Letter calls for devolution of equality to be considered

Letter submitted to the Smith Commission in early October

Scottish Refugee Council has, with 11 other equality organisations, submitted a letter to the Smith Commission encouraging it to consider the devolution of legislative competence on equality law to the Scottish Parliament.

At the moment, the Scottish Government can encourage equal opportunities, but does not for the most part have the powers to make and enforce equality legislation.The signatories state that equality law is a vital lever to deliver the aspirations of equality and social justice.

Some of the signatories were engaged in the debates that took place in 1998 around the original Scotland Bill, and have supported devolution of equality law since then, others, including Scottish Refugee Council, are considering this issue internally or with stakeholders. A further collective submission is expected to be made before the end of the month.

Local knowledge

In the letter, some factors given to support potential devolution of competence of equality law included:

  • Scotland has a different demographic make-up to the rest of the UK, so has its own unique challenges in terms of equality;
  • Many areas of Scottish law that are devolved, and therefore different, intersect with a UK equality law that hasn’t been designed with these differences in mind;
  • The accessibility of the Scottish Government and Parliament as institutions and their ‘local knowledge’ mean they are well placed to legislate appropriately.

The signatories to the letter, other than Scottish Refugee Council, are:  Engender, CEMVO, Inclusion Scotland, Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER), Disability History Scotland, LGBT Youth Scotland, Rape Crisis Scotland, BEMIS, Scottish Women’s Aid, Scottish Transgender Alliance and Equality Network.

Opening the door

The letter, addressed to Lord Smith of Kelvin, reads: “We do not claim that devolving equality law would be a panacea for the inequalities and discrimination which still exist in Scotland. However, further devolution in this area could open the door to more appropriate and effective solutions…

“Further devolution should of course be considered not as an end in itself, but in terms of potential outcomes which will lead to improvements in people’s life chances and experiences...

“For the Smith Commission to give consideration to its devolution would be consistent with your remit and with people’s expectations of that remit.”