Promoting and Protecting Human Rights- Scotland, Europe and the Wider World

Below is John’s speech from the “Promoting and Protecting Human Rights- Scotland, Europe and the Wider World” debate in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 5th February 2013.

“It was good to hear the minister reaffirm the values that are proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I hope that the whole Parliament will reaffirm those values at the end of business today.

The motion talks about an “inclusive Scotland”. I want to hear about the challenges in that regard. Neil Findlay talked about the right to work, in the context of blacklisted workers, which is clearly a challenge. Workers’ rights are also challenged in relation to safe workplaces, given cuts to health and safety and threats to the European working time directive.

The biggest challenge comes from the austerity programme and cuts in public spending. Human rights bodies have asked the UK Government and devolved Administrations to

“consider more effective processes for assessing the impact of legal, policy and practice steps on equality and human rights.”

It was therefore less than helpful of David Cameron to refer to equality impact assessments as “nonsense”. Politics is about priorities and competing demands, but whatever our differences, hard-fought-for human rights cannot be a casualty.

Our first national action plan for human rights will be Scotland’s plan, not the Scottish Government’s plan, and it is important that there is ownership in the chamber and beyond. The motion talks about embracing

“the opportunities presented by Scotland’s engagement in the wider world to promote respect for the universal and indivisible rights of all of humanity.”

I ask the Scottish Government to bear that in mind as it deals with regimes around the globe, not least China, Israel and the Maldives, where we have heard of late about shocking human rights abuses.
Margo MacDonald (intervention): Does my colleague agree that it would be no bad thing to remind people that there is a history of attention to human rights, with reference to the Scottish weavers and the people who fought for good contracts in the isles and so on? Attention to human rights in Scotland is not new.

I agree with my colleague. For that reason, we must sustain rights and not allow their erosion.

The plan will resonate, regardless of Scotland’s constitutional future. I am disappointed that Patrick Harvie’s amendment was not selected for debate, because it would have given us an opportunity to talk about a number of areas, not least what would be in a constitution in the context of important issues to do with civil rights.

Members mentioned relevance, which is key. The action plan must be relevant to people. The Scottish Human Rights Commission said that Scotland has made “notable progress” but “can do better”.

The Parliament must pass legislation that is ECHR compliant, and as we heard, legislation is shaped by the courts. Many members are concerned that human rights remains with the justice portfolio. That is not a criticism of the individuals who are involved. Rather, there is a view that the issue transcends all portfolios and should be part of every committee’s remit.

I am delighted that the amendment that I lodged, which called for the inclusion of a reference to human rights in the oath that new police officers take, enjoyed support from members of parties across the Parliament. It is important that we seek practical applications of our approach to human rights.

The Equal Opportunities Committee is conducting an inquiry into Gypsy Travellers, who seem to be the last group in Scotland whose rights are routinely disregarded by the public sector. We have heard shocking evidence and the issue needs to be addressed.

There needs to be better promotion of human rights in the areas that matter to people—their homes, neighbourhoods, workplaces and schools. Above all, the action plan must be relevant. We have heard that such an approach to human rights has had success elsewhere. I wish the Scottish Human Rights Commission all the best with its work and ask for the fullest participation.”