Rishi Sunak declared yesterday that “a foreign court” cannot be used to defend human rights in the UK. Responding to a court defeat of his plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, Sunak indicated he will withdraw the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights in order to get this plan through. But does he know or care what the implications are for the Union with Scotland?
Believe in Scotland have previously written about how the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is one of the foundations that underpins the devolution settlement. At one time, the ECHR would have been regarded as the bedrock of British values. It underpins the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland as well as the Scotland Act of 1998. To end UK allegiance to it would demonstrate utter contempt for the devolution settlement and the promise made when it was signed that it would be respected by subsequent UK Prime Ministers. If the UK government doesn’t respect the Scotland Act - why should Holyrood respect the Acts of Union?
Threatening to take Scotland out of the Convention only highlights the power of Westminster and the powerlessness of Scotland’s elected Parliament. There is literally nothing Holyrood can do about this if the threat is carried out.
What is the ECHR?
The leader of the group which drew up the Convention in 1950 was a Scottish lawyer, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe. As a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, David had seen first-hand how international justice could be effectively applied and guided the draft, which has influenced the understanding of the rights of citizens throughout Europe ever since.
The Scotland Act of 1998 was based on the shared values of the Convention
The Scotland Act of 1998 was supposed to be the basis of a new relationship within the UK. Woven into it was the European Convention of Human Rights, representing a framework of shared values on which to build a strong, democratic United Kingdom.
That dream died with Brexit. The UK Government removed Scotland from the European Union against its will, without consent or consultation. Since then it has taken every opportunity to undermine the devolution settlement, repatriating powers to itself with a series of undemocratic Acts, starting with the Internal Markets Act.
Reneging on ECHR would end the devolution settlement
This new threat demonstrates that Holyrood has no sovereignty. The Scottish Parliament is powerless to defend the human rights of Scottish citizens. If this goes ahead, it will become yet another example of the devolution settlement being disregarded and proof that it must come to an end.