Scotland is flying the flag for human rights in Britain. Westminster must catch up

As we mark International Human Rights Day on 10th December, it is fair to ask what is being achieved domestically to further the cause of human rights, and what more needs to be done in the UK.

In a groundbreaking move, Scotland has taken a significant step to strengthen its commitment to human rights through the introduction of a new Human Rights Bill. As the global community acknowledges the importance of safeguarding human dignity, Scotland’s initiative stands as a beacon of progress—a model from which the rest of the UK can glean valuable lessons.

Under the leadership of Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s recent Programme for Government unveiled a Human Rights Bill aiming to incorporate international economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCE) into Scots law, “within the limits of devolved competence.” Set to be presented before the Scottish Parliament for consideration in 2024, the Bill signifies a monumental effort to align Scotland’s legal framework with global standards.

The Scottish bill seeks to directly integrate international human rights treaties into domestic law, a move intended to provide citizens with a robust mechanism to assert their rights.

Subject to devolved powers, the proposals aim to bolster protection for the human rights of women and girls, disabled individuals, and minority ethnic communities. Additionally, the Scottish Government envisions the Bill outlining the right to a healthy environment and enhancing rights protection for LGBTI and older individuals.

The Bill places a strong emphasis on empowering individuals and communities to assert their rights while incorporating provisions for public authorities to actively promote and fulfil human rights, fostering a culture of accountability and responsibility. To enhance accessibility, it also provides effective remedies for human rights violations, not only ensuring avenues for redress for victims but also acting as a deterrent to potential violators.

Scotland’s consultative process and rights-oriented perspective stands in stark contrast to the seemingly constant onslaught against human rights at the Westminster level. The UK’s formal signing of the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1976 has not been followed by their incorporation into national law. Consequently, the UK government and its public authorities cannot be held accountable for breaches of these rights, and enforcement in national courts remains unattainable.

More recently, there have been suggestions by senior officials that the UK government may choose to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), after the Rwanda migration scheme was dealt a blow by the Supreme Court earlier this month when it ruled it violated British and international law. This, paired with the Government’s proposals to replace the Human Rights Act and change how human rights are protected in the UK have raised serious concerns among key stakeholders, including the Joint Committee on Human Rights, that the government’s commitment to human rights is being slowly eroded.

As the UK’s human rights commitments are brought into question, Scotland’s Human Rights Bill presents a potential blueprint for other devolved nations and the UK as a whole to follow. The direct incorporation of international human rights treaties into domestic law can strengthen the legal foundation for protecting human rights, bringing the country in closer alignment with global standards. In essence, Scotland’s Human Rights Bill signifies a significant stride toward a more robust and inclusive protection of human rights. The UK now has the opportunity to learn from Scotland’s progressive approach and integrate these lessons into its own legal framework, reinforcing its commitment to human rights and ensuring the dignified protection of all individuals.

In light of this, charity experts and human rights campaigners may consider using Scotland’s example to demonstrate to government how policy and legislation can be geared towards a more human rights-based approach, and truly reformed to make it work for the communities they serve. Human Rights Day is the perfect opportunity to consider Scotland’s example and how it can serve as an inspiration for a more rights-focused future across the broader United Kingdom.

Political consultancy  

The Whitehouse team are expert political consultants providing public relations and public affairs advice and political analysis to a wide range of clients, not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the member states of the European Union and beyond. For more information, please contact our Chair, Chris Whitehouse, at