Taking stock of human rights in Scotland

Written by: Lucy Mulvagh, Director of Policy and Communications, the ALLIANCE

Published: 22/07/2019

Illustration of 10 hands raised in the air, in various different bright colours/

An independent evaluation of the first five years of Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights has been published.

My involvement in SNAP (this link will take you away from our website) began in 2015, when I worked for a mental health charity and was asked to join its Health and Social Care Action Group. Since moving to the ALLIANCE in 2016, I’ve been part of our small team that co-convenes this Action Group (this link will take you away from our website) with our partners at NHS Health Scotland.

SNAP isn’t the only national action plan for human rights in the world (this link will take you away from our website). But is unique in the way it has brought together the Scottish Government, other public bodies, civil society organisations and individuals. The United Nations has issued a checklist on what national action plans should look like (this link will take you away from our website). The SNAP independent evaluator, Dr. Jo Ferrie of Glasgow University, has structured her report around these elements and I was interested to see what her conclusions and recommendations are.

The first criteria is that a national action plan should be evidence-based. SNAP is based on Getting it Right? (this link will take you away from our website), which is a seminal piece of research on human rights in Scotland. I agree with Dr Ferrie that this is “the most comprehensive piece of research on human rights and lived experience in Scotland”, and that it should be a living document; open and available to SNAP as it continues. I’d encourage everyone to read it – you’ll see how relevant a lot of the content still is, even seven years since publication.

Action plans are also supposed to be inclusive. The Health and Social Care Action Group always had a mixed membership of organisational representatives from the public sector and civil society, as well as citizens (‘rights holders’). I’d agree with the report that more can be done to include rights holders in a rights based way – so engagement is ‘free, meaningful and active’ – and co-production is at its heart. In the future, SNAP needs to ‘walk the talk’ and progressively improve how it does this. As with so many elements of SNAP, this requires doing things differently and resources, resources, resources.

Action plans need to be committed to by key stakeholders, including duty bearers and rights holders. In my opinion, the ALLIANCE and NHS Health Scotland have demonstrated a very strong commitment to supporting the Health and Social Care Action Group. Both organisations have invested substantial time, money and people in its activities and outputs. As long as we’ve got enough resources, it might be easier for civil society than some public sector bodies to get involved in SNAP. Dr. Ferrie notes that there are tensions for larger duty bearer stakeholders; being a co-collaborator in problem solving, and at the same time having obligations to ensure rights are enjoyed. It’s not easy, but we mustn’t shy away from this tension in the future – let’s name it and work with it. After all, you’d be hard-pushed to find a public sector organisation in Scotland that hasn’t openly expressed its commitment to supporting human rights.

There’s a lot of information about the work of different Action Groups in the report (action plans are, not unsurprisingly, supposed to be ‘action oriented’)! The Health and Social Care Action Group activity was wide ranging. It included creating a dedicated website and case study videos (this link will take you away from our website). The Action Group sponsored the Declaration Festival (this link will take you away from our website), and wrote briefing papers and responses to national consultations. We also supported a Right to Health peer research project (this link will take you away from our website).

Dr. Ferrie commends the Action Group’s ‘hub and spoke model’ delivery model, noting it has potential for SNAP in the future. It certainly worked for us, but it largely depends on organisational members being willing to ‘share’ their activities with SNAP – sometimes this might just mean ‘co-badging’ an event; but for other activities this can mean greater collaboration and co-production, which is surely in the spirit of taking a more rights based approach to our work!

National action plans are supposed to be realistic, and I agree with the evaluation that SNAP was ambitious. In response to observations that SNAP may have been ‘over ambitious’, however, it’s very important to remember that this is only supposed to be the first phase in a programme that takes us up to 2030 (and potentially beyond). What is clear is that any success for SNAP in the future is heavily dependent on it being well funded and resourced, so I’m looking forward to Scottish Government committing to this. As human rights is a cross-party issue, and SNAP is a collaborative initiative, it would also be great to see more direct investment from the Scottish Parliament.

Making sure that national action plan activity and outcomes are linked to key indicators – so that progress can be measured – is another important feature. SNAP has already developed a very useful framework focused on achieving long term outcomes by 2030:

  • People understand and can affirm human rights and organisations are enabled and accountable to put human rights into practice.
  • Scotland effectively tackles injustice and exclusion, improving lives.
  • Scotland gives effect to its international obligations at home and internationally.

In my view, these remain as pertinent today as they were back in 2013. I’m very encouraged by the increased focus on human rights in Scotland, including by some of our most high profile politicians. The need to continue SNAP and do more to ensure our rights are respected, protected and fulfilled is evidenced by this growing commitment, not least by Scottish Government across a wide range policies.

And this brings us to the final criteria of a national action plan on human rights – that it is adequately supported to put its actions into place. Dr. Ferrie notes that “SNAP did not have adequate support to put commitments into practice.” She recommends structural reform and more financial support for the next SNAP, and I’d have to agree with this. She also notes that SNAP is under-resourced compared to other national action plans; it’s encouraging to note that there are positive examples of greater State support elsewhere, and again I’d hope this can be replicated by the Scottish Government.

SNAP is gaining a growing global reputation. As the independent evaluation notes, it was always envisaged as first phase of a longer term plan. There are goals yet to achieve by 2030, and no doubt there will be more to do after this. In the meantime, I welcome the recent flurry of national announcements on human rights – including the National Taskforce (this link will take you away from our website) and incorporation of UNCRC (this link will take you away from our website). These have their own unique and distinct aims, as does SNAP. There should be no limits on our human rights activity in Scotland, nor our ambitions.

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