The National:

SINCE 2014 the Chinese government has been engaging in a campaign against the Muslim population of Xinjiang, suppressing expressions of religion and imprisoning large numbers of people of mainly Uighur ethnicity in detention camps, without due process. Estimates put the number of people detained at over a million.

As well as reports of forced labour and other abuses, there are reports of Uighur women experiencing forced insertion of IUDs and forced sterilisations and abortions. These reports appear to be substantiated by official Chinese statistics which show birth rates in Uighur regions declining by more than 60 per cent between 2015 to 2018 (the most recent year for which statistics are available).

Most experts agree that one of the purposes of the camps is to assimilate Uighur Muslims under duress in the guise of “re-education”. In other words, to break down their religious and cultural identity, in addition to diminishing their numbers.

READ MORE: Scottish Tory MPs vote not to block UK from trading with nations committing genocide

There are mixed views on whether the totality of what is being reported meets the threshold to be considered genocide. Many argue that it does – perhaps not the form of genocide with which we are most familiar, but a slower form, combining both enforced assimilation and a planned genetic reduction of the Uighur population. Whatever the legal arguments may be, clearly something terrible is happening.

This is the backdrop to the cross-party attempt today by MPs in the House of Commons to amend the UK Trade Bill to give the High Court an advisory role in trade agreements by declaring if a country is committing genocide. The attempt failed by a margin of just 15 votes. The legislation now goes back to the House of Lords.

A first attempt to pass this amendment also failed by an even narrower margin. That was why UK ministers arranged today’s vote so that the genocide amendment had to be considered alongside a Labour amendment, requiring a human rights audit to be carried out before trade deals are signed.

Now, I would happily support Labour’s amendment as well as the genocide amendment, and SNP MPs did so. It is a great pity that more Tory MPs couldn’t bring themselves to support it. But, by combining the two amendments together, the UK Government showed itself determined to ensure that would be the outcome.

The National: Iain Duncan Smith led the Tory rebels in the CommonsIain Duncan Smith led the Tory rebels in the Commons

It was a shoddy parliamentary trick by a shoddy government, justifiably nervous of losing the vote the second time around. That a significant number of Tory MPs did, in fact, rebel a second time is a credit to them. Shamefully, none of Scotland's Tory MPs were among the rebels.

The government’s alternative amendment, which was passed today, gives committees the power to investigate whether genocide is occurring and to make recommendations on that basis. However, the view of a parliamentary committee on genocide does not have the same standing as that of a court.

The UK’s long-standing policy is that a charge of genocide should be determined by a court of law. So, if a UK court ruled that the actions of the Chinese government constituted genocide it would have significant implications. This is particularly so when the Chinese government has been able to prevent charges of genocide against it being referred to international courts.

There is, of course, no way of knowing whether the High Court would uphold claims that the Chinese government – or indeed any other government - was engaged in genocide. But the argument would be heard, and a judgement made. This is what the UK Government has worked so hard to thwart by a cynical use of parliamentary procedure.

READ MORE: Tory Facebook account deleted after 'disgusting' post about SNP and Uighur Muslims

The whole thing leaves me feeling queasy. Today was a rare opportunity for MPs to come together to do something good, and they so very nearly did. Shame on UK ministers for blocking it.

Let’s also remember that these are the kinds of decisions that an independent Scotland will have to make too. All countries want – and need – trade and investment with foreign partners. A newly independent country perhaps more than most. But at what price?

How do you measure the value of trading arrangements that benefit your own people against the torment of others, thousands of miles away? The persecution of Uighur Muslims may be one of the most egregious examples of human rights abuses in the world today, but it is far from the only one.

In the end it is for political leaders to draw the line, to decide when the human rights of people in other countries must be weighed against any benefits to be gained for your own. MPs came very close to drawing a firmer line today but, ultimately, they couldn’t. I would like to hope we can manage it when our time comes.