NICOLA Sturgeon has "absolutely" failed young people in Scotland. – Bruce Adamson, retiring commissioner for children and young people, in a BBC interview.

The National:


THE Scottish Government has an unrivalled record in delivering child-friendly policies from the baby box to the Scottish Child Payment to free university tuition. Holyrood passed a bill to incorporate the UN child rights convention into Scots law only to have it vetoed by the UK Supreme Court, at the behest of the Tory government.

Bruce Adamson is complaining Nicola Sturgeon failed to stop this. He should look to the real culprits: Tory ministers.


The National: Bruce Adamson will step down as Scotland's children and young people’s commissioner this month

ADAMSON is a New Zealand-born family lawyer who moved to Scotland in 2002. He has considerable international experience in human rights advocacy and was a key member of the team which established the office of the Commissioner for Children and Young People in Scotland in 2005.

The commissioner’s role involves promoting and safeguarding the rights of children and young people. In 2017, Adamson himself was appointed commissioner. The job is a full-time, single-term appointment for six years, with an annual salary of £70,000. Adamson has just retired from this post.

READ MORE: Tory MSP in 'car crash' BBC interview after complaining about 'transparency'

In a series of interviews coinciding with his retirement as children’s commissioner, Adamson has made stringent criticisms of the former first minister Nicola Sturgeon, of the new First Minister Humza Yousaf, and of the Scottish Government in regard to their legacy in protecting children’s rights and wellbeing.

It is rare for a commissioner to be quite so scathing of the politicians who appointed them. In some quotes, Adamson went so far as to say Sturgeon had “absolutely" failed Scottish children. This quote was widely circulated in the Unionist media, usually taken out of context.


THE burden of Adamson’s criticisms of the Scottish Government, which he has been voicing for some time, concern the incorporation into Scottish law of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which is widely recognised as the most comprehensive statement of young peoples’ legal rights and the duties owed to them by state authorities.

The Convention has 54 articles that set out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children everywhere are entitled to. It also explains how adults and governments must work together to make sure all children can enjoy all their rights.

READ MORE: Dr Tracy Kirk: Significance of children’s rights bill can’t be overstated

The UK Government ratified acceptance of the UNCRC as far back as 1991. However, parochial UK governments as a rule refuse to incorporate UN conventions into domestic law, preferring to make ad hoc changes to legislation on a case-by-case basis. This means that government departments and local authorities can flout particular convention rules. The only recourse of aggrieved parties is to seek a judicial review. This latter course is usually too expensive and time-consuming.

However, the SNP government has attempted to incorporate the UNCRC directly into Scottish law, in defiance of Westminster.

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The Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to do so in March 2021. The Holyrood bill makes it unlawful for public authorities and anyone providing services to children with public money to act incompatibly with UNCRC requirements. Then deputy first minister John Swinney (above) commented: “This is a landmark bill which is the most significant piece of legislation since devolution.”

Unfortunately, in yet another assault on the devolved rights of the Scottish Parliament, the Conservative government sought to block this legislation. In October 2021, the UK Government secured a Supreme Court ruling that said parts of the new bill were outside the competency of Holyrood to legislate. The SNP government then proposed to bring back revised legislation. However, after some 18 months, there has been no move to do so. This delay is the source of Bruce Adamson’s criticism of Nicola Sturgeon.


THE SNP government points out that since the Supreme Court intervened, work has been ongoing to revise the previous legislation in a manner that would satisfy the courts and the Tory government, but that this legal draftsmanship is complex and takes time to get right, given the necessary consultation with Westminster. Revised amendments were transmitted to Conservative ministers in early March and a reply is still forthcoming.

Adamson has also criticised the six-month notice being given to statutory authorities affected by any revised legislation before a new bill can come to Holyrood. He believes this is unnecessary because these bodies were notified in the earlier legislative process. He may have a point.

On the other hand, if any local authority or other body decided to contest in the courts such a lack of prior notice, then we would have even more delay.

There have been many calls for the Scottish Government to speed up the process of revising the UNCRC bill, including from the Scottish Parliament’s all-party Equalities Committee, chaired by SNP MSP Kaukab Stewart.

During the recent SNP electoral contest, Yousaf claimed that advancing the legislative process for the amended bill would be one of his priorities. Certainly, further delay would be unconscionable, but Adamson can hardly claim that the issue is not getting attention.


ADAMSON has gathered headlines by saying Nicola Sturgeon “absolutely” failed Scotland’s young people. His passion is undeniable and his impatience understandable.

The National: Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament

But by any rational political consideration the child-centred policies of the SNP are far in advance of anything coming from Westminster – from the baby box to the Scottish Child Payment.

In the very week Adamson reiterated his criticisms over UNCRC, the Scottish Government announced it was extending free university tuition to the children of migrants.

Adamson has also argued that not enough has been done to deal with the after-effects on children of the pandemic. But the SNP government invested around £2.5 billion to support low-income families during Covid, of which £1bn is estimated to have benefited children. Two rounds of Covid hardship payments were target towards 145,000 children in low-income households.

No one would deny the lasting educational or mental health impact of Covid, but Adamson’s assertion of an “absolute failure” to address the problem is not credible.

He is right to argue for more public finance, but the lack of resources is more to do with Westminster austerity than an unwillingness of the Scottish Government to be pro-active.


Five out of 10.

The National:

There is an urgency to revise the UNCRC legislation but implying that Sturgeon has somehow failed “absolutely” when it was she who initiated the fight to incorporate the convention into Scottish law is both misguided and unhelpful.