Consensus politics is rare in the Scottish parliament but for those
who hang around long enough they can sometimes spot a glimpse of
This most recent sighting of cross-party work and co-operation was
the debate on the proposed Commissioner for Children and Young
People Bill, for which the education, culture and sport committee
has received the blessing of the Scottish executive.
The idea of a children’s commissioner was there at the start of the
parliament. In January 2000 Sam Galbraith, then minister for
children and education, asked the committee to investigate whether
there was a need for a children’s commissioner in Scotland and, if
so, consider what role and responsibilities one would need.
Some of the comments made by the children and young people during
the consultation were compelling. One said: “Adults don’t listen to
children but they would listen to a commissioner for children.”
It would be interesting to hear what children and young people have
to say about other bills going through the parliament now. Would
they have liked the executive to stick to its guns more on the
issue of smacking under-threes? As those most likely to be victims
of crime, how do they feel about keeping 16 and 17 year olds out of
the adult criminal justice system? How can services be reformed to
help those children caring for a parent with mental health problems
or experiencing problems themselves?
Labour member Scott Barrie said: “In the debate on criminal
justiceÉthe children’s rights agenda was not discussed in any
detail by most members because we were talking about the issue from
a societal and parental point of view.”
The proposal is that the commissioner, while being funded by the
executive and accountable to the parliament, “will stand apart from
both and be directed by neither”, as Irene McGugan, the SNP’s
spokesperson for children cleverly put it.
The good sense and agreement was spoiled by Conservative Brian
Monteith who was concerned that as one of the 129 champions of “all
peopleÉa commissioner could begin to take on the job that I
think we should be doing”. His colleague, Murdo Fraser, went
further: “Children are best represented not by an arm of the state
but by their parents.”
These comments expose the attitudes that any commissioner
representing the views of children and young people will come up
There is still an argument waiting to be won about the status of
children and young people and whether their views should be
listened to and acted upon. The commissioner will have his or her
work cut out.
Shona Main is the Association of Directors of Social Work’s
policy and parliamentary officer.