Controversial plans to appoint a “named person” for every child in Scotland is the first flagship SNP policy being targeted for repeal by the newly strengthened Holyrood opposition parties.
The Tories said there is now a “natural majority” against the proposals at the Scottish Parliament as Labour want it suspended and the Liberal Democrats, who previously supported the scheme, last night warned that any intrusion into family life would be “unacceptable”.
Other key SNP plans for a cut in airline taxes and heavily criticised laws to tackle sectarian behaviour at football matches could also face the axe.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon yesterday pledged to press ahead with the named person policy, which is due to be rolled out in August after it survived a legal challenge.
But the loss of the SNP’s majority at Holyrood last week means she faces problems securing the successful passage of legislation at Holyrood, with other parties pledging to provide a “strong opposition” to the SNP.
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw confirmed the party’s intention to frustrate the SNP on its named person scheme, and on any attempt to make taxes higher than the rest of the UK.
Campaigners have warned the imposition of the named person – health visitors for children under five and a senior teacher for those at school – is an invasion into family life.
Mr Carlaw said: “I believe there is a considerable natural majority across other parties that have come to realise the concerns there are with it with the public.
“I believe that is where we will make a difference. It is one of the first policies we will.”
Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said a climbdown from Ms Sturgeon would be the first sign that she is serious about being a “consensus First Minister”.
Ms Smith added: “The first big test of this will be what she does with named person, and we will be pushing her all the way to scrap it.
“Parents and professionals across Scotland have very acute concerns about this intrusive and unnecessary legislation, so for Nicola Sturgeon to say these are ‘unfounded’ is quite incredible.”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie last night said the policy had been developed from the “bottom up” with input from experts, but said there were concerns over implementation.
“We need to be clear that this is about child protection,” he said. “If this legislation were used as an excuse to pry unnecessarily into people’s family lives that would be unacceptable.”
The Greens are in principle in favour of the legislation, but co-leader Maggie Chapman has said that as the policy is expanded around the country ministers must ensure it is “effective, listening to everyone’s concerns and learning the lessons that need to be learned”.
She added: “This safeguard must work in the best possible way for children.”
But Ms Sturgeon defended the plans yesterday.
She said: “I think named person is the right thing. I think Jackson Carlaw is wrong, although we will see – I don’t think he will find that there is a majority in the Scottish Parliament in the way he says there is, but we will see how that develops.”
Ms Sturgeon also said she has “work to do” to address the “unfounded concerns” of some parents about the scheme.
“I will put forward the arguments for the named person because I think they are fundamentally sound,” she said.
“I recognise, and I recognised this during the campaign, that we’ve got work to do to address the concerns that some parents – not by any stretch of the imagination all parents – that some parents have about this.”
The policy has operated in four council areas in Scotland for some time and is “tried and tested”, Ms Sturgeon said.
She has also previously said parents are not legally obliged to use the 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.
No2NP is an umbrella organisation representing individual parents and groups opposed to the named person scheme, including The Christian Institute, Christian Action Research and Education (Care), TYMES Trust, and the Family Education Trust.
The organisation has already initiated a judicial review to have the scheme declared unlawful, but this was rejected by the courts in Scotland.
They have since taken the case to the Supreme Court in London which considered legal submissions last month.
The SNP will also need to build cross-party alliances to get its budget through.
Mr Carlaw said: “Our concern is to ensure that taxes overall are no higher here in Scotland than they are in the United Kingdom.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “I will seek support for the totality of the budget, and I will put forward a budget that I think is in the best interests of Scotland.
“I’ll reach out and seek areas of common ground, but I’m not going to be thwarted in my determination to govern in the interests of the country as a whole.”
In April, campaigners against the named person policy challenged the First Minister over “confusing and inaccurate statements” made about the scheme. Members of the No2NP campaign group said that 25,000 people had signed a petition against the scheme.
No2NP spokesman Simon Calvert said: “We all want children to be safeguarded from abuse, and we all want families to have access to the services they need. But the named person scheme is not the answer to those problems.
“The First Minister insists it is, and in her attempts to defend the scheme from massive public criticism has made confusing and inaccurate statements.”