The Jimmy Reid Foundation (JRF) has no view or policy on Brexit, settled or otherwise, because we do not take such positions. We are able, however, to form views and analysis on the particular ramifications of the type of likely Brexit with regard to Human Rights which include workers’ rights. In this meeting, Brexit: rights, risks and responsibilities: What’s at stake for human rights in Scotland? organised in conjunction with the Scottish Human Rights Commission, we sought to share information and give supporters the opportunity to speak out and speak up about their concerns over Brexit, the process and the impact in Scotland. JRF received 118 registrations although only 42 people attended on the night.
The meeting was designed to share information on rights, on strategy, on action and on specific issues arising from Brexit including workers rights, equality, the environment and if rights could be better protected through a ‘Scottish Bill of Rights’. The meeting heard a series of interesting presentations:
- Mapping the work of the First Minister’s Standing Council on Europe, reporting on the three meetings held so far on human rights and the STUC’s ambitions for saving as well as extending workers rights;
- Making clear that enforceable economic and social rights are primarily sourced via the EU and the quite separate Council of Europe Treaty ‘The European Convention on Human Rights’ gives everyone equal rights including the right to protest, the right to form an opinion and the right to join a trade union;
- Defining the limits of EU law in the UK eg it cannot set a minimum wage, and the scope of EU law eg it adopts a broad definition of health and safety which includes the Working Time Directive;
- Informing us of the likely impact on the environment by withdrawing from the EU framework;
- Arguing that Brexit creates uncertainly and could become a distraction so our focus must be directed at what we do have control over and currently, there are a number of opportunities to extend workers rights in Scotland such as the development of a ‘Business and Human Rights National Action Plan for Scotland’.
- Civil society in Scotland has been working collaboratively with similar organisations across Europe to achieve reform in the way the EU operates so that it serves the people better, and it has no intention of withdrawing solidarity from a movement that still needs to thrive if it is to achieve social justice for all.
We are grateful to Muriel Robison for producing a briefing ‘Brexit and Equality Law’ for delegates which is a revamp of her SULNE paper (see below for more info) and arranged around the theme of rights, risks and responsibilities. Equality and Brexit
Tobias Lock also shared a paper which he co-wrote ‘Brexit and the British Bill of Rights’ which is available at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers2.cfm?abstract_id=2913566
The discussion and feedback from the audience at the Q & A, achieved a degree of consensus: that human rights need to mean something for people in everyday places with examples of how they routinely sort real problems. Otherwise human rights will remain unvalued and their weakening via Brexit may be tolerated apart from in expert circles. The claims that people don’t like listening to experts was tackled with may people saying that those who talk up human rights speak from a theoretical rather than from practical experience and that is what causes the problem. Explaining by example, detailing the actual benefits will result in broad and genuine support for human rights.
The right to form an opinion by receiving and imparting information is listed in the European Convention on Human Rights – Article 10. In order to help you form opinions on the impact of Brexit on workers human rights, here are some useful resources:
- House of Lords consideration of The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill http://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2017/february/lords-debates-european-union-notification-of-withdrawal-bill/
- The House of Lords is looking at the work of the EU, the implications of leaving and the exit process. https://www.parliament.uk/business/lords/work-of-the-house-of-lords/lords-brexit-round-up/
- Scottish Parliament’s ‘Equalities and Human Rights Committee’ (EHRiC) work programme for the period November 2016 to June 2017 has five areas of work which includes “2. Consider the impact of withdrawal from the European Union on equalities and human rights in Scotland (Brexit)”. http://www.parliament.scot/S5_Equal_Opps/General%20Documents/EHRiC_Work_Programme_Nov_2016_-_June_2017_Final.pdf and http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/100073.aspx
- Specific, relevant publications and articles building up interest eg from the TUC http://touchstoneblog.org.uk/2017/02/workers-rights-beyond-brexit/
- The position papers developed by the Scottish Universities Legal Network on Europe- https://sulne.ac.uk/
- Development of a Scottish NAP on ‘Business and Human Rights’ by SHRC http://www.snaprights.info/action-areas/better-world/business-and-human-rights
- Correspondence from Equalities and Human Rights Committee of the Scottish Parliament on UK and Scottish NAP http://www.parliament.scot/S5_Equal_Opps/General%20Documents/20161011_Letter_to_Cab_Sec_on_Business_and_HR.pdf
- Scotland’s National Action Plan on Human Rights – introduced in 2013 with a strategy to make rights real http://www.scottishhumanrights.com/actionplan
- ‘List of Issues’ on UK published by UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights https://hrcscotland.wordpress.com/2015/10/24/the-un-asks-questions-of-scotland-and-the-uk/ and http://thirdforcenews.org.uk/tfn-news/tories-face-interrogation-on-human-rights-abuses
- Reid Foundation briefing paper ‘Economic and Social Rights are Human Rights’ http://reidfoundation.org/2015/08/economic-and-social-rights-are-human-rights-2/
Bottom-up based democracy is the way forward for public services reform says new Jimmy Reid Foundation paper by Dave Watson of UNISON Scotland
In the run up to the local authority elections in May 2017, the Jimmy Reid Foundation launches a major new policy paper on public service reform in Scotland by Dave Watson of UNISON Scotland.
The extensive and wide-ranging paper examines the case for public services, the challenges they currently face, and new approaches to public service reform. The paper is to be launched at a special seminar on Friday 20 January 2017 at the University of Edinburgh’s Academy of Government.
As an expert advisor to the 2011 Christie Commission on local government (‘The Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services in Scotland’) and an acknowledged expert on public services, Watson argues that financial and political pressures on Scotland’s public services have driven an agenda of piecemeal public service reform.
As an alternative, Watson lays out the case for the delivery of integrated public services built around recognisable communities, whose primary focus is to challenge the underlying inequalities that blight our Scottish society and waste public resources, generation after generation. He argues services should be delivered at the lowest practical level, allowing staff and citizens to design services in a way that best meets the needs of their communities.
Commenting on his proposals, Dave Watson said:
‘The role of central government should be to set the strategic direction based on outcomes – rather than trying to direct services from Edinburgh via detailed prescriptions. The longer governments are in office, the more they believe they can direct services from the centre. But with the small size of Scotland, this cannot be a justification for duplication and difference for the sake of it. That is why public service frameworks are required so that local services can focus on what matters to achieve positive outcomes without trying to ‘reinvent the wheel’. This means breaking out of the sterile ‘centralism versus localism’ debate that we have all long engaged in. It means taking a different approach in order to offers a co-operative, more equal society in Scotland, rather than one left to the vagaries of the market. What this means is building public services from the bottom up based on the principle of subsidiarity, with integration, democracy and transparency at the core of delivery’.
The paper is available here Public Service Reform by DaveWatson
by Gregor Gall, professor of industrial relations, University of Bradford
We are in the midst of unprecedented political turmoil. Fortunately, this has allowed the bringing forward onto the mainstream political agenda of proposals concerning ideas for workers’ rights in the workplace that have long been marginalised and ridiculed.
Amongst these are proposals for worker directors, sectoral collective bargaining and extended union recognition. They have come from Theresa May, Owen Smith and Jeremy Corbyn. This ‘Quick Note’ examines the main proposals that have emerged over the summer on these areas. Using historical experience, it concludes that considerable fleshing out of the proposals is needed in order to avoid any potential pitfalls. The Quicknote is available here Workplace relations
Better Human Rights Together?
The election of 31 Conservatives to the Scottish Parliament creates opportunities for campaigners who oppose the UK Government’s plans to abolish the Human Rights Act and replace it with a Bill of Rights. As a consequence, we may have some lively and better informed debate so that the public recognises the benefits of equal human rights protection and knows it is the Council of Europe that has responsibility for the European Convention on Human Rights, not the EU.
Whereas the Scottish Conservative election machine sought to distance itself from the UK government agenda and carve out a narrative of ‘just vote to keep the union’, that mantra will no longer survive as it is forced to decide on where Scottish Conservatives sit on the future of the Human Rights Act (HRA). Also, will the political ideology be consistent such as we all pay the same tax in the UK being translated into we should all be covered by the same human rights?
The consultation on whether we should withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), abolish the HRA and adopt a Bill of Rights, has been repeatedly delayed despite threats to publish it within 100 days of the UK government’s election in May 2015. The UK political rhetoric has been loud but the reality is that abolition is riddled with constitutional sinkholes, most notably that the HRA is part of the Scotland Act. Importantly the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament have repeatedly gone on record articulating why they support the equal enjoyment of the ECHR. Add to that the Good Friday Agreement, which is part of international law, included a promise to introduce a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland which consecutive UK governments have failed to deliver. A UK Bill of Rights will not deliver on this obligation.
Commentators are suggesting a UK fudge may be proposed with an opt in for Scotland, and the other ‘nations’, to the new UK Bill of Rights. Therefore the Conservative government will have the dubious credit of enabling fresh constitutional divisions within the UK.
The EU Justice Committee of the House of Lords has just published its report on the Government’s proposal to introduce a UK Bill of Rights and says “the evidence they received makes ‘a forceful case’ for the Government to think again”. The Committee concludes that the ‘Bill will not depart significantly from the existing HRA and is likely to “affirm” all the in the ECHR [as Stated by the Secretary of State] in his evidence. Therefore it is unclear why a Bill of Rights is necessary.’
If the consultation is eventually published after the European referendum, the debate may be more complex: if we vote to stay in then our EU membership is conditional on us supporting the ECHR; if we vote to leave we must still abide by international law and that includes UN treaties that we have ratified on children’s rights, economic social and cultural rights, rights of disabled people, the Convention Against Torture etc, etc, etc.
Ultimately removing ourselves from the international framework for human rights protection will be a national embarrassment and will cause domestic disharmony. At a time when unity is the declared political purpose, the impact seems to be delivering the complete opposite. Maybe then it is an opportunity for the leader of the Scottish Conservatives to show leadership within the UK party and call a halt to any change at all.
Members of the Human Rights Consortium Scotland (HRCS) met on 1st June and agreed on a co-ordinated campaign to defend the Human Rights Act (HRA), and to promote human rights for everyone in everyday situations. Human rights standards and principles reflect our basic values of fairness, respect, equality and dignity.
Despite recent press coverage, members agreed not to be complacent and recognised that abolition of the HRA and potential withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) remain very real possibilities. Following the UK Government’s announcement in the Queen’s speech that “My Government will bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights”, some thought that the case for the HRA had been won, but HRCS members thought the result would actually be a weakening of human rights enforcement and protection as further information was provided in the Queen’s Speech Briefing Pack:
“The Government will bring forward proposals for a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act. This would reform and modernise our human rights legal framework and restore common sense to the application of human rights laws, which has been undermined by the damaging effects of Labour’s Human Rights Act. It would also protect existing rights, which are an essential part of a modern, democratic society, and better protect against abuse of the system and misuse of human rights laws.”
Carole Ewart from the HRCS spoke at the meeting and said:
“The real issue for politicians is to ensure the general public enjoy and can equally assert human rights in everyday places. A campaign of demonization against human rights only makes sense if you want to create public hostility to rights that should in fact empower us all, as well as the weakest in our society, and offer us all protection against failings in public services. Human rights belong to public service workers too and can be used within organisations to deliver more effective, people centred services.
The meeting was addressed by Kevin Hanratty from the NI Human Rights Consortium who pointed out:
“The HRA was a cornerstone human rights protection of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the new Assembly it set up, just as it was for devolution in Scotland and the Scottish Parliament. The Human Rights Consortium (NI) is determined to work with our colleagues across the UK like the Scottish Human Rights Consortium to defend this important legislation, which acts as a fundamental protection for the most vulnerable in our society”
Marianne Scobie from Glasgow Disability Alliance pointed out that welfare reforms and changes in the delivery of social care to disabled people had raised significant human rights issues but there was not a throughput of legal cases to change public sector behaviour. “When people do assert their human rights that case is individually fixed but what we want to see is a change in policy, practice and culture for us all. We look forward to working with other organisations to ensure the HRA realises its potential.”
Aidan Collins from HIV Scotland outlined how the protection afforded to its members by the HRA had changed how individuals approached public services and influenced their expectations about how services are delivered as well as which services should be available.
The next HRCS event is its national conference on 25th June ‘What Next for Human Rights’ which will be addressed by the Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil.
- The Human Rights Consortium Scotland (HRCS) is a civil society network established in January 2010 to address the gap in knowledge of human rights and to build capacity on applying human rights principles and standards to the delivery of publicly funded services. The HRCS was borne out of an unmet need and in response to specific problems. The need for the HRCS is proven and we are committed to developing our work across Scotland. Our membership has increased to over 180 organisations and individuals. To join go to www.hrcscotland.co.uk
- The Queen’s Speech Briefing Pack is available on the Ministry of Justice website and quote appears at page 75.
- UK Government policy appears to contradict Scottish Government Policy which was affirmed at the Scottish Parliament on 11th November 2014: “…expresses its confidence in, and support for, the Human Rights Act 1998 as a successful and effective implementation of the convention in domestic law, and believes that the principles and values that inform the convention, the rights and freedoms that it enumerates and the Acts that incorporate it into law, should be a source of unity and consensus across the whole of society and should enjoy the unequivocal backing of all who are committed to upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”
- The conference on 25th June runs from 9am – 4.15pm in the Scottish Universities Insight Institute, Collins Building, 22 Richmond St, Glasgow, G1 1XQ
The Scottish Review has featured Jimmy Reid in its online, oral archive of 6th May 2015.
‘Storm the heavens’ was recorded in front of an audience of young people with Jimmy Reid on politics in Scotland. There is an introduction by Kenneth Roy
(6 mins 57 secs)
The Foundation’s sister organisation Scottish Left Review, co-sponsored a fringe meeting at the STUC congress on challenging austerity and highlighting the cumulative misery and suffering caused to the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.
It was standing room only as we heard from UNITE, RMT, PCW, the acting Editor of the Morning Star and striking porters from Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. The meeting discussed human rights as workers rights, ending austerity to make social justice a reality for all and highlighting attacks on basic trade union rights such as participating in union activities and more insidious attacks on the general right to protest.
A report on the meeting also appears in the Morning Star, a co-sponsor of the meeting, which can be found at http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-5ff6-STUC-2015-Austerity-is-not-designed-to-work-for-us-hears-fringe#.VTogyT-BGzw ”
Industrial Democracy and General Election Predictions Dominate
18 Articles offer informative, provocative and constructive comment in the latest Issue of Scottish Left Review (SLR) http://www.scottishleftreview.org/
Contributors look forward to the STUC Congress in April and demand industrial and economic democracy as unions understand – no matter which party is in office – they need full rights and powers. The revelation, to some, of the hundreds of thousands of people who are in work but poor, has created a momentum for all political parties to adopt progressive policies to improve individual employment rights and address economic inequality. Effectively challenging the cost of living crisis and decline in real wages requires a wider commitment to remove the restrictions on union recognition and representation enabling them to have the freedom to organise and bargain collectively.
The May General Election is regarded as the halfway mark in a journey that will determine our political settlement for some years to come. Realistically, we will only be clearer about how politics has evolved after the referendum when the result of the Holyrood Elections is announced in May 2016. Gregor Gall, Editor of Scottish Left Review (SLR) points out:
“The main beneficiaries of people’s political disillusionment will be the likes of the SNP and UKIP. Sooner or later, the hopes placed in them will be disavowed as their ideologies are but mere variants of neo-liberalism. In the case of the SNP, it’s called social liberalism which depends on growing the capitalist economy but obvious problems are weak economic growth for the moment, and for the foreseeable future, continuing government austerity and the power of capital to make governments bend to their will.
Moreover, there are growing concerns about the SNP government’s tendencies towards centralisation so that the democratic part of any alleged social democracy is also being called into question. It appears not only is managerialism taking over but internal enhanced devolution is not on the cards either. Will there be a revolt within the SNP against this social liberalism from those on the left that have recently joined?”
Articles are available for re-production subject to full acknowledgement.
The People’s Assembly Scotland Against Austerity has a petition against
austerity cuts. To find out more go to
The Project Board has agreed the direction and detail of the Foundation for the next six months which includes:
- A project on the integration of health and social care in Scotland;
- Update of existing policy papers on Procurement, Industrial Democracy, Democracy and Universalism.