Independent Scotland could take human rights triumphs to 'new level'

Legal Affairs Minister Roseanna Cunningham told MSPs time was right for a debate on human rights.

Roseanna Cunningham: Minister has been speaking to MSPs about new law.
© STV

A vote for independence will allow Scotland to take what it has already achieved in the field of human rights "to a new level with new powers", the Legal Affairs Minister said on Tuesday.

Roseanna Cunningham told MSPs that the time was right for a debate on how human rights can be constitutionally guaranteed.

But she was attacked by opposition parties, who suggested the Scottish Government can do more to tackle issues such as human trafficking using its existing legislative powers, and questioned the First Minister's record of promoting human rights abroad.

MSPs were debating the subject at Holyrood as they agreed to nominate Professor Alan Miller for reappointment as chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission from March 2013 to March 2016.

Ms Cunningham said: "When Scotland votes in 2014 there will be, I hope, opportunities to take what we have already achieved to a new level with new powers and a heightened sense of ambition.

"As the First Minister noted in London recently, the time is right for the debate on how Scotland both guarantees and implements rights, and how we ensure that constitutional guarantees place the person at the centre of the system rather than at the bottom or the margins."

Commenting on Prime Minister David Cameron's proposed in/out referendum on EU membership, Ms Cunningham added: "I do find it a bit worrying that parts of the UK are demanding the scaling back, and in some cases wholesale removal, of the domestic framework of human rights in the UK.

"The discourse of some within London is coloured by what seems to be a parochialism, and a perception of human rights as a barrier. The Westminster debate is sadly out of touch with the needs of real people."

The minister was challenged by Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, who asked: "Can she say something about the role the First Minister has taken in promoting human rights internationally, for example, when he makes visits to places like Qatar whose human rights record is dubious?"

Ms Cunningham said: "Can I ask members to take some care not to express themselves with a degree of hypocrisy here."

She said both Conservative and Labour governments at Westminster had been guilty of failing to promote and protect human rights abroad.

Labour's Jenny Marra said the Scottish Government must act now on rights abuses such as human trafficking.

"The victims of trafficking in Scotland today cannot wait for a written constitution enshrining their rights, nor do they even need to, because the Government in Scotland ... has the power it needs to make a big impact on this human rights abuse now and today," she said.

"This parliament has a great lot of powers that we can use to tackle and prevent this problem of trafficking."

The minister said: "We have already made clear that we will bring forward a specific human trafficking statutory aggravation to ensure that where trafficking forms the background to an offence, that can be taken into account by the court."

She said work was also progressing to review the wider legislative framework for trafficking.

Conservative communities spokeswoman Annabel Goldie quoted a YouGov poll published last year which found 72% of the public thought human rights had become "a charter for criminals", and said the UK Government is right to reform human rights legislation.

"It is a paradox that lawbreakers can demand, as a right, a voice in lawmaking when they showed scant regard for upholding the law in the first place," she said.

SNP MSP Christina McKelvie questioned the UK Government's commitment to human rights in light of its welfare reform agenda, and desire to withdraw the UK from the European Union social charter.

"The battle with welfare reform and austerity which is being paid for by the poor, the sick and the vulnerable is a woeful insight into what the future can hold for us all," she said.

"This on the back of (Foreign Secretary) William Hague's Fresh Start in Europe paper which rips us out of the EU social charter which has rights that protect pensions, equal pay, working time directive, gender and disability protection in the workplace.

"According to the Department for Work and Pensions' own figures, households with the lowest incomes will be the worst affected.

"I believe the poorest will pay for austerity, and this is not acceptable and is a violation of human rights."

Labour MSP Graeme Pearson also criticised the UK Government's welfare reform agenda.

"The consensus is that the approach is resulting in a retrogression in the realisation of human rights, particularly amongst vulnerable and marginalised people in Scotland," he said.

Your report: If you have information on this or any other story, please let us know. You can send information, pictures to web@stv.tv or call us on 01382 591016.

Feedback: We want your feedback on our site. If you've got questions, spotted an inaccuracy or just want to share some ideas about our news service, please email us on web@stv.tv.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check. That e-mail's already in our system. Please try again.
ShowHide
Forgot password?
This field is required. At least 6 characters please. Did you enter your details correctly?
If you've forgotten your details then use the 'Forgot password?' link.
Need to reset your password?

We'll send a link to reset your password to

We've sent you details on how to reset your password

Please check your email and follow the instructions.

Forgotten your email address?

Have you forgotten the email address that you previously joined with? Don't worry, by emailing enquiries@stv.tv we can help.

One account. All of STV.

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
At least 6 characters please
ShowHide
This field is required. At least 6 characters please.
You have to be 16 or over to join
This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date
Type your full postcode and select your address This field is required. It doesn't look like you've entered a valid postcode. Can't find your address? Confirm the details you've given us are correct by clicking here

By continuing you agree to our Terms of Use, including our Privacy Policy and Cookie Policy. Any issues contact us.

Upload Profile Picture

Please make sure your image is under 2mb in size and a valid JPG, PNG or GIF.

Are you sure?

Unfortunately, you'll be unable to access our premium content. We’ll be sorry to see you go, but if you change your mind you can rejoin us at any time.

Please verify your STV account

Please verify your STV account using the email we sent you. If you have lost the email, we can send you another one, just click the button below.

Thanks

We've sent you a new verification email.
Please check your email and follow the instructions to verify your account.

Welcome to STV
Thanks for joining us.

Oops!

Sorry, you must be at least 12 years old to place a vote for your Real Hero.

Please review our Voting Terms of Use for more information.

Oops!

Sorry! It seems that you are using a browser that is incompatible with our voting service.

To register your vote please copy the below URL in to your regular mobile browser. We recommend Google Chrome, or Safari.

http://shows.stv.tv/real-heroes/voting

Oops!

Sorry, you seem to have already voted in this category.

Thanks for voting

Now share your vote with friends on your social network

Share on twitter Share on facebook

Cast your vote

Please register or sign in to continue.

Cast your vote

This field is required. This doesn't appear to be a valid date

Cast your vote

Please fill out this form to cast your vote. As you are under 16 years old you will not create an STV account. Why do we need these details?

This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. Please enter at least 2 characters
This field is required. That doesn't look like a valid e-mail format, please check.
Location This field is required.
Parental Consent This field is required.

That's you. All that's left is to click the 'Submit Vote' button below. By doing so, you confirm that you and your parent or guardian have read and accept our Voting Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Cookie policy, and that the details you have entered are correct. We'll look after them as carefully as if they were our own.