Excluded Voices on the Smacking Ban

“I don’t feel scarred by smacking and am not the psychologically damaged person supporters of the ban wish I was.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 26/10/2020

One year ago, the Scottish Parliament voted by 84 votes to 29 to pass The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) Bill making Scotland the first UK country to define it as a criminal offence for a parent to smack their child. An advert released last week by the Scottish Government urges the public observing parents “physically punishing their child [to] call 999 to report a crime.” Last May, Children’s Minister Maree Todd assured parliamentarians that “our intention is not to criminalise parents.”

The legislation will come into effect next month but, throughout the debate which surrounded the proposed bill between 2017 and 2019, what astounded me most was the way in which the voices of young people and particularly those who would have had relatively recent experience of smacking were excluded. In fact, I found it sinister that some of the very charities who often herald the amplification children’s voices were those most opposed to their input on this particular topic of conversation.

Last week, I spoke to 19-year-old Lily Waiton from Tayport, who has relatively recent experience of smacking. She became linked to the smacking ban when accompanying her father, Dr Stuart Waiton, to parliamentary and public events where he spoke in opposition to it and pointed to his “violated” daughter. Lily laughs as I remind her of the hustings in Dundee where this also took place but she says: “He was right though, I am not the psychologically damaged person supporters [of the ban] wish I was.”

Lily just emerged into adulthood as the bill was presented in 2017 and spoke to me of her experiences. She said: “I was only ever smacked a handful of times and I knew it was when I pushed the boundaries. It happened so infrequently I don’t think about it and certainly don’t carry any resentment or feel scarred because of it.” Lily adds: “I had a great childhood and know my parents raised me with much love and care and I honestly believe smacking helped me quickly determine between right and wrong.”

I ask if Lily feels smacking would be appropriate were she to one day settle down and have a family. She says: “I imagine the way I was brought up will influence the way I raise my own children.” She offers a withering assessment when I ask also about her perception of Scottish politics: “It is shocking how much politicians appear to push their own moral agenda.” Lily adds: “Their job is to represent those who elected them but it is as if they feel duty-bound to use the law to manipulate people’s behaviour.”

Since 2003, it has been unlawful to discipline a child in a manner that reddens the skin but from next month, if you are a parent who uses any physical discipline, you will be a criminal. Lily says: “This what our politics has turned into – it is just mad.”