The nanny state's children


Scotland is seeing a hasty transfer of power from the people to the state. And a few components, including the SNP's unfaltering support from pro-independence voters that they expect to rely on for the near future, are making the transition happen with ease. Even in the face of a growing number of universally free things to adjust people to the state making our financial decisions, nothing of late has quite managed to reach the blatant level of state intrusion and awaken in people such fervent objection as the “named person” law.

This “service” means named persons will be assigned by the state to every child in the country until the age of 18. It is now set to be enforced in 2016 after the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 passed its final stages as a bill in the Scottish Parliament last year. Social workers, health workers and school teachers acting in a dual capacity of both their profession and as state informants, will have legal responsibilities that can rival those of the parent, while powers to intervene in private life and share personal information with government agencies will be handed to the state.

Educational charities and parents have joined forces under the banner of the NO2NP campaign and last week sought judicial review of the decision to enforce this law. By its opponents, the move is believed to be outwith the government’s legislative competence and to be incompatible with data protection rights and rights afforded to every citizen by the European Convention of Human Rights. In the judgement Lord Pentland said that the challenge brought before the Outer House of the Court of Session “failed on all points”, and approved the legislation. The campaigners expected there would be more than one hearing and so are not defeated as they consider their next legal steps to be heard by at least three judges in the Inner House.

It is important this policy is universal, proponents tell us, because children with additional support needs are not always immediately obvious to services and so this can ensure that intervention happens earlier to prevent crises at later stages in children's lives. A justification that has failed to quieten or satisfy parents’ concerns. But the creators of the legislation want to see it implemented at any expense. Even if it means creating bitter resentment among the vast majority of parents who are getting things right and do not want a named person overseeing everything they are doing. 

State-dictated outcomes are presupposed to be superior to all else by the legislation. But parents do not necessarily agree. The one-size-fits-all approach neglects to consider the fact that parenting is unique to each family. Should "named persons", who don’t know children well, be given the authority to have a greater say than parents - in the eyes of the law - as to what their children ought to be doing then circumstances and behaviours may be misconstrued, leading to unwarranted consequences. It is understandable that more and more parents are viewing the legislation as a breach of their human rights. Their children are being assigned an informant to the state without the option to opt out.

The impact on parents is one thing. But teachers, too, who are required to be instrumental in this new dynamic, have no say nor even a choice in the matter. It has not been made clear when an educator stops being an educator and assumes the roles and responsibilities of the named person. 

So when parents become suspicious of who they reveal information to, for fear that they are confiding in a middle-man between them and some investigator higher in the chain, more harm than good will be done. An environment of mistrust conducive to relationship breakdowns will be created. Not to mention the added time pressures and weight on teachers’ shoulders that the extra duties carry.

Early signs of the ostracising effects it will have are already visible in the Highlands where people were surprised to find it had been prematurely implemented as part of a pilot scheme. We are also seeing the wasted expenditure that this will entail, as referrals to services have risen. 

To make social workers responsible for a population’s children is a costly blanket bureaucracy. And at a time when public services are under severe strain, it is ill-conceived that scarce resources should be drawn from the most vulnerable and urgent cases in order to pry on the 95% of families this legislation will never be necessary for. The case may have failed on all points thus far, but it is in the lack of justification by those behind it where we discover the greatest weaknesses.

Most strikingly important, though, is that every parent from the offset is being treated as potentially guilty of something until proven innocent. And they have to keep on proving their innocence until their child is an adult. It is a sinister state of affairs, indeed, when the onus lies on the general public to prove why we do not want legislation imposed on us.