Leaders: Named Person debate a sensible step forward

Ruth Davidson says the SNP should prioritise support for families. Picture: HEMEDIA
Ruth Davidson says the SNP should prioritise support for families. Picture: HEMEDIA
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The delay to the contentious policy should pave the way for considered discussion instead of scaremongering

The Scottish Government’s Named Person scheme, which will appoint a specific professional to be a central point of contact for every child in the country, may be no stranger to controversy, but its ambition is sound and laudable.

It is all too easy to recall the tragic fates which befell children who fell through the gaps in the existing system, and the protracted and costly inquiries that followed as a result. In each case, recommendations were introduced and enforced in an attempt to remedy past shortcomings, yet the fact that further incidents took place is evidence that such a piecemeal approach proved an insufficient safeguard.

In truth, it is unlikely that a perfect system exists to protect children from harm’s way. It is a regrettable fact of life that there will always be youngsters who escape the attention of those tasked with ensuring their welfare. But that painful reality should not curb our aspirations to put in place a framework that has the best possible chance of success.

The difficulties with the Named Person scheme have primarily been to do with how it would operate, and the impact it would have on the ability of parents to raise their children safely but with their own values. The Supreme Court also ruled that elements of the policy were incompatible with the right to privacy and family life, as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

That decision over data-sharing provisions invited excitable criticism and scaremongering at Holyrood and beyond, but it is right that Mr Swinney has not been cowed into jettisoning the policy altogether. Instead, he has chosen to engage with those directly affected – parents, practitioners and young people.

The process of “intensive engagement” on amendments to the scheme outlined yesterday is a wise and considered course of action. Mr Swinney has been candid over the scheme’s flaws and has already intimated that the government will consider removing older teenagers from its remit, while putting forward cogent arguments against such a move.

He will be the first to admit that further work is required to scrutinise issues such as thresholds and proportionality. There will be no solution that satisfies all parties, but by promising an “open dialogue” Mr Swinney has demonstrated that building consensus is essential if this flagship policy is to work. He has proven himself to be an astute political operator and he is doubtless aware that without a strong base of support from the public and the public sector, the scheme will falter.

The merits and deficiencies of the initiative will now be subject to a debate that is not only intensive, but also broad in its scope. It is a placatory approach that may not convince some of the scheme’s harshest critics to reconsider their stance, but it will hopefully encourage them to contribute to the discussion.

It is a forum which must not only consider the principles underpinning the scheme, but also the resources required to execute it. It is a divisive policy and will likely remain so, but has potential for protecting the vulnerable, and Mr Swinney has made a promising start.

Cautious welcome for Moscow talks

The agreement in principle struck between Israeli and Palestinian leaders to meet in Moscow for talks is one that should be cautiously welcomed.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and president Mahmoud Abbas are united only by their differences. Save for exchanging a brief handshake at a global climate change conference in Paris last year, the two men have not held a public working meeting since 2010.

Given the chaos that has engulfed the Middle East since then, the confirmation that they may soon come to face to face should be seen as an encouraging development.

Yet there is another disconcerting factor at play, in the form of location for the proposed meeting. Russia is clearly intent on establishing itself as a powerful influence in the region. President Vladimir Putin’s decision to intervene in Syria’s civil war may have taken some western observers by surprise, but in the broad sweep of history, it should be seen as the latest chapter of the country’s geopolitical aspirations.

It would be naive to assume that Russia is acting out of altruism. It has interests in the Middle East, not least those related to plummeting oil and gas prices.

But if the consequence of its actions is a genuine and lasting resumption of the peace process in the region, something the Americans have been unable to achieve, then Russia should be applauded.

That moment has yet to arrive and a full-blown diplomatic breakthrough may never come to fruition. In the meantime, it is only prudent to carefully monitor Russia’s role as peacemaker. We should be wary of allowing untrammelled influence in one of the world’s most crucial and turbulent areas.