The First Steps To A Universal Early learning and Care Service?

Professor John Davis, Professor of Childhood Inclusion at the University of Edinburgh compares the Scottish Government’s plans for a quality, flexible, accessible and affordable early learning and childcare service to the Common Weal’s proposals for a universal service.

Last Thursday, the Scottish Government published its action plan for how it will double the amount of free early learning and childcare for all 3-4 year olds and ‘eligible’ two year olds. The SNP have set out a strategy for how they will meet their 2020 manifesto committed to deliver 1,140 hours per year of early learning and childcare (30 hours per week for 38 weeks) and enable hard pressed families to save up to £4500 per year.

Readers will be reminded of the Common Weal ‘An Equal Start’ report published in 2016 which sought to highlight the key issues and barriers that might hinder such an aim and that set out an ambitious longer term proposals for developing a universal early learning and childcare service by for 2-5 year olds by 2025 (which would include a blend of provision offered by centres and childminders).


capacity challenge


In his statement to parliament, Mark MacDonald, The Minister for Childcare and Early Years explained that quality, flexibility, accessibility and affordability would be the cornerstones of the Scottish Government’s action plan for early learning and care services.  So what are the issues that the government need to overcome if they are to meet their target?

The Common Weal ‘An Equal Start’ report suggested that there was a lack of capacity in the sector to meet the requirement for 45000 new places, 1125 new childcare centres and 11000 full time (or up to 20,000 part-time) posts by 2020.  It argued that there were:

  • barriers to private sector involvement in the free hours scheme (e.g. around 30% of funding went to the private sector providers who became ‘partners’ with local authorities)
  • insufficient all day provision (e.g. 8am to 6pm) due to issues with the costs per hour paid to providers
  • a lack of training for staff on how to work with disabled children and ‘eligible’ two year olds
  • huge pay inequalities between private and public sector employees and a lack of national pay scales commensurate with other degree level professions
  • a need for a national framework/organisation to strategically plan capital investment to expand the number of buildings
  • a need to advertise and raise public knowledge of the new Childhood Practice degree that around 2000 managers had completed or were now studying for.

We argued that the huge amount of funding available to early learning and childcare provided a unique opportunity to develop and regenerate local town and village centres and produce quality early services that were embedded in wider local and community-based integrated services:

‘There being little point in developing high quality early years centres if we do not, at the same time, address the whole system around the child and family.’

We also suggested there should be an audit of local authorities to ascertain capacity and infrastructure issues and a task force to address these issue. So let us see how far the government have travelled when compared with our ‘An Equal Start’ plan.

The government statement (and accompanying documentation) set out a clear action plan:

‘That involves removing barriers to private and third sector providers delivering funded ELC. The service model for the future must ensure more financially sustainable provision across all sectors – including community-led provision, such as the approach to extending hours being supported through the Argyll and Bute Trial involving the Mull & Iona Community Trust. ‘

That’s a good start and chimes well with our ideas for developing local communities set out in the Common Weal Book of Ideas which asked readers to:

‘Visualise an early learning and childcare sector that provides free childcare for cash strapped parents, involves children spending at least 50% of their time outdoors and revolutionises the way we think about the role of community and local spaces.’

On Thursday, Mark MacDonald confirmed £60 million will be spent in 2017-18 to support the first phase of capacity building to create new spaces for childcare. So it looks like the government has been listening.  In October 2015 in a Bella Caledonia article on the Common Weal Book of Ideas we suggested that the capital spend going into early learning and care could help to regenerate local communities.


book of ideas

We estimated, in our ‘An Equal Start Report’, that 800 million might be required for new buildings. Mar MacDonald stated:

‘we will provide greater certainty to local authorities over multi-year revenue and capital funding assumptions over the coming weeks and months. ‘

So it will be important to keep an eye on the details that emerge and who has access to the capital spend that goes to each local authority area. Speaking to local authorities, the suggestion is that the first phase of spending will look to ensure maximise the repurposing and expansion of existing buildings. We had suggested a national task force was required to ensure capital spend was not wasted and we questioned whether the buildings developed from the capital spend would actually be designed from the perspective of young children.

So, it was splendid news that the Government will partner with the Scottish Future’s trust and Care inspectorate to produce guidance on innovative design (of both indoor and outdoor spaces); that the Scottish Futures Trust will produce regular ELC infrastructure progress reports; and that the government will establish a multi-disciplinary team (co-designed with local authorities) to provide expert professional and technical delivery support to local authorities.

Full marks here for the minister who stated that such a multi-disciplinary delivery support team will enable local authorities to develop the additional service innovation and redesign capacity required whilst producing economies of scale by sharing solutions for common and complex issues. A national team is definitely excellent news for those of us who were worried local authorities might fritter away the money (a la the Edinburgh Trams fiasco) and we are also pleased that this team will be backed up by the Futures Trust who will also have to report, at a strategic level, on progress made.

There was also a positive shift away from Tory ideas on early learning and childcare. Page 11 of the action plan removed the immediate likelihood of the SNP adopting a Tory plan (for vouchers or learning accounts) that might lead to a huge increase in private provision and mean that more local children, at an early age, were channelled into private school nursery provision and therefore divided from other children in their communities.

The announcement of a:

‘feasibility study to explore potential costs and benefits of introducing an Early Learning and Childcare Account in the future.’

Should mean that this idea cannot be implemented unless greatly amended. The delay in implementing learning accounts might enable the Greens, Labour and Liberals to get their act together and produce a united policy that Scotland should, in time, move to a universal early learning and care service, free at the point of use.

Slovenia, who out rank us in the PISA scores that compare children’s educational ability at aged 15, has had a universal childcare service since 1970’s and it was introduced on the back of a huge movement for women’s rights. Mark MacDonald’s plan, by increasing quality and capacity, could act as an excellent stepping stone to a position where the Scottish government announce (e.g. in a future referendum) that a universal service will be the founding block of an independent Scotland that ensures all children are given an equal start in life.

The labour policy on this issue is particularly unclear on their website at present – so here is hoping they remember that their party once thought of a universal childcare service as a positive policy for women’s rights.

An independent Scottish government could move to a universal service by increasing funding to 1900 hours per year (8.00 am to 6 pm provision) or introducing a policy that reduces the working day to 6 hours (as per recent experiments in Finland and Sweden).

The Minister announced on Thursday that his action plan is currently provider neutral (the money will follow the child where ever parents can find provision).   If you ask business people, they will tell you it is very difficult to garner a profit from government funded early learning services that involve being a ‘partner provider’ that adopts local authority standards. The government recognised on Thursday that there are disincentives to the private sector:

‘We know from our Financial Review and responses to the Blueprint consultation that there are two key barriers to private and third sector providers delivering funded ELC: (1) the current partnership agreement process, which can be cumbersome and restrictive; and (2) the hourly rate offered by local authorities doesn’t meet the costs of provision. The new service model will be underpinned by a more open, proportionate and consistent approach, which makes it more attractive for high quality providers to deliver funded ELC.’

This aim could raise concerns that we are moving in the opposite direction from a state run universal service, however, the requirement that private providers can only access government funding if they become ‘partner providers’ (who adopt local authority standards) should avoid any chance there is a race to the bottom where standards are reduced in the search for profit.

impact of early yeras economicsThe ‘An Equal Start Report’ recognised some issues concerning quality in the private sector and suggested a National Child Care Service could be utilised to increase quality, expand the use of outdoor provision and overcome fears that a move to 1140 hours will simply lead to the institutionalisation of early childhood. So, it was also great news that Mark MacDonald announced: a ELC Service Models Working Group to develop the details of the new ‘Funding Follows the Child’ model; a national standard for a more open process to becoming a funded provider; and a common set of standards for quality, availability, affordability, flexibility and staffing.

In so doing, Mark MacDonald began to address fears about the impact on young children’s learning of variations in quality between the private and public sector. Indeed, by stating that the government will work with local authorities to set a national standard for funded provider status and local authorities will continue to have a statutory responsibility to ensure that funded entitlement is available for all eligible children in their areas, he set out a universal approach to quality and accessibility.  The buildings will be owned by a range of private, public and voluntary organisations but what happens in the buildings will have to meet national quality standards set by the public sector local authorities.

One issue of concern about the role of local authorities has been that the huge amount of retirements and job cuts in the public sector mean that their can sometimes be a lack of staff with early years qualifications making strategic decisions in local authorities. Similarly, many services are now co-located with primary schools or teachers are redeployed into early years, or, primary heads manage both the school and nursery but have no qualifications in early years pedagogy.

On top of this issue of a lack of knowledge, skills and experience relating to early learning, by raising the funded provision to 1140 hours, the Scottish Government has also created a need for an increase in the numbers of qualified staff in the sector (e.g. all leaders of early years services now have to have the BA Childhood practice qualification or equivalent to register with the Scottish Social Services council and all workers must have an HNC or VQ3). Hence, there have been numerous calls for increases in budgets for training and qualifications in the sector.

Quality services depend on well qualified workers, therefore the sector will have been relieved to hear Mark MacDonald’s statements on qualifications and training:

‘We are providing local authorities with £21 million in 2017-18 to invest in the first phase of the workforce expansion – both increasing the size of the workforce and equipping existing staff with new skills. This local investment will be complemented by an increase in the number of places available on further and higher education courses in the 2017‑18 academic year. The Scottish Funding Council will provide an additional 350 graduate-level places (which includes places to support the Additional Graduate commitment) and 650 places for practitioner-level qualifications across our further and higher educational institutions…. …We are providing funding of £1.5 million to the Scottish Funding Council to increase teacher training and other ELC‑related graduate places in the 2017-18 academic year. … … As part of our work to develop the Quality Action Plan, we will work with professional bodies to consider how we can further strengthen the role of teachers in delivering learning in ELC settings ‘

Unlike teaching or nursing, this is a sector where employees and employers have had to fund their own qualifications.   This is the first time that a minister in our field has set out such an ambitious plan for qualifications and training.  Again, the devil will be in the detail, but at first glance this looks like a brilliant example of a listening government responding to the requests of its citizens.

Similarly, Mark MacDonald was the first minister to seriously develop research on pay on conditions in the sector. Common Weal raised the issue of pay in our ‘An Equal Start Report’. This led Mark MacDonald to commissioned a report entitled the Financial review of early learning and childcare in Scotland: the current landscapewhich identified that 80% of practitioners and 50% of senior staff were payed below the living wage (as report here by common space).

On the 18th of March Nicola Sturgeon announced £50 million to ensure the living wage for private sector early learning and care workers (see announcement here) and on Thursday Mark MacDonald announced a requirement for the promotion of Fair Work practices across the sector, including ensuring that staff are fairly remunerated and that partner providers agree pay rates with local authorities.

The Scottish Government have been criticised for taking their eye of the day job when: producing detailed Scotland specific responses to the result of the EU referendum, setting out plans for a future referendum and seeking to ensure that Scotland is not dragged off a Tory die-hard Brexit cliff. Yet, in Mark MacDonald’s announcement we can see that the ‘day job’ has not been ignored and that the SNP government have been working very hard to produce concrete, detailed and wide ranging plans for early learning and care. Plans that will raise the status of this sector in ways that will make it more attractive sector to work in:

‘And we will work with delivery partners to develop recruitment and career pathways to assist in attracting and retaining high calibre candidates in the workforce, to raise the profile of a career in ELC amongst under-represented groups and to seek to improve gender balance across the sector… …We will also increase the focus on access to graduate-level early years educators, seeking to strengthen the practice-based element of graduate level training, with clear measures to be set out in our Quality Action Plan.’

Other announcements included a new fund for accessible provision for disabled children; more effective partnership working to support transitions into, through, and out of, ELC; increased funding for childcare for professionals studying for childhood practice qualifications; and a Learning and Development Pathway for all childminders to ensure that the mix and blend of provision is widened.

SCMA logo

The announcement on Childminding is another example of where having a parliament in Edinburgh enables organisations and workers to collaborate closely with Government to ensure their policies meet and respond to local and national concerns. Maggie Simpson, Chief Executive of the Scottish Childminding Association, who has campaigned for a greater role for childminders in local authorities, welcomed the announcement (see SCMA statement here):

 “SCMA welcomes the findings of the Blueprint Consultation on Early Learning and Childcare and an acknowledgement that childminders have a key role in the future delivery of funded entitlement.” Said.  However, there is much to be done to make this a reality. Up until now childminders have played a relatively limited role in providing funded entitlement despite being keen to be active partners… …  The expansion provides an opportunity for childminders to have an enhanced role in the delivery of funded ELC but to achieve this, local authorities need to show willing and embrace this opportunity.

The Government’s action plan is a serious good document that has great potential to improve the sector, increase standards and regenerate communities. In the longer term, we need to keep our eye on the detail of how capital spend will be accessed and how much will go to the private sector. For example, on a recent trip to New Zealand we encountered anecdotal evidence that access to capital spend had enable excess profit for some private sector companies and we need to ensure that such possibilities, for the misdirection of public funds, does not occur here.

We would have liked to have seen an announcement on a longer tem movement to all professionals in the sector (including teachers) registering with the SSSC, all practitioners having a degree and all managers being trained to masters level. But, there is nothing in the statement that would hinder such a shift in the future.

The government commissioned Skills Development Scotland (SDS) to publish a Skills Investment Plan (SIP) to grow the ELC workforce, improve gender balance and increase the number of ELC Modern Apprenticeships. These steps are to be welcomed but they also raise questions as to whether such a plan exists for growing the skills of those who will be involved in developing the buildings that will enable the expansion of the ELC sector?  We are keen that the capital spend is utilised to develop skills that remain in our communities long after the buildings are completed and that this spend is not simply extracted out of Scotland by big business (as has been the criticism of some PFI and PPI projects).

To conclude, in The Common Weal ‘An Equal Start Report’ we asked for a strategy to ensure money is well spent, we asked for fair pay, we asked for a focus on child specific design, we asked for flexibility for local areas, we asked for funding for qualifications and we asked for a greater role for the public sector leading in time to a universal early learning and care service. The Scottish Government has responded emphatically on all of these issues.

A universal service, is the only phrase missing from Mark MacDonald’s plan (and his four pillars of quality, flexible, accessible and affordable). In spite of this omission, we hope to be able to look back at this government announcement and conclude that it was, in fact, the day that the first serious stepping stones to a national universal early learning and care service were clearly set out.


It Is A Matter Of When – Not If – the Union Ends: Demographics, Not Racism, Will bring About An Independent Scotland And A United Ireland

In June 2015 I wrote in this blog post about the ironic way that unionists pointed the finger of extremism at Scotland with out ever reflecting on their own prejudice.

My June 2015 blog piece also pointed out that we are all racist in some way or other. It argued that our racism can be unintentional but it occurs because we can never fully understand every new cultural context we find ourselves in.  In short, the complexity, insidiousness and unrelenting nature of normalism, standardisation, universalism and ethnocentrism means that we all have problems engaging with moments that require us to see the world from another person’s perspective.

So, when Sadiq Khan makes accusations of racism about people in Scotland, he is correct; but not necessarily in the way he intended. He intended to stigmatise a political grouping who support independence but in seeking to injure his perceived opponents, he actually fell into the ethnocentric trap of suggesting proindy Scots are a homogeneous entity.  In so doing, he practiced the very racism he was seeking to oppose.  He stereotyped a group who in the UK context are a minority and spoke as if all members of the SNP are the same or all independence supporters are the same.  It may be that Sadiq Khan’s own recent experiences of racism (e.g. at the hands of Zac Goldsmith) had placed a veil over his senses, or (of more concern) it is possibly the case that people in the labour party asked him to say something like this because they have done the maths and realised that they need to peel off certain demographics from the proindy camp.

Could they really stoop so low?  Unfortunately, we only have to look back at the last Westminster election to see that the Labour party have a problem concerning stereotypes, race and politics and are only too ready to stoop to the politics of the gutter in an attempt to appeal to an imaginary racist labour leaning section of the electorate. I wrote in 2015 that the Labour Party should be ashamed of this type of gutter politics:

It is ironic that Westminster establishment types point the finger at politics in Scotland when their own political sphere has become so extreme. Indeed, so extreme that Labour politicians are scared to voice support for immigration least it loose them votes with the English electorate.  The labour party should be ashamed of its fear – it is this type of fear that enables extremists to flourish unchallenged.


This statement is as relevant now as it was in 2015. 2 years has not been a long time in the ground hog politics of unionist extremism.  The labour party’s anti-migrant mugs at the 2015 election were very mind numbing examples of where nationalism stokes racism.  The racist mugs fitted with Labour politics because Labour were desperate.  The mugs were not only unacceptable,  they were also stupid (they most likely cost the Labour Party core voters).

labour party mugs with green

The reactions in Scotland to Khan’s comments are understandable. The labour Party have lost sight of their values and should sort themselves out before attacking others.  The Labour party seem to have a problem standing up for the social justice and anti-discriminatory values their voters believe in.  Labour party voters voted by over 60% for remaining in the EU but the Labour party fails to hold the Tories to account over Tory red, white and blue Brexit.

brexit by party

Scots have a point, when they suggest it would be worth the Labour party putting its own house in order before throwing muck at other people.  However, Gerry Hassan also warns us not to completely ignore Sadiq Khan’s remarks see this link .

Some pro-independence voices will read and dismiss the above, comfortable in their belief in our civic nationalism. Well, here is a warning from these isles. British nationalism, historically, has been a civic nationalism – one which has articulated a multi-cultural, multi-national union of four nations. And look what it has descended into in recent years: regressive, reactionary, xenophobic and profoundly insular and nasty: something that is beginning to look like in places an ethnic nationalism…. … The politics of ‘my nationalism is more virtuous than your nationalism’ versus ‘our nationalism isn’t a nationalism’ isn’t a very attractive one. Or one that offers much guide to the future choices of Scotland – independent or not independent…. ….If we (the various peoples who live in Scotland) are confident enough about ourselves, we cannot just insist that Scottish nationalism is about the good guys and virtuous story of our nation. Instead, there has to be an awareness of the sociology of nationalisms which involves more than citing Benedict Anderson’s point that all nations and peoples are ‘imagined communities’ or continually referencing how ‘civic’ our nationalism is and how tolerant we are. We should inhabit this terrain, live it, while recognising that there are other nationalisms and Scotland’s out there.

No Nation has a monopoly on social justice, no political party is without its extremes and no one person is perfect, I wrote about this in 2015:

For example, I never thought of myself as a racist, I had black friends when growing up, play rugby with black players, my favourite sports starts were black (Muhammid Ali and Viv Richards), I had huge respect for political figures like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and I went out with a black girl friend, etc. (I came to realise later this was potentially tokenistic tosh). Whilst growing up, I had picked up some decidedly dodgy views about people from South Asia. Indeed, I lived in a community which celebrated black footballers but assumed people from India and Pakistan were not sporty and ‘all’ wanted to be shopkeepers or doctors.  Our communities at the time were also populated with myths about arranged marriage, housing and food choices. It was not until my late teens that I started to realise that I had racist views.  I learned from an excellent modern studies teacher called Mr Griffiths about the history of immigration to the UK and about political figures from South Asia who promoted Human rights and anti-colonialism. My education was furthered at university in Northern Ireland where I played cricket with South Asian cricketers who would educate me about their family histories and cultural differences whilst strolling round the boundary and lounging about in the sun. I studied anthropology and sociology and came to understand how stigma, generalisations and stereotypes were fostered as part of colonialism as a method of enabling the UK to do terrible things to everyday people in other countries, whilst ripping those countries off for their natural resources.  On returning to Scotland in the early 1990s I was a very different person much more aware of the racist society that we live in and with a completely different view of Scotland to my 18 year old self who had once argued with a friend that Scotland didn’t have a problem with racism. That doesn’t mean I was or am cured of prejudice – the thing about prejudice is it crops up when you least expect it.

As Sadiq Khan has just demonstrated, even when we are attempting to combat racism we can unexpectedly and unthinkingly adopt racist positions. Gerry Hassan tells us that those promoting a notion of English racist bad and Scotland non-racist good, need to wise up to the reality of modern Scotland.

Numerous ‘us’ and ‘thems’ need airing. The writer Henry Bell said last week that anti-Englishness wasn’t racism – a respectable and understandable position – but did so as if there could be no debating of the matter, stating: ‘The English in Scotland – holding a culturally dominant, non-racialised identity – do not experience racism’. This was because, in his view, ‘racism is not just discrimination but power dynamic’. That’s one interpretation, but the racism Wiki entry opens with the following observation: ‘Racism is discrimination and prejudice based on their race or ethnicity. Today, the use of the term “racism” does not easily fall under a single definition’. At minimum, this means there should be a debate about what constitutes racism.

I have heard Henry Bell’s arguments many times.  Put in simpler terms the position is that you can’t be racist against a majority – hog wash. As Gerry Hassan alludes to, definitions of racism are so much more complex than that.

In my 2011 book Integrated Children’s Services I describe a research project where I worked with colleagues to analyse black and minority ethnic families experience of early years services. One method we employed was a survey of professionals – some professionals made explicitly racist comments in the open question at the end of the survey, others lacked knowledge of how to promote anti-discrimination in their work place.  A subsequent study carried out with the SSSC demonstrated that whilst qualifications had enabled leaders of early years, play, family centre and out of school services to gain knowledge concerning anti-discrimination some had difficulties putting this knowledge into practice and operationalising it when incidents occurred.  It is important that politicians and professionals understand the different types of racism they might be promoting when they throw mud at their opponents:

Irish Mariian Young suggests there are differences between racism related to cultural difference and racism that is related to power/structural position:

iris marion young

In my observation, concerns and concepts more associated with the politics of cultural difference have tended to occupy political theorists in recent years, such as issues of autonomy for minority cultures or toleration of religious difference, than have concerns and concepts more associated with a politics of positional difference, such as the status meaning of occupational positions, and the normalization of attributes that count as qualification for them. Failure properly to conceptualize the difference between these two models of a politics of difference may lead to obscuring certain specific forms of group based injustice, such as racism or the normalization of certain capacities, which cannot be reduced to issues of cultural difference.   I think that much recent political theory concerned with group difference has indeed ignored such issues, which were central to the problematics that generated theorizing on the politics of difference in the 1980’s.  Both versions of a politics of difference are important, and they sometimes overlap.  The politics of positional difference is broader in the scope of the kinds of groups whose concerns it brings under inquiry, I will argue.  Both models concern issues of justice.  I will suggest, however, that the politics of positional difference concentrates on issues of structural inequality while the main issues that arise in a politics of cultural difference concern freedom.

Hence discrimination occurs both when people try to inhibit our cultural freedoms (such as saying voting for independence is not ‘normal’) and when structural inequality disproportionately impacts on specific groups in society e.g. for 6 decades working-class Scots (both born here and migrants) have experienced the worst levels of health inequality in the UK because of the failure of unionist politicians to address issues of: poor housing, community powerlessness, poverty, joblessness and subsequent illnesses of despair.

Ideas of structural inequality encourages us to think about the positions and locations in which racism occurs but it does not legitimise the idea that its not racist to attack a majority.  Firstly, analysing racism through the critical lens of power and structure does not take away the fact that in Scotland, English born citizens are a minority. Secondly, it is not racist for Scots to challenge Westminster institutions in relation to the way they exercise power but it would be racist to say that Westminster politicians do so because of their genetic and ethnic inheritance – People born in England (just as is the case in Scotland) are not all the same, biologically, socially, culturally or geographically.  As Gerry Hassan points out, our story of civic nationalism requires us to avoid false dichotomies concerning insiders and outsiders.

In 2015 I challenged Westminster politicians and unionists who sought to scapegoat Scots voters:

The establishment’s modus operandi is to scapegoat people whether it be Scots seeking self-determination, people coming here from other countries, benefits claimants or those who experience ill health. Scapegoating occurs not simply because the establishment are so ethnocentric they can’t recognise their own prejudices but because the establishment require divide and rule tactics to keep us from recognising what the real problems are in the so very unequal collection of nations that make up the UK.

Henry Bell’s approach (potentially) reproduces the scapegoating in the other direction.  Brexit (and the recent vote in Northern Ireland that puts the unionists in the minority) means that this is not a stereotypically English v Scots situation. We need to recognise the different ways that the Westminster establishment will seek to utilise approaches of divide and rule in the forthcoming independence referendum (whenever it eventually is) and ensure that our response is not simply divide and rule in the other direction.

An independent Scotland could act as a way of moving beyond entrenched politics in Northern Ireland but not if it simply reproduces ‘us’ and ‘them’ discourses that misunderstand the complex nature of racism.  In my 2011 book Integrated Children’s Services I drew from a range of authors to explain different definitions of racism that emerged from the enquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s murder:

Davis and Hancock (2007) found that issues of racism in their study were not always overt. This is similar to other writing that suggests that underlying inequalities might remain hidden in early years settings and that disadvantage may be both intentional and unintentional (Siraj-Blatchford, 2010). This writing encourages us not to assume that all members of ‘structurally oppressed groups’ experience the same types of oppression because identity is multifaceted (Siraj-Blatchford, 2010). It also requires us to understand the different types of racism and that those that work with children may unintentionally undermine their self-esteem due to a connection of issues including gender, religion, socio-economic status, language or ethnicity (Figueroa, 1993; Siraj- Blatchford, 2010). For example, cultural racism involves a link between group identity, group worldview and group behaviour (Figueroa, 1993). Individual racism is associated with individuals who hold stereotypical views and interpersonal racism involves discrimination, harassment and the articulation during social interaction of racist terms (Figueroa, 1993). In the case above there were very few instances of interpersonal racism; however, if those members of staff (in private sector settings) who felt people should ‘learn English’ before they come here had articulated this (individually racist) position to a service user and not just written it on our questionnaire then this would be a clear case of interpersonal racism. Institutional racism manifests itself in the institutions of a society such as schools and functions to disadvantage certain groups by failing to take account of the needs of those groups (Figueroa, 1993).

Sadiq Khan probably demonstrated individual racism when he promoted a stereotypical view of Scots who vote for independence. If reports of his statements are true, he ignored the multifaceted nature of identity; the potential for ethnicity to be interconnected to other identity issues and for discrimination to relate to an intersection of issues including age, gender, sexuality, religion, disability, etc..

Sadiq Khan exhibited cultural racism by stereotyping a group of people’s world view (and promoting an alternative world view that proindy scots are racist).  His comments have the potential to promote institutional racism if the people who work for and with him in the London administration utilise his views to change the way they treat Scots (who live in London) in areas such as housing, education, transport or children’s services.  His comments could be interpreted by some as an encouragement to systematically discriminate against Scots in London.  Indeed, the way that he unsophisticatedly articulated his views potentially smacked of interpersonal racism and an attempt to harass Scots who are thinking of voting for independence out of exercising their democratic prerogative.

Indeed, some of the comments on the internet, e.g. about ‘English’ people who voted yes (in 2014) being traitors, demonstrated a distinct misunderstanding of the notion of ethnicity and identity. Such comments seemed to reduce ethnicity to a singular simplistic characteristic.  Such ways of thinking fail to account for the fact that (if you look back far enough) most people in Scotland are not one ethnic race (indeed because of the ice age we are all immigrants).  I myself have a father who was born and brought up in Wiltshire in England.  Which led me to tweet:

tweet on half english

We do not have to share Sadiq Khan’s views concerning independence to be treated as non-racists but equally we do not have to adopt Henry Bells response and argue that anti-English sentiment isn’t racist. The 2104 Indy ref was not about English v Scot.  Whilst on the Yes Marchmont stall at the meadows I campaigned with the next door stall that was set up by English People for Yes.  My English born father voted yes and continues to aspire to vote yes. The 2014 referendum was about who would run Scotland and where we hold those people to account.  It was about Holyrood v Westminster.

Can you really see the Brexit confused Westminster parliament trumping Holyrood next time? Most Scots would admit it is now a case of when, not if, Scotland becomes independent and the unionists in Northern Ireland have finally woken up to a similar reality – demographics are against unionists in both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Scots and English people are not one ethnicity. All those who live, work and vote in Scotland are rights holders who can exercise their diverse political aspirations in whatever way they so choose. Scot are not a single group of people and In the 2012 book I wrote with Mary Smith we argued that the when professionals and institutions seek to reduce people to one identity they become part of the problem themselves:

In particular it has been argued that notions of equality do not mean that everyone should be the same and that the usefulness of a specific service provision is open to cultural interpretation (Young 1990; Thomas 2009). This type of writing calls for a recognition of a politics of difference (where the individual service user or professional is not reduced to one identity but has multiple identities across different contexts) and the realisation that the ways that institutions define and attempt to resolve people’s life problems can in themselves become further sources of exclusion

Sadiq Khan’s views, and kneejerk reactions by some in the indy movement in Scotland, are part of the problems that a future independence vote will seek to resolve. Scots feel that London centric and Westminster focussed politicians do not understand the realities of their identities, lives and aspirations.  This is also the feeling expressed by voters in Northern Ireland.

The indy movement must avoid falling into Scots v English traps; they must put their own house in order and they must avoid reproducing the tactics of Sadiq Khan.  How sad it is when Goldsmiths desperation leads to Khan’s chilling remarks, leads to indy movement intolerance.  We, in Scotland, have to break such an inglorious circle and we do so by understanding the new political map of these islands and pointing out that unionism has failed (even in its heartland of Northern Ireland).  The opposition are not a different ethnicity to us, they are a different political grouping that currently seek, and historically have sought, to exclude others.

An independent Scotland will celebrate inclusion, diversity, anti-discrimination and social justice in a way that Brexit Westminster Unionism can’t. We, (as Michelle Obama and Robin McAlpine encourage us to) will take the high ground, But, that high ground needs to include the recognition that racism exists in Scotland, if we are to come as near to eradicating discrimination as is possible in our daily lives.

This high ground also requires us to recognise that we are sometimes let down by proindy supporters on social media. If someone told Gerry Hassan (this week) that Stuart Campbell was a plant by unionists to discredit the indy movement, I wonder what his reaction would be.  Slander and liable concerning imagined ‘unionist plants’ helps no one – so this blog is not making such a suggestions.  But, it is important to note that paranoia during indyref 2014 did lead people (on some stalls) to pose questions concerning the motives of apparent indy supporters whose comments and actions (particularly on social media platforms) didn’t do our cause any favours.  Gerry Hassan is frank in his criticism of the recent work of ‘Wings over Scotland’:

Then there was the pro-independence blogger ‘Wings over Scotland’ (aka Stuart Campbell) and his comments during the Tory conference when Oliver Mundell, son of Scottish secretary of state David Mundell, spoke. ‘Wings’ tweeted: ‘Oliver Mundell is the sort of public speaker that makes you wish his dad had embraced his homosexuality sooner’. No doubt ‘Wings’ thought he was being smart, funny and snide all at the same time, but it is a revolting comment. This is the world of ‘them’ and ‘us’, where any comment is fair game about opponents, and Tories in particular, and one laced with connotations of homophobia. Revealingly, ‘Wings’ defended it by saying it was more ‘Toryphobic’, which underlines its ‘them’ and ‘us’ nature.  Not one single senior SNP politician, many of whom follow or retweet ‘Wings’, condemned it or pulled him up, though a number of party members did. In a country which has only in recent years come to terms with homosexuality and gay rights, when previously it was a forbidden subject which produced a major cultural war with homophobes less than a generation ago, this isn’t good enough.

I would go further than that. I say to my fellow Yessers, ‘Don’t ask me to hand out wings material at your stalls, now, or in future’.  Wings can produce its own stuff in its own democratic way (after all we are a nation that advocates free speech), but don’t ask me to peddle their materials.

Iris Marion Young’s work suggested that we can value the politics of difference and institutions should not require people to always come to collective consensus. So the tent should be big enough for everyone.  But, even in my most liberal and ‘let us celebrate diversity’ moments, I have a limit on what I will put up with.  The road to independence needs to be much better articulated if we are to gain our freedom.  Attacking other people by reifying a single aspect of their (or their fathers) identity (satirically or not) just ain’t cool.

Homophobic, sexist, racist, sectarian, size-ist and/or disablist jokes have never been cool. I have been very critical of people who adopt the discourse of inclusion, social justice and anti-discrimination but do not practice what they preach.  It would appear that ‘the Rev’, all to easily, falls (intentionally or not) into this category.   If we are to gain our hard fought independence by garnering new converts to our cause, we not only have to be inclusive in our every action – we need to be seen to be inclusive in our every action .  As Nicola said in her speech at last years SNP conference, the difference between her perspective and that of the Brexiters is the word inclusion.  Sadly, ‘Wings Over Scotland’ seems to have as much difficulty with this concept as the angry Brit Nats.

There Are People in the World with Grace, Poise and Dignity: Learning From American Poetry, Words, and Song

Usually, it’s ‘easy’ to write the first sentence of an article. It’s ‘easy’ because it tells the truth of what’s to follow.  It should be ‘easy’ – even when that ‘easy’ truth may involve many competing truths.  The first line should tell you, very quickly, what the piece is about and start to provide a sign-post for the sections, arguments and conclusions that will follow (well, that’s what we tell our students).  Yet, recent changes in the world have inhibited my wish and ability to write a new blog post, I’ve started many sentences but none have seemed serious and considered enough.

Finally, whilst exchanging emails with my friend and co-writer Christina Milarvie Quarrell concerning men’s inability or unwillingness to express themselves during and about emotional moments, I recognised what was going on. I was supressing a deep sadness at Indyref1, Brexit and the US election.  I was supressing a sadness which needed to be released (Myself and Christina will hopefully be writing on men and emotions soon – watch this space).

Christina had also sent me a link to a recent music and poetry piece by Karine Polwart (which we will also hopefully use in our writing) and it reminded me of that day after indyref1 when Karine’s song, ‘Hole in the Heart’ (see link here) seemed the only haunting anti-dote to the pain of the September 2014 result.


These types of songs seem to free up your emotions and give time for contemplation.  I have also recently been listening to a lot of Allen Toussaint’s New Orleans based music which can be both playful and thoughtful.  It has been very helpful in relation to freeing up words that can be typed on the keyboard.

So, given a sense of freedom to write, this article is about the idea that there are competing truths concerning the USA. It argues that at a time where the media is full of unremitting negativity, we need to remember and recognise American men and women who have not been bellicose; who have liberated different voices; who have conveyed their message in subtle as well as forthright ways; who have had an air of calm determination and confidence about themselves; who have exhibited empathy, generosity and compassion; and who have danced to a tune other than that of hatred.

There ain’t much point moaning our butts off about the present president of the USA.  Even if the current administration sticks in y’ur craw, the lesson you learn from Thatcher, and to some extent Corbyn, is that, sometimes, the more a politician is attacked the more powerful they become.

It is more sensible to quietly put forward alternatives than to run around shouting about everything a politician does.  In particular, last year saw people spending too much time re-tweeting and re-posting stuff that came direct from the, now, president of the USA (thus doing his own PR job for him).  It raised the question, could we have spent more time promoting a different more positive agenda?

Whilst it is important that we challenge unlawful and discriminatory behaviours (such as the travel ban), we need to be thoughtful in our responses. We need the best of Malcolm X, Maya Angelou and Martin Luther King when working out how to oppose tyranny. We need to follow Malcolm X’s encouragement to avoid the pack mentality and work things out for ourselves; we need to remember Martin Luther King’s view that only light can overcome hate; and, above all, we need to think of Maya Angelou’s poem regarding a caged bird:

A free bird leaps

on the back of the wind

and floats downstream

till the current ends

and dips his wing

in the orange sun rays

and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and

his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze

and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees

and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn

and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

We need to ensure that we do not create our own cage of negativity in response to political events.

In November 2015 the American musician, song writer and producer Allen Toussaint died (see Guardian obituary here).  I listened to his funeral live on the internet and was struck by the great love that his musical collaborators had for him and the fine words that were spoken about his way of being in the world.  Here was a man who shone light into the darkness of an industry notorious for fakery and untruths.

Yet, in his own words (in an interview with Larry Appelbaum see link here), Toussaint was also a man who knew what he wanted in the studio and was determined to get it.  A man who sought quality, set standards and yet, learned to listen to others so that magical serendipitous things could happen with the music.


When you listen to Allen Toussaint speak, you can’t help but admire his considered prose. If you watch the interview with Larry Appelbaum closely, you see Allen Taussaint, (on several occasions) resist Appelbaum’s invitation to use stereotypes and to fall into clichés.  Interestingly, when invited to talk about pre 1960s race segregation,  Toussaint also chooses to emphasis the ways that different musicians worked together, rather than take or repeat a stereotypically political position.  In this way, Toussaint is the antipathy of today’s politicians.

Decades before his death Toussaint co-founded the New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homeless (NOAAHH see link here).  Yet, he did not seek any acclaim for this act.  Indeed, he is quoted in his Guardian obituary as referring to his comfort zone as ‘behind the scenes’ and other people refer to him in in this BBC program ‘The Allen Toussaint Touch’ (see link here) as keeping his opinions close to himself.


The BBC program manages to capture something of Toussaint’s quiet grace and dignity, Toussaint lived the vast majority of his life in New Orleans and for a city that’s often depicted as dark, exotic and dangerous, it’s amazing how many thoroughly decent people you meet when you go there. See this link here, for a recent documentary about New Orleans which captures different opinions on the place and includes a tune from the Americana/Ameripolitan band I posted about in May 2014 Gal Holiday and The Honky Tonk Review.

When Alistair Grey re-used Canadian author, Dennis Leigh’s line ‘Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation‘ he pointed us towards a more positive way to confront political opponents and the barriers they create (see Alistair grey’s comments on this phrase at this link here).  He didn’t say, ‘lay on the ground screaming till you can cry no more (as tempting an approach as that may be)’  –  he encouraged us to bring about or be the change we wish to be through our positive actions (a la JFK and Obama).  (For our oversees readers – the phrase ‘Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation‘ is chiselled into the Cannon’s gate side of the Scottish Parliament).


There was something about Toussaint’s quiet and graceful approach to the interview setting that, at the same time as resisting the modern urge for superlatives, seemed to epitomise the request to work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.

In the BBC documentary and Appelbaum interview, Toussaint maps out lots of different musical influences but he appears to resist the urge to construct a single truth about his words, songs and the times through which he lived. You may have different opinions on some of the issues he discusses but you have to admire the way he presents his different versions of music and the world.

Toussaint suggested, that when making music, ‘in a way, you are playing god’ – building the world the way you think it should be. But, he also portrayed ‘music making’ as a learning process, suggesting that there was a time, ‘Before I had the sense to learn that people were first not music’.

Many politicians seek to play god with our lives.  It is a pity more of them couldn’t have the grace and humility that Toussaint showed in his lifetime. For a man who wrote so many lyrics, it is ironic that on a personal level he chose his deeds rather than his words to speak for who he was.

Toussaint’s words reminded me of another American writer who showed great grace and humility.  Norman Maclean

Norman Maclean, the American Scots author of A River Runs Through It (made into a film by Robert Redford) also wrote a book called; Young Men and Fire (published 1990), about The Mann Gulch Disaster which involved the death of 13 forest fire fighters.  On the 5th of August 1949, fifteen ‘smokejumpers’ from Missoula Montana flew out in a C-47 to Mann Gulch and met one fire ranger (on the ground at around 4.00pm).  Between 17.45 and 18.00 13 men died attempting to out run an onrushing fire .  In the final paragraph of Young Men and Fire, Maclean concludes:

‘I have lived to get a better understanding of myself and those close to me, many of them now dead. Perhaps it is not odd, at the end of this tragedy where nothing much was left of the elite that came from the sky but courage struggling for oxygen, that I have often found myself thinking of my wife and on her brave and lonely way to death’.

Maclean’s wife, Jesse Burns, had died of cancer in 1968, Maclean himself died in 1990. In this paragraph Maclean connects the death of 13 men to the death of one woman.  He does not employ the fixed category of gender as a barrier to understanding the connection between his wife’s experiences and those of the fire fighters.

Maclean gained plaudits for his ability to investigate and set out a clear and plausible account of the deaths of the fire fighters but he also gained praise for his ability to imagine beyond the specific events of the 5th of august 1949 and provided us with universal metaphors for life and death.

Reviewers of Maclean’s work marvel at his ability to avoid tying up every loose end.  Toussaint’s way of speaking reminded me of this.  There is a confidence with the ambiguity.  Maclean doesn’t just relish ambiguity through his narrative, he applies the idea of ambiguity to the way he lived his life with others:

‘For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.’

Maclean’s final lines of his more famous book, ‘A River Runs Through It’ pick up on this theme and talk of a deeper meaning:

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

We are currently haunted by waters, timeless raindrops, the rocks and their words beneath the rocks.  Whether those waters are claiming lives in the Mediterranean, are employed to created a unnatural barrier between the USA and the rest of the world  or are in danger of being destroyed at Standing Rock.

Maclean worked at the University of Chicago where the School of Literary Criticism emerged in the 1930s. This way of thinking argued, following Aristotle, that we should value the structure and form of literary work; that poetry/art expresses inevitable wholes and that we should value literary works where the parts come together as a whole rather than concentrate on analysing the complex nature of the language used within the work.

There is something about Allen Toussaint’s work that seems to demonstrate this need for balance very well.  There is something calm and very refreshing about his style, especially in an age where dodgy talent shows encourage young singers to over do their licks, runs and riffs .

You can also hear this creative and yet confidant style in the work of Professor Longhair (see link here).   Professor Longhair was a New Orleans’  blues pianists who heavily influenced the young Toussaint.  Professor Longhair  played blues that went all the way to the top of the glass but the liquid never fell over the lip, felt contrived or went out of control .

Similarly, in the present age that places so much emphasis on where a comma is placed in a 120 character tweet, where many twitter critics sit poised waiting to tear apart those who have not had the luxury of a grammatically perfect education, The Chicago School of Neo-Artistotelianism might be worth a revisit.

Toussaint and Maclean understood the importance serendipity, over all form, the poetic nature of words and the need to avoid straight jacket of convention.  Maclean argued that convention should go out the window when writers sought to  convey ‘big’ moments – (he specifically explained this in relation to Shakespeare’s King Lear – see link here):

‘Perhaps we are accustomed to thinking of the mot juste as a word giving a definite, irreplaceable image, and certainly the right word should be irreplaceable and in some sense definite; only there are moments so tremendous that their exact size is without any definite boundary. There are moments, moreover, which have a size that is unmentionable, moments which cannot, at least at the instant, be fully faced or exactly spoken of by those who must endure them. Poetry may make a perfection out of what would be an error in exposition, and moments such as these may set at naught the rule of composition teachers ‘

Maclean’s words, explain why I have found it difficult to write in recent months.  The mote juste – just wasn’t there.  The mote juste had escaped me because a cosmology of evetns that included countless simplistic and unjust pronouncements (words) were pounding at our senses.

Maclean’s words emphasise the need to break with convention when unmentionable things happen.  They encourage us to find creative ways to express our sense of deep foreboding, uncertainty and uncomfortableness with what lies ahead of us.

In so doing, Maclean’s words also encourage us to eschew the certainty of politicians, they encourage us to think of a time, before all of us were here, when the elements were so powerful they could to rip apart continents, rip apart convention and remake the earth.

Politicians may seek to introduce rules that divide us, but, in the end, there have always been movements of people – because of trade, because of wars, because of disease, because of famine, or because of the impact of the elements.

Just as there have always been rocks with rivers flowing over them.  Just as there have always been deeper, more meaningful, words, such as love, generosity, compassion and empathy that under pin our ways of being.  Just as there have always been men like Allen Toussaint who understood that  ‘people were first’, there have been politicians who have not been able to grasp that there are some societal bonds that not even they, and their demi-god like personas, can undo.

There have been politician’s who have sought to reimagine and rip apart the continents, but in the end, they have not been as powerful as the elements, they have simply been incomplete human beings that have been overcome by a greater force – the force for good.

Norman Maclean knew about the limitations of politicians, policy makers and fire-fighters.  He knew how these limitations contributed to the deaths of 13 fire fighters.  And, because he lived through the 1930s and 1940s, Maclean also knew about the limitation of demi-gods who seek to destroy the fabric of our society .

Margaret Thatcher did not grasp the fact that there were some social bonds even she could not break, because she lacked empathy, believed her own sound bites and, latterly, lived in a Westminster bubble .

Maclean’s ability to exhibit empathy may have been connected to the fact that he knew what it was like to have loved and lost (e.g. he lost a loved one, his brother, at a relatively young age and lived for many years after the death of his wife); and he knew what it was like to fight, on behalf of the families, to uncover the partial truths concerning the deaths of the men lost in the Mann Gulch disaster.

I hope it is not too contrived to try to draw out another lesson from the Mann Gulch disaster.  An article written, by Karl E. Weick (in the Administrative Science Quarterly Volume 38 (1993): 628-652) entitled: ‘The Collapse of Sense-making in Organizations’ (see link here), draws on Maclean’s work on the Mann Gulch disaster to explain a phenomena where a shattering collapse of the rational order makes sense-making impossible

A cosmology episode occurs when people suddenly and deeply feel that the universe is no longer a rational, orderly system. What makes such an episode so shattering is that both the sense of what is occurring and the means to rebuild that sense collapse together. Stated more informally, a cosmology episode feels like vu jàdé-the opposite of déjà vu: I’ve never been here before, l have no idea where I am, and I have no idea who can help me. This is what the smokejumpers may have felt increasingly as the afternoon wore on and they lost what little organization structure they had to start with. As they lost structure they became more anxious and found it harder to make sense of what was happening, until they finally were unable to make any sense whatsoever of the one thing that would have saved their lives, an escape fire. The disaster at Mann Gulch was produced by the interrelated collapse of sense-making and structure. If we can understand this collapse, we may be able to forestall similar disasters in other organizations.

This might also explain why people have found recent political events so difficult to respond to – we have been through a series of cosmological events of shattering proportion.  Where do you start when the world order; the social contract between government and the people; and the politics of usual are turned upside down?

Out of all the politicians in the current UK crop, Nicola Sturgeon is the only one with a coherent plan.  We, the people who live and work in Scotland, are (still) here. And, in Scotland, since Indyref1, the staff at Common Weal (the think tank) and Common Space (the on line news-space) have acted as a living reminder of the type of considered grace epitomised by writers such as Angelou, Toussaint and Maclean.  As opposed to the culture of complaint, the have given us a lead in times of extreme uncertainty.  They have produced reams of ideas and articles on how we can live in a better nation. Sturgeon, Angelou, Toussaint and Maclean, in contrast to the right wing political leaders of our age, exhibit intense wisdom. Weick’s article defines Wisdom as the ability to act and think with fluidity:

To put it a different way, “Each new domain of knowledge appears simple from the distance of ignorance. The more we learn about a particular domain, the greater the number of uncertainties, doubts, questions and complexities. Each bit of knowledge serves as the thesis from which additional questions or antithesis arise” (Meacham, 1983: 120). The role system best able to accept the reality that ignorance and knowledge grow together may be one in which the organizational culture values wisdom. Meacham (1983: 187) argued that wisdom is an attitude rather than a skill or a body of information: To be wise is not to know particular facts but to know without excessive confidence or excessive cautiousness. Wisdom is thus not a belief, a value, a set of facts, a corpus of knowledge or information in some specialized area, or a set of special abilities or skills. Wisdom is an attitude taken by persons toward the beliefs, values, knowledge, information, abilities, and skills that are held, a tendency to doubt that these are necessarily true or valid and to doubt that they are an exhaustive set of those things that could be known. In a fluid world, wise people know that they don’t fully understand what is happening right now, because they have never seen precisely this event before. Extreme confidence and extreme caution both can destroy what organizations most need in changing times, namely, curiosity, openness, and complex sensing. The overconfident shun curiosity because they feel they know most of what there is to know. The overcautious shun curiosity for fear it will only deepen their uncertainties. Both the cautious and the confident are closed- minded, which means neither makes good judgments. It is this sense in which wisdom, which avoids extremes, improves adaptability.

The current times call for a lot of wisdom that avoids extremes.  Indeed, we are lucky to have organisations such as the Common Weal that create a space for wisdom in both their policy reports and their news media.  The Common Weal staff provide the mechanisms and equipment for others to put forward their views.  The staff at Common Weal have organised countless events; written about national and international affairs from a new and insightful perspective; and given us numerous well researched and argued papers on the key issues that we can start changing, now, in Scotland.

There are many people in the organisation who do not have a high public profile. Yet, they work tirelessly on our behalf. The organisation, and its local community groups (through out the country) constantly enable local people to get their voices and issues heard by policy makers and the wider public.

The Common Weal policy team and journalists are funded through donations – recent affairs at Bella Caledonia warn us that if we want to have avenues for different voices to be heard, then we need to be willing to fund the organisations who deliver independent news and policy ideas. So, if you know anyone with loud independent voices or long arms and deep pockets (who doesn’t already donate) please send them this link and ask them to help fund this excellent organisation:


The thought of waking up to a Scotland that doesn’t have such an organisation that’s capable of putting forward independent views doesn’t bear thinking about – lets get proactive and ahead of the game on this one, do something positive for a change.


5 Things That Could Have Happened But Didn’t – In 2016.

Over the next two weeks the twitter-sphere and internet will be full of lists concerning 2016’s memorable moments, top ten’s and awkward regrets. Many people would wish that Brexit was not happening, that Clinton had won the USA election or that they themselves had exercised more effective decisions making in their more personal moment (e.g. such as forgoing that tattoo to celebrate that relationship anniversary with their now ex-lover).   So, John Davis highlights what we can learn from 5 things that could have happened in 2016 that didn’t.

1 : Driverless cars and 3D movies could have gained more public acclaim but they didn’tdriverless-cars

We could have had a sudden shift in our trust of computer controlled driving (but we didn’t).  The media keep going on about them and there is no doubt that, in the long run, they will save lives and be a fantastic asset e.g. as a solution to drink driving:

Indeed, it’s predicted driverless cars will take over in the next 10 to 15 years but you rarely hear people talking about them in everyday conversations. The public isn’t buying the hype, people will take a lot of persuading and this year raised a lot of questions concerning the safety of driverless technology.

Unless, safety issues are resolved, computer controlled cars may become like 3d movies. They surface for a moments acclaim; some people jump on the band wagon; most people don’t and they got back to obscurity.

There have been various phases of 3D Movie hype (e.g. 1950s, 1980s and 2000s) but stats tell us they are expensive to make and customers complain about the quality of many of 3-dthe movies. Indeed, this year, a shift to post-production 2D to 3D conversion led to big complaints about quality.  Avatar 2009 may turn out to be peak oil for the 3D movie industry. The 3 things that have put a check on 3D movie growth are: concern over cost, safety and utility.  Would you believe it? These are the same concerns that people have about driverless cars.  Conclusion: they are going to suck the pleasure out driving so they better be damn safe if we are going to be convinced to use them.  Its the same for independence there will be risks in Brexit and in independence – The SNP better have a damn good plan for how we get through this mess, it better be based on honesty, explain clearly what the problems are and also be candid about the ambiguity/uncertainty politico speak, Ingsoc and spin doesn’t work any more (if it ever did).


2 : Acid rain fall could have increased but it didn’t

In the age of global warming, it is important to have evidence that demonstrates that national and international policies can seriously reduce environmental pollution. Good news came this year from scientific studies concerning acid rain. See link here:

Scientist tell us that human generated atmospheric acid pollution is back down to pre-acid-rain-norway1930s industrialisation levels of acidity. It’s a long time since the United States adopted the clean air act (1956 and amendments 1977/1990), which made companies take steps to reduce acid emissions (e.g. by putting filters in factories).  The UK introduced similar legislation (e.g. Environments act 1995 and EU directive 2010) which gave respite for the countries down wind of them.

Lakes in Norway and Sweden have seen some recovery and further recovery is expected by 2030 (depending on non-human acid occurrences such as volcanic activity). This finding is important – it gives hope that we can challenge the big environmental issues of our age – we have learnt from the Tories that they enjoy putting bullets into, and barriers in the way of, the Scottish renewable industries – The Tory post-indy ref behaviour on this issue will be key to explaining the need for independence.  Also a vote in Holyrood for 2nd referendum will require the votes of Green (6) and SNP (63) MSPs – this will be an issue that unites them.

3 : Death rates, for the Big four, could have fallen in Scotland but they didn’t

On a sadder note – death rates should have continued to fall in Scotland but didn’t.    death-ratesDeaths by accidents and probable suicide have dropped which is good news but deaths related to alcohol (though down 34% since 2003) have increased.  Similarly, 2015 stats, released in 2016, saw a stall in the fall in deaths from the four big killers (Cancer, heart, respiratory and strokes).

The most likely reason for this bad news is that we are seeing the impact of inequality on the elderly. Tory cuts, post-Brexit vote living cost increases and increased rent costs have all impacted on our living conditions.  Top English health expert Professor Danny Dorling specifically links English Tory policies to health inequalities in Scotland:

‘Two years earlier, in 2013 it became apparent who in Scotland had most been effected by the welfare cuts. Hospitals in Scotland have been overwhelmed by less affluent elderly patients who are in poorer health, with the health having been harmed almost certainly as a result of austerity in Scotland imposed by the government that took power in 2010 in England’

see link here:

Dorling clearly identifies the cause of Scotland’s increased death rates with the politics of Westminster. His comments are eerily reminiscent of the report into the ‘Glasgow effect’.  We discussed this report earlier in the year in relation to the life of Scotland first World Champion Boxer, Benny Lynch.  See our article on this here:

People living in Scotland continue to die early because of Westminster policies – sadly they have done so for over 100 years. The Benny Lynch article made connections between the life and times of Benny Lynch and Glasgow effect report that demonstrated connection between illnesses of desperation and the policies of unionist politicians and parties.  benny-picDorling argues that the SNP government need to be more proactive in mitigating Tory impacts on health by e.g. providing more staff to support the elderly (which is an admirable policy). But, if we were Better Together in the Union why do we have to constantly take on the Westminster establishment to enable people to live more equitable lives?  Why, if we are supposed equals in the union do we have to mitigate Westminster unfairness?  Why do we pay higher taxes in Scotland to offset Tory cuts? A union that was truly better together would involve dialogue not Holyrood having to tidy up after Westminster’s mess.

Conclusion, when we next get the chance we need to vote for independence so that Holyrood can tackle the health effects of poverty – without one hand tied behind its back, cap in hand and/or as second class citizens. For years Scots have been blamed for their poor health record – such deficit model tactics are used to mask the real culprit which is economic and social exclusion – caused by Westminster induced poverty.

4 : The Italian government could have chosen to have a referendum on equal marriage but they didn’t

The Italian senate chose to show leadership and voted the change lgbt-rainbow-2through in early 2016 and the Italian president signed equal marriage into law in May 2016.  Research into the 2015 Equal marriage vote in Ireland highlighted the negative experiences for LGBT respondents of prejudiced campaigning by No campaigners during the Irish referendum.  75% of respondents felt negative emotions during the campaign, 80% were upset by the negative NO campaign materials and 78% highlighted being very mush upset by the TV coverage of the campaign.  See link here

Conclusion: politicians could have been more courageous in Ireland and voted equal marriage through without the referendum. We need to learn lessons here about SNP support for the TIE campaign and also think about longer term processes of bringing people together over issues like resolving religious denomination segregation in the Scottish school system and sectarianism in wider society.  Leadership is required from all our politicians on these issues.

A referendum is a good thing for settling constitutional issues but for settling rights based issues they are problematic because – rights are indelible. You shouldn’t have to beg for your rights to be recognised.  For citizens of modern democracies, respect for your rights should come as part of the ‘deal’.  Westminster politicians seem to have a lot of trouble understanding this – hence Scotland’s concerns about the Equity Act post-Brexit.

Equally, if SNP MSPs want to show they truly believe in rights – they need to show it where they can e.g. by fully incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and properly responding to discrimination and bullying in schools and any other area of children’s lives.

5 : The information sharing aspect of the named person scheme could have got through the supreme-court but it didn’t –

The supreme-court prevented representatives in local authorities from being able to pass confidential information about children and parents without their permission. See

In October we wrote of this issue,

‘It should be remembered that the 2014 Act was passed unanimously in the parliament – this is an act owned by all parties – all MSPs have a duty to amend their errors and when doing so, according to the decision, they should take a more human rights focus.’

So even in Scotland, we can make Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ mistakes. The creep of the surveillance culture was resisted by the supreme-court and we are back to where we always were – information can be shared where a child is at risk or with the child andthe-children-and-young-people-act parent’s permission.

Conclusion: At Holyrood, the choice to have committee structure (rather than a revising house) needs to be thought through – if committees aren’t doing their job they need to be beefed up.

We should be very wary of consensus in the Scottish Parliament – We need to watch them closely when there is no opposition to an issue and they all get self-congratulatory – because, it is then, that they collectively pass poor legislation.

Music That Poses Questions For The Year To Come –

Finally a couple of songs, which are oldies but will very well some up the key issues for the year to come and, indeed, the years after that.

Lets not burn our bridges whilst Brexiting: we need to plan a seamless transition and listen more to For The Good Times

Lets ask difficult questions of the Westminster elites that claim they still want us in the union: Arthur Hamilton’s tone here seesm very appropriate ‘Cry Me A River’  And finally –

To all those people this year who said they had shifted their view on independence since the Brexit vote, remember this – Saying your leaving and saying good buy are not the same thing.  When the time comes, take heed of the song, be brave and stay true to your word – ‘nae back sliding here’!


Collaboration v Compulsion: Minimum Intervention v Child Protection, Participation v Preventative Early Intervention, Redistribution v Sticking Plasters – What Are The Hall Marks of a Socially Just and Rights-Based Child and Family Support System? 


John Davis and Harla Octarra examine the implications of the Supreme Court decision on the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.

Professor John M. Davis has written two books on integrated (link) and multi-professional working (link) in children and family services that utilised case-studies from practice to unpick the complexities of participatory and collaborative assessment, planning, delivery and evaluation for professionals and student.  John co-ordinates undergraduate and post-graduate courses on integrated and collaborative working and has twenty years experience of supporting local authorities to develop rights-based, inclusive, anti-discriminatory, socially-just and participatory approaches to child and family support.

Harla Sara Octarra is in her last year of a PhD in Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh. Her research interests are children’s rights and public policy for children, and her PhD looks at inter-agency working in Scotland’s children services. Before coming to Scotland to do post-graduate studies she has worked for 8 years as a researcher in her home country, Indonesia investigated a range of childhood related topics including the experiences of street children, children in post-conflict situation, and child-friendly city initiatives.


This post investigates what lessons can be re-learnt from the Supreme Court decision that the Children and Young People (Scotland) 2014 Act (aka the Named Person Act) infringed human rights law (see link to decision here).  It unpacks what we can learn from the Supreme Court decision by connecting ideas from research projects carried out by the authors to the perspectives of a range of writers and commentators including Maggie Mellon, Kenneth Norrie, Allan Norman and Nicky MacCrimmon.

The post has also been influenced by Common Weal policy labs that are looking at the wider picture of children and families’ lives in Scotland (see link here for information on these policy labs).


It should be remembered that the 2014 Act was passed unanimously in the Scottish parliament – this is an act owned by all parties and not one – all MSPs have a duty and responsibility to amend their errors.  This posts aspires to point our representatives,who have this duty, in a more human rights direction.  We argue that when carrying out this duty they need to recognise that any change in local authorities involves building upon existing mechanisms (e.g. existing and traditional check and balance mechanisms).

So, any change does not require the MSPs nor the Scottish Government to rip up the 2014 act and start again.  Yet we also argue that the fact that the government can make changes from a fairly stable starting point should not mean they forgo the opportunity to be radical.  There is much debate in the media about whether the changes to the 2014 act should involve a mere refining process, however, our blog post encourages the government to adopt an innovative approach to the problem that they are now faced with and to take cognisance of the current ‘new politics’ that has emerged in Scotland.

The emergence of new policy networks, creative groupings and think tanks during the referendum such as the Common Weal, Business for Scotland, Women For Independence, RISE and the National collective has provided a context with in which people are no longer prepared to accept the status quo, nor to put up with MSPs ignoring the tenants of contemporary research and theory on children and family issues.  (See this link for a previous article in this vein critiquing MSPs blunders over low pay for early years workers).

This post is written with the aim of providing a critical perspective (friendly advice) to politicians on the complex tensions and histories that led up to the Supreme Court decision.  It sets out a more considered way forward. It is our hope that the SNP government can amend the Children and Young People Act to become a much more supportive and rights-based form of legislation and that whilst doing so, they might take on board some of the advice in this post.


This post encourages the SNP Government, in keeping with the notion of a ‘new kind of politics’, to approach the re-working of the legislation from the positon that it provides a unique opportunity to liberate everyday people from the oppressive grip of unthinking, unreflexively and over-controlling professionals, managers and system.

By connecting the redrafting of the legislation to values such as trust, collaboration and partnership the Scottish government should be able to promote a contemporary and up-to-date approach to children and families that compliments modern day human rights law.

Key Arguments Include That:

  • Current policy has failed in its intention to challenge the surveillance, performance indicator, and top down hierarchical cultures that came out of the Blair and Thatcher eras.
  • The combination of a culture of control, practices of surveillance and techniques of hierarchical power have created bullying cultures in public services, institutions (e.g. schools, social work departments and family support teams) and communities.
  • When hierarchical and child-protection cultures meet – professionals adopt deficit practices which take power away from children and families and result in arbitrary decision making.
  • Child and family policy in Scotland have tended to provide a sticking plaster for Westminster imposed austerity and child poverty caused by an inequitable neo-liberal model rather than fundamentally challenge the root causes of inequality.

Challenges To The 2014 Act:

When the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 was being challenged it was obvious that the problems with the Act were complex, that the named person aspects of the Act had strengths and weaknesses and that people, by focussing on the legal challenge, were missing the bigger issues that the act had failed to address – e.g. the need for a flexible rights-based approaches that challenges the root causes of inequality.

When working in the field of family support, children’s services or disability services our approach should be variable to the people and settings they encounter, and relations they are engaged in.  This position is based on the idea that we have to constantly question the concepts (ethos), relationships and contexts within which we work and that services should begin from the perspective that (in the main) children and families (not professionals) should make decisions about how they utilise services, structures and processes.

Hence, the politicians at Holyrood now have a rare opportunity for the whole parliament to be reflexive about their own politics, their role in public life, the underlying principles of Getting It Right For Every Child and what the phrase ‘Making Scotland The Best Place To Grow Up’ really means.

Some writers have approached the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 as if everything operates top down in the world of children and families and that workers are either slaves to the system or manipulative evil people who have malevolent intentions. Professionals are not all the same, most adopt a contentious approach and few start out with malevolent intentions. However, some fail to meet their own standards because the pressures they are under either lead them to make mistakes or inhibit them for perceiving that there is another way to work.

We should also realise that they are ‘employees’ of the state and are required to comply with national guidance, legislation and regulation and that guidance, legislation and regulation will always be translated into everyday procedures and work arrangements within local institutions in ways that involve professional acceptance, resistance or adaptation.

This is where the problem lies with practice in children and family services. For example feminist campaigner and former social worker Maggie Mellon reminds us that we cannot assume that professionals always act in the best interest of children and families.  Professionals can misfire and become overly focussed on child protection, snooping, and widening the net of families who have to be assessed and be subject to surveillance.  they can do this to the point where resources can only focus on assessment rather than delivering services that enable the changes that children and families aspire to, request or require.

But let us also state that the media’s representation that the whole of the Children and Young People Act is a snoopers charter is an exaggeration that does a great disservice to professionals such as family support workers who tirelessly try to work collaboratively with children and families to address issues that owe more to the Westminster cuts than the limitations of the Scottish Government.


A lot of journalists have complained about what they think is wrong with the ‘named person’ Act (as they reductively call it).  But, very few of these people have ever worked with families, utilised the my wellbeing tool kit or taken the time, for example, to learn the symbols and signs that are necessary for communicating with some disabled children about their service requests.

It is easy to tear something down, it’s a lot more difficult to collaborate with others to construct a new way of working, being or thinking that actually enables people to change their lives.  Indeed, the way that some people have written about the ‘named person’ has inferred that professionals are not human beings, that professionals are aliens from another planet who know nothing about working with children and families and that professionals are incapable of empathetic, supportive, collaborative or participatory working.

In contrast, we think our focus, rather than picking fights with the SNP Government, should be on identifying the issues that need to change in the 2014 Act and then recommending practical solutions based on sound research, knowledge and experience.

The media position on the Children and Young people’s Act and on child protection (in general)  mostly lurches between blaming social workers for not intervening enough in family affairs to attacking the state for carrying out witch hunts that interfere too much in people’s lives (just occasionally academics fall into this trap too).

For example, some journalists have connected the development of child protection procedures such as police checks to ‘a national psychosis ‘.  Iain Macwhirter has mined this ground regularly, his 2007 article (link here) argued (in a deliberately cantankerous and potentially insensitive way):

‘The vast majority of sex offences on children take place in the family home by parents, relatives or by trusted friends. The lesson surely is clear: children need to be protected from their families. If we really want them to be out of the reach of paedophiles, children need to be taken from their homes and placed in secure units supervised by properly-vetted, state-registered guardians.  You think I am making light of a very serious subject, and I am. But some things are so serious the only thing you can do is laugh. The alternative would be to join the current witch hunt of paedophiles which is becoming a national psychosis.’

The problem with such writing is that it is quick to attack but doesn’t offer anything in the way of alternatives – other than a liberal lassie fair approach. So when looking for a more considered position we may want to consult a family lawyer.

The Terminology Of Integrated Children’s Services:

Kenneth Norrie, an expert on family and child protection at Strathclyde University, put forward a list of concerns about the Children and Young People Bill, some of which the government listened to, others they didn’t (see link to article here).

As if sensing Iain Macwhirter’s complaint, Kenneth Norrie argued for a distinction to be made in the Act between wellbeing and welfare.  He queried if the word wellbeing at times was being used in a way that implied it meant the same as the word welfare.  Norrie argued that welfare should be used as a stronger term that implies compulsion (e.g. a compulsion placed on parents to ensure their child’s welfare).

He, in contrasted, argued that the term wellbeing was different to welfare as it involved collaboration.  He indicated that the state could take steps to protect a child’s welfare (e.g. when the child was at risk) but should adopt a collaborative approach with parents when attempting to ensure wellbeing.  His argument implied that relationship building, time, power and space was used differently in relation to compulsion and collaboration.

‘The state needs to enhance all children’s wellbeing by statutory means that will nearly always be co-operative with parents; and the state needs to step in to protect children’s welfare when co-operation is not enough and compulsion is required. The distinction in terminology is, in my view, helpful. ‘

Setting aside that Norrie uses terms such as collaboration (joint planning), cooperation (information sharing) and co-ordination (joint planning that leads to an accord) without realising that these terms are part of what academic literature on integrated, multi-agency and multi-professional working calls a ‘terminological quagmire’ (Leathard 2003), the distinction he makes between compulsion and collaboration and welfare and wellbeing, though not the whole story, is helpful part of the story.

It terms of the parts of the story Norrie missed, a number of writers have questioned whether the shift to using the term wellbeing ensures we do not need to use compulsion or is simply the first step in a process that draws too many families into a big state sponsored net that ends up with compulsion.

Indeed the act ran into trouble because different sections (particularly those relating to the action, process and responsibilities of information sharing) contradicted themselves in relation to co-ordination, collaboration and compulsion.  For example, Maggie Mellon argued that the act was authoritarian rather than cooperative (see link for her article written prior to the decision for The Common Space and link to her article for the Common Space written after the decision see).

Maggie Mellon’s writing encourages us here to pose the question to teachers, social workers community educators, early years managers, out of school care managers or professionals working in family support teams:

‘Are you storm troopers for the state or does your role involve collaboratively and participatively ensuring children and parents human rights are upheld?’

Particularly in educational settings, children tell us that some professionals routinely fail to attend to children’s rights, routinely make arbitrary decisions and enforce unfair punishments (e.g. around issues such as dress-code, time keeping and verbalising opinions which do not agree with the teacher’s)

Elsewhere (e.g. in social work), Maggie Mellon suggested that problems arise when you consider the history and context of intervention in families lives, particularly families living in poverty: (see link here to her article in the Scottish Left Review).

‘Poverty and inequality are what stunt children’s lives and these things cannot be tackled by case working the entire population of children. Instead, housing, jobs, income, education, health services and the environment are the basis for the overall wellbeing of children….. … This and the relentless focus on ‘risk’ have created an authoritarian rather than a supportive approach’

Maggie argued that a surveillance and ‘child protection’ approach made social workers jobs difficult to do because the public didn’t trust them.  She argued that the 2014 Act conflated need and risk.  She suggested that aspects of the 2014 Act we appropriate For example, when they sought to enable collaboration and co-ordination where a child experiences a disability and receive services from numerous professionals.

Maggie suggested that the requirement for service providers to collaborate with disabled children and families to produce more effective services had been conflated with a child protection focus that placed the surveillance gaze of social services onto all families:

‘It is worth noting that this idea of monitoring ‘wellbeing’ on a child-by-child case, mainly on the basis of their private home lives, has emerged at a time when more and more children are being deprived of the basic essentials for their healthy and optimum development – not by their parents, but by institutionalised inequality and poverty… …If you have not experienced the juggernaut of child protection investigations in your or a friends or family members’ lives, or seen the damage done by heavy handed, intrusive intervention, you may be able to believe that ‘services’ are benevolent and that all parents need to be watched very carefully in case one child slips through the net.  I have heard the justification that ‘families are where children are abused’ often, but families are more usually the place that keeps children safe and happy, and parents are more usually children’s defenders and champions against the often casual carelessness or cruelty of services. Children separated from their families in care and in schools are more vulnerable to abuse than children who remain within their families.’

Maggie Mellon makes a similar point as that of Iain Macwhirter (we shouldn’t pathologies families) but with much more consideration, experience and care.  This tension between compulsion and collaboration was also picked up by Kenneth Norrie who raised concerns, at the drafting stage, about the 2014 Act.  He questioned whether the welfare of the child would be paramount in the new Act; whether the listening to children aspects of the Act were going to ensure the ‘named person’ consulted with children and whether the act included the proviso that any intervention should be the minimum that was necessary:

‘Our law says that, in children cases before courts and children’s hearings, the welfare of the child is to be the paramount consideration. This is reflected in Article 21 of UNCRC in adoption proceedings, but in any other matter Article 3 states that welfare is merely a primary consideration. Incorporation would therefore actually weaken at least some aspects of the protections we currently give children… …The three overarching principles might appear usefully, for example, in section 19 which sets out the “named person functions”: in carrying out these functions children should be consulted, their welfare should be paramount, and any intervention (however early) should be the minimum that is necessary.

Information Sharing, Choice and Consent:

We would argue, it used to be the case that professionals would utilise person or child centred approaches to enable children’s views and aspirations to be the starting point for service co-ordination – however, there is research evidence that children are no longer present during planning meetings (Octarra 2016 see link here).

Similarly, A key issue that was questioned early on in the legislative process was whether a child would be able to choose their named person, the final Act did not enshrine that possibility and to some extent this meant that it did not take sufficient account of the Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991 which affirmed the legal capacity of children to instruct a solicitor, to enter into contracts/transactions and make medical decisions in consultation with medical professionals (and independent of their parents)’:

‘A person under the age of 16 years shall have legal capacity to enter into a transaction—

(a) of a kind commonly entered into by persons of his age and circumstances, and

(b) on terms which are not unreasonable.’

The 1991 act can be connected to the parts of the Data Protection Act and the ECHR that have suggested sensitive information should not be conveyed by professionals without consent.  There has long been a presumption that there is information, which children have the competency to discuss with professionals, that they do not want their parents or other professionals to be a party to.  This is an important principle that was enshrined by the Gillick case in English law.

The Supreme Court decision hits the ball out of the park on this issue:

‘Article 16 of the UNCRC provides: 1. No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation. 2. The child has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.” We are therefore satisfied that the operation of the information-sharing provisions of Part 4 (in particular, sections 23, 26 and 27) will result in interferences with rights protected by article 8 of the ECHR…. …Of even greater concern is the lack of safeguards which would enable the proportionality of an interference with article 8 rights to be adequately examined. Section 26(5) requires an information holder, when considering whether information ought to be provided in the exercise of the duties in section 26(1) or (3), “so far as reasonably practicable to ascertain and have regard to the views of the child or young person”. But there is no such requirement in relation to a service provider’s discretionary power to share information under section 26(8). There the test is merely that the provision of the information is necessary or expedient for the purposes of the exercise of any of the named person functions. Moreover, there is no statutory requirement, qualified or otherwise, to inform the parents of a child about the sharing of information. The RDSG is only guidance, speaks of “routine good practice”, and leaves it to the discretion of the information holder whether to involve the parent or parents.’

The Supreme Court is very clear that the Children and Young People Scotland Act fails to satisfy our long term assumption that sensitive information cannot be shared without consent (unless the child is at risk) and it does so in a way that demonstrates that the Act may in fact have moved us to a position where information can be shared without our consent and without us knowing:

‘It is thus perfectly possible that information, including confidential information concerning a child or young person’s state of health (for example, as to contraception, pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease), could be disclosed under section 26 to a wide range of public authorities without either the child or young person or her parents being aware of the interference with their article 8 rights of ECHR, and in circumstances in which there was no objectively compelling reason for the failure to ascertain and have regard to their views.’

Kenneth Norrie warned the Scottish Government about the dangers of the information sharing aspects of the Act:

‘The aim of sharing information is clearly legitimate – to allow early identification of potential problems in order to put support mechanisms in place to minimise the risk of greater interference in the child’s family life. So long as the sharing of information is limited to service providers and other responsible persons this is probably proportionate, but only if the information needs to be passed. The risk is that article 8 is breached if the law allows more information than is necessary to allow the service provider to make the judgment is to be shared. ‘

The 2014 Act gave professionals discretionary power to ignore the need to collaborate (seek child or parent consent) when sharing information during processes of service co-ordination.   Allan Norman also raised the issue of consent in relation to the concept of non-cooperation.  He argued that the Supreme Court decision reinforced the no compulsion threshold of “significant harm” that we had been using before the 2014 Act and that non-cooperation should not in itself indicate a risk.  The Supreme Court decision is very considered on the point of non-cooperation:

‘An assessment of non-cooperation as evidence of such a risk could well amount to an interference with the right to respect for family life which would require justification under article 8(2). Given the very wide scope of the concept of “wellbeing” and the SHANARRI factors, this might be difficult. Care should therefore be taken to emphasise the voluntary nature of the advice, information, support and help which are offered under section 19(5)(a)(i) and (ii) and the Guidance should make this clear.”

The Supreme Court decision returns us to where we have always been (at least in the last two decades).  Consent is required unless there is risk of significant harm. In the vast majority of cases (e.g. where disabled children are seeking to access services) children and parents will be happy to give consent for information to be exchanged between services as this will stop them having to be ferried round agencies and having to experience multiple assessments when a single assessment can be carried out.  We were doing this type of information sharing (consent-based information sharing) before the 2014 act and we will continue to do this.

The Supreme Court decision is wonderful for those of us who had always taken a sensible approach to information sharing.  However, it adds to the complexity of information processes in local authorities.  For example, professional had begun to think about how to adapt their codes and procedures for information sharing where more than one professionals was involved.

The Supreme Court decision requires either consent or a very good reason for sharing information between professionals.  But we should listen carefully to the ruling:

‘In turn, the assessment of that wellbeing under section 96, as explained by the RDSG, involves the use of very broad criteria which could trigger the sharing of information by a wide range of public bodies.. …and also the initiation of intrusive inquiries into a child’s wellbeing. In our view, the criteria in sections 23(3), 26(2) and 26(4) by themselves create too low a threshold for disclosure… …and for the overriding of duties of confidentiality in relation to sensitive personal information…’

The court decided that the government needed to address the circumstances in which the child, young person or parent should be informed of the sharing of information or the circumstances in which consent should be obtained for the sharing of information, including confidential information.

They concluded that if information was to be shared without consent it would require a compelling justification, clear legal rules, the provision of safeguards and the ability for decisions to be challenged and assessed. This returns us to the traditional position that there are risks involved when professionals share information with each other and the decision requires professional judgement.

The Supreme Court decision explains the way things should be when we adopt a reflective and considered approach to our work – information can be shared in exceptional circumstances where a child is at risk, otherwise consent should be sought.  The Supreme Court decision is not a spanner in the works of the government’s plan to improve information sharing.  Improved information sharing can still occur if children and parents give consent (as right holders) or where there is a significant risk of harm.

As Perthshire community worker and SNP activist Nicky MacCrimmon tells us (in another Common Space article link here), where there is a genuine risk of harm it is still appropriate for professionals to intervene:

‘Police, social services and health services all have powers to take certain actions for a child’s wellbeing. I think the vast majority of people would agree this is a societal necessity. The Named Person service is an improvement on this situation as it ensures all those conversations take place in one setting, that one person is responsible for recording agreed actions and puts in place a mechanism for children and families to have their voices heard in that process.’

This is still the case after the Supreme Court decision.  In most other cases, as long as parents and children agree, information will be shared to provide more streamlined processes of service assessment, planning and delivery:

‘Processes of information sharing are complex not least because different agencies may have different approaches (Walker, 2008). Information can be shared where a child is at risk of significant harm, were there is reasonable cause to believe they are experiencing significant harm or where significant harm may be prevented (Walker, 2008). Confidential information can also be shared where consent has been given after clear explanation of an agency’s policy (Walker, 2008)’. (Davis 2011).

Sensitive data should only be shared when a child has given his/her explicit consent to the processing of the personal data; where it needs to be shared to protect the vital interests of the child (or another person); where it relates to a medical situation; or where it is necessary for the exercise of a statutory function (not simply that it is relevant to that statutory function)


This judgement was a victory for those professionals who have always worked from a rights perspective and who have developed collaborative and supportive partnerships with countless children and families.  The professionals who do not make it into the newspapers because the children and families they work with are happy with the way the process worked.

The Supreme Court decision clearly sets this out:

‘It follows from those conditions that, prior to the entry into force of the 2014 Act, a data controller in Scotland can disclose information about a child or young person without her consent (assuming, in the case of a statutory body, that the disclosure is otherwise within its powers), if the disclosure is necessary to protect her vital interests (condition 4), a test which requires more than that it is likely to benefit her wellbeing; or if the disclosure is necessary for the exercise of a statutory function (condition 5(b)),’

Guidance and Training:

Prior to the 2014 Act, Kenneth Norrie argued that service providers would need proper guidance and training on how to keep that judgment within the bounds of proportionality.  The Supreme Court decided that the government had failed to sufficiently address this issue.  We are of the view that this (how we share information) is one the key aspect of the Act that needs reform (the other aspects relate to rights and redistribution).  Indeed, the Supreme Court decision pointed out that the public interest in providing a key person to interact on behalf of the family with a range of service was obvious:

‘The public interest in the flourishing of children is obvious. The aim of the Act, which is unquestionably legitimate and benign, is the promotion and safeguarding of the wellbeing of children and young persons. As the Dean of Faculty submitted, the policy of promoting better outcomes for individual children and families is not inconsistent with the primary responsibility of parents to promote the wellbeing of their children. Improving access to, and the coordination of, public services which can assist the promotion of a child’s wellbeing are legitimate objectives which are sufficiently important to justify some limitation on the right to respect for private and family life.’

The state can appoint a person to wait benignly to act where parents seek to collaborate or where a child is at risk.  What they cannot do is appoint a person to rake around and share sensitive information without the knowledge and consent of children and parents – no fishing expeditions here.

Legal blogger Allan Norman wrote a short article (link here) and a longer blog post (link here) explaining that the aim of the Act was found by the Supreme Court to be benign but that the function of the named person scheme (to share information in ways that infringed the ECHR and DPA) had infringed human rights law:

 ‘To put it another way, the wish of the Scottish Government to provide a broad and co-ordinated range of services that promote the wellbeing of children is benign, and the creation of a named person service to facilitate that is legitimate… ..But the question was – and I argue the question still remains – whether it is possible to construct a universal scheme that monitors the wellbeing of all children, irrespective of any indicators of harm. In particular, how can such a scheme operate within the law on information-sharing? All information-sharing is data-processing, which is subject to national and EU law…. …The benign intentions segue into totalitarianism where there is insufficient regard for individual difference, and where state interference is arbitrary, and lacks procedural safeguards’

This is one of the key problems the government is now faced with when amending the 2014 Act – they have to produce new guidance and training that solves the tension between information sharing, compulsion and collaboration.  However, all is not lost because prior to the Act we had sensible approaches to information sharing, as the Supreme Court points out:

‘In our view, given this role of the information holder, it cannot be said that the operation of the information-sharing duties and powers in relation to any of the named person’s functions will necessarily amount to a disproportionate interference with article 8 rights. But for the problem in relation to the requirement that the Act be “in accordance with the law” (paras 79-85 above), we consider that the Act would be capable of being operated in a manner which is compatible with the Convention rights.’

Legal blogger Allan Norman argued that parents are different from each other (subjective) and that they should be enabled to parent in the way they so choose.  He questioned that there were any objective measurement of a ‘child’s best interest’s or of ‘good parenting’ that applies to all social circumstances and argued that the Supreme Court put the whole act in peril.  However, we would argue, we do not need to rip up the Act and start again – we need to return to sound, well tried and trusted ways of working collaboratively.


In fact the recent FIESTA research project on disability inclusion, transition and integrated working (see link here) argued professionals needed examples and case studies to help them work through the everyday practicalities of integrated working and we would conclude that professionals who are going to be named persons need similar case-based training.

For example, we have for many years employed step-by-step case-based examples of the BA Childhood Practice qualification (for early years, out of school and family support professionals).  We need to return to what we know best and as both Maggie and Kenneth encourage us to do, avoid conflating a need for compulsion with a requirement for professionals to ensure parents and children have easier and collaborative access to services.  When professionals analyse step-by-step case-based examples – they come to realise that the jigsaw puzzle can only be put together by collaborative process that involves several professionals, parents, children, administrators and often technology (e.g. databases, emails and other systems).

A collaborative model can only be fairly and honestly utilised if professionals start from the position that the aim to intervene as minimum as possible in the life of families.

Early And Minimum Intervention:

Pat Dolan UNESCO Chair of Youth and Civic Engagement at NUI Galway defines integrated working as a style of work, a set of circumstances  and a range of ‘principles’ that should be underpinned by partnership, minimum intervention, clarity of focus, strength-based perspectives, informal networks, accessible/flexible services, self-referral, active engagement, inclusion, diversity, and best practice (Dolan 2006a and b).


Family support services work best when they: enable service users to stop negative chain reactions, self-empower, become more analytical, develop their own solutions in partnership with community-based support; see the capabilities/assets/strength of the child/family (Dolan 2006b, 2008) and adopt practices of anti-prejudiced/anti-discriminatory working (Davis 2011, Dolan et al 2006).

The Children and Young People Act was supposed to address the fact that a child protection model had too narrowly focused resources ‘downstream’ on crisis cases – the aim of the Act was to shift professional resources to earlier in the process so problems were solved earlier and cheaper (to some extent and in some cases there is anecdotal evidence that this was achieved without the Act in local authorities such as Midlothian where family support teams adopted politically nuanced strengths based working and minimum intervention approaches and reduced e.g. the need for acute foster care provisions for children.

This raises the question what are services for. Do professionals understand the range of service and solutions that children and families are looking for? Gilligan (2000, 13) describes three levels of family support: Developmental Family Support (building universal services locally to support all children and families) e.g. schooling, health visiting, leisure etc.  Compensatory Family Support breakfast clubs, Sure Start Projects, Home – School- Community Liaison project in Ireland (Ryan, 2000) and various Aberlour Trust initiatives (Scottish Government, 2008).

Protective family support work sought to promote a positive view of families; explore a range of needs; identify/remove barriers to coping, take account of families’ aspirations and enable families to define the support they needed.  Dolan encouraged professionals to analyse, understand and engage with local power relations.  Power relations always exist in people’s everyday activities.  Some parents fear the loss of autonomy and self-determination when engaging with service providers.  The solution is to engage in dialogue about how power exists, how power is operating and how power is made obvious in the relationships and processes of service assessment, planning and delivery.

Protective family support work has received criticism in cases where service providers ignore the power/politics of their roles, where services do not meet families’ needs; where services are organised around the providers’ rather than recipients’ needs; where services are built on the premise that the child or family is ‘deficit’ and where services fail to understand the impact of structural issues (e.g. local professional vested interests).  This later point required us to realise that that practitioners (and their prejudices) are part of the problems that children and families encounter.

Protective family support services were also criticised for merely being a sticking plaster for issues such as poverty, gender, race or disability (Brown and White 2006; Chaskin 2006), for making communities helpless through stigmatisation and for forcing deprived areas to compete for limited resources (Cowburn, 1986; Power, 2001).  This points to the academic basis for Maggie Mellon’s critique of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014:

‘Although the approach aims to redress economic injustice, it leaves intact the deep structures that generate class disadvantage, thus, it must make surface reallocations again and again. The result is to mark the most disadvantaged class as inherently deficient and insatiable, as always needing more and more’ (Frazer 1997:26)

The Children and Young People (Scotland) 2014 Act has also been criticised for not comprehensively requiring professionals, services and society to take account of children’s rights and for using the term wellbeing in a vague way (Davis et al 2014).   Currently, some professionals seem confused as to whether their role is to enable child-led participatory change (Child Rights Discourse), promote family employment (Social Integrationist Discourse); to intervene/punish people for letting ‘bad’ things happen (Moral Under Class Discourse), to provide service users with resources they lack (Redistributive Discourse), to support community cohesion (Social Solidarity Discourse) or to combine all of these in collaborative and complex approaches (Social Dynamic Discourse) (Davis 2007, 2011, Davis and Smith 2012).

Case-based training needs to enable professionals to focus more on how they enable children and parents to define service outcomes and less on setting up bureaucratic processes, structure and mechanisms that miss-direct resources (including time, money and human spirit).

The media seem similarly confused, by focussing on whether a named person can coordinate services and how information should be shared, media commentators missed one of the greatest injustice of our time, that is, that the 2014 Act failed to address the fact that children have no ‘right’ to a life without poverty.

The 2014 Act may have failed to address child poverty because at the time civil servants had a problem with resources e.g. Scotland is not an independent country and the Scottish government lives on a tight budget constantly being cut (lowered by 5% in recent years) by Westminster austerity governments. Kenneth Norrie when arguing against the full incorporation of the UNCRC into the original Children and Young People bill because:

  1. The UNCRC was not drafted as a legal legislative act of law (hard law), hence it is drafted as guidance (soft law) that cannot easily and directly enacted (The UNRCR is too difficult to enact without the government also developing a lot of guidance to go with it).
  2. That we should not have law deciding the extent to which the states resources are used – that’s what governments are for.
  3. There are technical difficulties with incorporating the UNCRC as some aspects are in existing legislation enacted in Scotland where as other aspects are covered in the existing European Humans Rights Legislation e.g. ECHR
  4. Parts of the UNCRC confer duties that are aspirational rather than rights that can be challenged in law

‘Take Article 4, for example: “With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation.” There are at least two problems with that. First, what are “economic, social and cultural rights” Secondly, do we really want judges to be determining “the maximum extent of [states’] available resources”

Norrie spoke here as a lawyer and not as a person seeking to ensure children poverty is are fully addressed by redistributive government policies.  What is so wrong with ensuring that children have a right to a minimum standard of living that is above the poverty line? The Scottish government seemed to have realised Norrie’s error and have moved on from his advice to develop a Child Poverty Bill (see link here to the consultation).

They are doing so because people argued in the run up to the referendum that wellbeing as a concept was simply a sticking plaster to issues of poverty (see link here to Reid Foundation paper on this issue).  Had we enshrined the UNRCR into law in a way that attended to issues of social justice, children, young people and their families might have had greater access to: for example financial resources, process of local conflict resolution and legal aid.

They may now have seen: a reduction of injustice in their lives (e.g. bullying by professionals), an increase in local collaborative relationships and more effective anti-discriminatory practice.  The problem was (and still is) that the bill neither offered a social justice approach to childhood nor gave children and families the right to redistribution of societal resources.  As Maggie Mellon points out (see link here):

 ‘Named persons have no power to offer resources, only ‘interventions’ in family life. This kind of ‘prevention’ is driving up, rather than down, the rate of referrals and ‘investigations’ of mainly poor families and the rate of children coming into care. The latest Scottish Government statistics show that Scotland has the highest rate of children becoming ‘looked after and accommodated’ (coming into care) in Britain. This is ‘child rescue’ not social change.  Casework on an industrial scale is not the answer. Instead of named persons assessing and writing individual plans for every child in the country, we need a massive redirection of power and resources out of bureaucracy, assessment and ‘interventions’.

Maggie Mellon puts her finger on the potential limitations of the named person scheme in an article that questioned the legal advice given to the Scottish government and the government’s subsequent legislation:

‘It ignored the concerns of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, and of many other smaller organisations including the Scottish Association of Social Workers who warned of confusing child protection with wellbeing, and of diverting resources from the most vulnerable… …. Has it completely misunderstand the difference between a universal service and a universal imposition? The NHS is a service free at the point of need. Demanding weekly medicals from every citizen is an imposition.  Prevention means public services should serve the public, not that the public have to serve the services. Maybe there is a bit of all of that. But the explanation that I find most plausible is that if a government does not have the will, or the necessary bottle, to fundamentally tackle poverty and inequality, then promoting ‘child rescue’ is very attractive.’

Prior to the Supreme Court decision Maggie also highlighted that those complaining about the named person scheme may be starting at the wrong end of the stick.  She suggested that we should think more carefully about what is not in the named person scheme:

‘The Named Person role and responsibilities do not come with any power to allocate homes, food, clothes, holidays, home helps, or even just therapeutic or health services. There are fewer services on the ground providing practical help and those that do are facing the biggest cuts.’

The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 was criticised for failing in its aim to make rights real and for ignoring research that demonstrated that full incorporation worked well (Lundy 2013, Tisdall 2015). Despite its focus on wellbeing, the term is actually incredibly vague (Davis et al 2014, Tisdall and Davis 2015).

As the Supreme Court pointed out, wellbeing is a very broad term.  The key GIRFEC assessments of wellbeing are enshrined in eight some-what woolly ‘SHANARRI’ wellbeing indicators: Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible and Included do not ensure that children’s rights are upheld – they involve a lower threshold than rights (Davis et al 2014).  Unfortunately GIRFEC assessments can often be carried out in apolitical ways that lack local political nuance.  Assessments can fail to promote honesty, trust and dialogue in children’s services concerning the capacity for professionals to actually deliver the services children and parents require.

Worker capacity, professional motivation, local cultures, a lack of existing collaborative structures and a dearth of personal relationships all have a bearing on the extent to which planning processes deliver speedy solutions; the degree to which service providers recognise the assets, capabilities, and strengths of children; and the extent to which professionals adopt notions of minimum intervention that enable children and parents to develop solutions to their own life issues (Gilligan, 2000; Moss & Petrie, 2004; Malone & Hartung, 2010; Davis, 2011; Davis & Smith, 2012, Davis and Tisdal 2015)’

The Children and Young People’s 2014 Act Supreme Court decision came about because the act had tried to bring about a fundamental shift in the power relations of childhood – where professionals would no longer seek consent to share information. The Scottish Government now has the potential to enable a similar fundamental shift in the power relations of childhood, but, in the other direction.

For example, by enshrining children’s right to experience financial redistribution, legal representation, privacy, compensation, social justice etc. – the government cam promote a progressive approach to childhood.  This requires the government to set out minimum thresholds, respond to claims and set out duties in the amended Children and Young People Act (Davis et al 2014, Tisdal and Davis 2015).  (The can also do this in any subsequent legislation such as the child poverty Bill).

This will require the government to balance professional, parental and child rights.  Allan Norman highlighted the supreme courts use of previous judgements when discussing rights:

‘The noble concept in article 1 of the Universal Declaration, that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” is premised on difference. If we were all the same, we would not need to guarantee that individual differences should be respected. Justice Barak of the Supreme Court of Israel has put it like this (in El-Al Israeli Airlines Ltd v Danielowitz [1992-4] IsrLR 478, para 14):

“The factual premise is that people are different from one another, ‘no person is completely identical to another’ … Every person is a world in himself. Society is based on people who are different from one another. Only the worst dictatorships try to eradicate these differences.”

Individual differences are the product of the interplay between the individual person and his upbringing and environment. Different upbringings produce different people. The first thing that a totalitarian regime tries to do is to get at the children, to distance them from the subversive, varied influences of their families, and indoctrinate them in their rulers’ view of the world. Within limits, families must be left to bring up their children in their own way.’

This was a direct criticism of the SNP Government – the best response will be to unequivocally recognise childhood as a time involving complex identities and boundaries (Hill 2005); to make clear the tension between control and self-realisation in child-adult relationships; and to recognise the diverse definitions children and young people have of rights and social justice.

By enshrining the range of social justice issues that children and young people raise into law the Scottish Government would recognise the issue that was at the heart of the Supreme Court decision – universal services need to be flexible and attend to human rights.  In so doing, the government would be able to recognise the range of social justice issues that children and families wish to address in their lives and would promote collaboration and dialogue to achieve those aspiration.

What Issues Do Children And Families Want Addressed:

For example, the issues that children and families wish to be addressed include access to: employment, legal advice, formal/informal learning, the right to vote, material resources (housing, libraries, transport and play facilities), appreciative adults and environments where their assets/skills/capabilities are recognised, etc. (Davis et al 2014, Davis 2007, 2011, Davis and Smith 2012, Dolan 2006a, Gilligan 2000, Konstantoni 2011, Percy-Smith et al. 2001, Thomas 2009, Vincent  2003).

Children specific tell us they would like their parents to work less hours (e.g. where they are required to do two jobs to pay their bills); to have access to employment (where they are unemployed) and to not experience stress in the work place.  We need to understand that childhood definitions of social justice are diverse, complex and dynamic (Davis 2011, Davis and Smith 2012, Elsley et al. 2013, Davis et al 2014). This raises the question for the named person and for family support services; whose role is it to enable change and where best do we start the change process?


Anti-hierarchical approaches to family support would let children, parents and communities answer that question.  Anti-hierarchical approaches to family support can be connected to approaches to participatory local democracy promoted by think tanks such as the Common Weal.  It is this type of new politics that the Scottish Government needs.  Indeed the government has tied its prospectus for independence to the mantra that it intends to ‘make Scotland the best place for children to grow up’.  If this mantra is to be achieved (as well as talking poverty at its root cause using redistributive policies) one key step would be for the government to support communities and local professionals to create spaces where vested interests, resource issues and power relations can be recognised, discussed and worked upon in order to meet the needs of service users, providers and wider community members.  This approach might also require professionals to be more open to the strengths and limitations of informal forms of support that do not require brutal state intervention (Dolan 2006b, Dolan and Brady 2012).

Central to this perspective is the idea that we need to create checks and balances in the systems of children’s services by enabling spaces of dialogue where professionals’ can recognise their own limitations and collaboratively interrogate their judgment with children, parents and other professionals (Smith 2009, Davis and Smith 2012).  It is important to re-state here, no one professionals should be able to unreflexively impose their perspective on children and parents.  For example, there are examples where a rise, a local authority area, of labelling of children with ‘ADHD’ could be attributed to one health professional.  This type of example would not occur where multi-professional and participatory working is operating effectively.  The 2014 Act made a distinction between a named person service and a named person who works in that service.  This suggests that the execution of the functions of the ‘named person; involves more than one professionals.  This issue (how many professionals provide support) has been missed in media debates about the totalitarian power of a single person over a family – it should be extremely rare that service decisions are made by one person.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court decision merely recognised what many of us already knew – participatory and collaborative working requires a thoughtful analysis of how hierarchy, power and politics works in the organisational systems around the child, parent, professional and community.

Collaborative working requires professionals to move away from thinking of child and adult rights as in opposition to each other, towards utilising the complementary and collaborative potential of ‘human rights’ to create opportunities for children, parents and professionals to sensitively work out issues of disagreement or conflict (Davis et al 2014).  If we clarifying the politics and systems of children’s services and develop plural, relativist, complex and reflexive frameworks we can stimulate innovative and flexible practice that recognises the emotional context of family support.

We can develop approaches that recognise the spontaneous nature of our work and that understand why we should prevent any single professional perspective from dominating the process through which solutions are achieved (Bauman 1993, Lawler and Bilson 2010, Davis and Smith 212).

This blog encourages professionals to question concepts such as authority and truth; to recognise the expertise of all service users and to support the ability of all human beings to define their own socially-justice, inclusive, anti-discriminatory, rights-based aims.

This blog’s advice to the Scottish government is that the government needs to hold its nerve on the collaborative aspects of the Children and Young People’s Act, then the government needs to be more radical in ensuring that the legislation enshrines the UNCRC and finally the government needs to attend to issues of rights and social justice when ensuring the Child Poverty Bill sets out to eradicate poverty.


If only such a task was so easily achieved…..





For All We Know This May Only Be A Dream – Hypocrisy, Purity by Proxy and The Nightmare of Aggressive ‘Brit Nat’ Narcissism

By John Davis

Nina Simone’s cover of the Donny Hathaway song For All We Know poses the question: For all we know, this may only be a dream’.


Was it just a dream – this idea of Scottish Independence? A dream that still struggles for breath to say its name, a dream that huge numbers of young people sought in September 2014 but could not be realised and a dream that they were told (mainly by their Grandparents) was aggressive, unsophisticated, unachievable and unaffordable.

This post discusses how the narcissism of Brit Nats is evidenced by the way they seek to throw mud at everyone else whilst avoiding the need to put their own house in order.  In so doing, this post particularly throws mud back at the specific generation who voted No.

Before we go on, let it be said that not all people in the same generation act in the same ways, nor, do all Grandparents act same.  Some Grandparents won’t fulfil the stereotype about to be portrayed and that this blog post takes a stance that risks alienating the very Grandparents that we need to reach out to in order to gain independence.


However, reconciliation requires a shift on both sides.  And, for  reconciliation to happen, No voters may need to accept that the stereo type the Better Together campaign portrayed (regarding Yes supporters) was unfair and the stereo type could, actually, be more easily applied to the generation that most voted No.

That is, this post’s argument is that – it is extremely insulting to the under 65s to have been characterised as aggressive by Better Together when their core supporter, historically, have a much poorer track record, themselves, on the issue of aggressive behaviour.  In short, this post seeks to demonstrates that people in in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones and also that Brit Nats, post Brexit, are participating in just the type of Xenophobic aggressive behaviour they incorrectly, unfairly and arrogantly accused Yes voters off employing in the indyref.

During the 2014 referendum, Better Together,  the media and Brit Nat politicians, had the audacity to call us Yessers aggressive for peacefully, creatively and humorously advocating for a fairer, equitable, and more social justice independent Scotland.

When we realise that Better Together’s core vote was a Grandparent generation that promoted the routine physical punishment of their own children – the audacity, hypocrisy and ignorance of their campaign knows no bounds. Better Together’s core vote has short memories about their own aggressive behaviour.

A narcissist is very concerned with projecting his own superior self-image at the same time as deriding others for the very faults that he most fears are in himself.   We can see this trait everyday in Donald Trumps approach to life.

Young People should not be surprised that they were let down by their Grandparents’ generation. But to be accused of being aggressive about independence by their Grandparents generation – takes the biscuit.  These young people need to know that their Grandparents were the generation that accepted approved schools and list D schools, that accepted the imposition of 11+ and accepted (if not promoted) the physical punishment of children (in school and home).  Indeed, at times it feels like many of that generation (that is now over 65 years of age) actually revelled in the physical abuse of their own and other people’s children.

Least you think I am doing them a huge disfavour, this was the generation that accepted and perpetrated the corporal punishment of children involving the use of belts, canes and birches.  Yes, young people of today – your parents were often subjected to arbitrary punishment by your grandparents and this punishment could involve any implement they could get their hands on.

Research by Alderson and Phillips (see summary of their work here) associated adult attitudes on the physical punishment of children to two factors:

‘Our literature review found two underlying reasons for this contradiction: beliefs that children are pre-human becomings rather than real human beings, and support for “parents rights‟ over children’s human rights.’

So, young people of Scotland, many of your grandparents chose their rights over ours – when voting against an independent Scotland, they chose their rights over ours – when rejecting a new politics and they chose their rights over ours – when stopping us from moving to a more equitable society. They overrode our rights and treated us as naïve and ‘not real human beings’ when they voted for continued food banks, austerity, trident, low wages, some of the worst pensions in Europe and a welfare system that punishes disabled people and their families.

Polls tell us that those of the Grandparent generation now celebrating Brexit (with a kind of jingoism I haven’t seen since I was a child) are not the majority of Scots – by any imagination.  For example, around a quarter of Scots want to be part of a Britain that is independent from Europe, about another quarter have their head in the sand and still want Scotland to be in Europe and the UK and around half of scots want to have a referendum within 3 years and become independent for the UK.

We only need 1 in 3 of people  who currently have their heads in the sand to wake up and smell the coffee to gain a comfortable majority for independence.  In the last two moths of the indyref campaign we were converting undecideds 2:1 compared to the No campaign.  We should have that ambition for indyref2 – we should be aiming to get our vote to around 70%.

Its is deeply ironic that just as the sun is finally setting on the last of the ’empire’ that the narcissistic Brit Nats have rolled out their union jacks for one last deluded and triumphalist self-preening exercise.

Narcissists are notoriously selfish.  Yes, young people – Our dream of independence was spoiled, suffocated and snuffed out by your selfish Grandparents who promoted a ‘seen and not heard’ approach to childhood.  When they selfishly ensured you could not realise your dreams of independence – they reinforced their traditional perspective that your voice – the voice of young people – should be silenced. We live in a country where a fading generation took and in some cases continue to take pride in crushing young people’s dreams whilst clinging onto notions of empire, union jacks and racist triumphalism .


The racist out pouring’s during and since the Tory conference have been disgraceful.  So much so I wrote to my MP this week asking him to ask Theresa May to apologise to my colleagues for the xenophobia she and her ‘boot boys and girls’ have sought to stir up.

My colleagues came from other countries to become Scots who now live here and are seeking to raise their families with us.  They contribute greatly to my life and the lives of the other people we work with. My MP is the only labour MP in Scotland, Iain Murray – he of the union jack jacket.  So we will see if he is up to the request or if he is one of those No voters who still have their heads in the sand and are happy to let xenophobia rage.

Leading up to the September 2016 independence referendum, the tactics employed by the Better Together campaign peddled vitriol to older voters sense of power, arrogance and snobbery. Better Together placed great effort on characterising Yes voters as violently aggressive thugs. Ironically, during the indyref there was only one incident involving a Yes supporter who was charged with throwing an egg at a politician (quickly reported by the BBC) .

In contrast, during the lead up to the indyref several British Nationalist supporters were charged with physically attacking and injuring a disabled man, a preganant woman, and middle aged man.  On top of that, one person also threatened the first minister and there was an attack on a Yes stall at Heart of Midlothian football ground. To cap it all, on the night of the indyref result British nationalists carried out sexist, racist and violent attacks in George Square .

Such hypocrisy is known as purity by proxy – which involves the promotion of the idea that other people maintain virtue for us but we don’t have to live up to this expectation ourselves (see the books, ‘The Nashville Sound’ or ‘A Boy Named Sue’ for a more in depth definition).

Running parallel to the Better Together propaganda  that, ‘Yes voters are aggressive’, was a theme of, ‘Scotland is too wee, too poor and too stupid to be independent’ . This theme followed a traditional mantra – ‘it’s the economy what wins it – stupid’ – that sought to represent as ‘make believe’, ‘an infantile dream’ and ‘fantasy’ the idea that Scotland could afford to be independent.

The remnants of the British Nationalist campaign aka Ruth Davidson and her 20% vote (4% less than Thatcher got in 1987 at the height of her unpopularity in Scotland) are still trying to blame Scottish people for the disaster that is the British economy. They don’t care how many Scots they throw under the Brit Nat Brexit ‘No-Single Market’ bus.  Brexit is now a racist juggernaut that is out of control  and all the racist noise obscured something else this week – the pound plummeted when the chancellors visit to the USA woke up the international currency markets to the  ‘No-Single Market’ reality that now awaits the UK economy.

In the 2104 indyref Brit Nat ‘s continually tried to paint a picture of a Scottish currency imploding as a result of a Yes vote for independence.  With all their flag waving, jingoism and preening – they have failed to recognise that what they have created  are the very circumstances that a No vote was supposed to avoid.

The ‘nightmare’ economic story peddled by Better Together was never based on reality.  As if it was us Yessers that squandered the billions of oil revenues that thatcher spent on unemployment! As if it is us Yessers who have failed to find an economic model that was not based on a culture of ripping off your fellow human being!  As if it is Yessers us who ensured our fulltime working citizens are now so poorly paid that they need to also receive state benefits and as if it is us Yessers who sought to cut off the financial system that gave birth to the renewables industry in Scotland.

Yes young people, it was your Grandparents generation that allowed Thatcher to take all of Scotland’s precious resources with out creating the safety net of a sovereign wealth fund.  And they have the audacity to call us too wee, too poor and too stupid – those who sold the jerseys, those who ensured we now struggle to feed our children and those who doffed their cap and shuffled guiltily through the polling booths to place a cold hand on your aspirations.


The protestations of the British Nationalists, their jeering at the GERS figures and their gleeful grins concerning the state of the Scottish budget – tell you one thing.  British Nationalists don’t care about people who have recently lost their jobs in the oil industry, just as they didn’t care, during Thatcherism, for those who lost their jobs in the coal, steel and shipbuilding industry.

British Nationalist such as Ruth Davidson (and her Conservative lickspittle pals) don’t have a plan for how to build an equitable Scottish economy, they want the Scottish economy to fail so that they can gloat about it, they want the Scottish economy to fail so that they have one last hope to cling onto that their nasty racist British Nationalist superiority complex can be maintained.  Even as little England floats off into the Brexit distance, British Nationalist want the Scottish economy to fail so that they can use it as a bullying tool against the Scottish people – they want to be able to incite fear so that people don’t vote for their own freedom in indyref2.

And this, again, shows the depth of their Narcissism – as long as the UK can wave a flag and think of empire, Brit Nats don’t care what happens to the pound, what happens to the poor, what happens to my colleagues from the EU who now live here or what happens to young people’ s aspiration.  As long as the can wear their union jack shorts, t-shirts and jackets – they don’t care what harm they do.

When Elvis Costello sings the song Shipbuilding (click here for a you tube video of the song), we get an echo of the British Nationalist world of inequality.


Inequality specifically echoes in the line:

‘With all the will in the world, diving for dear life, when we could be diving for pearls’.

British Nationalists don’t care if children and families living in Scotland are ‘diving for dear life’. British Nationalists don’t care about how their inequitable economic model leads to illnesses of despair.  They do not care how much their economic model deprives our communities of loved ones, splits up our families and breaks young people’s confidence. They only care that their privileged, patronising and elitist snouts are kept in the trough.

British Nationalists didn’t care when in the 1980s Thatcher moved my father’s job to Leeds and many similar fathers in our street in Edinburgh had to also leave Scotland to find work. British Nationalists didn’t care when the police fitted up miners and criminalised everyday working men during the miner’s strike and they didn’t care when Nigel Lawson gave tax relief to rich London based TV stars to monopolise the land in the north of Scotland rather than use it to ensure equitable access to and ownership of land for local young people (see Andy Whiteman on this here).


The impatience of my youthful 48 years means that on a daily basis I feel the need to cry out to this nation, ‘can wi know get oan wi it – can yi auld gagies know just wake up ti whats gaein’ oan’. I’m pretty fed up with the British nationalist newspaper polls, the lack of critique of the British nationalist economic model on Scottish political television shows and the constant cheerleading for a Conservative party that stripped this country of its greatest asset (oil) and now blames us for not having an immediate alternative for one or two years poor oil tax returns.

Its like shooting someone and then blaming their death on the fact they can’t afford private health care.  The smoking gun is still in the hands of Westminster politicians but the Scottish television media just can’t see who committed the murder, even when us Yessers shout, ‘he’s behind you’.   British Nationalist political economics, ‘Too poor, too wee, too stupid -the pantomime’.

When are the over 65s going to take their head out of the sand and back the younger generations ability to create a new vibrant Scotland, a new economic model and a more equitable society. If the Grandparent generation are waiting on the Conservative party in Westminster to deliver a solution to low oil receipts and the changing nature of the Scottish economy, they have simply ignored the drab, dispossessed and exploited history that they and their fellow Scots were forced, by Westminster politics, to live for so many decades.

So when the press attempted to sell us the most ridiculous of stories the other week that Ruth Davidson is currently the most popular leader of any political party in Scotland – it is time to tell them to stop believing their own propaganda. The end of the British state may not happen tomorrow. Indeed, in the words of the song mentioned at the beginning of this blog:

‘tomorrow was made for some, tomorrow may never come, for all we know’.

The tomorrow of independence may never come – for sure it wont come unless the Grandparent generation wake up to the realities of their grandchildren’s lives.

Tom Devine argues that the uncoupling of the UK has started. You can also tell this from the sneering look in the British Nationalist eyes.  The narcissist gets even more arrogant when you try to speak to them about their faults, failures and flaws that.  Brit Nat jibes about the Scottish economy are the last vestiges of a desperate set of people who should know that their time is fading, Ironically Brit Nat jibes about the Scottish economy, the Scottish people and migration to Scotland come at a time when Brit Nats are about to trash their own economy.  Their narcissism knows no bounds.


Even those of the Grandparent generation who were too selfish last time to vote with their Grandchildren are starting to contemplate independence – having spent the last 8 weeks on a Saturday stall on the meadows – our local group has noticed that some of the over 65s have changed their views out of self interest and they are now thinking about the problems of passport control when they go on their European holidays or to their cottage in the south of France.  Others, have just felt the impact of a lower pound on their recent trip abroad, or, are fearful they will be hit with punitive taxes for their properties abroad.

Not all people will change their minds due to self-interest, a growing numbers of over 65s are now looking more carefully at independence because they realise they were conned during the indyref.  The difference for indyref2 is that it will  only take a small swing of 5 or 6 people in every hundred to bring about independence.  And, looking at recent polls which seem oddly skewed to previous no voters, it should be possible to gain a result much better than a close win.

Our experience on the Meadows suggests that former No voters are now much more open to discussions about independence – don’t believe the main stream media’s attempts to dampen down our spirits – they MSM haven’t spent the last 8 weeks speaking to everyday people in Edinburgh.

We, Yessers, can and shall continue to dream of a different world. The young people of Scotland can rest assured that their dream is still alive, they can take solace from the fact that the older generation will seek to share their dream when the nightmare of Brexit becomes more apparent  and, they can take confidence from the fact that independence has never been so close in our life times.



Anything Is Possible – If We Open The Doors In Our Minds

By John Davis

The last post in this blog attempted to understand the context of Benny Lynch’s life and challenged deficit model assumptions about him, the community he grew up in (the Gorbals) and the city in which his life was located (Glasgow). The post connected the notion of ill health (particularly illnesses of despair) to a lack of power (a democratic deficit) in people’s lives. Todays post seeks to build on this idea by highlighting the power of relationships and arguing that relationships can enable us to overcome our fears and live the change we seek to achieve.   In so doing, this post connects the lyrics of Kris Kristofferson (the idea that isolation is not good for us) to the ideas of Muhammad Ali (that anything is possible) – in order to put forward the  positive idea that change is in the hands of us all.

Several years ago I worked with a group of young people who had taken part in a process which sought to make mental health services more participatory. The process sought to encourage professionals to take account of the views of young people when planning services.  The project was not revolutionary – the adults mainly kept control and power within the process but it was innovative in the sense that children and young people were listened to and they were enabled to set up their own group to put forward ideas for change.

The young people concluded that we needed to question the way that we assess children in relation to mental health because some adults fail to take account of children’s own views. They argued that practitioners needed to question their personal assumptions and recognise the difference between medical model presumptions which focussed on what young people couldn’t do and strengths based approaches that viewed children and young people as capable people who could take an active role in developing solutions to their life problems (see Davis, 2011 for more on this).integrated children's services

The children and young people, that I and my colleagues worked with, critiqued professionals who claimed to take scientifically neutral approaches to ‘treatment’ (that merely masked their bias). The children and young people encouraged us to consider the power politics of local services and to judge professionals on the basis of whether they cared, were trustworthy, enabled choice and took time to explain processes. The children and young people concluded that professionals needed to be clearer about the different ways that they assessed, characterised and treated children and young people and that professionals should revisit the ways that they evaluated and reviewed their services to take more account of service users perspectives.

In particular, one example stays with me. A young person asked me to think what it was like to be forcibly removed to a secure unit that was miles away from your home.  They asked me to think about what it is like to be forced to go somewhere (without giving your permission) that had no public transport links to your local town, where there was no possibility of your family visiting and where no one took the time to explain why you were there, how the unit functioned and what the staffs expectations were.   They asked me to understand that even when you are having a mental health episode you should still be provided with information because there will be a bit of you that does understand what is going on.

The message was clear, illnesses of despair are exacerbated by processes that remove power from the person experiencing the illness – even when we are having mental health episodes we should still be treated as human beings who understand things, have rights and are capable of thought. We should not break the bonds of children and young people’s existing relationships when seeking to ‘treat’ them.

Kris k silver tonged devilThis idea came back to me when I was listening to various Kris Kristofferson song’s. For example a song called the Pilgrim –  values the different aspects of the Pilgram (The Pilgram is a composite of various singers Kristofferson had worked with).  I like the song because it makes our flaws and imperfections part of the everyday – it speaks of the idea that there is no ‘normal’.

There are a lot of messages in Americana songs about relationships, about connecting, about sharing your fears with other people and about the dangers of being alone and isolated. For example, Patsy Klein (Let The Tear Drops Fall)  tells us that our loneliness, ‘Since you`ve been gone’, means that the sun won’t shine and the moon won’t glow.

Kristofferson is a master of this genre, whether it is the claim in Loving Arms (written by Tom Jans) to have been too long in the wind and rain (and chains), the plea in Help Me Make It Through The Night, that ‘I need a friend’/‘its sad to be alone’ – or the lonely relationship in Stranger which talks about the need for someone to help you, ‘shut out the shadows’ – Kristofferson’s songs encourage us to connect with other people  whilst engaging with our pain, facing our demons and valuing our incomplete identities.

None of us can control the way our lives are told but does this matter if we have loved others who have shared our journey, if we have trusted others with our stories, if we have placed our future in the hands of others and co-constructed our identities through sharing our life fears, ideas and tears? This idea – of enabling, sharing and opening doors through relationships – can be found in another of Kristofferson’s songs – Loving Her was Easy:

Comin’ close together with a feelin’ that I’ve never known before in my time

She ain’t ashamed to be a woman or afraid to be a friend

I don’t know the answer to the easy way she opened every door in my mind

But dreamin’ was as easy as believin’ it was never gonna end

And lovin’ her was easier than anything I’ll ever do again

Kristofferson’s lyrics play with male/female power relationships and put the male in the learner role. They invite us to consider the relationship between self and other – whilst feelin’, lovin’, dreamin’ and believin’.

Similarly, an earlier post on this blog talked of the unifying messages in Muhammad Ali’s life. It argued that Ali’s life, when taken over its full journey, demonstrated that there was no contradiction between establishing a positive self-identity and also seeking to unite with other people to improve the world.  For Scots – the message is that we can be both an independent country and a country interdependent with other countries.  We can take a different road from the united kingdom but still work together from a position of strength – with our neighbouring countries (near and far) to foster a more socially just world.

Ali got this message across loud and clear and this was never more obvious than during his exceptional funeral .  For example, Qubilah Shabazz (the second daughter of Malcolm X) talked of the support that Ali and others had given her over the years and stated:

‘While he and I had a treasured relationship, the genesis of this love was through the love for my father. Muhammad Ali was the last of a fraternity of amazing men bequeathed to me directly by my dad… …what was significant as brothers, my father and Ali, was the ability to discuss openly anything, all factors of life… ….of how to make an equitable difference in the lives of others.’

The lesson Qubilah Shabazz teaches us is that we should never apologies for seeking to create dialogue and change. For seeking innovations that look to make an equitable difference in the lives of ourselves and others. We should never apologies for seeking to bring about an independent Scotland that will enable the children of Scotland (what ever their birth country or heritage) to live in a more equitable society.  And we should be willing to make sacrifices to ensure that our values prevail.  Lonnie Ali also made this clear in her eulogy at Muhammad Ali’s funeral:

‘Muhammad indicated that when the end came for him, he wanted us to use his life and his death as a teaching moment for young people, for his country and for the world. In effect, he wanted us to remind people who are suffering that he had seen the face of injustice. That he grew up in a segregation, and that during his early life he was not free to be who he wanted to be.

But he never became embittered enough to quit or to engage in violence. It was a time when a young black boy his age could be hung from a tree. Emmett Till in Money, Mississippi, in 1955, whose admitted killers went free. It was a time when Muhammad’s friends, men that he admired, like brother Malcolm, Dr. King, were gunned down, and Nelson Mandela imprisoned for what they believed in. For his part, Muhammad faced federal prosecution. He was stripped of his title and his license to box, and he was sentenced to prison. But he would not be intimidated so as to abandon his principles and his values’

As the world explodes around us, as the democratic deficit grows wider and as the illnesses of despair seek to take route in our minds, we need to remember Ali’s message and neither abandon our principles nor forsake our values. We must seek out and work with those who would comfort us, those who are ready to listen, those who will share our aspirations for a better life and those who will help us build the bridges to a better place.  As Lonnie Ali stated:

‘So even in death, Muhammad has something to say. He is saying that his faith required that he take the more difficult road. It is far more difficult to sacrifice oneself in the name of peace than to take up arms in pursuit of violence… … His timing was impeccable as he burst into the national stage just as television was hungry for a star to change the face of sports. You know, if Muhammad didn’t like the rules, he rewrote them. His religion, his name, his beliefs were his to fashion no matter what the cost. The timing of his actions coincided with a broader shift in cultural attitudes across America. Particularly on college campuses… … And I think Muhammad’s hope is that his life provides some guidance on how we might achieve for all people what we aspire for ourselves and our families.’

So, if we don’t like what is going on in the world today, if we don’t like Brexit, if we don’t like discrimination, if we don’t like an economy that only serves an elite, if we oppose the suppression of our fellow humans and if we seek to promote alternatives – we need to change the rules, challenge the vested interests, stop accepting that things have. ‘aye been’ and remove the persistent structures of inequity that inhibit our lives.  We can only do this – if we collectively work together for change in local settings, in regions and in our countries.

The British state does not care for change – establishment figures such as Gordon Brown mope around in the hope that a passing camera crew might once again put them in the spotlight.  Saddest of all, people like Brown call for new thinking from a state that is unapologetic, unthinking and unrelenting in its promotion of inequity.

We can only achieve change in Scotland if the working and middle classes come together in ways that recognise our common goals yet respect our different cultures.  It is time for an Independent Scotland to chart its own course, it is time for us to trust ourselves and believe we can construct another way of being – it is time to show that love (hope fuelled love), collective effort, common decency and everyday kindness over comes all.  It is time to show that by respecting our diverse identities, valuing our difference and working collaboratively we can overcomes fear, division and discrimination with a common weal economy, a culture of civic nationalism and respect for the contributions of all our citizens what ever their backgrounds.

natasha mundkurThe final words for Todays post highlight our ability to be the change we require, our ability to challenge the imposition of discriminatory conventions/standards and our ability to unify without ironing out difference.  They were so eloquently spoken, at Muhammad Ali’s funeral, by a young woman called Natasha Mundkur from the University of Louisville who reminded us (as always) that you learn a lot when you listen to young people:

‘Let me tell you a story about a man. A man who refused to believe that reality was a limitation to achieve the impossible. A man who once reached out through the pages of a textbook and touched the heart of an eight-year-old girl, whose reflection of herself mirrored those who could not see beyond the colour of her skin.

But instead of drawing on the pain from that distorted reality, she found strength just as this man did when he stood tall in the face of pelting rain and shouted: ‘I am the disturbance in the sea of your complacency and I will never stop shaking your waves’. And his voice echoed through hers. Through mine. And she picked up the rocks that were thrown at her and she threw them back with a voice so powerful that it turned all the pain that she had faced in her life into strength and tenacity.

And now that eight-year-old girl stands before you, telling you that Ali’s cry still shakes these waves today; that we are to find strength in our identities, whether we are Black or White or Asian or Hispanic, LGBT, Disabled or Able-bodied, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or Christian. His cry represents those who have not been heard and invalidates the idea that we are to be conformed to one normative standard. That is what it means to defeat the impossible, because impossible is not a fact. Impossible is an opinion. Impossible is nothing.

When I look into this crowd, I smile. I smile to recognize that he is not really gone. He lives in you and he lives in me; and he lives in every person that he has touched in every corner of this world. Reality was never a limitation for Ali, for us, just as every punch his opponents threw. Impossible is never enough to knock us down, because We Are Ali. We are greater than the rocks or the punches that we throw at each other. We have the ability to empower and inspire and to connect and to unify, and that will live on forever.

So let me tell you a story about a man. His name is Muhammad Ali. He is the greatest of all time. He is from Louisville, Kentucky, and he lives in each and every one of us. And his story is far from over.’

Our story is only over if we chose it to be so – and we do not so choose. Let us join together when we feel week, let us unite when we feel despondent and let us share each other’s pain, love and aspiration when we feel oppressed – Muhammad Ali lives in all of us and we can support each other to be the change we seek, to be the smile of hope and to be the light that guides.