Named Persons based on ‘dubious philosophy’, warns Scots editor

Alex Massie, Scotland Editor of The Spectator and a regular columnist in The Times, has raised concerns about the “dubious philosophy” influencing the Named Person scheme.

Massie, in a comment piece for The Times, said: “Giving every child in Scotland a named person responsible for, at least to some degree, their welfare subtly changes the social contract between the state and its citizens. It redefines the game.”

Whilst acknowledging that most parents “may never have any dealings with their child’s named person”, he commented, “but that is not entirely relevant”.

He said: “The point is that the state now operates, officially, on the presumption that every child might be at risk, because you can never be too sure, or too safe.

“If there is no immediate presumption of guilt, there remains the presumption that you could be guilty. So better to be safe than sorry”.

“That”, Massie states, “is a much larger change in philosophy than the government is prepared to admit”.

He said: “The government is at pains to assure us that the legislation is largely symbolic; a reiteration of “best practice” methods and unlikely to have much, if any, impact on the vast majority of parents. It will hardly be noticed. In which case, you may ask, is it really worth pursuing?”

Affirming the importance of “symbolism”, he remarks: “The message sent to the citizens by their government is not a trivial concern. It tells us something about our society”.

Massie says the message the Government is sending in this instance is that it “does not trust the people”.

“The named person provision, it seems, crosses an important line”, he asserts.

Massie continues: “The existing safety net that is supposed to check vulnerable children is as valuable as it is depressingly necessary. No one of sense wishes to see it removed.”

But he emphasises: “There remains a difference, however, between a safety net and a surveillance system. I am sure ministers and children’s charities are sincere when they insist that the named person provision is well intentioned and, as much as anything else, box-ticking. Nevertheless, it is also something else, and that something else is more sinister.

Seemingly unconvinced by the Named Person proposals, Massie says: “You need not be a libertarian in a tinfoil hat — though I have my moments in that regard — to feel a frisson of unease about this. Equally, you need not be a fervent believer in the laws of slippery slopes to appreciate that once implemented, the duties required of the named person are more likely to grow with time than be trimmed by prudence”.

He adds: “Of course, the idea is justified by the age-old claim that ‘if it saves one vulnerable life’ then it will be worth it. This too is well intentioned, but it misses the point. No one wishes to endanger at-risk children, but it’s justified to think that there is already a large and complex system designed to minimise those risks. But sometimes, appallingly, that system proves insufficient.

Massie concluded: “If you consider the odds, and human nature, then the designated role in schools will prove insufficient in the future. The named person proposal is, like other government initiatives such as the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act, likely to prove both heavy handed and inadequate. That’s bad enough but not nearly as bad as its philosophical shortcomings. It is the government’s society, you see, and you just live here”.

Massie was commenting off the back of the recent news that a teacher who served as a Named Person for 200 pupils had been struck off the teaching register after being found guilty of child sex offences.

Original article “State guardians for an untrustworthy society”, published: Tuesday, 02 February 2016, The Times