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Looking for the Rights Result - Scotland votes on Independence in one year

The countdown has begun! In a year’s time, the question of Independence will be put to the people of Scotland. As the Referendum looms ever closer on the horizon, we at Amnesty Scotland are holding a series of debates around the country exploring how to safeguard our human rights, regardless of the outcome of the vote.

We began this past Wednesday at Dundee’s Discovery Point. Looking out onto the mooring of the RRS Discovery, we asked “what is our vision for Scotland’s human rights future … and how do we get there?”

We invited politicians, organisations we work with and members of the public to come along and share their views on a bright, sunny Wednesday morning.

The invited speakers were positive about the outlook for human rights:

Roseanna Cunningham, Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs with responsibility for human rights, called the historical research ship RRS Discovery a symbol of Scotland’s outward-looking history, of scientific exploration, centuries of trade, and strong links with the wider world. She explained the  Scottish Government’s vision to tap our ingenuity and connections to consolidate and safeguard the rights protections we have already and to develop and extend mechanisms for accessing rights.

Liberal Democrat peer Jeremy Purvis of the Better Together campaign agreed: an outward-looking attitude has always been an asset to Scotland. He wants to see a for a “fair, equal, just, entrepreneurial and prosperous” country that is environmentally sustainable and provides the proper support for those who find themselves struggling.

Alastair Pringle of the Equality and Human Rights Commission pointed out that too many of us are still constrained by our own identities when, really, our character and potential should be what counts: “I want to live in a country that doesn’t just tolerate but celebrates difference.”

Scottish Human Rights Commission Chair Professor Alan Miller gave us the precise base-line definition of a place where “everyone has the rights to live with human dignity.”

But how do we get there? Is our human rights potential better unlocked as the country of Scotland or as part of the UK?

Jeremy Purvis contended that the Scottish Government is not doing enough with the powers it already has to create a better human rights situation in Scotland and that we are better placed as part of the UK to influence human rights worldwide.

The Minister reminded us that “none of the perfect outcomes are achievable overnight” and that the immediate labour before us is about building a system that is capable of delivering on those outcomes.

While there was some consensus on the need for positive outcomes on rights, Alastair Pringle pointed out that different people have different needs in order to achieve those outcomes. These needs are what must be addressed and a written constitution or independence in itself is no guarantee of change.

There was a lot of discussion on balancing competing rights, and Alan Miller reminded us that the world has 60 years of experience balancing rights: pertinent advice and past experience is there for whatever policy challenge we face.

The change, however, must be cultural at its heart. We must cultivate a culture of rights because all of this will mean little if the people of Scotland don’t know what their rights are or how to realise them as Alan summed up in his closing remarks – “human rights mean more than tabloid headlines.”

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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