The Cabinet reshuffle will have a big impact on human rights protection in our United Kingdom as the articulate supporters of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) have been removed.
We face a General Election campaign that puts, centre stage, abolition of the Human Rights Act as it gives the ECHR domestic effect. Scots may react by voting Yes in the referendum as we choose the best political framework to respect our values and realise our hopes and dreams. If a No vote prevails, there is an intriguing scenario about how Scotland might stop the bulldozer intent on demolishing human rights protection across the UK.
Unlike Westminster, the SNP Government has not made human rights a party political football and has consistently supported the Human Rights Act (HRA), which requires all public authorities and those delivering services of a public nature to comply with the ECHR.
Whilst there is criticism of the SNP's delivery on human rights, its draft constitution for an independent Scotland is clear and promises "that every person in an independent Scotland will have the rights and fundamental freedoms contained in the ECHR".
Furthermore, it will be up to a future Scottish Constitutional Convention to agree additional human rights issue such as: should economic and social rights be included and should they be capable of being decided by a court?
Conversely we would not be "better together" if there is a No vote and a UK Government is elected in 2015 with a manifesto commitment to abolish the HRA.
To make that happen, Westminster would have to amend the Scotland Act 1999. On the back of such an amendment, I anticipate that the 43% of people, according to some opinion polls, who support independence will seize on the legislative opportunity to revisit the devolved settlement at the UK Parliament and secure even greater powers for Scotland. The 2012 Edinburgh Agreement between the UK and Scottish governments sets out the plan for holding a referendum on independence and commits both parties to a process that delivers "a fair test and a decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect".
Both sides are committed to accepting the finality of the decision but a Unionist government that initiates revisiting the Scotland Act so soon after the referendum might be guilty of an own goal. Most Scots unequivocally favour devo-max but were denied that choice. The UK Government, which was against a second question, might yet seek to interfere with the supposedly "settled" Scotland Act for its political objectives. Well, two can play that game and there is no reason why Scots can't exploit this tactic to achieve greater powers for the Scottish Parliament.
I understand why people say the distinctive Scottish landscape on human rights deserves a Scottish response and so the HRA should be retained in Scotland. However, this approach is problematic for the UK as people in Rochdale or Cardiff or Belfast would rightly complain to the European Court of Human Rights about a breach of Article 14 of the ECHR as they have an unequal enjoyment of all their rights compared with people in Scotland.
The whole process of amending or abolishing the HRA is messy and a distraction from the key question: how can the UK preach human rights globally while failing to honour them domestically?
Human rights belong to us equally, and are there when we need them as a safety net when we are feeling vulnerable in a care home or are angry about an invasion of our privacy or wanting to enjoy our possessions. Human rights are a set of minimum standards that reflect our traditional, national values of fairness, respect and dignity. We need to advocate human rights for all, not abandon them when the going gets tough for politicians.
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