PARENTS in Scotland are to be banned from smacking their children, Holyrood has confirmed.

After previously saying it would not oppose an attempt to introduce such measures, the Scottish Government last night said it would go further and “ensure” a ban became law.

With a vote expected next year, it means Scotland is likely to be the first part of the UK to outlaw smacking.

The development is a victory for Green MSP John Finnie, who earlier this year launched a member’s bill “to give children equal protection from assault” by banning physical punishment “by parents and others caring for or in charge of children”.

Under Scots law, parents and carers can claims a defence of “justifiable assault” when punishing a child if they can show it was “a physical punishment carried out in exercise of a parental right or of a right derived from having charge or care of the child”.

Parents are banned under the same law from punishing their child through a blow to the head, shaking or “punishing with an implement”.

However, campaigners against smacking, such as former Children’s Commissioner Tam Baillie, have long said an outright ban is required.

The UK is one of only five EU countries not to ban smacking, despite the United Nations urging the country to legislate to outlaw it in the home in 2015.

There is no ban in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, and parents are allowed to use “reasonable chastisement” but not leave a mark, swelling, cut or bruise.

However, the Labour government in Wales recently announced a consultation on ending the reasonable chastisement defence, with a view to legislating on a smacking ban in 2018.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Mr Finnie’s proposals are not a Scottish Government Bill; however, we will ensure the proposals become law.

“We believe physical punishment can have negative effects on children which can last long after the physical pain has died away.

“We support positive parenting through, for example, funding for family support services.”

The SNP’s position has gradually swung behind a ban.

In May, when a public consultation opened on Mr Finnie’s proposal, the government said it did not support the physical punishment of children but had “no plans to introduce legislation in the area” although it would “consider carefully” Mr Finnie’s Bill.

Laying out her annual legislative programme last month, Nicola Sturgeon then said the Scottish Government would “not oppose” Mr Finnie’s Bill.

She told MSPs: “Although it is not our proposal and parties might give their members a free vote on the issue, the Scottish Government will not oppose John Finnie’s proposal to prohibit the physical punishment of children.

“It is worth noting that approximately 50 countries around the world - including France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Republic of Ireland, to name a few - have already successfully made that change.”

Her words were taken to mean the SNP would give its MSPs a free vote, short of guaranteeing of the measure becoming law.

However, a firmer commitment was buried in the fine print of an accompanying 124-page document, which stated: “We will… support John Finnie MSP’s legislative proposals to remove the existing defence for parents and outlaw all forms of physical punishment.”

A vote is expected in parliament next year.

Scottish Labour announced on Wednesday that it would back Mr Finnie’s Bill.

The Green MSP said in response: “There is clear evidence that the use of physical punishment is detrimental to children’s long term health and wellbeing, so I’m delighted that Scottish Labour has added its name to a growing list advocating for children to be given the same protection from assault as the rest of society.

“Giving children full protection against assault will send a clear message to all of us about how we treat each other and underpin Scotland’s efforts to reduce violence.”

An NSPCC Scotland spokesman added: “John Finnie’s bill on equal protection from assault, and the Scottish Government’s indication it will support it, is a welcome step on the road towards fairness and equality for children.

“The NSPCC has long campaigned for children to have the same protection against assault as adults and we strongly believe a change in the law would be a common-sense move.

“It is wrong that a defence which does not exist in a case of common assault against an adult can be used to justify striking a child. Closing this loophole would bring Scotland in line with dozens of other countries and give our children equal protection under the law.”