Scotland's outgoing children's commissioner is right to pan the SNP's 'real failure' to help kids – Alex Cole-Hamilton
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A friend and former colleague of mine had a part in Lord of the Rings. He was a Rider of Rohan in the second movie and stood at the ramparts in the battle for Helm’s Deep. It’s one of the coolest claims to fame of anyone I know, but he doesn’t talk about it much. Instead, he moved onto an even more significant role as Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner.
Now after a six-year appointment, Bruce Adamson’s term as commissioner is up and he will shortly leave that office. During that time, he has been a fierce champion for children’s rights and, in an interview marking his departure, he delivered a devastating parting shot at the SNP/Green government and Nicola Sturgeon in particular.
His verdict was damning: “The Scottish Government is absolutely failing to deliver for children. It is hugely concerning that what we’ve had is a very long period of positive words, and big positive statements but a real failure to actually deliver change for young people.” Bruce certainly speaks for me.
After a career in youthwork and children’s rights, I got into politics in large part to improve the lives of children. Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly asked to be judged on her record of delivering for children, but her government just never seemed interested in actually walking the walk.
Take the age at which we hold children in Scotland criminally responsible for their actions. In 2018, to much fanfare, the SNP finally brought forward a law to change that age from eight (the lowest in the world) to the international minimum of 12. But halfway through that law’s consideration, the United Nations revised the minimum to 14 and, despite repeated efforts by myself and my Liberal Democrat colleagues, the SNP refused to change their proposals. Russia and China are more progressive on this than we are. The SNP say they want to be world leaders on human rights, but you simply can’t lead the world from the back of the pack.
On the flagship piece of children’s rights law to pass through parliament last session, Bruce was equally excoriating. In 2021, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed legislation to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law. This is the gold standard for ensuring children's rights are considered in the decisions made about them and around them, but the SNP botched it.
Ministers were warned that, without changes, the Bill would be outside the competence of the Scottish Parliament. Sure enough, the Bill ended up in court and the Supreme Court said changes were necessary – two years on and the SNP/Green government has shown no interest in sorting it out and bringing back a fresh bill for MSPs to vote on. Bruce described this as an “absolute disgrace and a betrayal of children”.
In my time as a youth worker, I saw first-hand how many of our young people are in need of a government which puts their interests at the front of the queue – that’s what Scottish Liberal Democrats would do. It is my ardent hope that our new commissioner, Nicola Killean, has similar armour to the outgoing Rider of Rohan. I fear she will need it in the many struggles ahead.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western