Brian Monteith: Named and shamed at the Supreme Court
It is a sorry state of affairs when the only way to stop a government from getting carried away with its power over us is for the courts to strike down the laws that they make.
Still, the intervention of Supreme Court judges in correcting the “totalitarian” application of the SNP government’s Named Person scheme for the state to monitor each and every child under 18 is very welcome.
The powers of the new law would have meant powers to access and share private data on children and to provide parents with “advice”. One government-funded leaflet went so far as to say children could be asked if they were given a say in what they could watch on TV.
The Named Person scheme has always had the air of being an administrative nightmare and the thin end of a state wedge for interfering into family life.
Obvious questions arise from the scheme’s basic assumptions of providing a state guardian to monitor the “happiness” of children.
First, if the services of the state struggle – as we know they do – to cope with the demands of those children that they already know need help, then how will enough resources be made available and how will the administrative load be borne to deal with every child?
It seems not just improbable that the state will be able to deliver this system effectively but it must be a dreadful misallocation of scarce resources. Is it not preferable to make the current targeted system work better rather than try to monitor all children when most are indeed being well looked after by their parents and guardians?
With so many stories over the years of children being failed by social services that are over-stretched and under-resourced the named persons scheme could actually make matters worse by spreading social services even thinner. Will our politicians that support the scheme make the necessary resources available? Will they be accountable for the system when it goes wrong?
The named person scheme is also representative of the muddled thinking by too many politicians today. After giving youths aged 16 and 17 new rights over sex and other moral questions SNP and other politicians have decided that they will still need a named person to make sure they are being cared for. These same politicians go around saying 16 and 17-year-olds should get the vote – but don’t think them mature enough to be free of a state guardian. What mixed-up thinking.
The named person scheme will still go ahead – for no other reason than the fact that the SNP government will want to find some way of saving face. The scheme will have to be amended to take account of what the judges have said but the extent to which it will be changed must call it into question altogether.
This is not the first time that the SNP government has fallen foul of the courts. The minimum unit price law was challenged in the European Court and the government lost. We now await a final verdict from the Scottish courts but it is unlikely to let the SNP government off the hook.
The Scottish Parliament has a poor reputation for the drafting and scrutiny of its legislation. I have long argued for a revising chamber that could be formed of an elected Scottish element of a reformed Lords.
In other words our Holyrood MSPs need their own Named Persons to look after them. I don’t think we would be short of voluteers.