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New Life

bairnsboxes-400x400Sturgeon’s baby boxes will enliven the case for independence, writes Sarah Busby.

“You’re from Scotland?” said the thirty-something woman I sat next to in a café in London’s East End, in the summer of 2014. “Wow, it sounds like there’s a brilliant atmosphere there, loads of new ideas washing away all the old stuff.” Surprised, I replied with something about all societies needing new ideas, and that Yes (then as now) owned the future. We talked for a bit and as she left, she said: “Hope you get them both – the Yes and the ideas!”

Of course neither of us knew then that Yes would lose the referendum but win the aftermath, which has brought us to this era of SNP dominance, with its danger and opportunity. The danger is that in our enthusiasm to move forward, we let the conservative, business-as-usual element within the  SNP off the hook, without valid scrutiny. For me, (as in Bella’s article yesterday), mixing improved climate change targets with a cut in airport tax makes little sense. And our children, if they are very kind, will one day look at the SNP’s cuddling up to Big Oil and wonder at its timidity.

But – credit where it’s due – the SNP sometimes brandishes bold policies which capture the spirit of the times. No less so than Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement yesterday that a new SNP government would offer baby’s boxes containing childcare essentials to every new baby born in Scotland. This is an imaginative fusion of progressive social policy and clever politics. The policy has existed in Finland for decades. A Scottish version was proposed in an article by Katriona Gillespie in Product last year.

Gillespie returned to the subject again last night, explaining:

“In Finland, this policy has contributed to dramatic drops in child mortality from 20 infant deaths per 1,000 (or 2%) 50 years ago to a mere 0.2% today…In Save the Children’s 2015 ‘State of the World’s Mothers’ ranking, the UK rated a lowly 24th when assessed across a range of infant and maternal health indicators, behind all of its Western European neighbours and just above Belarus.”

Gillespie simply looked for best practice from abroad with proven social gains, and publicised it when she found it. With a fair wind behind it – and the rest of Sturgeon’s policies across training, early years and education will need to come through – here is an excellent social policy idea with every chance of genuinely affecting real change in Scotland for years to come.

“…the baby box also symbolises the fair and equal start that we want for all children” said Sturgeon, which is where the politics comes in. Because it will be impossible for any opposition to argue against this policy. More importantly, it’s just the kind of policy that communicates to No voters that independence will be both different and markedly better. It’s a reassertion that political ideas matter.

The baby boxes tap into the ideas and energy which have driven the independence debate since it became apparent that New Labour was a hollowed out husk. People began to grow sick of the notion that nothing much could be done about anything, that new ideas were no longer needed, certainly not from the great unwashed, and the offer from politicians was simply managed decline, a continuation of the right’s decades’ long political project to undermine all social provision, scapegoat the vulnerable and eviscerate public services in an endless downward spiral of blame and human misery. The unspoken part of the narrative was that the state couldn’t do anything and as such wasn’t worth your attention or energy, which were better served on naff celebrity culture, crass consumerism and simply making cash. The state’s real function was to make things easy for Big Money, voters be damned.

So Nicola is right. The baby’s box is rich in symbolism. Healthy democracies need ideas to move forward, and who will argue against something which helps families in the first exhilarating, exhausting weeks of a new life?

Here Ella Peters opens one of the 2015 boxes and talks about the tradition …


Comments (45)

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  1. Edwin Moore says:

    “Wow, it sounds like there’s a brilliant atmosphere there, loads of new ideas washing away all the old stuff.”


    1. Steven Milne says:

      Some English people no doubt think this but most of the ones that I speak to look at Scotland in bewilderment and regard Salmond and Sturgeon as unhinged demagogues.

      The fact that the Scottish state is following up the implementation of Named Person’s with providing new born babies with nappies, toys and clothes will only serve to increase the sense of bewilderment felt in England and elsewhere in the world.

      One wonders what Adam Smith, David Hume, James Watt, Robert Burns and Andrew Carnage would make of Scotland in 2016.

      1. Lewi says:

        Why would one wonder or care what men from hundreds of years ago think? Welcome to the future. Way to put a dampner on and undeniably positive decision. Baw.

        1. Heidstaethefire says:

          Aye. I’m more interested in what women from today think – in particular those who are feeding their weans out of foodbanks.

      2. John Page says:

        Aye, James Watt was always going on about how he thought universal benefits were iniquitous and stifled enterprise…….with steam coming out of his ears

      3. tartanfever says:

        Says more about the circles you move in and the papers you read more than anything worthwhile. Jog On.

        1. Steven Milne says:

          The circles I move in tend to be in the real world where you work hard to look after your own children.

          1. Frank says:

            I’m a natural skiver myself but I still look after my own children. Oh and this world I’m in appears to be real too.

          2. Mike says:

            And you think thats the only world? This world were all children are safe secure and free from abuse?

            Shame the whole country cant live on your planet.

      4. Jack Beck says:

        Who’s Andrew Carnage? Sounds like my kinda guy!

        1. Graeme Purves says:

          ‘But not the right skill set if you’re looking for somebody to put in charge of baby boxes?

      5. Black Rab says:

        Adam Smith thought it was a good idea that people should do everything according to their own narrow self interests and that would make everything turn out just fine…………i imagine baby boxes would be included in that deranged thinking.

        1. Frank says:

          Clearly you have not read Adam Smith.

      6. John Page says:

        Are there any Burns scholars out there who could throw light on the reference to the Bard in connection with the Bairns’ Box initiative……or was Mr Milne looking at his tea towel of great Scot?

      7. ian says:

        What a joyless uninspiring soul you are.

      8. Mike says:

        “Some English people no doubt think this but most of the ones that I speak to look at Scotland in bewilderment and regard Salmond and Sturgeon as unhinged demagogues.”

        Which would put them into a very narrow and like minded group of no nothings.

      9. Ian Kirkwood says:

        What would really help babies in Scotland 2016 would be to end the damage to the limbic function of the developing brains of gestating babies belonging to the section of our society that is subjected to tax-induced poverty. It has been shown that after birth this limbic damage cannot be restored and has left generations of affected Scots experiencing retarded emotional development that further impoverishes communities and culture.

        This brain damage is a useful designed outcome of landlord tax strategy which serves to help maintain a compliant underclass that keeps paying up.

        It may be that these boxes do help a wee bit in this regard. But what is really needed is the end of direct taxes which target our poorest groups to subsidise the wealthy. With AGR (Annual Ground Rent) instead of direct taxation, the limbic damage would be halted, along with 6,000 annual premature Scottish deaths attributable directly to poverty caused by the taxes devised by and for landlords.

      10. Heidstaethefire says:

        You’re probably right about the opinions of some English people, but then, given the absolute pap they are fed by the media down there, that’s hardly to be wondered at.

      11. John Mooney says:

        Burns would have a field day with regard to yourself,”the Unco Guid” comes to mind,also who is this “CARNAGE” you refer too,sounds a bit of a troublemaker? :o)

      12. Graeme Purves says:

        Indeed! We should give very careful consideration to how Andrew ‘Carnage’ would have viewed the matter – possibly as the worst idea since lending libraries?

    2. GreatClunkingFist says:

      Actually, I’ve encountered this attitude amongst the English too. And as an English refugee myself, would say that it’s not only based in fact but is very positive for Scotland to be seen this way.

      As for the baby box policy, I like that it isn’t afraid to be paternalistic (or maternalistic). A hugely unfashionable view, but if government had not got out of the habit of prescribing some of our operating limits we wouldn’t have unaffordable housing through loose credit, and hence the financial crisis.

  2. John Page says:

    Great idea!
    Lovely positive article, thank you, Sarah!

  3. Brian Watson says:

    Finland is a rich source of enlightened best practice in so many fields.

  4. K. A. Mylchreest says:

    Well if this doesn´t put a caring human face on government, I don´t know what will.

    Great psychology, great politics, and something really down to earth and useful. Just think of the message this will send out, about what kind of place Scotland aspires to be. Hell, everyone will want to live here 🙂

  5. Big Jock says:

    Always interesting to see posters who cannot conceive that poverty actually exists in Scotland. The I’m OK so everyone is must be types. Live in a bubble of the self remote from factual reality.

    Poverty does exists and yes some people cannot help themselves without state intervention. That’s reality it’s not a deliberate act by these unfortunate families. Some families live on a day by day basis never mind week by week.

    I am fortunate,lucky and doing alright. But I am not an arrogant,ignorant selfish git. If my taxes help poor people I am delighted not angry.

    1. Steven Milne says:

      I would agree that “some people cannot help themselves without state intervention” but I would be shocked if it was any more than 10% of the population. Welfare spending ought to be targeted at this small group as opposed to buying nappies for all new born babies.

      Poverty certainly exists in Scotland if one accepts the definition of poverty as 60% of median income. However in absolute terms, as opposed to relative terms, the levels of poverty in Scotland are negligible compared to previous generations or to most of the rest of the world.

      Living standards for the whole of society have steadily improved in the Western world due to the benefits of free market capitalism, which China, India and Eastern Europe are now experiencing. No other economic system has come close to delivering such benefits and I firmly believe that inequality is a price well worth paying for economic growth, freedom and a wide choice of goods and services.

      If some regard this view as “arrogant, ignorant and selfish” then I won’t lose any sleep. The majority of people in Scotland, and virtually everywhere else in the developed world, vote for political parties which promote free markets as opposed to the centrally planned economy.

      1. Graeme Purves says:

        The neoliberal experiment is juddering to a messy halt, Steven. Real wages in the USA have stagnated over 30 years. Jobs have been transferred to Mexico and other low wage economies. The American dream is over and American voters are angry, confused and in debt.

      2. Jan says:

        As I write this it seems that most of the comments are from men. As a mother (it is still predominately women who are the primary carers of new babies) this strikes me as a hugely positive and common sense policy. The psychology behind this is really important, similarly with free school meals for primary 1-3. There’s still a stigma attached to state intervention in caring for your children. Ideas like this attempt to assist poorer families whilst not singling out children as being different from the word go. The fact that these boxes have become a tradition in Finland shows it’s something that everyone can have in common regardless of social background and could be positive for the self esteem of both parents, increasing their confidence that they are doing the best for their child. It’s a stressful enough time. I think we miss how important this is because of the economic argument. And then there’s the infant mortality statistics. This doesn’t just affect people in poverty. So I hope the government does roll it out to everyone regardless of income.

      3. Frank says:

        Don’t forget that market reforms in China have been overseen by a strong state which has played a critical role in managing Chinese capitalism.

  6. john young says:

    Good for you Big Jock,if only more people thought this way,what most don,t realise is the great pleasure/benefit you get from helping someone less fortunate than yourself,the world would be a far better place if that every day you start you start with a kind act,life is not all about money/material things.

  7. Doug Daniel says:

    “Because it will be impossible for any opposition to argue against this policy.”

    Ha! I dunno about the unionist parties officially, but I’ve already seen their supporters online criticising the universal nature of it, complaining about the fact that the box will be available to people who could easily afford to buy what’s inside it themselves.

    Johann Lamont’s “something for nothing” speech seems to have really captured the unionist zeitgeist. But that’s fine, because the folk who voted No out of fear rather than selfishness will increasingly become aware of the kind of folk they ended up siding with, and hopefully shift accordingly for the next time.

  8. Mike says:

    “The danger is that in our enthusiasm to move forward, we let the conservative, business-as-usual element within the SNP off the hook, without valid scrutiny.”

    With an entire corps of Yoon media looking desperately for anything and everything to complain about there is little to zero chance that the SNP will get the comfort of having a “business as usual” element.

  9. Mike says:

    “Welfare spending ought to be targeted at this small group as opposed to buying nappies for all new born babies.”

    Welfare spending is targeted at those who have the appropriate amount of NI contributions.

    The quality of living standards have diverged to a far greater extent than they ever have been with a 1% margin of privilege outweighting the other 99% by an exponential margin.

    Its not that you’re being delusional its the fact that you’re being very dishonest in support of corruption and everything that is corrupt.

  10. J Galt says:

    Excellent idea and of very practical help to parents on tight budgets, which due to the effects of Unionism is most of them!

    However the main effect is symbolic, positive and celebratory.

  11. Big Jock says:

    I think the no mentality was in general to look after themselves. It was the ethos of don’t rock the boat, cause i’ve got a few bob in the piggy bank. Why risk that for a more socially democratic, independent country.

    We know a lot of no voters are selfish individuals and they give their game away on here with their right wing comments. Thatcher’s children of the free market money is God society.

    Remember in death we are all equal, and you can’t take a mansion to the after life. People will remember the person not the money!

  12. Mike says:


    “If some regard this view as “arrogant, ignorant and selfish” then I won’t lose any sleep.”

    Which is exactly what one would expect from the arrogant ignorant and selfish.

  13. Me Bungo Pony says:

    Steven Milne wrote: “Living standards for the whole of society have steadily improved in the Western world due to the benefits of free market capitalism, which China, India and Eastern Europe are now experiencing.”

    No they haven’t. Free market capitalism left to its own devices leads to massive poverty, inequality and social division. That is what 19th and early 20th Century Western Europe and North America experienced; and what Chinese, Indian, Brazilian, Mexican and sundry other “developing” nations peoples are experiencing now. An economic policy on its own cannot produce universal prosperity, safety and happiness. It needs social policies to do that. The rise of social democracy, its implementation by social democratic govts and the fear of its implementation by more right wing Western govts led to the improvements in Western Society we now take for granted. Improvements which are now under threat by people with mind sets like yourself who want to push back the state and re-introduce a “might is right”, “do unto others before they do it unto you”, “devil take the hind-most” society in the mistaken belief that you and yours will be alright. Well, hell mend you and yours if you have a bit of bad luck. The society you want to establish will have little sympathy for “scroungers” and “skivers” who play the hard luck card.

  14. Craig Miller says:

    Having massive doubts about the timidity, the managerialism , the opinion poll driven quadrille …but baby boxes ? You have to say its great tactics , whether the SNP will prove to be the ultimate vehicle fof Independence is debatable given their distasterous ” keep cheery ” leadership in 14 , but healthy babies? who can naysay healthy babies ? YES2

  15. K. A. Mylchreest says:

    Let me say this to the ¨stand on your own two feet¨ brigade.

    Possibly you´ve never been poor, or unemployed or sick or disabled or disadvantaged, but there´s one thing you simply cannot deny, one universal truth :

    You came into this world naked and helpless entirely dependent on others for your growth and survival, for you every need. Alone you would hardly have seen a second sunrise.

    Think on that for a few moments and maybe you will change your views on ´dependancy´?

    Beyond it´s very obvious practical value, I think this scheme is important because it unconsciously reminds us all of how ultimately we´re dependent on one another.

  16. Big Jock says:

    The baby box is small cog in a big wheel of change in Scotland.

    We are gradually becoming less and less like the English in our social policies. We look after the elderly, the young , our hospitals. We don’t allow PFI. We don’t allow new nuclear power stations. We haev free prescriptions and free higher education.

    The picture that is being painted is that Scotland is becoming the nation that we all aspire it to be. Well the majority of people that is. Before some Yoon pipes up the SNP won 51% of the popular vote at WM on the back of their 7 years in power….that’s a fecking majority. You are now the minority and you don’t care for the majority, which is your loss.

    So Scotland will get to the end of it’s journey which is near and realise the union is of two opposites. That’s when Scotland will finally realise we need the freedom of independence to continue to become a different nation to that of England.

  17. impossiblysmoothcobra says:

    Alex had “free”** University Education “Writ in Stane”.

    I ‘spose Saint Nicola the Strong and Infallible of Govan had to have something else. A (universal, of course!) “Baby Box”. For every Baby! (Sorry, ‘Wean’. Or is it Bairns? (not Bombs).

    Aaaaah I get it. Quite clever.

    Live births = 56,725

    Cost per box to point of delivery? I dunno, fifteen quid? Twenty quid, tops?

    So that’s about a million and a bit; in the grand scheme of things (even in Scotland) that’s fuck all.
    Fuck all, for a ‘policy’ that (in the face of the SNP’s current popularity) that would be hard to argue against in its fluffy egalitarian niceness (regardless of the efficacy).

    And in her / their position, they don’t even need to bother with anything like proper evidence of the efficacy of this measure.

    Oh, and on Finland: classic correlation not causation logical fallacy.

    “In Finland, this policy has contributed to dramatic drops in child mortality from 20 infant deaths per 1,000 (or 2%) 50 years ago to a mere 0.2% today”

    “contributed” eh? Good weasel words.

    No academic who would expect to be taken seriously would say that this ‘box’ is a material consideration in the drop in infant mortality since 1965. I rather think advances in medicine and diet might be rather more significant.

    It’s the same logical fallacy applied to people who claim road deaths have fallen because of ‘drivesafe’ initiatives, and driving has got better. It hasn’t; it’s vehicle design, technology and medical science that mean people who would once have died, survive.

    Great virtue signalling though “Nicola”. Stay Stronger for Scotland.
    Notwithstanding that, this will leave the other parties as flummoxed as ever. They remain the most ‘effective’ politicians in Scotland.

    And for as long as ‘others’ can be blamed for Scotland and people in Scotland’s own self-generated problems, then this kind of virtue signalling fluff will go down a treat with the glazed-eyed Moonie faithful.

    Not too wee, too poor or too stupid. Just too ignorant, and too lazy to make the real sacrifices and do the real heavy lifting necessary to be actually ‘independent’.

    Too easily placated. With ‘Baby Boxes’.

    1. Me Bungo Pony says:

      Now Scots are not only too wee, poor and stupid in the eyes of angry, desperate unionists, we are also too ignorant and lazy!

      Keep up the good work “snakey”. With arguments like that Scotland will be independent in no time. If only because Scots have gotten fed up of being put down by insulting unionists like yourself.

    2. John Page says:

      So our periodic visitor narcissist is back on to parade his dysfunctionality with a rather squalid diatribe against a lovely and hopeful idea. His objectivist allegedly successful hard working life in Manchester is so nourishing for him that he needs to engage in these odious tirades as an intrinsic feature of his narcissistic personality disorder……endlessly clamouring for people to recognise his cleverness, being mean and drawing attention to some issue in his Scots upbringing………that basically no one gives a monkeys about.
      Imagine having to live with this apology for a human being this lovely weekend. The rest of us should count our blessings.
      John Page

    3. K. A. Mylchreest says:

      Mr. Impossible, the politically hard of hearing I accept must be tolerated at least until they can be educated … but the hard of heart? (And I thought I was cynical!)

      Face it, this is a brilliant piece of nation-building, something the English can´t seem to do anymore (their usual idea is to start a nice little war somewhere far away), so when they see someone else doing it they really ¨don´t like it up ´um¨. Sour grapes, Old Boy 🙂

  18. Will Pickering says:

    isn’t it time we stopped carping at the “timidity” of a government that narrowly lost a referendum on its flagship policy and then had to see what else it could offer? It was the people who bottled it, not the SNP.

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