By Rab Bruce’s Spider

We all know that the media is almost completely united in its opposition to the idea of Scottish independence and, by extension, to anything the SNP say or do. The barrage of #SNPBad stories wasn’t diminished in any way by the Orlando killings and the farcical EU Referendum debate, although these stories did tend to push the SNP-bashing into the background. Even the awful murder of Jo Cox MP wasn’t enough to prevent a couple of ultra-Unionists attempting to twist things, with one Radio presenter allegedly making the bizarre and unfounded claim that the MP’s murder was akin to the sort of acts perpetrated by Yes supporters during the Scottish IndieRef.

By and large, I am able to brush off most of these stories because they are obvious propaganda but one in particular caught my attention last week because of its subtle misrepresentation of facts.

It came from the Aberdeen-based Press & Journal and bore the headline: “How the Named Person Scheme abandoned tragic toddler Clyde".

Now, strictly speaking, the headline could be interpreted as being factually accurate although it is highly misleading.

It centres on the tragic death of a two-year-old toddler whose mother has been found guilty of neglecting her child and the story concentrates on the fact that, after two initial visits from a Health Visitor who was nominated as the child’s Named Person under the trial system taking place in Highland Region, there were only to further attempts at contact, both by telephone. After the second of these calls, the mother stated that she no longer wished to receive visits from the Health Visitor. The inference in the article is clearly that this “abandonment" was principally to blame for the child’s death eighteen months later.

It was only when you read the entire article that several other facts came to light.

Firstly, the child’s death was attributed to Cot Death, also known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, a desperately sad occurrence which even the newspaper could not directly link to the neglect the toddler had suffered.

Secondly, the Police, Children’s Services, Hospital and Nursery staff were all in contact with the family and ostensibly reviewing the child’s situation. Again, there was no comment made as to how any of these parties could have prevented a Cot Death.

Clearly, something was wrong in the review process if the mother was found guilty of neglect but, at least according to the press & Journal, that neglect was not directly responsible for the child’s tragic death. Even if the various parties had taken steps earlier to place the toddler in care, there is no guarantee that this would have prevented a Cot Death as this awful fate can afflict anyone.

From this we can see that the focus of the article is nothing more than a politically-motivated attack on the SP’s Named Persons’ policy. The Named Person has no power to place a child in care. All he or she can do is refer concerns to the appropriate Authorities. In this case, even though the Health Visitor had not seen the child for eighteen months, various other bodies were looking at the case, so the involvement of the Named Person would probably have made little difference.

That is not to say the circumstances should not be closely examined because any child’s death needs to be carefully reviewed to identify any shortcomings, whether by individuals or by the system which is supposed to monitor the child’s welfare but to imply that it was the “abandonment" by the Named Person which was responsible for this tragic death is, quite frankly, nothing more than a despicable attempt to use a tragedy for political purposes.

There is another significant issue in relation to this sort of reporting. The main opposition to the Named Persons’ legislation is that it appoints a “State Guardian" who can interfere in family life and deny parents the right to bring up their own children. That is a gross misrepresentation of the way the system operates as the Named Person is merely a first point of contact who has some formal responsibilities to raise concerns and refer cases to the appropriate Authorities if deemed necessary. The Named Person is not a State Guardian and it is a bizarre feature of the opposition to the system that, in the mercifully few cases where a death has occurred, the Named Person is actually being blamed for not interfering enough. That’s Unionist media logic for you. As long as they can say, “The SNP are bad", they will misrepresent any story.

Of course, the Press & Journal will claim that they were merely putting an editorial slant to a factually correct story and, in strict terms, they are perhaps correct although that is a matter of interpretation. The story itself consisted of little more than the basic facts of the case plus quotes from parties who either opposed Named Persons’ or who represented Child Welfare Services. In other words, as we have come to expect from our media, there was no attempt to critically analyse the facts or comments, merely to reproduce them with a headline which was intended to arouse anger against the new policy. Is it any wonder more and more people are turning to online sources for an alternative media where there is at least some attempt to put things into context and provide evidence to support arguments?