A smacking ban won’t help kids genuinely at risk
IT’S been quite a journey for the
Scottish Government. Not long ago
they held up their hands in shock at
the prospect of a ban on smacking,
stating such a proposal would criminalise
Fast forward to 2019, and they have
become cheerleaders for a Bill which will
do just that – criminalise parents.
The government has pledged to
support Green MSP John Finnie’s
virtuous-sounding Children (Equal
Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill,
which is now being scrutinised by the
Scottish Parliament’s Equality and Human
But there’s not a shred of evidence it is
needed or will help children.
Instead, it typifies a growing trend
towards patronising and unwarranted
state interference in family life.
The Bill and its advocates came under a
coruscating attack last week during an
appearance before MSP s by academic Dr
Stuart Waiton, the respected and outspoken
Abertay University sociologist and
He wiped the floor with the dogooders
who seek to extend their
powers over the threshold of every home
of every family.
He used ordinary words to tell
what some of their MSP superiors have in
store, saying: “This is a tragic, depressing
bill… which appears to represent the
aloof, elitist nature of politics and professional
life that treats parents in a very patronising
and degraded way.
“It uses all sorts of weird legalistic talk
about violence… and criminalises parents.
I would just plead to your common sense
that if you think that doing that to a small
child is a form of violence that harms
them then you are living on another
Proponents of the smacking ban have
claimed children who receive a light
smack from a loving mum or dad learn
that ‘violence’ is a good thing.
Attacking this, Dr Waiton pointed
to the public gallery and said: “My daughter
is over there. I’ve smacked her. Ask if
she’s been violent lately.”
The Bill would remove the defence of
‘reasonable chastisement’ from law.
Finnie claims that this legal provision
allows parents and guardians to “assault”
their children without being punished,
giving children less protection than adults.
This argument could not be more false.
The reasonable chastisement defence
simply ensures parents who use light
physical discipline – like a tap on the hand
or a smack on the bottom – will not be
The defence is clear. It expressly
prohibits “blows to the head; shaking; and
the use of an implement, such as a belt,
slipper or cane”, stating: “Where these are
used, then the punishment cannot be
found to be justifiable.”
Dispensing with the reasonable
chastisement defence would make all
physical contact for the purpose of
discipline potentially criminal.
Child developmental psychologist
Robert Larzelere, who has more than
three decades of research on smacking to
call upon, contends that “there is no
sound causal evidence against smacking”.
In his submission to MSPs, he argued that
smacking bans do “more harm than
Strathclyde’s Professor Tommy MacKay,
former president of the Bri t ish
Psychological Society, also opposed the
Bill in his response, arguing it “will not
in fact enhance the protection
of children” and “will have a
number of negative consequences”.
Police Scotland states “the repeal [of
reasonable chastisement] will result in an
increase in reporting. This will have potential
cost/resource implications for Police
Scotland and partner agencies”. Police
will have to invest time and resources to
pursue parents accused of smacking their
All the while many children who are the
victims of the most awful domestic violence
could slip through the safety net as
resources are thinly spread.
In Scotland, we have long recognised
intervention by police and courts in family
matters should be a last resort.
The smacking Bill ignores this historic
convention and imposes the parenting
preferences of certain politicians upon the
entire electorate. It is nanny-statism
dressed up as children’s rights.
Dr Waiton says a smacking ban would
encourage an environment of insecurity
and suspicion, where parents become anxious
about the potential surveillance of
their private lives, especially from teachers
and other professionals who will be
educated to understand that smacking is
criminal, a form of abuse that needs to be
addressed. What ordinary mum or dad
would disagree with that?
Parents and professionals
oppose Finnie’s proposal.
This is reflected in polling of
the public, which consistently
shows around three-quarters of
Scots adults do not want a ban.
It is vital the powerful but sometimes
recalcitrant silent majority make their
voices heard as this Bill is considered.
Parents and practitioners who would be
affected by this law change should write
to the Equality and Human Rights
Committee and their MSP.
Tell them it’s patronising and unnecessary,
that it won’t help genuinely
at-risk children. There’s still time to stop
this cynical ban. But, unless you act and
act now, they’ll get away with it.