent of the SNP’s proposals has not become clear until now. The Nationalis­ts are trying to identify the constituen­t parts of a happy childhood, then invent a system to force it into being, in the process pushing recalcitra­nt parents aside: after all, what do they know about bringing up children?

In this context, the vague objectives of instilling ‘ hope’ and ‘spirituali­ty’ in children are particular­ly unsettling. If deemed to have failed to imbue your child with a sense of the ‘spiritual’, you could be called in for a conversati­on with your child’s named person.

By setting arbitrary yardsticks based on ‘love, hope and spirituali­ty’ – which, in any event, may seem more appropriat­e for a New Age commune – the named persons hope to uncover ‘problems’ that previously did not exist.

Parents may soon be asked imponderab­le questions such as: ‘Have you thought about imbuing your child with more hope?’ Or: ‘Did you realise your child was falling short on the “spirituali­ty” index?’

Hope is a subjective concept and once the state is in charge of its definition, the scope for its abuse becomes clear. Ultimately, why should the state have a clearer idea of what hope and happiness mean than parents, or anyone else?

Officials have been keen to point out that most families will not even come into sustained contact with their named person, which raises the question of why the scheme is universal in the first place – perhaps the most fundamenta­l objection to the entire project.

But Mr Fraser has exposed this claim as a deception: he is clear that the reach of the scheme will extend beyond the ‘ usual suspects’ – a rather derogatory term for the deeply dysfunctio­nal families that form the bulk of the workload for social workers.

Tomorrow, campaigner­s representi­ng Christian groups and other opponents of named persons are relaunchin­g a legal challenge against the legislatio­n at Scotland’s highest civil court, the Court of Session.

An earlier move failed when a judge rejected the argument that named persons fell foul of the European Convention on Human Rights (which protects the rights of illegal immigrants and criminals dodging deportatio­n, but not – it seems – ordinary parents).


But Lord Pentland admitted: ‘Nothing is known about the practical impact of the new system on any individual­s.’ This hardly seems a basis for such a radical strategy.

The Nationalis­ts are all too keen to claim the support of what they call ‘civic Scotland’ – churches, charities and other civic organisati­ons – for a range of their policies. However, the Catholic Church in Scotland – a key member of civic Scotland – has also intervened, to warn that named persons will lead to ‘unwarrante­d interferen­ce in family life’.

Yet Mr Fraser’s enthusiast­ic promotion of the policy is reflected at the highest levels of the SNP, where senior figures suspect some of the opposition to named persons is driven by a kind of snobbishne­ss. Why, senior Nationalis­ts ask, should the middle classes feel they are immune to the kind of problems that afflict what Mr Fraser (perhaps snobbishly) calls the ‘usual suspects’?

But the scale of intrusion proposed is far greater than most people realise.

Pivotal to the smooth operation of the system is the free flow of personal informatio­n between public bodies. The named person can demand sensitive personal informatio­n, for example, from the NHS, if they believe the circumstan­ces demand it. In fact, the named person will be assigned to children while they are still in the womb. Yet how many prospectiv­e parents are aware of this horrifying detail – an act of antenatal appropriat­ion by state officials?

It remains to be seen whether the SNP will l i sten to the Catholic Church and scrap the policy, without the need for judicial interventi­on.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson recently threw out moves to abolish corroborat­ion, the legal principle that two sources are required to back up evidence in criminal trials. This followed near-unanimous opposition from the judiciary and a backlash from much of the legal profession.

The law approving the state guardian scheme was passed in February, but it’s not too late for another U-turn. Legislatio­n could be introduced to repeal the named person section of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act.

Nicola Sturgeon has claimed repeatedly she wants to speak for the whole of the electorate – and here is an ideal chance for her to show she means it.

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