Ruth Davidson has launched a fresh attack on ‘Named Persons’, a controversial initiative by the Scottish Government to reform how the state monitors and protects children.
The Financial Times quotes her as saying: “This is a dangerous and sweeping law, which will see sensitive information being gathered in a database, and accessed without parents’ knowledge or consent.”
Under the new law, a single figure – usually “a teacher or health visitor who already has a relationship with the child”, according to Barnardo’s – will be responsible for collating information about a specific child from across a range of public services.
Opponents claim that the appointment of this individual represents an unprecedented expansion of the state’s role in the lives of Scotland’s children and undermines parents. Some critics also claim that it will direct resources away from the small number of cases where intervention is genuinely needed.
Despite the scale of the backlash – polling shows 48 per cent of Scots oppose Named Persons, and Scottish Labour has retreated from its previous, full-throated support – the row over Named Persons is unlikely to put much of a dent in what all evidence suggests will be an SNP landslide in next month’s election.
It may however help to rally more voters to the Scottish Conservatives, who have proved amongst the policy’s most resolute opponents.
Over the long term though, this policy fits into a broader pattern which reveals the SNP to be perhaps one of the most authoritarian, and certainly the most centralising, parties in British politics.
John Swinney, their Finance Minister, has used a years-long freeze in council tax to make local government increasingly dependent on Scottish Government funds. The Party also merged Scotland’s regional polices forces into one, the new, centrally-controlled , and terribly-named Police Scotland.
Meanwhile, Nationalist plans for university reform amounted to turning them into public bodies, and at one point their charitable status might have been under threat.
Beyond policy, the SNP casts something of a shadow beyond the political sphere, with academics and businesses alike have attested to how difficult it can be to speak out against the Nationalists.
Internally, the Party actually makes all its elected representatives pledge never to criticise it in public. This lack of self-critical voices exacerbates the negatives of Scotland’s current political imbalance and undermines the Scottish Parliament’s committee system.
It also accounts for the phalanx-like behaviour of the SNP’s 54 Westminster representatives.
All of this is perfectly understandable. Unlike Labour or the Conservatives, which are long-standing coalitions concerned with the long-term governance of the status quo, the SNP is at heart a single-issue phenomenon.
Post-2014 it is a huge but ungainly alliance of nationalist true believers, very left-wing voters, and ‘Tartan Tories’ whose primary political motivation was keeping Scottish Labour out.
Much of the coalition behind the SNP’s dominance is united by little but support for independence. It therefore suits the leadership to forestall, if possible, internal debate. Nobody disputes independence, and there’s no great need to talk about anything else.
Likewise, power is concentrated in Holyrood to prevent alternative centres of power, perhaps controlled by other parties, building up in Scotland.
This is clearly a potent strategy, in the short term. But it needs the promise of a re-run of the referendum to maintain discipline and barring a change in circumstances, that rematch does not look imminent.
How long will the promise of it hold the SNP’s legion of new, energised members in line – and how will the Party’s current, very successful model fare if they lose faith?