Why the Scottish Government is willing to allow breach of trust between schools and parents - Brian Monteith

Is the gulf between the opinions of ordinary Scots and the politicians at Holyrood who represent them becoming every wider?

In particular, is the view of how our society should protect the most vulnerable – such as the old and infirm or the very young – so divergent that a crisis of credibility for the Scottish Parliament is approaching?

These are big questions, and surprising ones given we have just recently had the sixth Holyrood elections since the democratic Parliament’s creation in 1999.

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And yet, despite some 101 days passing of the minority SNP Government being returned to power, and 86 days since the First Minister appointed her new Cabinet, two new publications cast doubt on how representative the MSPs who create the laws that govern us are.

The Scottish Government guidance has been issued to all schools. Picture: Getty Images

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Flagged-up during the election, the first – a consultation on how social care will be managed in future – could be expected. I shall cover it at a future date, suffice it to say any resulting legislation would be far better informed by first initiating a judge-led public inquiry into Scotland’s Covid pandemic, with particular reference to how our care homes operated.

The performance of government-managed or nationalised entities such as Scotland’s state police, CalMac Ferries, or drug rehab services has resulted in falling standards, budget cuts and politicisation before service delivery.

The rush towards yet more centralisation under the Scottish Government might bring a Colgate smile to Nicola Sturgeon, but it does not fill me with confidence.

More pressing for me is the Scottish Government’s second publication on guidance for supporting transgender young people in schools, which appears to have taken most people by surprise and has generated comment not just in Scotland, but across the UK.

The most contentious aspect is its advice that primary schools should be prepared to accept a request from pupils – who can be as young as four – to change their gender, including their name, without the consent or even the knowledge of parents or guardians.

There is no doubting the issues surrounding gender are complex and require care. We should want and expect any government to ensure a thoughtful and considered approach.

Unfortunately the Scottish Government, which has been operating seamlessly from before the election through to now, has not learnt from its past failure in trying to force upon us its Named Persons Act that created a state guardian – most likely a school teacher – for every child.

Ultimately it had to retreat and halt the delivery of its legislation following defeat in the courts. Now it looks like it is heading the same way again.

Let us recall in its ruling of July 2016, the Supreme Court said that in some aspects the Named Person Act breached the right to privacy and a family life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

When John Swinney established a working group to find a work-around satisfying the judgement, it failed to draw up a protocol and the legislation was withdrawn.

In sanctioning a level of secrecy from parents about gender transformation schools, local authorities and ultimately the government lay themselves open to further judicial actions and judgements.

The issue for me is the Scottish Government’s willingness to enable the breaching of trust that should exist between a school and a child’s parents.

Discounting for a generous 11 hours sleep, children spend around 25 hours of their waking hours a week with their teachers, while the other 66 are spent with their parents or guardians – almost three times as much.

Surely it is right to expect those raising their children are most likely to know more about their interests and behaviour, and should be involved in any decisions and have the ability to overrule a school?

While teachers and parents might disagree about the correct age at which children can decide if their gender should change, I expect most would put it at a far later age than the infant classes of primary school. What say opposition MSPs?

Given the same minority SNP Government has been returned without any debate on this issue, and given it is now expected to morph into a majority government involving the Green party MSPs, how might the opposition of parents – which I expect is the vast majority of them – be articulated? It’s not as if it can now become an election issue – or can it?

One way for an opposition party to give the people a voice would be for one or a number of constituency members to force a by-election to test public opinion – like MP David Davis once did.

The Scottish Conservatives have five such members who could do this; Alexander Burnet (Aberdeenshire West), Jackson Carlaw, (Eastwood), Finlay Carson (Galloway & West Dumfries), Rachel Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh & Berwickshire) and Oliver Mundell (Dumfriesshire).

Politics is not just about developing policies, communicating effectively and providing accountability of the government to the people – it is also about raising matters of genuine concern where people have no voice and little influence. It is about demonstrating leadership for people who require champions to represent them.

Who is going to speak up for Scottish parents as they witness their rights and responsibilities being erased before their very eyes?

It is not enough to ask a question at FMQs or submit a motion that, as we know from past experience, will simply be ignored even if it is passed. What is required is a clear and effective message that electoral suicide beckons for any party that puts the cause of minority rights before those of children and parents.

The opposition needs to show its mettle; relying on court actions to do their work is a dereliction of duty.

Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org and served in the Scottish and European Parliaments for the Conservative and Brexit Parties respectively.

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