“Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear." – Harry S. Truman
Human rights in Scotland are under threat. The effect of government actions and policy is to erode our rights to freedom of expression, political protest, equality under the law and separation of powers.
Separation of powers is the separation of the executive (government), the legislator (parliament) and the judiciary (Crown Office and Prosecutor Fiscal Service). The main purpose of separation of powers is to prevent abuse of power by any one branch. That is why it is considered a cornerstone of democracy and human rights.
In 2005 the UK parliament passed the Constitutional Reform Act which ensures separation of powers in the UK. But Scotland was not included and Scotland still lacks the separation as the head of the judiciary – the Lord Advocate – sits in cabinet and is part of the executive. This gives rise to the possibility of the executive using the law for its own political benefit, such as hiding executive wrong-doing, or to the possibility of the executive carrying out political prosecutions. Without the balance of an independent judiciary, the power of the executive is potentially unchecked.
The recent parliamentary inquiry into the government’s handling of harassment claims, showed the government being able to use the judiciary (COPFS) to restrict information available to the inquiry.
As a result of that inquiry there are police investigations into two separate leaks: one of a complainant’s name given to a third party; and another where details of a complaint were given to the Daily Record. We cannot have confidence that these investigations will be fair and unbiased when the head of the judiciary sits in cabinet.
Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have carried out what seems to be a vendetta against the former First Minister and leader of the independence movement Alex Salmond. This includes undermining the verdict of a jury and continuing to smear him after he has been acquitted of all charges.
Supporters of Alex Salmond have already been persecuted. Mark Hirst endured a year of worry and cost for using the phrase ‘reap the whirlwind’ in a subscriber-only video about the Salmond case. That prosecution was thrown out by the Sherriff who ruled there was no case to answer, but the professional and personal impact on Hirst was immense. Independence activist Dave Llewelyn has also recently been charged, apparently over a joking facebook comment.
Craig Murray, one of the very few journalists that reported the Salmond defence case, has been sentenced to a startling eight months in jail for an offence normally dealt with by fine or community service. Murray was found to have aided jigsaw identification of the Salmond complainants. Several other journalists also jigsaw identified the complainants, but none were charged -presumably because they reported only the prosecution case. This is not equality under the law.
Women who stand against government policy have also been subjected to persecution. This has not just impacted their right to freedom of expression but their right of political protest.
A woman was visited by police for chalking the slogan:
“Women’s rights are not a hate crime”
followed by a social media hashtag message
“Women are watching”
She was warned that next time she could be charged with breach of the peace.
Due to the pandemic the opportunity for political protest has been limited and so women protesting against the Hate Crimes Bill and the threat to women’s rights have had to be creative. Some took their protest to the offices of SNP politicians in the form of suffragette ribbons, removable stickers and messages written on slates. The politicians, instead of addressing the women’s points, characterised the protests as vandalism and threatened the women with prosecution.
The police are contributing to this chilling effect in their own right. On the 21st of May the Kirkcaldy Police posted on Twitter that they were seeking information about ‘controversial’ stickers and later confirmed they have launched a ‘hate crime’ inquiry.
The ‘controversial’ sticker is believed to be the one on the right of this picture. It displays a common hashtag #WomenWontWheesht and gives details of women’s groups and online resources. The police did not respond to twitter users asking what they found ‘controversial’ about these stickers, or why they considered ‘controversial’ speech to be a police matter at all. After several hours the tweet was deleted
Marion Miller a mother of autistic twins and a campaigner for women’s rights was asked to attend a police interview for alleged homophobic and transphobic tweets. Marion Miller is neither, she is a hardworking campaigner for women’s rights, who is being penalised for expressing her gender critical views and is being persecuted for making an argument for women’s rights.
And things are about to get very much worse when the Hate Crime Act becomes law. By passing the Hate Crimes Act the government have declared open season on women, and trans rights activists are emboldened to report women who disagree with their ideology.
Under the Hate Crimes Act the police have far too much leeway to interpret what is and isn’t a crime. This is deliberate action on the part of the government. As during the passage of the Hate Crimes bill Humza Yousaf, the then Justice Secretary refused an amendment from Johann Lamont which would have clarified what phrases would and would not be considered hate.
With no objective legal certainty as to what is and isn’t hate, every time someone discusses women’s rights there is a potential that they may be reported to the police. Even if this report results eventually in no, or a failed, prosecution, the disruptive effect of accusation and investigation is difficult to overstate. This is the chilling effect in action.
At every stage, during the passage of the bill, Yousaf ignored women’s concerns and as a result the bill leaves women open to malicious and political prosecutions.
Meanwhile the opposition party’s stay silent, while the SNP government overrides our rights.
The opposition fear Alex Salmond far more than Sturgeon and are happy to sit back and see him and his supporters, taken out by their own side.
On women’s rights the Greens and Liberal Democrats are totally complicit. Labour has lost three of the best advocates for women’s rights, Lamont, Marra and Smith, and so are very much weakened. However, the Conservatives ought to be making political hay but they are silent, whether enjoying the toxic division within the independence movement or just through utter incompetence is not known.
It is a huge disappointment that we cannot look to our parliament to protect our rights.
We have government acting against the interests and rights of the citizens it is meant to serve. It is a corrupt government that is frightened of dissent because it knows its arguments are weak. A government that seems to use legal institutions it controls against those it perceives as opponents.
For the next five years we have to endure this awful government and see our human rights and sex-based rights eroded. All we can do is stand together, support each other and fight battles for each other with the infinite hope of better times ahead.