Wallis Grant: It's time for the SNP to step up and stop abstaining on women's human rights
The right to self-determination is a topic that has engulfed much of the UK’s political conversations over the past few years. As someone who is Scottish, I’ve voted on whether to have an independent Scottish identity or a European-removed British identity (and most likely the former again soon).
In both referendums, the proponents of the status quo argued that the short term effects of change could be devastating, sending the respective country into economic stagnation. However, those campaigning for change put forward their vision for the longer term, arguing that the short term negative impacts are a small price to pay on the road to autonomy and most importantly, self-determination.
There’s one Westminster group in particular who have built their political ideology and legitimacy on calling for self-determination. Yes, SNP MPs, I’m talking to you.
It’s a concept that the SNP pride themselves on. They argued before article 50 was triggered that it would “block Scotland’s right to self-determination on Brexit”. So it’s interesting that they should forget that self-determination itself has two meanings. As well as the self-determination of a state, individuals have the right to independently make decisions for themselves. One of the most important of these is the right to choose what you can and can’t do with your body - something the women* of Northern Ireland are currently unable to do.
With the outrage over Alabama passing legislation to virtually ban abortion, reproductive groups across the UK have rightly pointed out that Northern Ireland has a more restrictive law on abortion than that in the US state. This has, unfortunately, come as a surprise to many people but it should not be.
In fact, a recent report by the Women and Equalities Commission called on the Government to “legislate as a matter of urgency” to remove the strict and cruel abortion law in the North. Among the many statements in the report, the issue of devolution was confronted head on, with it stating "devolution does not remove the UK Government’s own responsibilities to comply with its international obligations”, echoing calls from the UN to uphold obligations to human rights for all women in the UK .
This comes as a blow to those who have been using “devolution” or the right to self-determination as a reason to huddle off to the sidelines.It’s extremely disappointing that despite the SNP’s progressive stance on reproductive health, they have chosen to become bystanders on the issue of abortion for the women living in Northern Ireland. Citing an unwillingness to become involved in ‘devolved’ matters, they are letting their staunch independence framework for working in Westminster fog the reality that women’s human rights are continuing to be violated and that the women of Northern Ireland are second class citizens to the rest of us in the UK.
The SNP argue that these are matters for Stormont and whilst I agree wholeheartedly with the right of devolved nations to rule themselves, Northern Ireland has been without one for almost two years meaning there is no way for Northern Irish citizens to demand direct change to these laws but through Westminster.
This is where we in Great Britain must step up and support the right of the people of Northern Ireland to have a say. As Emma Campbell from Alliance for Choice puts it, ‘people don’t care about devolution when they need an abortion’. Access to healthcare is a human right and something our elected representatives should be fighting for, not standing in the way of.
We’re calling on the UK Government to step up to its obligations. As for the SNP MPs; it’s your turn to step up for women’s rights across the UK and to listen to the people of Northern Ireland who are overwhelmingly in favour of reforming the colonial age law. And if it’s one thing I know the SNP can get behind it’s supporting independence from an English rule.
*by women we mean all women/ trans men/ people who can get pregnant