The McNanny State: it’s time to challenge it

The McNanny State: it’s time to challenge it

by Brian Monteith
article from Wednesday 11, July, 2018

SINCE the Scottish Parliamentcame into being in 1999 it has passed over 300 bills that have been given royal assent and are now the law of the land. Notably they include a bill to ban smoking in all enclosed public places. This was the first ban of its type in the United Kingdom and became the template for similar reform in Wales, England and Northern Ireland.

Following the political lessons of how easy it was to deliver such sweeping change, appetites were whetted for more social experiments. A noticeable pride was taken amongst those who had supported devolution that the Scottish Parliament was the first in the UK to make such an intrusion into people’s lives. Moreover, there was a tangible sense that the UK’s four legislatures or assemblies were now in competition to see who could be first to deliver further prohibitions justified on the grounds of public health.An opportunity is never passed up by the SNP government to say Scotland is “the first” to do this or do that no matter the desirability of an initiative.

Since 2006, when the smoking ban was enforced in Scotland, the Holyrood parliament has extended its ban on smoking in enclosed public places with a ban on smoking within fifteen metres of hospital buildings, while the exemption of allowing prisoners to smoke in their cells is also being rescinded. Not to be outdone by central government, some local authorities have dicussedextending the ban to outdoor areas beyond children’s play areas where many ‘voluntary’ bans have already been introduced.

On alcohol, the reform of the licensing system was hijacked by individual politicians to introduce restrictions around off-sales. This was followed up by the controversial ‘minimum pricing’ of alcohol that has now been imposed by the Scottish Government after it cleared court appeals challenging its legality. Without waiting to see if this significant intervention works there are already demands to increase the minimum unit price from 50p to 70p and introduce further restrictions on the availability of alcohol across the licensed trade.

Looking to other areas where lifestyle choices could be limited or removed altogether, new laws or campaigns have been introduced and are still being conceived.Not content with demonising smoking tobacco, or drinking alcohol beyond ever-reducing yet arbitrary limits, campaigners now want to demonise consumption of fats, sugar, salt and carbohydrates. Scotland is without doubt heading down a path of puritanism through stealth.

Thanks to the support of Forest (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco)I have written report that considers the growing evidence around these social interventions and what it tells us about campaigns for (and against)them becoming law, theirclaimed impact,the unintended consequences of the new restrictions, and where the experience might lead us in the coming years.

For those concerned about the erosion of personal freedoms, the growth of the nanny state and its evolution into a bully state – or simply the efficacy of promised outcomes that justify more and more legal controls but which rarely ever deliver their goals – must be a worry. The experience of many Scots shows that the Scottish Government and its public health activists will stop at nothing to distort the truth in order to convince people that the various bans are necessary, are working and should therefore be expanded upon.

Of course, when a perceived ‘problem’ stubbornly remains – or, more typically, has not declined faster than the long-term historical trend – that too can be justification for further intervention. For public health professionals looking for funding to sustain their growing network and laws to justify their existence, the Scottish Parliament and its 129 members – the vast majority of whom work on the principle that ‘something must be done’ – is both a cash cow and a stamp of legitimacy.

Other social interventions have included a proposal to require every new born child to register with a state guardian who will have a range of powers that could, ultimately, lead to a child being taken away from its parents. While the reasonable people advocating a state guardian talk in reasonable tones and make reasonable arguments about physical and mental care, it doesn’t require a great leap of the imagination to anticipate that in time smoking in the home, consuming alcohol beyond the recommended limits and other social sins (a child ‘allowed’ to become obese, for example), could see the state intercede between parents and children.One council report has already suggested using the ‘named person’ to authorise gender-reassignment of twelve-year-olds against parents’ wishes.

Has Scotland really become so different from the rest of the UK or is it just that it’s ahead of the game with the other home nations jostling to catch up? Where do the ideas for social intervention come from? Are they from the ground up with the public clamouring for more controls, or is it top down with the public grudgingly accepting the erosion of freedoms on the say so of ‘experts’ who know better than them? And who is pushing for the restrictions, who are the vested interests, and how are they funded?

There is also the question of how the debate is conducted. Where are the voices, especially in the Scottish Parliament, willing to speak out and challenge the assertions of the neo-prohibitionists? Whatever happened to those genuine Liberals who once commanded the heights of Scottish politics?

As a former Scottish Conservative MSP I can attest that it was usually left to the Tory group to defend what had become the otherwise abandoned position of individuals having the right to make their own choices. Now,however,there appear to be times when the Scottish Conservative opposition reminds me of the strange case of the dog that did not bark. Likewise, who in the media is speaking out for the ordinary pleasures of ordinary people? Does no one believe in ‘live and let live’ any more?

If my report helps encourage people to question whether further prohibition, greater intrusion and less individual freedom will make us healthier and happier, then it will have been worthwhile. If it fails in that respect then, after a few years, I shall return to the subject to consider whether my observations and warnings were right.In the meantime I am serialising the report on ThinkScotland  with the first article following tomorrow.

The McNanny State: How Scotland is becoming a puritan's playpen, by Brian Monteith, can be downloaded here

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