WE'RE living in a world of fake news, aren’t we? Don’t we all lament the loss of facts, figures and truth? Well, let’s take a look at an issue that seems to have polarised people in Scotland for a while now, and let’s kick it all off in fiery fashion.

Folk from foreign climes may have been bemused the other day if they’d tuned into Scottish news when they saw a tabloid newspaper post footage online of staff setting a baby box on fire. But, apparently, that’s what happens when a bold idea from the government becomes policy, and the media – rightly so – must hold it, like any other, to account. If there's a risk it can go up in smoke then give us a match and let’s see what happens. After all, there’s no smoke without fire.

The baby box is the Scottish Government scheme introduced last year, which offers every mother in Scotland a box of basic supplies – blankets, a mattress, clothes, a digital thermometer and more – for their babies, and it’s free. It’s more than a practicality, it’s this government’s way of saying that every child has the right to an equal start in life, and that each is valued.

So far, so good. But then the questions emerge. How much does this policy cost? Is it just a gimmick? Is the government really suggesting that a simple package delivered upon birth is enough to offset poverty and reduce infant mortality rates?

Regardless of the heartwarming symbolism of the baby box, these are all legitimate questions. What if it turned out that there was some terrible design flaw in them that meant parents really shouldn’t allow their babies to sleep in them? What if something went horribly wrong? Isn’t it better to pro-actively address any potential problems than be in a position where we need to learn lessons in the wake of some awful tragedy?

Scottish Government ministers have repeatedly made the claim that the baby box scheme can help reduce infant mortality rates, and that the box itself is a safe sleeping space for babies. It is the job of the media and of opposition parties to test the veracity of those claims. It is totally legitimate and fair to do that.

And that’s exactly what caused the latest stooshie over the last week, when it emerged in a London newspaper that one expert on cot death, Peter Blair of the University of Bristol’s medical school, had urged the government in a memo to stop claiming the boxes were safe for babies to sleep in because there was no evidence to support it.

Then, Kela, Finland’s welfare agency, added further fuel to the fire when it pointed out that the box itself was not the key to reducing infant mortality - rather, the box was part of an overall improvement in health services, which in turn created a drop in early child deaths. This was a particular blow for the government because the baby box scheme’s success in Finland has been held up in Scotland as the model to follow.

However, while it is legitimate for the government to be questioned and held to account, the behaviour of some opposition politicians must also come under scrutiny. Let’s not pretend that the frenzy over the baby box comes from a crippling fear amongst the Tories in Scotland that they aren’t safe.

There is a clash of ideologies at work, and the Tories want to draw blood from the SNP. The brass neck of members of the party behind brutal austerity and the rape clause suddenly becoming concerned about welfare would be hilarious if it wasn’t so serious.

And the frustration in members of the public is something I sympathise with. When there is so much wrong with Broken Britain and so many crises facing public health, is time spent setting fire to baby boxes really the best use of journalism?

What we appear to have right now is political tribes determined to rip one another apart on detail, regardless of principle. Is this the only way politics can work? Must everything, even the welfare of innocent babies, fall victim to this tit-for-tat?

Here’s a challenge to our political parties: get in a room together, figure out the safest way to deliver universal provision for our children and sort it out. Set the public spats to one side, ditch the petty sniping and listen to the experts - improve what, at its core, is a good idea.

If you can’t deliver that, history won’t remember you well. And remember, today’s babies will be tomorrow’s history makers. Over to you.


In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data-grabbing scandal, Facebook turned heads with the news during the week that it is to launch a dating app on the social network. You almost have to admire how bold Facebook can be – just as we’re all reeling from revelations about how much information it has been collecting about us, broadly without our knowledge or understanding, Facebook gives us the chilling news that it wants to know who we’re getting between the sheets with as well. You may as well send Mark Zuckerberg an invitation to wire up a livestream into your bedroom and be done with it. Happy dating!