The future of Human Rights in Scotland

Where the conversation was

A couple of years ago I attended a series of meetings on the review of SNAP (Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights). I was shocked to discover that food was not recognised as a human rights in Scotland; and was very disappointed to find that there was very little emphasis on the rights of older people.

Last year the Scottish Government established the National Taskforce for Human Rights, to work on a proposal and recommendations for a new human rights law. The Scottish Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Consortium Scotland, both of which are represented on the Taskforce, have been jointly organising a ‘public participation process’ over recent weeks.

I was very pleased to learn that both of my concerns were being addressed. Food is included as one of the economic, social and cultural rights and older people as one of the specific groups being talked about.

How the conversation is changing

I have taken part in a number of the meetings, and the conversations at each have been rich, diverse and thought-provoking.

Some general themes have emerged.

Would the new law apply only to ‘citizens’ or to everyone living in Scotland, for instance, refugees and asylum seekers? (We of course think everyone should have equal access to human rights and protections).

How can we ‘make rights real’?

How do we ensure that the law provides ‘a floor, not a ceiling’?

What processes would be put in place to ensure that everyone, of every age, learns about what their rights are and how to assert them?

If someone feels that their rights are being ignored or violated, will there be a simple way to address this? Will the law have ‘teeth’?

New ways of thinking about rights

There is a whole new language developing. Older people are ‘rights holders’ (although they have not always been regarded as such!). ‘Duty holders’, such as public services, will be responsible for ensuring that the law is put into effect. And Outside the Box would be seen as a ‘human rights defender’, because of the work it does supporting people to access and use their rights. For example, the Local People Linking project supports local learning around human rights, giving people skills and tools to start conversations about human rights and run trainings in their communities.

Another word being used more is ‘intersectionality’; which was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw and helps us understand, for instance, that older people may also be women; black and minority ethnic; disabled; LGBTI.

Having learned so much, I have found myself reflecting on the connections between human rights and community development; human  rights and self-directed support; and human rights and co-production.

I have also been wondering about how to incorporate a human rights-based approach into the Intergenerational National Network, and am looking forward to working with the Children’s University as part of their proposed Year of Childhood 2021.