It’s a rare thing to see the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom overturn an Act of the Scottish Parliament. But it did so with the legislation Holyrood had passed to enshrine the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child into Scots law, after a successful legal challenge from the UK government.
At first glance the decision to refer this legislation to the court looked like a Tory assault on both devolution and children’s rights, but as the facts emerged, it became clear that this wasn’t in fact the case.
It now transpires that Whitehall officials had written to the Scottish government about parts of the legislation which were not legally competent. These, they explained, could be dealt with through a small number of minor amendments as the draft law made its way through the Scottish Parliament. The substance of the bill could stand.
But the government ignored the message and failed to pass it on to any opposition MSP. They knew full well that it would trigger a court battle they were doomed to lose but if spun correctly would provide fresh fuel for their grievance agenda. We’re now left in a situation where the Bill is in limbo and children’s rights in Scotland lack the basis in law this would have provided.
The SNP have shown in this act of skulduggery that they will stop at nothing to stoke and foment artificial grievance with Westminster, in the hope that it will drive Scots closer to their overarching aim of independence. For the nationalists, this is a prize so valuable that even treating vulnerable children as pawns in their game seems a worthwhile trade.
And it’s not just in legal protection for their rights where children are forced to play second-fiddle to the independence cause. Take childcare.
An official update published earlier this month shows that, despite plans for it to be expanded, the number of two-year-olds receiving funded childcare actually decreased in the last six months.
That’s significant because this childcare is directed at children in vulnerable families and is seen as a key route out of poverty. All told, the Scottish government estimates that around 14,500 two-year-olds are eligible for this entitlement. But those making use of the offer actually dropped to just 5,954 in August.
Liberal Democrats campaigned hard to convince ministers to introduce this offer to two-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds. If they did the hard work and stepped up the outreach initiatives, it could make all the difference to children’s life chances and attainment.
We know that high-quality childcare helps families get the best start in life, and helps children thrive. Similar offers elsewhere in the UK have uptake twice as high, but children in Scotland are being let down.
This ministerial disinterest in helping families access early-years care comes from the same place as the SNP's desperation to spark grievance in response to the Supreme Court judgement. Both show yet again that the independence project is the first and only priority for the SNP.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western