Sturgeon rules out deal with Westminster in bid to save Human Rights Act  

Scotland's First Minister and Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon  © Graham Stuart
Scotland will block the government’s attempt to repeal the Human Rights Act even if a Scottish Bill of Rights is laid firmly on the negotiation table, Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon says.

In one of her most vocal challenges to the Tories’ planned human rights reforms, Sturgeon said the SNP will move to prevent the erosion of human rights protections across the whole of the UK, not just in her native Scotland.  

While addressing crowds gathered at the Pearce Institute in Glasgow, Sturgeon said her party had ruled out all potential deals with Westminster. 

“We would have no interest and no truck whatsoever in doing a deal with Westminster which leaves rights intact here in Scotland, but dilutes them in other parts of the country or, as is perhaps more likely, protects human rights on devolved issues but not on reserved issues,” she said.

Sturgeon’s remarks were welcomed by director of human rights group Liberty Shami Chakrabarti as “an incredibly important intervention.” 

Chakrabarti, who chaired the event, heaped praise on the SNP leader’s stance, saying she had long-awaited a speech like this from a senior politician. 

Britain’s devolution legislation requires the Scottish parliament to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act itself. 

Given the UK’s system of governance, human rights issues are devolved, creating two separate human rights regimes in Britain. Observers say this duality could hamper Westminster’s move to implement radical human rights reforms across the wider UK. 

In practice, the Scottish parliament could withhold legislative consent via a Sewel motion. The Sewel convention applies when Westminster legislates on matters traditionally dealt with by the Scottish parliament.

Justice Secretary Michael Gove is keen to push ahead with the Tories’ reforms, despite warnings they could spark a constitutional crisis and blight Britain’s reputation on human rights.

In particular, human rights experts say the legal changes could erode the right to life, the right to privacy, the right to a fair trial, the right to protest and the right to freedom from torture and discrimination. 

Although the Tories were keen to push ahead with the legal changes during their last term in government, the move was blocked by the party’s ex-coalition partner the Liberal Democrats. But as a majority government, the Conservatives are now unrestrained. 

Speaking in Glasgow, Sturgeon said the repeal of the Human Rights Act isn’t a fait accompli and she will work with Tory MPs who oppose the move.

Her opposition to the reforms has been interpreted as an important endorsement of the Human Rights Act. Rather than view human rights through a nationalist lens, observers note she has firmly emphasized their universal importance.

“To put it bluntly, there are no circumstances in which my party’s MPs will choose to view this as an English-only issue and opt to abstain,” Sturgeon said. 

“Human rights, after all, are not English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish rights – they are universal rights.”

Sturgeon also reiterated a previous pledge made by Scottish justice secretary Alex Neil that the SNP would block the Tories proposal of scrapping the Human Rights Act.

“It is inconceivable – given the breadth of support which the Human Rights Act commands across the Scottish parliament – that such consent would be granted,” she said.  

“The Scottish government will certainly advocate that it is not granted.”