Although it didn’t feature in the recent Queen’s Speech, Tory proposals to scrap the Human Rights Act have alarmed many of us.
The 1998 Human Rights Act is a fundamental means of securing the rights and liberties of citizens across the UK. It was written to ensure that UK legislation conforms to the 1953 European Convention on Human Rights. It is one of the most important expressions of post-World War II Europe’s commitment to human rights and it is shocking that seventy years after Europe said ‘never again’, the Conservative Party would even consider repealing the Act.
I am completely opposed to any repeal, as is the SNP, and we will seek to fight any attempt by the Tories, or anyone else, to remove this key piece of legislation. Let me be clear, neither I nor the SNP government in Scotland will consent to its repeal; it is not a negotiable matter.
While the Human Rights Act is not within the gift of the Scottish Parliament, aspects of it are written into devolved legislation, and thus, would require the permission of Holyrood to repeal. Moreover the Human Rights Act is written into the Good Friday Agreement. Here the reckless and irrational Conservative dislike of all things European is putting the fragile peace process in jeopardy.
A further issue is the European Convention on Human Rights, which David Cameron has refused to rule out leaving. Were the UK to do so, it would leave Tory-led Britain and Belarus, as the only states not party to the Convention, and the UK as the only state ever to have signed it and then left. Combined with the Communications Data Bill and the disenfranchisement of European citizens in the forthcoming EU referendum, this government is beginning to display worrying anti-democratic tendencies.
Thankfully, it seems that some within the Conservative party recognise this and the Tory frontbench is likely to contain a few rebels, enough maybe perhaps to prevent the scrapping of the Human Rights Act. It is likely that to some degree this issue will be framed in terms of the SNP vs the Tories but it is more fundamental than that. Who watches the watchers? Who prevents European states from starting the slippery slope back to the barbarism of the mid-20th century, from which we have worked so hard, and with so much success, to free ourselves?
The Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights aren't Brussels imposed bureaucracy they are a guarantee to citizens that their states will respect their rights, and that those rights are maintained and guarded by Europeans everywhere.