Charity for care experienced young people criticises Alex Cole-Hamilton over ‘chief mammy’ comments
A charity for care experienced young people has criticised comments made by Alex Cole-Hamilton, in which the Lib Dem MSP suggested that Nicola Sturgeon did not deserve the title of ‘chief mammy’, as “wrong and unfair”.
Sturgeon was dubbed ‘chief mammy’ in reference to her role as a corporate parent for care experienced young people.
But writing in the Edinburgh Evening News, Cole-Hamilton argued that the First Minister did not deserve the moniker because of the Scottish Government’s record on issues such as raising the age of criminal responsibility and the controversy over the handling of SQA exam results.
He also suggested that Sturgeon had often sought to use children’s issues to “soften her sometimes frosty personality”.
But Who Cares? Scotland questioned the comments, accusing the Edinburgh Western MSP of using a newspaper column to “co-opt the experiences of those who are or have been in care to score political points”.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats insisted the article was meant to highlight “how the SNP's rhetoric on children's rights has frequently failed to match up to reality”.
Cole-Hamilton wrote: “There is one nickname, given to Scotland’s First Minister, that she has never sought to dispel. Designed to capture her stated ambition to define her legacy with things she’s improved for Scotland’s children, that nickname is: “Chief Mammy”. She doesn’t deserve it.”
He added: “Nicola Sturgeon has sought to soften her sometimes frosty personality by surrounding herself with children of all ages. There was the “Baby Shark” photo shoot in the cabinet rooms of Bute House, the Jacinda Ardern impersonation, promising that the Easter Bunny would come despite COVID and there was the nauseating ‘Thank You Nicola’ montage made by the children of nationalists (inexplicably promoted by the STV twitter feed) during lockdown.”
The moniker ‘chief mammy’ dates from 2018, when some care experienced young people referred to Sturgeon as the ‘Chief’ Corporate Parent in Scotland. She then used the moniker ‘chief mammy’ in a speech at the 2018 Global Care Gathering.
A spokesperson for Who Cares? Scotland said: "It was disappointing to see this article co-opt the experiences of those who are or have been in care to score political points. In many ways, on the issue of changing the care system, Holyrood has been an example of what can be achieved when political parties come together to do the right thing.
“Alex Cole-Hamilton has strong credentials in this area, so his article was especially confusing.
"Over the last four years, Who Cares? Scotland has facilitated conversations between the First Minister and people with Care Experience. From the beginning, she was clear that she wanted to engage with people in a genuine and empathic way.
“Our understanding of the ‘Chief Mammy’ moniker was that it was a way to cut through system language and show the spirit in which the First Minister wanted to approach things. Conversations held in that spirit led to a review of care, changes in Government policy and meaningful relationships that resulted in the First Minister attending someone's graduation.
"There is an enormous amount of work to be done before justice and fairness is achieved for Care Experienced people. It was wrong and unfair to use this kind of platform in a way that has undermined and overlooked how hard the journey for Care Experienced people has been.
"It's important that Alex Cole-Hamilton draws a line under this error of judgment so that we can focus solely on creating childhoods for Care Experienced people that are loving, nurturing and help them achieve their potential."
A Scottish Lib Dem spokesperson said: "Alex spent two decades working in the children's sector, and won several national awards for his efforts working with others to increase the age of leaving care.
“Care experienced children did not feature in his column, and the aim of his article was to highlight how the SNP's rhetoric on children's rights has frequently failed to match up to reality.
“It was not his intention to detract from those who find the "Chief Mammy" moniker a source of comfort."