The Courier & Advertiser (Angus and Dundee)
‘McStasi’ is not working
Today the Scottish parliament will debate the SNP’s highly controversial Named Person scheme which is due to come into force this August. The government will be challenged by opponents to the proposals that will see every child in Scotland being appointed an adult minder other than their parents.
The Scottish Conservatives are leading the onslaught against the policy, which they say was one of the big issues raised during the recent election campaign and continues to provoke mounting disquiet among the public.
Now a poll has found that almost two-thirds of Scots are against the plan, dubbed by some the ‘McStasi’, a reference to communist East Germany’s secret police who spied on their countrymen.
The poll, conducted by Survation, revealed a growing backlash against the idea – even 54% of those who voted for the SNP last month said the law was an unacceptable intrusion.
In light of such a rising consensus against its legislation, the Nationalists would be well advised to reconsider rushing through the scheme.
Nicola Sturgeon had said, when she failed to win an overall parliamentary majority on May 5, that she would seek agreement with other parties over major reforms. This would be an ideal opportunity to put her new approach into practice.
But so far there is no sign the SNP will tone down or postpone its scheme, which critics say is not only an unjustified assault on family life but will divert scarce social care resources away from where they are needed most.
A timely and terrifying example of this is the tragic case of Liam Fee.
The Fife-based toddler was murdered by his mother and her partner, despite being apparently under the protection of a version of a Named Person scheme, which was being piloted in the region.
Of course there is no amount of state intervention that can prevent every case of child cruelty, and the awful facts of the Fee murder trial serve as a reminder of this.
Liam Fee had been brought to the attention of the authorities on many occasions but still managed to slip through all the council, educational and medical safeguards.
There will now be an inquiry into what went wrong in his case, but clearly it is not an isolated one and does seem to underline the obvious flaws of potential do-gooding exercises.
While no doubt inspired by noble intentions, the Named Person scheme places an unnecessary strain on the over-stretched social services with its blanket monitoring of all children.
Anyone under 18 will be encouraged to rely on these state selected guardians, who must ensure the youngsters are ‘safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible and included’.
If a child fails to meet these vague, state defined criteria of ‘wellbeing’, its Named Person has the authority to take the matter to the NHS, the police, social workers, and various government bodies.
Senior social workers I have spoken to complain bitterly about their inability to cope with their caseloads as it is, with departments constantly under-manned and under-funded.
The social worker assigned to Liam Fee was reportedly off sick and no one was appointed to replace her.
What is needed is a complete change of culture, not ‘yet another system’, said Trisha Hall of the Scottish Association of Social Workers.
Fears of parents
The widespread anger over the SNP’s plans are grounds to at least delay the scheme’s roll-out across Scotland so it can be better scrutinised, but there is not much hope of that.
Sturgeon has said the fears of parents and professionals are ‘unfounded’ and John Swinney has rounded on those who have linked Liam Fee’s death to Named Persons.
While one did not cause the other it is surely relevant to bring up social care in Fife, the local authority the government is using as its test bed.
Yet Swinney and others in his party have denounced critics for politicising the scheme.
This is extraordinary. Named Persons is a political policy devised by a political party; if we are not allowed to raise very rational objections to it, then we are effectively being silenced by the Nationalists.
Next we will be warned not to find fault with the government’s budget because this would be politicising public spending!
There are people who oppose Named Persons because they are worried it will interfere with their rights as parents.
And there are others – teachers, doctors, social workers – who dread the impact it will have on their ability to do their jobs.
But underlying these concerns is a more general one, that the SNP has over-stepped its executive remit in authorising state control over the lives of ordinary law abiding Scots.
“Nationalists would be well advised to reconsider rushing through the scheme