The Scottish National Party’s controversial named person law is set to be challenged in the Supreme Court just one month from now, as a continuation of the long-fought campaign by parents and children’s charities across Scotland. The dispute is being brought to a hearing for the third time by the petitioning N2NP campaign after Court of Session judges were previously unsatisfied that the most authoritarian law to hit Scotland in recent memory conflicts with human rights and data protection laws.
N2NP has not been the only interested party to express impassioned objections. In fact, it seems that every arm of the state that will be used to carry out this brutal intrusion into Scottish people’s privacy, from Police Scotland and NHS staff to teachers and contracted taxi drivers, is against some aspect of it. Horror stories are surfacing as parts of Scotland have been subjected to the pilot schemes. The rest of us await with bated breath the blanket implementation of the ‘named person’ law to take place this August.
What will the elusive ‘named person’ entail, one asks. Well, it is quite complicated to capture a whole childhood but it is clear from instruction by the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 that the named person does not wait until you are at school to catch you, and not even when you are on your way to school, but it first encroaches on your life when in the womb. Yes: parents are expected to meet with their appointed state guardian, who will be a health worker, months before their (the state’s) child is born and that role is later fulfilled by a school teacher.
Will this affect the Scottish National Party’s hopes in the Holyrood elections on the 5th May? Not at all. The populist SNP are pumping out too many policies to falter on an illiberal blip as the benefits of having nationalist governance outweigh any costs to SNP supporters. Not only will it pale in significance in comparison to the big issues they do care about, but some will actually be in favour of the move. A state guardian for every child, to some, is that step towards equalising all upbringings; a step towards giving everyone the same opportunity to be safe from abuse and needless hardship in their early stages.
Indeed, this is exactly how the Scottish government has sold the law from the start – but they still have no ostensible support outside of SNP ranks. It is not surprising, really, that people cannot proudly spearhead a law that creates powers for state guardians potentially rivalling those of parents. Even when the government, to counteract the anti-named person roadshow, funded its own event in Glasgow with £25 vouchers and travel expenses for parents that were meant to incentivise them to turn out in their hundreds – still – just a handful of people came to claim their bribes.
There is one major problem with the named person provision – both on a matter of principle and practicality – and that is its assumption that parents are guilty from the start. Not just parents with convictions or substance abuse problems or those previously on social workers’ radar, but every single parent-to-be. Authorities do not have the time to be watching over everyone. An overwhelmingly common complaint already is that those employed by the state to look out for children’s welfare spend too much time filling out paperwork and too little time visiting homes and using their eyes and ears to perceive potential dangers.
It is inevitable that not as much priority as usual will be given to vulnerable cases when teachers and health workers must collectively fill out forms for, and keep an eye on, every single child in Scotland for reasons separate to that which they are already in the business of caring for children. NHS staff are suffering shortages and have expressly stated that the law will abet the squeeze. And where SNP ministers have pledged to create more posts – the NHS are struggling to recruit staff to fill them anyway. Police Scotland have said unnecessary assessments imposed by the law are causing time delays in crucial abuse cases and agree with almost all families that it is a disaster for the majority that are good parents.
Perhaps most unfortunate is that it will fundamentally change the relationship between teachers and pupils by compelling teachers to spy. It assumes that state guardians know children better than their parents which could result in fatal misunderstandings, and the general public has just been left to make a case against this law that no one wanted and that goes a step too far in most people’s eyes.
While the seemingly-insurmountable SNP are still looking set to win a majority in the Holyrood elections this year, and the best prize in Scottish politics is being a very, very far-off second place, we can only expect more absurd and frighteningly intrusive changes ahead in Scotland.