THIS Tuesday the world marks International Human Rights Day. This time last year, Scotland celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with the publication of significant and bold recommendations for action to better

realise human rights.

The Scottish Government has since established a National Taskforce on Human Rights Leadership, charged with strengthening Scotland’s human rights laws. But is that enough? What else needs to happen to make human rights real for everyone in Scotland, every day?

Scotland faces political choices, both in the week ahead and beyond. But in all the debates leading up to Thursday’s election, and among all the competing policy agendas, it is important to remember what is not a choice.

Any government in power, in either Westminster or Holyrood, is bound by international human rights law. Human rights are not a matter of aspiration or principle. They are international legal obligations – binding standards – which can and must be used to hold all governments to account, whatever their political position.

Putting those international legal standards into domestic law is one important way of making governments accountable for their implementation.

This is the focus of the National Taskforce, of which the Scottish Human Rights Commission is a member. The essential features of a new Act of the Scottish Parliament, enshrining a wide spectrum of rights, will be developed in draft by 2021, with widespread input from across Scottish society. If subsequently enacted by Scotland’s next parliament, this new legislation would extend legal protection in Scotland’s own laws to rights like social security, adequate housing and the highest attainable standard of health, to name a few.

It would make these rights enforceable in court in Scotland, providing a means of redress for people when their rights are

not met.

But perhaps even more importantly, putting these rights into law could also improve the way decisions are made about rights, long before anyone has to go to court. Putting more international rights on to Scotland’s statute books would also provide a roadmap, for both policy and practice, to help embed thinking about rights throughout public service design, delivery and decision-making.

This is the real prize for people’s rights. There is much less chance of someone’s rights being breached if we think about them at the outset of developing a policy or making a decision. That is just as true whether we’re talking about national budget decisions about how we raise and spend money, or individual decisions about someone’s care and support package.

In Scotland today we see harm caused to people’s rights all the time by public spending decisions and policy choices. More than a decade of austerity-driven budgeting has had a devastating impact. People’s reliance on food banks continues to rise. The number of children growing up in poverty remains shocking. And while we grapple with the challenges of transitioning to a zero-carbon economy, severe fuel poverty remains a daily reality for too many people.

So we must do something differently if we are to give real meaning to the vision set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There is much still to do.

Human rights laws both underpin and require the development of mechanisms for improving decision-making, correcting mistakes, and enabling people to access justice when things go wrong.

Accountability for realising everyone’s rights in all aspects of their lives is – or should be – the job of all parts of the state.