A Victory for Children

Amongst the endless rolling Brexit saga it sometimes feels like no other legislation is happening. But today Scotland becomes the the first country in the UK to begin to make physical punishment a criminal offence. MSPs are set to vote on a smacking ban which would give children the same protection from violence as adults by removing the defence of justifiable assault. The Scottish Parliament already voted by 80 votes to 29 to pass the bill through the first stage, but it will face a final vote today.

The bill uses the same definition of physical punishment, sometimes referred to as corporal punishment, used by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

It includes hitting such as smacking, slapping and smacking with a hand or an implement, as well as kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion.

The legislation is a victory for the parliament, for Scottish Greens MSP John Finnie who introduced the bill, arguing that “physical violence has no place in 21st century Scotland”, but most importantly it is a victory for children.

But is also a victory against the strange alliance of forces who opposed it, forces that included far-right libertarians, the tabloid press in Scotland, Brexit Party candidates and a curious breed of evangelical christian groups.

So who are the networks combining to make sure you can assault your child? Here’s a handy graphic to cut out and keep:




The evangelical  Christian Institute created the astroturf “Be Reasonable” group and it was also responsible for opposition to the NO2NP legislation.

As the Herald covered its opposition to the Named Person (‘Fundamentalists who fought Named Person law face financial probe‘):

“It has previously campaigned against gambling, abortion and euthanasia but most vigorously against homosexuality. It sought to raise the age of consent for gay people, it opposed civil partnerships and same sex marriages as well as legislation to allow gay couples to adopt. As a charity it has been censured by the Charity Commission for breaching rules on overt political campaigning. Most notoriously it produced an organ-donor style plastic card that read: “In the event of my death, I do not want my children to be adopted by homosexuals”.

Also active lobbyists are the Coalition for Marriage (“Britain’s leading campaign group supporting traditional marriage which is between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others and for life.”)

As Adrian Tippets has written:

“Just who the Coalition are, beyond a list of over 130 core signatories, is not entirely clear, as Guardian columnist and science author Ben Goldacre has discovered.

There are links with a number of religious lobby groups. Board members of Coalition for Marriage Limited are prominent members of the Christian Institute, CARE, Family and Youth Concern and Christian Concern. Of these, the Coalition’s links with the Christian Institute are particularly close. Coalition for Marriage Limited is registered to the Institute’s Newcastle-upon-Tyne premises;  its website is registered to the Institute’s office manager, John Errington, and the Institute’s co-founder, Colin Hart, is a Coalition spokesman.

The Christian Institute has campaigned viciously and relentlessly against every single piece of LGBT rights legislation in the 22 years since its founding.  As a charity, it has been reprimanded by the Charities Commission on a number of occasions, most notoriously for producing organ-donor style plastic cards, that read: ‘In the event of my death, I do not want my children to be adopted by homosexuals’.

It also came in for criticism for it publication Bankrolling Gay Proselytism: The case for extending Section 28, for being an exclusively political activity with relation to its supposed aims. It was one of several positioning papers – whose publication often coincided with related parliamentary debates –  using research often criticised by academics for being methodologically flawed, depicting gay people as diseased or dangerous and more likely to be paedophiles.”

Spiked columnist Stuart Waiton, part of the LM network and Brexit Party candidate for Dundee West is a strange bedfellow for the evangelicals. But not really. The Koch brothers who fund Spiked are part of a nexus of far-right christian groups who campaign against ecology, deny climate change and promote “traditional family values”.

If the Christian Institute and the Coalition for Marriage represent an extreme, not all christian groups share this outlook. Richard Frazer from the Church of Scotland issued this statement:


Essentially here we see a convergence of homophobic, far-right christian groups coalescing around Scottish conservatives.


While we are right to celebrate this legislation we should realise that we are catching-up with 58 other countries around the world. The fact that the other nations of the UK don’t have this provision is a sign of their backwardness, not a signal of our progressive enlightenment.

The legislation is supported by all of the major child advocacy groups in Scotland: NSPCC, Children in Scotland, Children 1st, Barnardo’s, Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights) and the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland. They are all in agreement that physical punishment is harmful, ineffective and a breach of children’s rights.

Head of Policy, Projects and Participation at Children in Scotland, Amy Woodhouse, has said:

“The removal of the defence of reasonable chastisement is essential for ensuring that Scotland is a world leader in human rights. Under the current legal framework, children have fewer legal protections from assault than those granted to adults. As an organisation firmly committed to upholding, promoting and furthering children’s rights we believe this is highly unjust and is not supported by any robust evidence.

“The lack of protection that children and young people have from assault is a clear breach of their human right to protection from cruel and inhumane treatment under the European Convention on Human Rights, and Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires all appropriate measures to be taken to protect children from ‘all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse’.




Comments (10)

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  1. Dougie Blackwood says:

    In principle I fully agree with this plan. Unfortunately where it will be a problem is in overzealous interpretation.
    Pain should not be inflicted on children, full stop.

    It is however necessary to teach children that there are rules that must be followed and their place within wider society. Will a parent that gives them a pat on the back of the hand with fingers, while explaining the transgression, be guilty of assault? I would say no but you can guarantee there will be many vigilant people that will report such an action as a crime and many jobsworth members of the police that will follow through the complaint.

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      Mr Blackwood, I think it is clear that you do NOT agree – neither in principle nor in practice. Reading your second paragraph, this is exactly the same argument expressed at length on the BBC Radio Scotland phone-in this morning, by a spokesperson for the opposition group.

      If a case where a parent was reported for ‘a tap on the hand’ ever got as far as a Sheriff, I feel pretty confident that the shrieval response in shrieval language would be, “Get lost and stop wasting my time with such trivia.”

      Yesterday, I and many others who are supporters of Mr Finnie’s Bill, witnessed a mother preventing her infant from knocking over various items on the canteen tables as he, out of curiosity, sought to take hold of them. While not a ‘tap on the hand, she was exercising physical force on her child. Every adult present, all parents, recognised she was doing the sensible thing. Had she smacked his bum with some force, we would have expressed our dissatisfaction with her actions. However, even had the proposed bill been in force, it is unlikely that we would have reported her to any authority.

      1. Dougie Blackwood says:

        You make my point. There are others among us who would report anything of any type of physical contact as an assault .

        1. Wul says:

          Explains to a wee wean who has been slapped & pushed around by an adult for years:

          ” …Yeah, sorry son. We were going to make it illegal, but we though that some people would just take the piss. You know what some folk are like, so best if you just put up with it eh?”

  2. tony martin says:

    Thank you so much for your contribution. Well done to John Finniw and all who have dne an incredible amount of work to get us here. I was down there today with my home made placard and will be back for the debate and hopefully celebration after 4pm.
    It is truly exciting and as expected the lead had to come from Wales or Scotland. Scotland just pipped them to it i guess . This is what you can do with devolved powers. Ditto No Fracking in Wales nor Scotland. England under Westminster Tory governments by the default of FPTP will take some dragging to join us. It was the same with Corporal punishment in schools. Uk had to be told time and time again by the UN and EU to end it. . I have waited 53 years since Sweden was the 1st to introduce laws of equal protection and Scotland may soon be the 60th country to do so. The Tories will as ever vote against as they have throughout. Thank you to all from across parties for taking this historic step for the protection of children from assault. As with other countries there will be a programme of support for and no increase in criminal prosecutions of parents as a consequence of this law. I cannot thank enough the Scottish Government for this . I am so happy.

    1. Thanks Tony. I agree, I think this will go down as one of the parliaments great success stories

  3. SleepingDog says:

    Apparently capital punishment was abolished by an order in council (that is, previously it was sustained by royal prerogative) in some British Overseas Territories. Perhaps corporal punishment, including that inflicted upon children, is similarly sustained by royal prerogative in the rump British Empire. Some gory details on the flogging of juveniles in the British colony of Hong Kong in the 1950s is provided by Hansard:
    It really was one of the Big Ideas exported round the world by British (and other European) Empires. That’s how they got all that forced labour done ever since they ‘abolished’ slavery. Nothing like dividing people into beaters and beaten to show your support for the hierarchy.

    Flogging of children has been both a bloodsport and a perk amongst the British establishment for centuries, and evidently dearer to them than fox-hunting, servant-beating or slave-killing, so tightly have they clung to it. I am not sure how this will affect military discipline for the country’s child soldiers.

    Well, at least the Church of Scotland is no longer viewing commandments as set in stone. We might be awaiting God’s apology for some time. Perhaps there will be a Southward exodus of itchy-fingered evangelicals.

    1. tony martin says:

      You are brilliant!! if BC is everWe must keep it coming! short of cash i will dock my state pension funds to poppy up!!!

  4. milgram says:

    I’m still baffled by the opposition to this. Why do Christian fundamentalists really really really want to be able to hit their kids?
    The only thing I can come up with is that “spare the rod, spoil the child” line — is that in the bible or just novels featuring Victorian patriarchs?
    And the market fundamentalists, do they see it as a wedge issue for a culture war or something?
    Anyway. Good riddance “reasonable chastisement”. If I can’t use it as a defense for assaulting drivers who speed past schools, then what was the use of it anyway…? :-p

  5. Wul says:

    This is a very significant positive landmark. Well done to John Finnie MSP and all who supported this extension of existing adult protection onto our children.

    Does that really sound that radical? That children should enjoy the same protection from assault that us adults do?

    I realise that the removal of hitting as a means of discipline will genuinely leave some parents feeling disempowered and confused about how they can control their weans. ( My own mother finds it bewildering how a child could possibly be “tobbered up” without the use of physical punishment. )

    Perhaps we shouldn’t be so busy dismantling our carefully built supports for family life ( e.g. “Surestart” ) in the name of “good housekeeping”?

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