SCOTLAND is seeking to “create a path” for other UK nations to follow on expanding human rights amid the constraints of devolution, the Equalities Minister has said.

“We would love to go further,” Emma Roddick told the Sunday National after the Scottish Government published responses to its consultation on introducing a Human Rights Bill in Holyrood, expected to be laid at some point in the next year.

“But to do that, we would need to be independent,” she added, insisting that ministers will push as far as they can to introduce a number of international treaties into Scots law, as much as devolution will allow.

Roddick explained that officials had learned from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

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The Scottish Government initially passed the treaty in Holyrood, which sought to extend children's rights, but after a successful Supreme Court challenge by the UK Government, ministers were forced to amend the legislation so it fell within devolved competence.

The amended legislation was granted Royal Assent on January 16, but was first passed in March 2021.

In the Human Rights Bill, ministers are set to introduce four international treaties into Scots law. This ranges from economic, social and cultural rights, to tackling racism and discrimination against women and people with disabilities.

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“I hope that we can create a path and then other UK nations - England, Wales as well - will be able to make progress,” Roddick said.

“I know that Wales has expressed interest in doing similar and there are people watching the progress here.

“It is exciting to be kind of groundbreaking within the UK, but I want human rights for everyone - that's the point of them. So I hope that others do follow.”

Will there be a pushback from Westminster?

RISHI Sunak (above) has not dared to go so far as to pull the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) despite Tory infighting over his Rwanda legislation.

And, the proposed Bill of Rights fell off the agenda after it was previously introduced by Dominic Raab in 2022, to Roddick's evident relief.

But post-Brexit and amid repeated attempts from the UK Government to block Scottish legislation, such as incorporating the UNCRC, there is always a risk the plans could be stymied. 

Roddick said that the Scottish Government is engaging in open dialogue with Westminster, and so far, UK officials haven’t raised any issues with the plans.

“We've just been really open about what it is that we're trying to do,” she explained, pointing out that the four treaties they hope to include in the legislation have all been ratified by the UK, but never incorporated into UK law.

“We're obviously being very careful around the way that we incorporate treaties -  particularly those surrounding women, disabled people, people who have experienced racism - and making sure that those are within devolved competence.

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“I appreciate that means a lot of folk are saying 'you should be going further'. I don't disagree. I would love to just be copying all the treaties and sticking them into Scots law, but to do that, we would need to be independent.”

Roddick added that this was not limited to the Human Rights Bill and that ministers felt the same frustration across various portfolios.

“What we can do, we will do, and that's what this bill is about,” she added.

What are the treaties that the Scottish Government wants to introduce?

THE International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) sets out a number of wide-ranging rights for citizens from the right to work, create trade unions, and the right to social security, to the right to food, clothing, and adequate clothing. Incorporating this treaty into Scots law would also guarantee the right to education, free primary education and to take part in cultural life.

The Scottish Government would also be required to pursue policies to eliminate racial discrimination through the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

Promoting equality and aiming to end discrimination against women would be required under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

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Elsewhere, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) would oblige the Scottish Government to promote the “full realisation” of human rights and end discrimination for those with disabilities.

After the proposals were first announced, many groups called for the Scottish Government to go further.

“We don't disagree. It's not about not wanting to, it's about the constitutional issue,” Roddick said.

“The perfect scenario would be Scotland as an independent country and we can go further.

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“Second to that would be if the UK Government decides to incorporate these treaties as well, then we could match what they do.

“But what we're doing at the moment is as far as we can go, but as I say if people have ideas about how we could go even further, that'd be great.”

“It’s about education”

'I'M hoping that the process of getting this through parliament will mean better education for people about their rights,” Roddick added.

Despite the delays around the UNCRC being given Royal Assent, and having to be passed a second time by MSPs in its amended form, Roddick said that one benefit was there are now children in Scotland “who can tell you what their rights are”.

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“That's just incredible that kids now have the vocabulary and the access to what their rights are in Scots law, to be able to then go and tell someone when they're not being met,” she said.

“That's what I want to see come out of this. I want disabled people, women, people [who have] experienced racism to be able to put up their hand and say look, my rights aren't being realised and this is why, and provide them with a route to justice when that's the case.”

While the Human Rights Bill is an extensive piece of work attempting to cover a lot of areas and could come with its complications due to the devolution setup, Roddick added that it is one step amid a push cross-government to “realise human rights for everyone in Scotland”.

“That's not just about incorporating treaties, that’s about improving access to democracy, access to justice,” she said.

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“It's about improving public services and finding places where certain groups aren't getting the same experience as others, whether that's in their workplace or the NHS, that work is ongoing with every minister in government.

“So it is exciting work, this is a very big part of it, the Human Rights Bill, but it's not the only thing that's going on and it won’t be the last thing that we do.”

When can we expect the legislation to be laid before parliament?

NOW that the consultation responses have been published, Roddick and officials will put together a draft bill, set to be scrutinised by Holyrood’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee, which will undoubtedly run a consultation calling for views. But overall, the initial responses were supportive of the plans.

“The respondents widely supported the proposals regarding the concept of human dignity as well as the overall proposition of incorporating the four UN treaties and the right to a healthy environment,” the Scottish Government's consultation concluded.

Asked if the Government had a timeline for getting the bill on the statute books, Roddick told the Sunday National: “That depends on so many things that are not in my control, but certainly we hope to introduce the bill this year. I hope there's plenty of debate on it.”