Govt inboxes swamped with smacking ban complaints

Senior members of the Scottish Government have been inundated with complaints about the smacking ban amidst fears it will criminalise loving parents and undermine child protection services, freedom of information requests reveal.

Be Reasonable Scotland highlights a tranche of letters and emails to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Children’s Minister Maree Todd before a key vote on the proposals in 2019, and throughout 2020 before the new law came into force.

The 2019 correspondence, received in the days surrounding a final Stage 3 vote, shows that parents pleaded with the government not to change the law right up until the eleventh hour. Despite this, the government whipped MSPs to support the change.

A further batch of messages, received by Ministers in July, August, and October 2020 reveals that staunch opposition to the smacking ban continues, with parents decrying a lack of public information about the new law and controversial advice telling members of the public to ‘dial 999’ if they see a parent smacking a child.

A full list of correspondence is available at the links below:

Freedom of Information response 1: 2019 Correspondence

Freedom of Information response 2: 2019 Correspondence

Freedom of Information response 3: 2020 Correspondence

A spokesperson for Be Reasonable Scotland, which spearheaded opposition to the smacking ban, commented:

“It was clear from day one that the public overwhelmingly opposed the smacking ban. In polls, 7 out of 10 Scots rejected a move to criminalise parents who use mild discipline with their children.

“Despite this clear and overwhelming opposition, Ministers chose to forge ahead. The correspondence revealed today is proof, if we needed any, that our political class is completely out-of-touch with the views and priorities of the Scottish people they are elected to represent.

“As many have noted, the smacking ban will not affect comfortable, middle class politicians. It will lead to stressful and disproportionate intervention in deprived areas and immigrant communities. In Ireland, a country lauded by Maree Todd for its smacking ban, the first parent to be criminalised was an immigrant father – despite nobody actually witnessing him smack his child.

“Is this what the SNP wants? Scotland’s vulnerable and marginalised citizens having their collars felt by the police and facing criminal charges for using mild discipline? It’s certainly not what these individuals need. The smacking ban is presented as a progressive change but it’s actually a classist attack.”

2019 Correspondence

One letter to the First Minister, received on the day of the Stage 3 debate, slammed the government for endorsing the “agenda” of “energetic activists” instead of “the population as a whole”. It adds:

“…you need to halt your ‘Parent Criminalisation’ bill immediately and refocus your attention on the many social and economic issues which you were elected to address. Any other course of action will cause deep division and angst within our society and will unfairly scar and ruin many families in the years to come”.

Another email, to Children’s Minister Maree Todd states: “I am asking you to vote against this Bill. I have read and reviewed the consultation document and am aware of the arguments for the Bill, but I feel that the whole tenor of the language used throughout this whole process and throughout the consultation document at the very onset equates smacking with assault which creates an unfair and untrue bias”.

“The law as it stands already protects a child against assault. This Bill is seeing to redefine assault to a level that is, in my opinion, ridiculous. To equate a disciplinary measure amongst a host of others, such as a smack on the back of the hand or leg, with a violent attack is duplicitous. In effect, the lightest tap is being paralleled with a criminal assault on a child.”

It adds: “In actual fact, at a recent event involving S5 and S6 pupils from our local school, at which the topic The Smacking Bill: Fair, Flawed or Foolish? Was discussed and debated, not one pupil thought the Bill was fair and all thought it was at very best flawed and probably in reality foolish!”

A further message to Todd, sent on the morning before the Stage 3 debate, states: “While well-meaning I believe [the smacking ban] is misguided and will result in an unnecessary burden on our policing and legal system without improving the situation. What is needed is parenting education and evidence based information that convinces parents that alternatives to smacking are more effective.”

Despite messages from the public being unanimously against a smacking ban, Ministers chose to endorse the proposal. The backing of the Scottish Government – which opposed the policy as late as 2018 – was key to securing its passage to law.

2020 Correspondence

An email to Maree Todd on 31 July stated: “I would be obliged if you could advise me of the action taken by the Scottish Government to make sure parents are aware of this appalling legislation which could bring criminal charges against them for the mildest chastisement and also given the pressure which is already stretching authorities to the limit with the coronavirus”.

An email to Todd on 1 August stated: “I do not agree with the ban for many reasons not least because I believe we already have a robust system in place…My main concern at this time, is that no parent I have spoken to is aware of the impending ban, they have not heard of it and do not understand that this change in law will affect them, effectively making them possible criminals”.

“Many parents are going to find themselves on the wrong side of the law and will face a criminal investigation as a result. What action do the Scottish Government recommend for such parents if, as the case may well be, they were unaware of the changes to the law?”

A third email on 2 August – 12 weeks before the ban came into force – warned: I have heard nothing about [the ban] from the Scottish Government. Are you going to make parents aware that they will be prosecuted under criminal laws should they use reasonable discipline with their children?”

Further correspondence blasts worrying messaging from the Scottish Government encouraging citizens to call 999 if they see a parent smacking a child.

An email to Nicola Sturgeon on 15 October read: “I am deeply shocked that your government is now asking us to call 999 if we see someone smacking a child. Smacking is not abuse – there is already law which deals with abusing a child. Please do not bring this law into force on 7 November.”

The Government quietly changed this guidance following criticism in the media. However, leaflets containing the same advice had already been sent to local authorities across Scotland.


Notes for Editors

The Be Reasonable campaign is a grassroots coalition of parents, academics and politicians. Find out more on the Be Reasonable Scotland website.

Issued on behalf of Be Reasonable Scotland by:

Tom Hamilton Communications
Mob: 07836 603 977