Constitutional rows must not affect rights of children, say Scottish campaigners

Children’s rights protections must not become the victim of constitutional argument, Scotland’s youth campaigners have warned, as they urge the Scottish government to work at speed to address a supreme court judgment which found that a bill to enshrine the UN convention on the rights of the child went beyond Holyrood’s powers.

The deputy first minister, John Swinney, said Wednesday morning’s ruling, in response to a legal challenge from the UK government, “lays bare the weakness of and the limits in the devolution settlement”, while opposition parties accused the SNP of “petty constitutional bickering” and “shamefully using children’s rights to play nationalist games”.

But Scotland’s children and young people’s commissioner, Bruce Adamson, said: “Children’s rights protections must not become the victim of the limitations and complexities of devolution. Children have already been waiting far too long to have their rights properly protected. Finding a way to address the issues raised and return the bill to the Scottish parliament must be a priority for Scottish government.”

Announcing the ruling, Lord Reed said the court agreed that two bills – which incorporate treaties on children’s rights and local government in Scots law and were unanimously backed by MSPs before May’s Holyrood election – could affect Westminster’s ability to make laws for Scotland, in breach of the Scotland Act.

While UK law officers insisted their challenge was not based on the substance of the legislation, both bills must now return to Holyrood for a “reconsideration stage” to bring them into line with the court’s ruling.

Children and young people’s groups called on the Scottish government to get on with the job. Josh Kennedy, the chair of the Scottish youth parliament, said: “The onus is now on the Scottish government to address the judgment made by the supreme court and work to bring forward a revised bill to parliament as soon as possible.”

Juliet Harris, of Together, the Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights, coordinated a response from 65 organisations urging the Scottish government to address the court’s concerns quickly.

She said: “Scotland’s children and young people have been campaigning for this for decades, so to have this final hurdle is extremely frustrating. The Scottish government should proceed at pace to address today’s judgment with the maximalist approach to incorporation – one that takes every step possible within the powers of the Scottish parliament to protect children’s rights – that every party at Holyrood supported.”

In a statement to Holyrood on Wednesday afternoon, Swinney told MSPs the ruling was “deeply disappointing” but said his government remained “absolutely committed to the incorporation of the [convention] to the maximum extent possible”.

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