You are probably right (Comment, 27 March) that the Christian Institute’s fears of an attempt by the state to wrestle responsibility for children away from parents – through a legally required “named person” to look after the interests of every child in Scotland – are a little overblown.
However, you are also right to comment that “an admirable wish to protect vulnerable children has grown into a massive piece of social legislation”. This will not be the first time that well- intentioned legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament has had unintended consequences.
I would contend that one unintended consequence of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill will be to place health visitors, midwives, doctors and teachers in the invidious position of being viewed not solely as helpers for folk at important points on life’s journey but also as agents of state surveillance over family life choices.
Given that there are precious few checks and balances on the powers of the Scottish Parliament as we now experience it, it seems to me entirely proper for the Christian Institute to challenge this bill in court. Because the Scottish Parliament makes the law cannot mean that it is above the law.
To give another example, while it will always be proper for campaigners to seek to change the law through parliament, the current bill – seemingly being welcomed by the parliament – to allow a school to be built on Portobello Park in Edinburgh is a clear attempt not to change the law but to circumvent a clear, considered and recent verdict of three judges in the Inner Court of Session that such a course of action would be illegal. Another legal challenge to a decision of the Scottish Parliament may thus be in the offing.
These two bills point to grave deficiencies in the operation of the Scottish Parliament in a nation supposedly governed by the rule of law.
Michael Fry (Perspective, 25 March) has already commented, with respect to the Scottish Government’s attempt to abolish the principle of corroboration in Scots law, that there should not be “an unfettered power for any government which happens to have a parliamentary majority to pass any law it likes”, and that a separation of powers of the three branches of government (legislative, executive and judicial) is necessary to achieve mutual monitoring of each by the others.
Joan Mitchell in her letter (28 March) points to further obvious defects in the current Holyrood set-up. I doubt very much, for instance, that those who so strenuously campaigned for devolution of powers to Scotland ever wished to see a situation where more and more powers are being centralised within the country.
In this wider constitutional context, indeed, the proposed legal challenge to “named persons” by the Christian Institute must be only the start of a process whereby we move to a better Scotland than what is currently on offer. It is a great pity that such fundamental matters have so far featured hardly at all in the current debate on what a future Scotland might look like.