BACK in 2021, the Scottish Government announced plans to introduce a new Human Rights Bill. The aim is to incorporate four UN human rights treaties into Scots law, focusing on economic, social and cultural rights, as well as on women’s rights, race and disability.

But in practical terms, how can improved protections for rights holders and more robust accountability for duty bearers result in a more just society?

To put it simply, human rights are basic freedoms that belong to all of us and are not granted or given by any state – they are an internationally recognised legal minimum. They range from the most fundamental – the right to life – to those that bring dignity to life, such as the rights to food, education, work, health and liberty.

In the UK, some of these rights – mainly civil and political rights – are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998, which, despite callous attempts by MP and former deputy prime minister Dominic Raab to get rid of it, protects rights such as the right to life, the right to liberty and freedom of speech.

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It was confirmed earlier this year that the UK Government has officially shelved Raab’s Bill of Rights, indicating that his attempts to rewrite human rights law have been meaningless, unnecessary and unwanted.

There is absolutely no need to replace or repeal the Human Rights Act, as it has given people across the UK a way to enforce their rights, challenge rights violations and bring about a culture of respecting human rights in hospitals, schools, housing associations and care homes.

Many human rights charities highlighted the dangers of the UK Government’s direction at the time, which would have left those already vulnerable without protection and gifted public bodies with even less scrutiny.

However, economic, social and cultural rights have less protection under the Human Rights Act and that is a gap we need to address, more so if we are serious about making radical changes in Scotland.

There is hope this legislation could bring about a major change to the human rights landscape because a wide range of economic, social and cultural rights could be directly relied on by people in Scotland, instead of being relegated to the more distant world of international law, politics and diplomacy.

Over the past years, a huge amount of time and effort has been given to the process of creating this new bill by various parties across civil society, and the Scottish Government has finally opened a consultation on a new Human Rights Bill for Scotland.

The consultation is welcome, especially after serious delays, but the proposals do not go far enough and it is disappointing to see it does not represent the resources that many organisations, mainly from the third sector, have dedicated to shape the possible legislation.

We need to be more ambitious and introduce stronger measures so these rights can have long-lasting impacts on important policy areas, for example, the right to an adequate standard of living – including adequate food and housing – the right to education, the right to health and the right to social security. During a cost of living crisis that sees many choosing between heating and eating, such rights have never been more important.

There is no denying that these asks are bold, with serious challenges ahead – particularly as it is likely to test the boundaries of the devolved settlement for Scotland – but rather than becoming another political football, there is a chance to showcase leadership here, and both UK and Scottish governments must welcome this in a mature manner that prioritises people over political posturing.

However, there is a core element in all of this that the Scottish Government has full responsibility over, and that is public participation in deciding minimum core obligations.

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“Minimum core”, in this context, refers to a baseline of social, economic and cultural rights that every state should implement right away. So, while some rights would be progressively realised over a while, some others must be fulfilled immediately, regardless of wealth or the overall conditions of the country.

Understandably, minimum core obligations are somewhat controversial, as many believe that they could discourage wealthy states from putting additional rights in place, becoming the ceiling rather than the floor, and others argue that the approach is simply not feasible.

But minimum core obligations can provide an effective answer to the difficult dilemma too often present around human rights; that of setting priorities with limited resources. It is only by recognising limited resources that the government can make a distinction between immediate demands identified in core obligations, and non-core obligations that can be progressively realised over time, agreeing on what a nation’s red lines are.

If those were not to be met, people would not be considered to live a life with dignity and the nation would be legally obliged to take immediate action.

TO reach a consensus on what those red lines should be and what they would mean in practice, there must be a wide-ranging, accessible, public participatory process to ensure that those who need this new legislation the most have a say about what matters to them.

Too often policy development and implementation have been formulated by those who do not suffer the consequences of inequality, discrimination and oppression daily, and despite different degrees of knowledge and expertise, they end up devising mechanisms that will not reach people’s lives in any meaningful way.

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Scotland has built some space for public participation, and despite its shortcomings, that can be a big asset in the formulation of laws, policies and practices.

There is an opportunity here that should not be missed – one to demonstrate leadership globally by ensuring meaningful participation that influences outcomes on one of the most promising pieces of legislation brought forward by this government.

People who systematically suffer violations and denials of rights need to have at their disposal a platform through which their lived experience can be given weight, as they can monitor and measure tangible progress.

This work needs to recognise one basic truth – this process means nothing if done without the communities it strives to benefit. Lived experience needs to be valued from start to end, included in strategies and programmes, properly resourced and rightfully recognised as the inseparable other half of the policy-making process.

If we are brave enough to try what others have not, we might just come to the other side having taken the first step into making rights real.

Sabrina Galella is an Italian migrant and a human rights practitioner. After her degree in Politics and International Relations in London, she earned an LLM in Human Rights Law from the University of Edinburgh.

She worked as a researcher for the Scottish Parliament and then moved to lead the policy work of a youth homelessness organisation, where she worked on prevention, partnership and capacity building.

She now leads the policy and public affairs work at JustRight Scotland, where she develops and executes policy and influences strategies across a range of human rights and equality issues.