On this day: 7 years on, we give thanks for ‘No to Named Persons’

Seven years ago, on 9 June 2014, the No to Named Persons (NO2NP) campaign was launched at the Macdonald Holyrood Hotel in Edinburgh.

Over 200 people came to hear speakers from social work, medicine, academia and politics highlight the dangers of the new named person legislation voted through by MSPs the previous February.

A mandatory state guardian was to be imposed on every family in Scotland to “safeguard” the “wellbeing” of all children under the age of 18. State intervention could happen when “any concern” about a child’s “wellbeing” was raised (“wellbeing” was eventually defined as “happiness”).

Named persons could be appointed without the knowledge or consent of either the child or its parents and would ordinarily be health visitors, head teachers and guidance teachers. The only people who could not legally be named persons were the child’s own parents.

Key to their work was the power to obtain and share private information on children and their families without their consent or knowledge. These ‘data sharing’ powers appeared to breach existing privacy laws.

The shocking government distrust of every Scottish parent led author Alexander McCall Smith to have one of the characters in his 44 Scotland Street series of novels say: “Can you conceive of a better way of insulting parents?”

Can you conceive of a better way of insulting parents?

Over the next two years, NO2NP held dozens of public meetings in every part of Scotland. Parents’ stories of illegal and intrusive sharing of their private informations by schools were commonplace. Nationwide action days were also organised. Saturday mornings saw an army of local volunteers handing out tens of thousands of leaflets and securing signatures for the online petition, which reached over 37,000 by 2016.

While initially supportive of named persons, the media gradually came to understand and accept NO2NP’s arguments, until finally every major newspaper in Scotland was criticising the controversial “state snoopers” scheme.

Alongside the campaign, a legal action spearheaded by The Christian Institute – and joined by CARE, Tymes Trust, the Family Education Trust and concerned parents – was launched at the Court of Session in Edinburgh. The judicial review was turned down there – not once but twice – before it could be appealed to the highest court in the land, the UK Supreme Court.

Parents across Scotland heaved a collective sigh of relief when, in July 2016, the Supreme Court dramatically overturned the earlier court decisions and unanimously granted the judicial review. In their ruling in the (now much-cited) case The Christian Institute and others v. The Lord Advocate, they struck down the central planks of the named person legislation, the data-sharing powers, declaring them to be incompatible with the right to privacy and family life.

Later that year, The Herald newspaper awarded NO2NP ‘Public Campaigner of the Year’, a well-deserved accolade. The Institute would like to repeat its heartfelt thanks to all the NO2NP team, as well as the tens of thousands of people who signed the petition or supported the campaign in some other way.

Although the Deputy First Minister John Swinney tried to introduce amending legislation to resurrect the scheme, this was blocked by Holyrood’s Education and Skills Committee and he was eventually forced to withdraw his Bill in September 2019. The statutory named person scheme was thus abolished!

In recalling the campaign launch this week, we give thanks to God for answering so many prayers and for bringing such a diverse, talented and committed team together to make up NO2NP.

Watch out for some podcasts in the coming weeks, where many of that team will share their memories of the campaign and we’ll be commemorating the fifth anniversary of that incredible Supreme Court victory.