Gaelic, Social Security and Human Rights

On Tuesday in the chamber, the Parliament debated the national plan for Gaelic. Several speeches, including that of the Minister for International Development and Europe, Alasdair Allan, were made in Gaelic and members used headphones to listen to a simultaneous interpretation. That was not necessary for the speech of Iain Gray, who began by saying:

The interpreters can relax: I do not have the Gaelic and I will not torture any word of the language by pretending otherwise.”

Interpreters—this time, British Sign Language interpreters—were at work again in the chamber during Wednesday’s extended proceedings on the Social Security (Scotland) Bill. Following consideration of the stage 3 amendments, the Minister for Social Security, Jeane Freeman, opened the debate on the motion to pass the bill thus:

This is a historic day for this Parliament. When we vote on the Social Security (Scotland) Bill, we will be marking the single biggest transfer of powers since devolution began.”

The bill was passed when the motion was agreed to unanimously.

The Equalities and Human Rights Committee is undertaking an inquiry into how well human rights are woven into the fabric of the Parliament’s work. It’s the latest in a number of pieces of work on human rights that the committee—formerly the Equal Opportunities Committee—has done since adding human rights to its remit in 2016.

At last week’s meeting, representatives of 13 organisations spoke about the improvements that are needed in Scotland and identified a number of priorities for action. Judith Robertson from the Scottish Human Rights Commission argued that recognition of rights was not enough. That was supported by Bill Scott from Inclusion Scotland, who said:

Rights are absolutely useless if people cannot access them.”

In asking which human right takes precedence when two rights clash, Mary Fee cited the moving evidence of the Northern Ireland public services ombudsman, Marie Anderson, who had earlier described having to judge whether a hospital trust was right to override the rights of concerned parents and comply with the demand of their 17-year-old son to be discharged. Despite the fact that he committed suicide a few days later, her finding was that the trust had not mishandled the case and that

the voice of the young person is important and sometimes supreme”.

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