Shona Main deplores the growing support for
hard line policies on youth crime in Scotland.

We are a year away from an election in
Scotland and already the parties are saddled up and trying to push
each other off their horses. On the very day the Liberal Democrat
deputy first minister and justice minister, Jim Wallace, was
dodging the bullets of the Scottish parliament’s justice committee
over the executive’s plans to ban the smacking of under-threes, he
was usurped back at the ranch.

As in
Westminster, increasing public pressure is pushing the Scottish
executive to consider new, radical and fast ways to deal with youth
crime. In an attempt to wrest political control of the crucial law
and order agenda, the first minister announced that Labour’s Cathy
Jamieson, the education minister, would head up a new Scottish
executive assault on youth crime.

Liberal Democrats are understandably miffed about their minister
being pushed to one side. But more worrying for them – and for
those who work with children and young people – is that if the
minister is edged out, with him will go many of the more reasoned
approaches to some of Scotland’s most complex problems, and in will
come the more hard line policies that seem to push for a quick

policy shift comes at a time when the parliament is considering the
Criminal Justice Bill. It will forever be known as the smacking
bill or, as one MSP quipped, “the bill that lets them get away with
it for another two years”. They fear more “one-boy crime waves” and
infuriated Labour backbenchers are turning on Wallace for having
too soft an approach towards what they regard as the scourge of
their communities.

Wallace is also under fire for the “harshness” and “futility” of
his plans to ban the use of physical chastisement for children
under three. Although the ban has been applauded by children’s
charities and services alike and panned by the Church of Scotland,
much of the parliamentary unease concerns whether the proposal is
actually workable.

who once championed this policy are now peevish about proceeding
with this ban if it is going to be so difficult to enforce and,
perhaps more significantly, portrayed by the media as pointless.
But Wallace has stuck his spurs in. “If we can build a culture in
which resorting to hitting is not a reflex, but something that
parents must stop and think about and then perhaps choose to use
alternative strategies, in the longer term that must be for the
benefit not only of children but of the wider

is nothing wrong with a piece of legislation that aspires to change
behaviour even if it cannot always affect it. It would be a tragedy
for the Scottish parliament and executive if ideals were the first
thing offloaded when the political stakes are high.

Shona Main is the parliamentary
officer for the Association of Directors of Social


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