Brian Monteith: State will keep on bullying us if we don't stand up to it
Some eight years ago I published a book that catalogued how the vital and necessary work of tackling the scourges of public health in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had mutated into the well-intentioned “Nanny State”, but had then metastasized to become the intrusive and aggressive “Bully State”.
Rather than just lecture us about what is supposedly good for us the state has more and more turned to legislation intruding into our homes and personal lifestyles – be it as individuals or families.
Across different ideologies there appeared to be an awakening of the dangers to individual liberty that the Bully State posed, and I was hopeful that new alliances might develop that would speak out and help curb the worst excesses of state intrusion. For instance in areas of civil liberties such as identity cards and CCTV, politicians and activists from the left and right had joined arms to challenge greater encroachment – and with notable success.
Sadly, I am moved to write today’s column in disappointment that such have been the distractions, be it because of our age of austerity on the back of the financial collapse, or the two highly divisive referenda (on Scottish independence from the UK and then UK independence from the EU), that no such uprising against state expansionism has occurred.
When I now step back and look around Scotland I see a land that has moved even closer towards the totalitarian state that, thanks to our regular parliamentary elections, we routinely believe to have avoided. The irony is that year-after-year our politicians invoke yet more laws that limit our freedom to make lifestyle choices or raise our families as we see fit.
We now have a Scotland where every person below the age of 18 will have a named person – a state guardian – most likely a school teacher, who will have a legal responsibility to monitor the raising of every child for its “wellbeing”. Holyrood is on the verge of accepting a ban of parents smacking their children – and there is a minority yet vocal campaign growing to ban smoking in the home.
The Scottish Government has already limited alcohol promotions from retailers in Scotland and is now considering powers to limit portion sizes in restaurants or supermarket food offers. A role for the state guardians concerning the provision of a nutritional diet has already been flagged.
It is not, therefore, fanciful or alarmist to believe that the day is not far off when parents will be reported to state authorities by named persons for smacking their children, smoking in front of them (already in their car and eventually their home) or for feeding them the wrong meals or too much of even approved foods. The penalties will vary but shall stretch ultimately to children being taken away from their parents and into the care of the state. Likewise, couples looking to foster or adopt children in need of care will be denied the opportunity to share their love because they do not conform to the state’s new Spartan and puritanical regime.
It is not unusual for a teacher to ask pupils to write about their recent holiday or weekend. What then if in a few years a Scottish teacher, who happens to be a named person for many in his or her class, reads about Jack telling how his sister Olivia was smacked by Mummy for drawing in wax crayon on the walls of the gîte they were staying at? Jack goes further and writes how, when they got home, his parents threw a party for Mummy’s 30th birthday and they were all smoking, drinking and dancing – in the house!
What pressure has that teacher then been put under to report the breaking of new laws that can lead to the parents being punished in the full glare of publicity (for it shall become a media circus) – and the children put under greater monitoring by the state, and possibly removed for care?
This would be ghastly enough but we actually have a state that whilst claiming the moral high ground delivers a health service that has in the last week been condemned by its own public auditors as failing across a wide range of measurements. This follows on from the realisation that our education system is also falling down the international league tables that measure attainment and are now being out-performed by English schools.
We have a GP recruitment crisis with 856 doctors short of what our practices require; a recent recruitment drive only managed to find 37 doctors when 100 were wanted – and 1500 are expected to retire by 2020. We have lost 4,000 teachers in Scottish schools and shortages of mathematic teachers have led to schools appealing to parents for help, like an air stewardess might ask if there’s a doctor on a flight.
We await a minimum price level on alcohol designed to hit the masses even though the problem in Scotland is localised to specific social groups and, according to government figures alcohol consumption has fallen by eight per cent since 2009.
This is the same Scottish state of which the majority of our politicians in Holyrood, irrespective of party, would be comfortable being part of a government dedicated to deliver this steady drift to the strangulation of individual and family freedoms.
American commentator HL Mencken’s famously wrote: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
It is this “menacing” of us by Scottish politicians, activists and the lobbyists of vested interests (public or private) that has led us to the situation where our state keeps on growing in search of doing something – whether it achieves anything positive or not.
I mean the “menacing” of obesity as opposed to the malnutrition of the past; or the incidence of alcohol-fuelled crime or ill-health while alcohol consumption actually falls; or the problem of smacking when social workers fail to prevent reported abuse leading to murder.
Sadly the Bully State continues to grow and intimidate. Who in Scotland will stand up to the bullies and call them out?
Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org