Often I hear misconceptions and half-truths about human rights and why they're important to people in the UK. So to mark International Human Rights Day, I've compiled a list of the most common questions people ask, and my responses to them.
HUMAN RIGHTS ARE A SYMPTOM OF THE EU MEDDLING IN BRITISH AFFAIRS
Fiction. Human Rights are often portrayed by the tabloid press as being some kind of EU bureaucracy 'gone mad.' In fact, the European Convention of Human Rights was an international treaty signed by the UK in 1950 before we were even a part of the EU. Blair's government passed the Human Rights Act in 1998 so that human rights breaches could be addressed in UK courts and to make it easier for people to seek remedies. Human rights are not being foisted upon us by Eurocrats, the UK parliament has voluntarily recognised these fundamental rights to protect its own people, and with very good reason too.
HUMAN RIGHTS LAWS ARE FOR CRIMINALS AND TERRORISTS, NOT FOR LAW ABIDING CITIZENS.
Fiction. Human Rights do protect those with a criminal conviction if their human rights are not being met, but they also protect everybody else. They protect the rights of families whose loved ones have been victims of crimes to have a proper public investigation. They protect the rights of people wrongly accused of crimes. They help people who have been trafficked and sold into slavery. They protect your right to a peaceful protest, to criticise governments and to hold politicians accountable (and that includes me!). Hopefully, you'll never be in a position where you need to invoke the Human Rights Act, but I wouldn't want to take the risk and be without it.
HUMAN RIGHTS HAVE GONE TOO FAR. PEOPLE HAVE A 'RIGHT' TO ANYTHING.
Fiction. Many of us remember Catgate, when Theresa May said that an immigration case had been decided by a man's right to a family life because 'and I am not making this up...he had a pet cat'. Well, I don't mean to be flippant to the Honourable Lady, but she was making it up. No such provision exists and the man was allowed to stay because he had a long-term partner here in the UK. It's actually very difficult to mount a human rights case to claim asylum and the criteria is incredibly strict.
THERE ARE TOO MANY RULES SURROUNDING THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACT. THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO BENEFIT FROM THIS ARE LAWYERS.
Fiction. The Human Rights Act was introduced in the UK to make it more efficient and affordable for people to challenge breaches of their human rights. They can be challenged in domestic courts rather than taken all the way to the European Court of Justice. As for the rules, the Act provides protection against discrimination, slavery, torture, unlawful death, violation of privacy and family life. It protects your right to a fair trial, to get married, to say and think whatever you want. Which one of these rights would YOU like to give up?
THE CONSERVATIVE GOVERNMENT CAN REMOVE THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACT AND REPLACE IT WITH A BRITISH BILL OF RIGHTS
Neither Fact nor Fiction. There is some truth in this. The UK relies on the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, which is a fancy way of saying that, with enough votes, the government can do what they want. However, along with the major arguments against repealing an act which protects its citizens, there's a very simple reason that this may not go ahead. Scrapping the Human Rights Act is a controversial plan that some moderate Tories oppose, and the Conservatives have a very slim majority. The plans have been shelved twice now, possibly because the government isn't entirely confident of its own support on this and failure to get a major election pledge through parliament would be a wee bit embarrassing for them. If they do press ahead, I will be one of the MPs who will fight this legislation every step of the way. And I will have the unequivocal backing of the entire group of SNP MPs.
HUMAN RIGHTS IN SCOTLAND ARE A MATTER RESERVED TO WESTMINSTER
Not really - but it's complicated! Aside from the moral case against stripping a country of rights, this is a constitutional minefield. When power was devolved to the Scottish Parliament, a list of devolved powers was never produced, instead the Scotland Act contains a list of powers that remain reserved to Westminster and Human Rights are not on that list. However, the Scotland Act also clearly states that Scottish Ministers can't breach any of the rights guaranteed by the European Convention, which were subsequently incorporated into the Human Rights Act. If the Human Rights Act were to be scrapped, the Scottish Parliament could invoke the Sewel convention, which says that any change to devolved matters must be voted on by MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.
Confused? So is Michael Gove, who seemed a wee bit mixed up about it when he appeared before the House of Lords Constitutional Committee earlier this month. Again, theoretically, the Westminster Government could force through any changes that they liked, but there are conventions in place, and to ignore them would certainly leave the constitutional future of the United Kingdom on an even shooglier peg.
Anne McLaughlin is the SNP MP for Glasgow South East, and party Westminster spokesperson for civil libertiesSuggest a correction