Scottish Government's U-turn on named person scheme welcomed by Christian groups

(Photo: Unsplash/Kristin Brown)

The Scottish Government has dropped controversial plans to appoint a state guardian for every child in Scotland following fierce opposition from Christians, among others.

The news has been welcomed by Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) and The Christian Institute which were co-petitioners with other groups in a legal challenge against the plans in 2016. 

Together, they had argued that the named person scheme would lead to "unjustifiable state interference" in the rights of families. 

In particular, they feared that parents could be prevented from raising their children in line with their own values and beliefs.

The scheme was due to come into effect in August 2016 but the Supreme Court ruled in that year that information sharing aspects of the scheme breached the European Convention on Human Rights.

In the judges' view, it was "perfectly possible" that information about a young person could be shared between public authorities without the child or their parents knowing. 

The Scottish Government sought to remedy these failings by introducing a new Bill but a government panel was unable to reach agreement on a code of practice for information sharing. 

Education Secretary John Swinney confirmed in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday that the named person scheme "will now not happen". 

"We will withdraw our bill and repeal the relevant legislation," he said. 

He added: "I believe that today we have taken an important step forward in providing families and practitioners with certainty about how information-sharing can support well-being in a transparent way which respects the rights of everyone."

CARE for Scotland Director, Dr Stuart Weir said it was "common sense" to abandon the "creepy" scheme.

"The writing's been on the wall for the flawed named person scheme for some time and today's decision did feel inevitable, although it has been long overdue," he said. 

"We wholeheartedly support measures to protect vulnerable young people, but from the start we have been concerned about the potential for the named person scheme to undermine the rights of parents to raise their children in accordance with their values and beliefs." 

He was critical of the Scottish Government's handling of criticism towards the scheme and said he hoped lessons wuold be learned. 

"The real tragedy here is the persistent failure of the Scottish Government to engage with critics of the scheme," he said. 

"From the outset, parents and teachers, legal experts alongside many others repeatedly made the case against the proposals but the Scottish Government, regrettably, pushed ahead regardless, at considerable cost to the taxpayer.

"Now that the Bill has finally been dropped, it is time to move on from this, learn the lessons and make sure future attempts at improving child protection in Scotland uphold the rights of parents, rather than undermine them."

Colin Hart, director of The Christian Institute, said that parents would be "relieved" at the news.

"For years we have said this scheme is wrong in principle," he said.

"It is parents, rather than the state, who have the ultimate responsibility for raising children. The threshold for state intervention in the family has always been set high and it should remain that way. The Supreme Court underlined this in its ruling on the scheme.

"Some local authorities in Scotland may continue with something called a named person scheme, but it is legally toothless.

"We give thanks to God for this decision, and I want to thank all our supporters who have prayed and worked towards this day over the past five years."