Think tank publishes paper on erosion of human rights

Carole Ewart

The Jimmy Reid Foundation has published a new policy paper on why Scotland must do better to respect, protect and fulfil human rights across devolved functions.

Its publication coincides with social justice minister Alex Neil giving evidence to the European and External Relations Committee of the Scottish Parliament as it concludes its “Human Rights Inquiry”.

The paper argues that human rights are under attack from the UK government– which is threatening to abolish the Human Rights Act (HRA), possibly withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and introduce a “British Bill of Rights”.

Although the Scottish government explicitly supports the HRA and the ECHR, the real problem according to the foundation remains the failure of “duty bearers” ie the public sector and those providing services of a public nature, to comply with existing human rights obligations.

It takes the view that fixing the problem should occupy the political energy and practical action of our elected politicians with a consequent gain of the public understanding that human rights are relevant and powerful in making our lives better, and Scotland fairer.

A YouGov poll for the Scottish government in 2015 confirmed the difficulties in perception with one in five Scots saying human rights are for minority groups only and two in five Scots saying they have no bearing on their everyday life.

Carole Ewart author of the paper said: “Applying human rights equally and fairly can address urgent issues including poverty, poor care for elderly people and unfair employment practices. Scotland must now take deliberate, concrete and measurable steps to comply with existing human rights law, address the reputational damage which has led to people regarding human rights as weak, owned by a minority and of little relevance, and focus on enforcement action which makes Scotland a model of best practice.

“Although human rights are to be included in the National Performance Framework, there is a fear that it will fail to deliver a prompt impact, and promises to consult on extending out list of human rights will serve as a distraction from the main problem of delivery and delay positive action further.”