Leader comment: SNP must heed concern over Named Person plan

Nicola Sturgeon should not dismiss opposition to the Named Person scheme. Picture: Michael Gillen
Nicola Sturgeon should not dismiss opposition to the Named Person scheme. Picture: Michael Gillen
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For Nicola Sturgeon to lead her party to a third successive triumph in the Holyrood elections was a formidable achievement by any measure.

But the rhetoric of the campaign is one thing. The reality of consensus government quite another. And with Holyrood’s electoral system working to deny the SNP an overall majority, government by consensus is now an indisputable requirement.

Several SNP policies are likely to hit turbulence on the floor of the Holyrood chamber with a new and emboldened opposition. These include Air Passenger Duty and laws to curb sectarian behaviour at football grounds. But the first strong challenge is already emerging – over controversial plans to introduce a “Named Person” for every child in Scotland.

It is a flagship policy of the SNP and one introduced with the most sympathetic of motives – to ensure every child benefits from an informed welfare system and to reduce the incidence of child neglect and abuse.

Appalling cases in recent years fuelled a widespread demand for action. The “named person” legislation is designed to address these concerns by providing a designated social work professional to oversee the safety and care of each child.

The legislation received overwhelming support when it was brought before the parliament and was approved without a single opposing vote, being backed by 103 votes to nil. It has also survived a legal challenge and is due to take effect in August.

But the policy has drawn criticism from two fronts: those who fear that it interferes with family life and usurps the role of parents; and those concerned over the breach of privacy and a potentially dangerous extension of the power and remit of agents of the state into every home.

The SNP cannot count, as so recently it was able to do, on a compliant chamber.

The Scottish Conservatives, now the largest opposition grouping, are preparing to lead the revolt. The party says there is now a “natural majority” against the proposals in the parliament. Labour want the policy suspended, while the Liberal Democrats, who previously supported the scheme, have hardened their position with a warning that any intrusion into family life would be “unacceptable”. 

Tory deputy leader Jackson Carlaw confirmed his party’s intention to frustrate the SNP on its “named person” scheme. The No to Named Persons (NO2NP) campaign has led the opposition, claiming that the law breaches the human rights of parents and children, undermining their right to a private life, and also breaches data protection laws because the State will compile and share family data too easily. 

Ms Sturgeon continues to defend the plans, but admits there is “work to do” to address the “unfounded concerns” of some parents. Given the continuing breadth of opposition, the evident unease felt by many people, questions over the competence of welfare workers to undertake the new role, and not least the need to ensure support and co-operation from parents, the First Minister needs to pay heed and ensure there is wider support for this policy before rushing to enforce it.