Another worthless, ham-fisted piece of virtue-signalling by Holyrood’s nannies

By Graham Grant

IN the harshly lit room, the woman is shaking in fear as the stern-faced detective leans over for another question.

Ignoring the interventions of her lawyer, who urges her not to comment, the sobbing mother reiterates her innocence.

But the hardened cop won’t be deflected: ‘Did you reprimand your toddler in aisle four at Asda, using a markedly raised voice – yes or no?’

Not exactly Taggart, true – that gritty police drama would have been a little different if Mark McManus had said: ‘There’s been a supermarket tantrum.’

In the latest surreal developments at Holyrood, MSPs are working on legislation which could criminalise parents for shouting at their children – an act that may now be deemed a form of ‘assault’.

The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) Bill is the brainchild of the Greens, but has been adopted as Scottish Government policy by the Nationalists – who depend on Green support to prop up their minority government.

Proposed by Green MSP John Finnie, it removes the defence of ‘justifiable assault’ in Scots law, which allows parents to use physical punishment: in effect the prohibition of parental smacking.

Tory MSP Adam Tomkins, a law professor, revealed last week that his efforts to clarify the new Bill, so that only physical chastisement (and not shouting at children) is outlawed, were rejected, as the proposed amendments were judged to be ‘inadmissible’.

As Mr Tomkins asked: ‘If we cannot even discuss modest and sensible changes to our law such as these, what is the point of being an MSP?’ It’s a question many of us have been asking for a long time…

Opposing the smacking ban, Tory MSPs Oliver Mundell and Annie Wells criticised their colleagues on the equalities and human rights committee for their ‘virtue signalling’ on the smacking ban.

In May, 80 MSPs supported the anti-smacking law and only 29 Conservatives voted against it – but we should remember that a majority vote at Holyrood is hardly a guarantee of sound law-making.

Four years ago, the SNP dropped its bid to axe the historic legal principle of corroboration, which states that all evidence in criminal trials had to be backed up by two sources to guard against miscarriages of justice – another move that had received the backing of MSPs.

Named Person, which aimed to put all under-18s under state surveillance, also cleared every parliamentary hurdle before being branded largely unlawful by the Supreme Court.

A crackdown on sectarian chanting at football matches was ditched in another embarrassment for a blundering legislature with a long track record of formulating bad law.

And let’s not forget that a similar attempt to ban smacking was scrapped in the early days of devolution, amid a PR disaster spearheaded on that occasion by the Lib Dems.

Those plans – to outlaw the smacking of toddlers – descended into farce after officials suggested children under three could give evidence against their parents.

During questioning, civil servants were forced to admit that toddlers might have to be interrogated and their bodies examined for signs of injury in the absence of any corroborating evidence from witnesses.

Since those days, nothing fundamental has changed about the way in which the courts operate, despite the best efforts of the Nationalists: the evidence of pre-school children may still be required for a prosecution to go ahead.

For several years, the SNP wisely steered clear of any move to revisit plans for a smacking ban, despite a growing clamour from childcare experts and children’s charities.

Holyrood’s default tendency is a kind of acutely patronising, Left-wing, nanny statism that manifested itself most conspicuously during the debacle over Named Person.

So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that our political classes – in thrall to publicly-funded children’s organisations – are engaged in another madcap, hectoring endeavour to drive a legislative juggernaut into the sanctity of family life.

Frankly, some of those bodies (many of which also championed Named Person, probably to cling onto their government subsidy) have no business telling anyone how to parent.

Chief nanny? The SNP has adopted the Greens’ plans for a smacking ban as official policy

One of the ban’s backers was Barnardo’s, currently at the centre of an ongoing Police Scotland investigation over its own history of institutional child abuse.

The charity has accepted it was responsible for ‘failures’ that led to abuse, and has apologised to any children who suffered at the hands of its staff and helpers.

Yet the supposedly expert views of the ‘third sector’ are regularly cited to shore up the case for the smacking ban.

Nor does the response of the authorities who will have to investigate alleged smacking or shouting, and launch prosecutions, inspire much confidence in the long-term viability of this misguided law.

Police chiefs told MSPs earlier this year that the legislation could lead to an increased workload for officers – who must investigate all reports of alleged assault – causing costs to soar.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC has warned that parents caught smacking their children could be given Recorded Police Warnings.

We are told that ‘guidelines and prosecutorial policy will support a proportionate and appropriate response to the individual circumstances of particular cases’.

Prosecutors already struggling with large caseloads face coming under sustained pressure to demonstrate that the new law is working.

Crown Office staff are deluged with organised crime and sex crime cases, but against this backdrop they may now be expected to assess allegations of parental shouting.

If the likelier scenario is the spectacle of officers writing out warnings for a mum or dad who’s lost their temper in the middle of the weekly shop, is this really the sort of society we want to create?

Police are in the midst of a financial squeeze that means officers are saddled with second-rate technology, with morale in freefall.

Dishing out warnings to harassed parents for yelling at their offspring on a street corner should be nowhere near the top of their list of priorities.

We can be certain that – if Named Person were to be rescued from oblivion – an army of state-sanctioned snoopers would be on permanent alert for any evidence of parenting deemed to have fallen short of acceptable standards.

Even if prosecutions are rare once the smacking ban is in place, you might wonder what’s the point of a law if the people tasked with enforcing it appear, well, less than enthusiastic about doing so?

The answer, of course, is that there is no point – because any parent that oversteps the mark in the physical discipline of their children is already breaking the law.

As the SNP Government said in 2012, when its MSPs formed a majority at Holyrood, it is ‘already illegal to punish children by shaking or hitting them with an implement’ – and at that time there were ‘no proposals to change this’.

Like much of the work of the Scottish parliament, this is another worthless, ham-fisted exercise that serves only to alienate thousands of parents who resent another unwarranted intrusion into their private lives.

*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on June 18, 2019.