The SNP’s disturbing, seven-year obsession with looking through the nation’s keyholes to ensure we are all behaving, sitting straight, eating properly and getting to bed early continues. It is surely only a matter of time before the Scottish government’s children’s minister, Aileen Campbell, is invited to North Korea to make a presentation on how her party has managed to secure such coast-to-coast state surveillance of families without any bad publicity.
Last Wednesday night, the government effectively paved the way for official surveillance of family life by allowing for state guardians to be appointed for every child in Scotland. The move is part of the SNP’s otherwise sound and thoughtful children and young people bill, which also guarantees free school meals for children in primary year one to three and a significant increase in nursery provision. This interventionist, hand-wringing party of state busybodies simply cannot help itself, though, and they ruined the tenor of the legislation with their state guardians.
According to them, this is a benign move that will assign a named person to every child from birth until the age of 18. If said named person has any concerns about a child’s welfare, they may be able to refer the case to social workers. Before that, though, the named person will be able to access information about a child and his family from the police and health authorities. The government says that families are not required to accept advice or offers of help from the named person. “Any actions or advice from the named person must be fair, proportionate and respect rights with the aim of safeguarding the wellbeing of the child,” the government says.
It adds that the guardians will be chosen from among existing teachers and healthcare professionals and will be people who may already exist in a child’s life. So effectively, they are being encouraged to go further by being given extra powers. This, as with much of what passes for the SNP’s social agenda, is meaningless and incoherent. In reality, any poor family that does indeed reject intervention of the state busybody will soon be receiving a visit from the plods and an army of social workers.
There is a formidable array of agencies, both formal and informal, which protects children from abuse and neglect. These are designed to receive and pass on early warnings about a child’s welfare. This is a list of them; you might recognise most of them: the immediate family; relatives of immediate family; friends; neighbours; teachers; doctors; health visitors; the police; social workers; charities that specialise in child welfare issues. Also, the proposals could lead, bizarrely, to a situation where there could be different named people for different children in the family. This seems in contrast to the GIRFEC (getting it right for every child) model of sharing information and could leave scope for things to be missed.
So why does the Scottish government seek to impose another layer of watchmen upon the nation’s families? The first reason is because it seems programmed to seek control of every aspect of the lives of its citizens. Aided and abetted by an increasingly out-of-control police force it has already sought to criminalise young people from poor neighbourhoods for singing political songs that the Scottish state deems unacceptable. It has tried to ban Buckfast; prevent the use of glasses in pubs and banish happy hours. It wants to examine our fridges and ban smoking in cars. The Scottish government, aided and abetted by a nonexistent opposition, will not stop until surveillance cameras are installed in every home.
The second reason is that the government simply don’t trust poor people and those who live in our edgier neighbourhoods to bring up their children according to the Mumsnet way. The people who face social challenges every day in their lives simply do not have enough time to organise cupcake demonstrations or have online discussions on how to get the best out of a blowjob.
Sometimes, they shout at their children in supermarkets and the rest of us look on meaningfully, wishing we could intervene but fearing a good slap if we did. Warning signs of neglect or worse may not be warning signs at all, but merely the behavioural consequences of living in extreme deprivation.
What these people do not need is another well-meaning, middle-class, professional nanny peering into their lives. I’ll be surprised if this piece of legislative suburban junk isn’t deemed contrary to article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
If it is somehow allowed to become law, then we all know what the consequences will be: many more working-class people will be held to be guilty of something unstated and inferred. In several cases, innocent families will be pulled apart simply on the whim of a government that doesn’t know when to stop and that wants us to sign up to its “one-size-fits-all” model of family life. Soon, they will be designing the family and telling us how big it ought to be (according to postcode, of course).
Unaccountably, some of the bigger children’s charities, including those that are handsomely paid by government, have no problem with this. There is a reason for this; many of the organisations in this sector, while doing great work in research and teaching, have simply forgotten – or don’t want to know – what daily challenges are faced by poor, single mothers (and some fathers) in rearing children.
Here I must declare an interest. I help with a charity, With Kids, which operates in Glasgow’s East End and Edinburgh’s Wester Hailes and that works closely with schools to help children and families who may be encountering an array of social challenges in their lives through no fault of their own. Many of our therapists are disturbed at the implications of this shallow and ill-conceived proposal. They are part of a dynamic network of care and community values that encompasses many very good people and overworked agencies. When it works, as it often does against the odds, the results can be beautiful and uplifting.
The Scottish government last week just tried to make their jobs a lot harder.