IT's one of those things that seems relatively straightforward and yet provokes fierce divisions and hot - or hotheaded - debate.

To smack a child or not smack a child? It seems that it would go without saying that physical assault of a little creature much smaller than the person raising their hands is wrong.

And yet, the call for the end to a clause in Scots law called "justifiable assault", which allows physical chastisement of children, has been hotly contested.

Legislation aimed at banning smacking was published at Holyrood last month and should come in to force in less than a year.

However, a new survey of Scots found that fewer than 30 per cent support the measure while more than half believe smacking should still be allowed.

The rest of those asked said they didn't know either way.

Scotland - a country that likes to think it is more progressive than most - falls way behind the rest of Europe on this issue.

Sweden became the first country to ban smacking in 1979 and now fewer than 10 per cent of Swedes support that method of trying to temper a child's behaviour. Only Italy, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and the UK still allow parents to hit their children.

In 2003 legislation that allowed violence against children was repealed in Scotland but the defence of “justifiable assault” was kept.

When is assault ever justifiable?

People who support retaining the clause allowing parents to smack their children worry about intrusion into family life. It is the same feeling that outrageous people about the notion of a Named Person.

Family life is sacrosanct. One's home is one's castle and one should be able to rule it without the intervention of the state.

There is also a concern that "good" parents will suffer the intrusion of police and social work in their lives for what is a minor offence.

Yet evidence from other countries shows that fears over interference in private homes and criminalising of parents is unfounded.

Others view the introduction of a smacking ban as a judgement on their parenting and, worse, on their own upbringings and how their parents raised them.

"I was smacked and it didn't do me any harm." Well, a growing and significant body of evidence says that smacking does do harm. There is a correlation between physical chastisement and problems, such as low self-esteem, later in life.

As a punishment or behavioural deterent, the evidence shows smacking doesn't work either.

Attitudes and practices change. Society introduces new standards and it moves forward.

I am sure plenty of loving, caring, thoughtful parents have raised their hands in frustration or desperation. Banning that action is not a judgement on them. It is merely signalling a shift in society.

And that's the thing - a huge part of the objection to banning smacking is that there is sympathy for parents who smack. Of course there is. Raising children is exhausting and hard.

In response to the poll showing low support for the bill, the Scottish Government said findings in 2015 showed 92 per cent of people said children should have the same protection or greater protection than adults from assault.

I'm sure they did. But how many of these respondents had smacking in mind when they answered the question?

"Smacking" is very specific and it minimises what is being done. We say smacking ban, the bill that will be passed says Equal Protection from Assault.

Perhaps part of the way to moving towards a place where we feel that smacking runs contrary to our common values is to call it what it is - assault.

As the smacking ban looms closer, a public conversation about how to help parents feel confident and capable of coping with smacking is also needed.

Parents need support and not judgement. Much of the discussion around the smacking ban focuses on parents.

The Scottish Government has said it wants Scotland to be the best place for a child to grow up. That has to mean assault of a child is never justified.

Spare the rod and spoil the child? No, spare the rod and support children and their parents to thrive without smacking.