This Sunday, the 10th of December, is the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A pivotal moment for a generation. And so today as we prepare to celebrate that, I want to thank and celebrate the incredible movement of young people and their organisations, who led the charge to get us where we are this afternoon, you fought so hard, put in years of graft and ultimately convinced us all why incorporation of your rights matters.
You did that because you knew that it was the key to making Scotland the land of opportunity that young people deserve and need it to be, a place where they can grow up loved, with all opportunities in their path, unobstructed by any class, glass, or stepped ceilings. And crucially, a place where young people are able to challenge contraventions on rights and hold public authorities to account if they fail to deliver on them.
When this bill originally passed back in 2021 young people were elated, they celebrated and rejoiced, yet it has taken well over two years for this legislation to officially make it onto the statue books. And whilst I don’t want to dwell on this, I do think it’s important to acknowledge the disappointment of the past 2 years.
But I believe in getting good out of bad, the delay must teach us, and this government, that working together, collaboratively, is crucial, and that warnings of overreach are not a moment to hunker down and do battle, but should be moments to discuss, negotiate and work together, to realise ambitions.
Every day of delay was a failure to do that, and to properly respect, protect and fulfil the rights of Scotland’s Children and Young People.
Presiding Officer, as colleagues have acknowledged, the bill before us today falls short of full incorporation, and instead has been narrowed to only cover post-devolution legislation. This of course is disappointing but would have less of a negative impact, if we had focussed on bold legislative reform, bringing more laws into compatibility, instead of making small changes to existing legislation or creating framework bills that rely on regulation and require less parliamentary scrutiny rather than creating new Scottish legislation.
As a result, key areas such as the provision of education, including standards and ASN provision, and services being delivered in relation to looked after children will not be protected by the compatibility duty.
But the good news is, there is a solution, and that is to never miss an opportunity again to legislate in areas that make a real difference to young people’s lives.
Children and young people need wider legislative change to ensure their rights are being protected and fulfilled. Policy and practice is not enough – I spoke in great detail about this during the debate on my own members bill on transitions just a few weeks ago.
I remain disappointed that the government did not choose to vote for it, and I say this today to highlight it as just one concrete example of where warm words on human rights could have been turned into real action.
And there are examples elsewhere in Education that I hope the Government, after passing the UNCRC, will take forward at pace, so that it can give effect to the rights we are voting on today. It is not enough to vote today and believe the job is done – we’ll need strengthened laws and duties in swathes of areas, culture change on the ground and resources to underpin it.
That includes seeing action on education reform, safety in schools and on declining standards. We are now in a situation where we have had countless educational reviews, all with recommendations on how to give our young people better opportunities, fairer chances and a more fruitful educational experience, yet despite so many solutions being on the table the government is yet to act on any of them, instead coming to the chamber twice in the past weeks with a statement full of more consultation and reviews. I hope this will usher in a new era of action rather than words.
I make these points today to highlight that being serious about incorporation, must mean acting on issues like these, issues close to home, rights are not just theoretical, or rhetorical, they are duties and responsibilities that must be real, from the home to the parliament and everywhere in between.
We need the government to be serious about human rights everywhere, in every law, and in every street, to be serious not just on this paper or in this statute, but in them all. That means taking decisions, bold ones, on the issues facing young people in Scotland today, particularly in education. And I hope it will do so.
We on these benches always welcome laws that will protect human rights and we will vote for the amendments at decision time, in doing so, we will vote not just to protect children and young people today, but for the next generation.
That is our job today, but the job of realising rights doesn’t end today, presiding officer, it starts and I look forward to working for a Scotland where we smash class, glass and stepped ceilings so that every young person has access to the opportunities they deserve, and, presiding officer, opportunities they have a right to.