IT was Karl Marx who said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy — and then as farce. At Holyrood, it repeats itself first as farce and then as even more farce, as evidenced by the SNP’s support for the smacking ban proposed by Green MSP John Finnie.
Fifteen years ago, there was another bid, under a Labour-led government, to outlaw smacking.
That fiasco saw officials forced to admit that children under three could face giving evidence against their parents in cases where smacking was alleged.
That proposed ban was part of a Criminal Justice Bill which said that a parent who used ‘physical punishment’ to discipline a child of one or two would be guilty of assault.
It turned out that there was only one example ministers could point to which, in their view, necessitated the ban, when a man was cleared at Portree Sheriff Court, in Skye, of assaulting his daughter, aged 12.
That attempt at legislation was eventually ditched and the SNP has resisted calls to revisit the issue — despite a growing clamour from a range of charities.
Even now, ministers are backing Mr Finnie’s ban — rather than instigating the law themselves.
This is possibly a cynical manoeuvre to pre-empt legal action from campaigners who successfully challenged the disaster-prone Named Person law — which paved the way for state surveillance of children.
The taxpayer would still lose out, but parliamentary rather than government lawyers would have to defend the legislation in court –potentially limiting the political fallout for the SNP.
Nonetheless, we can only assume that the Sir Humphreys who devised the original smacking ban are no longer around — or have succumbed to a bout of political amnesia.
Mr Finnie’s Bill goes further than the 2002 one by proposing a prohibition of parental smacking of children of all ages.
Inconveniently, public opinion — never something to trouble the Greens unduly — is against the Bill. Nearly three in four do not believe smacking should become a criminal offence, according to a survey by ComRes last week.
No less an authority than Nicola Sturgeon’s former law professor, Alistair Bonnington, has branded the plan ‘unenforceable’. Unsportingly, he pointed out that smacking ‘happens in the privacy of the home and the victim often can’t talk’.
Like the ban on parents smoking in cars when children are present — which police officers said would be virtually impossible to enforce — this is all about legislating on principle rather than practicality.
The requirement for corroboration has not vanished from Scots criminal law since 2002 — despite the best efforts of the SNP, which attempted to abolish one of our most cherished legal principles before being forced into a U-turn.
Holyrood has spent much time creating legislation that already exists in a slightly different form. Smacking is no different — go too far in chastising your child and you rightly face having to account for your actions in court.
The idea of the state telling us how to bring up our youngsters is also absurd, given its own deeply chequered past.
Just have a look at the work of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry (SCAI) on generations of appalling institutional failings.
Some of the most vocal cheerleaders for the Greens’ bid are also worthy of closer examination. One of the organisations championing the smacking ban is Barnardo’s, which accepted earlier this year at an SCAI hearing that abuse had taken place in some of its children’s homes.
The charity has also paid more than £180,000 in civil claims linked to alleged abuse at a former home in County Antrim.
It’s also worth remembering the bleak litany of childcare scandals in Scotland in cases such as that of Liam Fee.
He was the Fife toddler tortured to death by his mother and her civil partner, after social workers and healthcare professionals missed crucial warning signs. Damningly, he was subject to an early version of the Named Person scheme, which an official report later found may have ‘contributed to confusion’ as to who was co-ordinating his care.
Yet this is the state that wants to stand in judgment over your parenting skills with a ban that — if it could ever be properly enforced — risks criminalising parents over trivial incidents.
A light tap on your child’s behind in the midst of a supermarket tantrum and you may find yourself being grilled by your child’s Named Person.
Named Person, a zombie policy that has miraculously survived a devastating Supreme Court judgment declaring it largely unlawful last year, allows the state to monitor children’s ‘well-being’, through an army of headteachers and health visitors.
The judgment said key parts of the initiative allowing information-sharing broke European human rights law and warned that ‘the first thing a totalitarian regime tries to do is get at the children’.
Mr Finnie’s smacking Bill is the culmination of years of lobbying by a variety of organisations. High-profile supporters include the Children in Scotland (CIS) charity, which in the space of just one financial year received 13 separate Scottish Government grants totalling £644,000, more than a third of its income.
This illustrates the close links between government and a ‘third sector’ that depends on public subsidy — and is closely involved in implementing SNP policy.
CIS is led by Jackie Brock, who spent 13 years as a civil servant and rose to become the Scottish Government’s deputy director of learning and support.
Back in 2008, the Children’s Commissioner, then Professor Kathleen Marshall, said parents should be banned from smacking their children and taught ‘non-violent’ ways of raising them.
This raises the problem of how we should define violence — for some, even shouting at a child might be seen as an act of violence and detrimental to his or her ‘well-being’.
It isn’t too much of a stretch of the imagination to conceive of a future parliament that outlaws shouting at a child.
The outlawing of physical chastisement of children is highly likely to join Named Person and minimum pricing of alcohol as yet another SNP policy destined to be plunged into a legal quagmire.
The Welsh Labour government is also seeking to ban smacking, despite a previous failed effort two years ago — proving that political amnesia is not confined to Scotland.
In its rush not to be outdone by the Welsh, the SNP, with its tin ear for parental opinion, is entering into yet another unedifying alliance with the Greens — whose backing the minority Nationalist administration badly needs.
How many more times will the same sad story of grubby deals and utter contempt for the wishes of ordinary Scots have to play out before our hand-wringing, hypocritical political masters get the message — and stay out of our private family lives?