“We’ve always stepped over the mark a bit”: Christina McKelvie MSP on Scotland’s humanitarian role

Caitlin Logan

Christina McKelvie (SNP) speaks to CommonSpace about how Scotland is setting human rights standards and what more could be done 

CHRISTINA MCKELVIE, SNP MSP and convener of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee in the Scottish Parliament, has said that Scotland has long pushed the boundaries to play a positive role in human rights, and that with all powers over international affairs, Scotland could lead the way in adopting a diplomatic, humanitarian approach.

Scotland’s international role was a recurring theme of the SNP’s Autumn conference. The party’s firmly entrenched pro-EU stance was front and centre and agreed in a resolution by members, along with an agreement that the party should push for immigration to become a devolved matter.

Members also backed topical resolutions expressing support for the Catalan people in Spain and the Kurdish people in Iraq, while fringe events explored Scotland’s role in international aid and its potential to be a world leader for human rights.  

In her conference speech, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared: “We will never accept that a limit should be placed on the contribution Scotland can make to building a better world.”

“We’ve always stretched where the law takes us to where humanity takes us.” Christina McKelvie MSP

Speaking to CommonSpace, Christina McKelvie MSP echoed these sentiments, and said that Scotland’s interventions in international crises were “the right and the human things to do”.

“If you look at the Rohingya situation, the Catalan situation, the problems that people have experienced in Syria and across some of the Middle East, some of the challenges people in Africa have faced – Scotland has always stepped up.

“And I know there are limitations there, but we’ve always stepped over the mark a bit, we’ve always stretched where the law takes us to where humanity takes us. And humanity has always been the driving force in that.”

McKelvie noted that there were a number of actions which could be taken by the Scottish Government and the Scottish people which don’t touch on the law around reserved areas, and gave the example of Scotland’s work in Malawi which was “led in the beginning by Jack McConnell but taken up very clearly by the people of Scotland”.

She added: “The same in lots of other African nations, across Pakistan and India. The Girls Fund in order to allow girls to access school and be educated was something that came from this party conference five years ago, a few days after Malala Yousafzai had been shot.

“So supporting young girls in Africa in education and creating situations where there’s clean water and being an arbiter of peace, offering our support to countries that are war torn, that are going through humanitarian crises.”

Ultimately, McKelvie said, Scotland’s international outlook has been about “always stepping up and saying, ‘we’re humans first’”.

“We could do much more and actually show the world a different way to do international aid and international affairs.” Christina McKelvie MSP

McKelvie suggested that Scotland’s small international aid budget was a testament to what Scotland could do if it had full control over the policy: “We have a very, very small fund and we do a lot with it.

“If we had all of the powers, we could do much more and actually show the world a different way to do international aid and international affairs – where it’s diplomacy first, where it’s humanity first, and where we put our money on the front line, not siphoned through big companies or businesses or governments.

“I would suspect if we had full devolution of international affairs, we could intervene in areas where we feel we have something to contribute, whether it’s peacemaking or policy making.

“But we can also intervene when there’s a crisis and we can step into that breech and hopefully support people.”

McKelvie made note of the Scottish Government’s plans to further entrench international human rights standards within domestic law and policy, such as incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law, and the key role of the United Nations Convention on the Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the proposed Social Security Bill.

The Scottish Government, McKelvie said, has already been recognised as leading the way on embedding international human rights standards in domestic policy.

“I sit on the Current Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe and the Congress of Local Authorities and Regions in Europe,” McKelvie explained.

“A few years ago when Scotland developed a Scottish National Action Plan on Human Rights – so that was about making rights very relevant to the individual in their communities – the Scottish Government was invited to the Council of Europe to report on that action plan.

“We need to get our working boots back on and get back out and convince people that independence is the best option.” Christina McKelvie

“That action plan is now used as a model and a template for other European Union nations and all of the candidate countries to look at the standard of where we should be having our human rights incorporated into domestic law.

“The Scottish National Action Plan is now widely known across the Council of Europe, which is the 47 countries, not just the 28. That’s a very clear example of Scotland doing something locally with domestic policy that can then be held up and used globally.”

There are clear links between the SNP’s efforts in laying the groundwork for an emerging foreign policy, what Nicola Sturgeon described as a determination to “look outwards”, and the party’s vision for an independent Scotland.

Asked about her hopes for when there might be another independence referendum, McKelvie said: “I suppose for all of us here it’s the sooner the better, however that’s the idealistic view.

“So the realistic view is that we do need to see what Brexit is going to bring us – we can see it’s turning into a disaster and we need to prepare a sort of groundwork in order to do that.

“But I think that was a very clear message from Angus Robertson and the first minister [at the conference], that the battle for independence is still on and we need to get our working boots back on and get back out and convince people that independence is the best option for Scotland.”

Picture courtesy of Christina McKelvie MSP 

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