A minor sidelight on the ‘Named Person’ controversy is what it says about the Scottish parliament. I’ve not written much about the ‘NP’ scheme for a few reasons. First, when it was being enacted in legislation I, like many, hardly noticed it. Then, when objections to it first started being voiced, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to them. Their opponents characterised them as a cranky fringe of Christian fundamentalists and I confess that ruse put me off looking too closely at what was going on. Thirdly, and selfishly, my children are all past the age at which they or I would be affected directly by the legislation.
So there’s a touch of mea culpa in what I have now come to suspect, that this is poor legislation that is wrong in principle in certain key respects and won’t work in practice.
And I’m clearly not alone. The media seem to have latched on (you might say at last) to what’s going on and a growing number of voices seem concerned, not least people who are willing to say ‘I’m SNP but …’
This is one of those occasions when I can’t be accused of crying ‘SNP bad’ – which I never do anyhow without good reason – because as I now hear it the flawed legislation that brought it in went through parliament with the support of most (or was it all?) MSPs of all parties. You can speculate about why an increasing number of them are now seeing that the legislation they, or in some cases their predecessors, passed is deeply flawed. But the fact that it got through parliament with such support suggests there’s something wrong with the processes involved.
I suspect the problem is poor, and not enough, scrutiny. In general terms, this has been exacerbated during the last five years when the SNP had a majority of MSPs and used that to run the committees as they wished, which boiled down to minimising uncomfortable scrutiny of their actions. Think of the stooshie that attended hearings to examine the surely now moribund question of independence – SNP committee members aided and abetted by SNP committee chairs hectoring and silencing what they saw as hostile witnesses, one at least of whom is now an opposition MSP (there is a wider question of the quality of many MSPs of all parties but that’s one for another occasion).
At least with their majority in parliament disposed of, the balance on committees has changed and opposition members (as well as their more sensible backbench SNP colleagues) need to steel themselves to holding the executive to a better account than has happened for some time at Holyrood, if ever. If they want a model of how this can be done they only need to look South to the despised, at least by the SNP, ‘Westmonster’ and its committee system which produces a stream of high quality and mostly consensual reports that are often extremely uncomfortable for government.
One of the many factors contributing to my opposition to separation was seeing what the dominant nationalist party proposed in their white paper, Scotland’s Future, to ensure appropriate checks and balances in a national legislature post-independence. That is to say, nothing. Added to the SNP’s centralising tendencies (police, fire and rescue, economic development agencies, broadcasting …) the lack of additional scrutiny in parliament did not inspire my confidence and still does not.
Meantime, almost uniquely amongst opposition parties at UK level (the only other exception is Sinn Fein) the SNP refuses to nominate members to serve as life peers in the House of Lords. It’s far from a perfect system, but it’s not the desperate democratic deficit they always imply, and it limits their effectiveness at Westminster – their loss not mine. Also meantime, Scottish legislation and government policy continue to be made and implemented without the benefit of scrutiny from a revising chamber.
Whatever happens to the Named Person scheme, and I can’t see it being implemented as currently intended, it does not reflect well on parliament and the way it works. I just hope that enough parliamentarians, and the governing party in particular, have the wit, once the dust has settled on this particular issue, to consider seriously how they legislate.
As I often say at the end of these posts, sometimes ironically sometimes not, I live in hope. This time I’m not being ironic.