A phrase we often hear is that “respect must be earned”. Actually, I don’t agree with that – I think that we are all due respect, that we should be granted it until we do something to lose it. Then perhaps we have to earn it, to get it back again.
I believe that Governments should respect the citizens that they are elected to serve. As citizens we can try to make sure this happens is by recognising the rights that we all have. These rights were hard won – amongst them, the struggle for the universal right to vote, and the right for workers to join together to form Trades’ Unions.
It was in the aftermath of WW2 that the European Convention on Human Rights was agreed, the U.K. Signing up to it in the 1950s. It was in the 1970s that both the Sex Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act made it illegal to discriminate against anyone on grounds of gender or ethnicity.
It was in 1998 that the UK Labour Government introduced the Human Rights Act, and here we are in the 21st Century with a Tory Government intent on repealing it. This is gravely concerning, an attack on the basic rights of individuals. The Scottish Government, along with all the other parties in our Parliament except the Conservatives, have pledged to oppose any weakening of these protections.
There are myths abounding about the operation of the Human Rights Act. Reports about how it only protects criminals and terrorists, about how it is imposed upon us by the European Union. Not true. The Human Rights Act protects the rights of everyone, and our Courts are not bound to follow judgements of the Strasbourg Court, but must take account of them.
The right to life, to protection from inhuman and degrading treatment in care and custody. The right to free speech and peaceful protest. The right to an education. The right to challenge unfair treatment or discrimination. All minimum standards surely in any modern democracy? Of course rights come with responsibilities. The Act is clear that none of its rights can be interpreted as implying that anyone has the right intentionally to destroy the rights of others.
So why should we be concerned about Tory repeal plans? The Scottish Human Rights Commission believes that in areas over which our own Government has power – health, social care, education and justice – we could maintain or enhance existing protections. For example, the protection of care-home residents from neglect or mistreatment, or rights for dementia patients to be treated with dignity and respect.
The Commission is clear, however, that there would be “adverse consequences” for us in Scotland in reserved policy areas such as social security, employment and privacy. They quote examples such as disabled people being unable to challenge policies like the bedroom tax, employees being unable to challenge unfair employment practices, the excessive collection of personal data.
The austerity programme being pursued by the current UK Government, coupled with the hurtful reforms on welfare, means that we can have little confidence that any respect is shown by them to those that are vulnerable. The proposed Trade Union Reform legislation wending its way through the UK Parliament shows that the Conservative Government has no respect at all for the rights of working people.
Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, said in a major speech the other day: “Human Rights aren’t always convenient for Governments – but they’re not meant to be. Their purpose is to protect the powerless, not to strengthen those in power”.
That’s why we must oppose any attempt to sign away these basic rights and protections.