Scotland is fast becoming the most strident, unforgiving nanny state in the West. A world leader in the policing of people’s beliefs and lifestyles. It has in recent years passed laws telling football fans what they’re allowed to sing and chant. It has banned smoking in cars and parks and said it wants to make Scotland ‘smokefree’ by 2034. It has introduced the Named Person scheme whereby every bairn will have a state official keeping an eye on them from birth to the age of 18. (George Orwell called — he wants his storyline back.) And now this little republic of rulemaking plans to ban parents from smacking their kids.
Yes, parental slapping, the thing that so horrifies middle-class tofu mums, which brings tears to the eyes of New Dad newspaper columnists who are so scared of screwing up their kids that they think even the naughty step is a little too Hitler, is going to be outlawed north of the border. Green MSP John Finnie has brought forward a bill proposing that the defence of ‘justifiable assault’, which allows parents to physically punish their kids, be removed from Scottish law. The SNP says it won’t oppose the bill. Of course it won’t. The SNP distrusts parents so profoundly it introduced the Named Person thing. It’s hardly going to object to a bill telling parents how to parent.
The consequences of the bill will be dire. Loving parents will suffer. The stressed-out mum trying to manage four kids as she negotiates the aisles of Asda and then finds herself lashing out at one of them: grass her to the cops. The traditionalist father who adores his children more than life itself and thinks a smack on the legs is a preferable form of punishment to plonking them on a chair for 15 minutes: drag him to court. The mother who just about stops her boy from running into the road and is so determined to let him know he has just done an incredibly dangerous thing that she clips him round the ear… what if we witness that? Dial 999?
Normal, good parents could find themselves punished on the basis that they have behaved violently. But here’s the thing: parental smacking isn’t violence. It is not assault. The intention is not to inflict pain or humiliation; it is to discipline and educate. Violence is a physical act designed to belittle and hurt. Parental smacking is the opposite of that. In the vast majority of cases, smacking is an act of love, not violence.
I was smacked as a child. And damn I needed it. There were six kids — all boys! — in a small house, being looked after by two painfully young parents who also had some fairly traditional views on behaviour. If you tell me my parents assaulted me, it’s very possible I will assault you. It is simply untrue. Their smacking was as much about caring for me as was their feeding and clothing of me, their reading to me, and so on. It was an extension of loving parenting, not a deviation from it. Campaigners’ inability to distinguish between parents who smack their children and parents who assault their children — a mercifully small minority — is deeply worrying. To them, the mum who slaps her rampaging boy on the back of his head is on a spectrum with the dad who relentlessly whips or starves his children. What a perverse way of viewing parents.
Some say that just as you wouldn’t assault an adult, so you shouldn’t ‘assault’ a child. But there are many things we do to children that we wouldn’t dream of doing to adults. We make sure their bottoms are clean after they’ve been to the loo. We forbid them from eating certain things. We tell them to go to bed. We tell them off for getting food on their jumpers. You wouldn’t do any of that to someone over the age of 18. But children are different. They are immature, rash, untrustworthy. They need boundaries. Some parents enforce those boundaries with a slap. Because they love their children.
What we have in Scotland — and which we might soon have across the UK, if campaigners get their way — is the imposition of parenting diktats, the use of legal pressure to force every parent in the land to raise their kids in a way that the cultural elite approves of. It is an attack on parental sovereignty and familial privacy. It will make parents feel ashamed and it might even criminalise them. It will pit kids against their mothers. ‘I’m telling the police on you’, they’ll say. And it will further throw open the family home and the family itself to the prying eyes of the police and bureaucrats. It is a disaster.