Ah wis hert gled tae hear the weel-kent an gallus fechter fur human richts, Shami Chakrabarti, speakin in Embra the ither week. Reflectin oan her wark as leader o the human richts an ceevil leeberties organisation, Liberty, atween 2003 an 2016, Chakrabarti spak firstly aboot her strauchles agin the ettlins o the Labour Government, unner Blair an then Broon, tae roll back ceevil leeberties in the name o ‘fechtin terrorism’. She then gaed oan tae speik aboot hoo fasht she wis bi current developments, wi the Tory pairty an government dividit bi the issue o human richts as weel as bi the UK’s membership o the European Union (EU) an the European Convention oan Human Richts (ECHR), wi the bogle o UKIP lurkin the hail while’s time in the backgrun. Cameron, oan the ae haun, wants tae stey in the EU as weel as the ECHR. Theresa May, oan the ither haun, wants tae stey in the EU but leave the ECHR, an Gove wants tae stey in the ECHR but chuck the EU. Gaun by the recent Queen’s speech, this maitter luiks set tae remain a stramash fur a lang time tae come, wi the UK government commitit tae set furth proposals oan a British Bill o Richts durin the neist Pairliament.
In Scotland, o coorse, whaur nae sic stushie is takkin place, this is aw a bit dumfoonerin. Aw the pairties in the Scottish Parliament are commitit tae uphaudin baith the EU an the ECHR. Oor First Meenester has makkit it clear ayont doot that Scotland stauns fur universal human richts, statin that the Scottish Pairlament will block ony ettlins o the UK Government tae repeal the Human Richts Act: as baith the HRA an the ECHR are yokit tae the Scotland Act 1998, nae chynges can be wrocht athoot the consent o the Scottish Pairlament. Speikin in Glesga in September 2015, Sturgeon said, ‘tae pit it bluntly, there are nae circumstances in whilk ma pairty’s MPs will chuise tae regaird this as an English-only issue an opt tae absteen. Human richts, efter aw, arenae English, Scottish, Welsh an Northern Irish richts – thir’s universal richts’. She gaed oan tae pynt oot ‘the breadth o support whilk the Human Richts Act commands athort the Scottish Pairliament’, meanin ‘it is inconceivable…that sic consent wad be grantit’ an that ‘the Scottish Government will certainly advocate that it isnae grantit’. Chakrabarti hersel referrit tae Nicola Sturgeon’s intervention at the time as ‘byordinair important’, notin that she hud ‘waitit fur a lang time fur a senior politeician in pooer tae mak a speech like that.’
Whilst mony fowk hae a tendency tae conflate English wi British, tae yaise the twa interchyngably, in politics as in awhin else, Chakrabarti is tae be commendit fur hielichtin throuoot her speech in Embra jist hoo different Scotland is wi regaird tae human richts in parteecular, an international policies in general. Whilst nae proponent o a free-staunin Scotland, haein recentlie jyned the UK Labour Pairty, she began her lecture bi kiddin oan that gin England votes tae lea the EU, but Scotland votes tae stey in, she wad be comin tae seek refuge up here. Forby, she spak frequentlie an gey fondly o Nicola Sturgeon, sayin that if ony wumman is tae nick her title o ‘Maist Dangerous Wumman in Britain’ (as The Sun cried her in 2007 fur speikin up fur sic dangerous things as the richt tae a fair trial), then she’s awfy gled it wis Nicola Sturgeon, whaes support fur things lyk Scottish independence an gettin rid o nuclear wappens won her the tabloid title durin last year’s Westminster election campaign.
In aw o this, listenin tae Chakrabarti speik that evenin, ma convictions aboot twa things wur uphauden, an makkit stranger forby. Firstly, the owerwhelmin importance o universal an non-negotiable human richts, whilk mauna be melled wi in ony circumstances. (Oan the topic o hoo successive UK Governments hae dung doon, an continue tae ding doon, oor hard-won richts, ah can strangly recommend Chakrabarti’s buik On Liberty). Saicondly, the need fur a free-staunin Scotland as suin as humanly possible. Fur it’s perhaips oan international maitters abuin aw that it’s clear jist hoo distinct a nation Scotland is, an jist hoo muckle we hae tae contribute tae the warld – be it oan human richts, nuclear wappens, or oor attitudes taewart refugees an immigrants.
As a free-staunin kintra, insteid o jist mitigatin the warst o Lunnin policy, or speikin oot agin it but bein pooerless tae actually dae onyhin, Scotland cud mak its ain wey oan the global stage, staunin fur a compassionate an progressive international politics, oan human richts as weel as awhin else.
The wirds spak bi Winnie Ewing in 1967 remain as pooerfu as ivver: ‘Stop the Warld, Scotland Wants Tae Get Oan’.
Ashley Husband Powton is a Maister’s student o Historie at the University o Sanct Aundraes (Muckle thanks tae Eilidh Douglas, lawyer an board member o Amnesty International UK, fur her guidance oan the legal parteeculars o the abuin)
Nicola Sturgeon Rules out Westminster deal to scrap the human rights act:
On the proposals for a British Bill of Rights: