Scottish Daily Mail
Nightmare of SNP’s Stalinist blueprint for a happy childhood
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.