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June 16, 2020

Making rights real

When the Westminster Government threatened to repeal the Human Rights Act, Scottish Government commissioned work to draft  proposals for a new human rights framework for Scotland that was simply aimed at improving people’s lives. The report, published in 2018 was described as the next step on Scotland’s human rights journey. That journey, as described in the last edition of this briefing, recently took a very local, albeit small step forward with the success action of  a group of tenants in Leith. Another much bigger step, but still rooted in community, sees the launch of a new organisation – Making Rights Real.

Claire Macgillvray

Making Rights Real is a new grassroots human rights organisation about to launch in Scotland following successful housing rights work using the Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR) model to support the most marginalised communities address human rights concerns.

As the trajectory for human rights in Scotland shifts positively with a political will to improve the rights landscape, Making Rights Real will support and empower rights holders to name and claim their rights.

The team behind Making Rights Real want to create a national human rights resource for communities, with projects supporting people to collectively assert their rights to make social and economic change. A national scoping study funded by the Baring Foundation is underway to explore which people, places and rights issues will be Making Rights Real’s first area of work once the organisation is fully up and running later in 2020.

The scoping study is being led by Clare MacGillivray and supported by a Scottish Advisory Group including PPR, community activists, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, Scottish Community Development Centre, University of Glasgow, Amnesty International, the Human Rights Consortium Scotland and the Alliance.

Featuring conversations with rights holders, community groups, third sector organisations, public authority leaders and independent funders, the scoping study hopes to report in Autumn this year. The Chief Statistician for Scotland is supporting data analysis through their third sector analytical exchange programme which will help consider the people and places that are most marginalised and which economic, social and cultural rights are most at risk in Scotland.

From Housing Rights to Making Rights Real

The six-year journey to the dawn of a new national organisation for Scotland – Making Rights Real – began with housing rights work inspired by the PPR model.

On a bitterly cold International Human Rights Day in 2014 at a national innovation forum for Scotland’s National Action Plan on Human Rights (SNAP) in Glasgow the first envisioning of a new partnership for Scotland emerged with PPR, the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and Edinburgh Tenants Federation (ETF).

Conversations about the success of PPR’s housing rights work and a willingness to test if the approach could be replicated in Scotland led to the ground-breaking Housing Rights in Practice Project – a key action in SNAP to demonstrate the impact of rights in practice for people in communities.

The project aimed to support a group of residents living in poor housing conditions in Leith, Edinburgh to advocate for their right to an adequate standard of housing. People were experiencing problems with damp, mould, ineffective or broken heating, pigeon, rodent and insect infestations, and maintenance issues.

[Residents] secured £2.3m investment in their homes from the Local Authority, including a heating and window replacement programme, new kitchens and bathrooms and a raft of external works.

Over four years, residents used a human rights based approach to monitor and measure progress in their housing conditions to hold the duty bearer (in this case the City of Edinburgh Council) to account. They secured £2.3m investment in their homes from the Local Authority, including a heating and window replacement programme, new kitchens and bathrooms and a raft of external works.

Following the project, which came to an end in 2019, residents reported improved physical and mental health, improved feelings of self-worth, confidence and pride, reduced fuel poverty and a feeling that there is a better sense of community.

The project is a powerful example of using human rights in practice, and the SHRC recently published its Housing Rights in Practice: Lessons Learned from Leith that highlights reflections from rights holders, duty bearers, support staff and the Commission.

Since the completion of the housing rights project, people who had been involved with it considered how this approach could be expanded across Scotland, setting up the scoping study, Scottish Advisory Group and now Making Rights Real as an organisation.

Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR)

The current human rights policy context in Scotland is positive, dynamic and on divergent tracks to the rest of the UK (rUK). With a real “risk of post-Brexit regression in rights” according to the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership, there is a national ambition “to establish a new framework of human rights designed to improve people’s daily lives” in Scotland. Although still a long way off from embedding human rights in the process, structure and outcomes of Scottish Government and public service policy, several initiatives combine to shift the trajectory and improve life experiences of people in Scotland.

Whilst there is a strong rhetoric push towards participation and empowerment, and positive steps forward in relation to human rights policy context in Scotland; evidence tells us that there remains a gap between policy objectives and the people continuing to experience human rights violations in Scotland.

COVID-19 and the impact on rights in Scotland

The embedded rights violations and inequalities that already existed in Scotland before COVID-19 have been brutally exposed by the disproportionate death and infection rate amongst the poorest, most marginalised and minority groups from Coronavirus.

Human rights in Scotland are at risk, with disproportionate impacts emerging for women, people living in poverty, people in low paid and insecure employment, people with disabilities, prisoners, older people and ethnic minorities including Scotland’s Gypsy Travellers and the Roma community.

Although the scoping for Making Rights Real started before the Coronavirus emergency, the cruelty of human rights violations exposed since the pandemic took hold shows why we need a strengthened collective effort to protect, respect and fulfil rights in Scotland, with rights holders’ asserting their rights from the grassroots.

The time is right in Scotland to set up an organisation that supports and empowers rights holders to hold duty bearers to account and make economic and social change happen.

Over the summer Making Rights Real will be hosting a joint session with grassroots groups across Scotland to see “where the spark will fly” from Leith. #NoOneLeftBehind will keep you informed of Making Rights Real’s progress.

You can also contact Clare MacGillivray at or follow her on Twitter at @Clare_MacG