Transcript: ORG and Amnesty Scotland joint Human and Digital Rights Hustings, 20 April 2021

Mike Morel, Open Rights Group:

Good evening and welcome to the first-ever human and digital rights hustings for the 2021 Scottish Parliamentary elections, jointly organized by Amnesty Scotland and Open Rights Group Scotland. My name is Michael Morel. I am the campaigns manager at Open Rights Group.

We are joined tonight by a cross-party panel of candidates from across the political spectrum, as well as two moderators with extensive background in Scotland’s unique human and digital rights challenges. Our opening moderator is human rights lawyer Deborah Kayembe, Rector of the University of Edinburgh. Deborah has served as a board member on the Scottish Refugee Council representing refugee minorities, as well as part of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Young Academy of Scotland, and is an expert lawyer to the RSE Working Group for Africa. She founded the charity Full Options and launched the Freedom Walk campaign, which is a movement promoting social reforms, racial justice, and community harmony.

Our second moderator is Dr Angela Daly, a research leader in the regulation and governance of new technologies, and a senior lecturer at Strathclyde Law School. She’s co-director of Strathclyde Centre for Internet Law and Policy, and also directs the program on internet law and policy, IT, and telecommunications law. Dr Daly was a founding member of Digital Rights Watch Australia as well as a current member of Open Rights Group Scotland’s advisory council.

Open Rights Group and Amnesty would like to say a big thank you to all our speakers as well as all those viewing in the live stream. We’ve got a lot to cover, so I’m going to pass it over to our first moderator now. 

Deborah Kayembe:

Thank you Mike for this moment, and welcome to everyone in this evening. I would like to introduce Amnesty International. It has an office in Scotland since 1991 and we mark its 30th anniversary this year. In Scotland Amnesty works on both the domestic and international human rights agenda. In the run up to the next month’s elections Amnesty in Scotland has advocated for strengthening of human rights law through the incorporation of international rights treaties to the maximum extents possible within the devolution settlement, and centering the human rights defender in this next Scottish government external affairs work.

As you are all aware, this morning The Guardian published an article about Amnesty International, findings around white privilege within the organization, and I want to just to say a word about that today and this evening. I am saddened to read that it didn’t come for me as a surprise. Ever since I launched the freedom campaign I’ve heard from victims, people working within very well and well-known organisations, that are going through the same kind of situation I would say. But while I was still reading this article, I received an email from the head of Amnesty Scotland, Naomi, and something she said to me struck me and I would like to share that with you as a quote. She said our clear priority now is to build an anti-racist organisation, one where equity and inclusion arer key principles and place anti-racism within our human rights work. I am personally completely committed to the priority and I hope they work with more individual organisations and campaign in Scotland to this aim. I really wish to see this with Amnesty International for the work they’ve done in the past; now we need to turn to the future and this future, and I have said is not enough today to say that we are against racism, it is about time that we take the attitude to become anti-racist.  To you Angela. 

Angela Daly:

Thank you very much, Deborah. Thanks for some really kind of important words on anti-racism in Amnesty International and in all of our organizations, to be frank, also many thanks to the organisers, Amnesty and the Open Rights Group, and thanks to Mike for the introduction as well. 

The Open Rights Group, or ORG, is the UK’s premier data and digital rights campaigning organisation.Perhaps even more importantly, it’s also Scotland’s premier [unintelligible] as well. ORG is the forefront of campaigning to protect, maintain, promote, and advance our civil liberties in the digital age. ORG has three main areas of work: digital privacy, free speech online, and government mass surveillance. Founded in 2005, ORG now has over 20,000 members and supporters, and 10 local groups across the UK. Open Rights Group’s main office is in London, and we also have a small office in Edinburgh, and I would just like to add ORG has been very active in campaigning around digital rights and civil liberties issues in here in Scotland, with regards to activities in the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Government, and to some extent as well local government organisations, so while that’s a small office in Edinburgh, it’s had a big impact so far. Thanks. I’d like to hand back to Deborah, and now we’ll start the hustings.

Deborah Kayembe:

I’m now going to invite our candidates to give an opening statement. I would like to remind all the candidates you have two to two to three minutes to introduce yourself and then after that I will go down to questions, so first of all I would like to invite Jeremy Balfour for his opening statement please.

Jeremy Balfour (Scottish Conservatives):

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and thank you very much for inviting me to the event this evening. My internet is not absolutely brilliant at the moment so I will stop my video so that we can get better reception. Human rights are key to how we live. We have rights which are enshrined in the United Nations which are so important and we need to make sure that these are protected and that we in Scotland build upon them. But along with responsibilities it’s important that we understand the responsibilities we have to other people within our society, and I’m sure that’s something we want to discuss later on. 

I studied law many years ago and human rights were not particularly strong in the late 80s early 90s, and I think we have seen a really important development over the last number of years in regard to that. We have to be aware that human rights are something that are not just based in law but must become part of our society. I am very keen, particularly around the character protected characteristics, to make sure that these rights are enforced but actively become part of the DNA of Scottish society. We can only do that if it is political will behind that, and I hope that there will be consensus on many of the topics that we talk about tonight, because if we’re going to take this forward we need to do it together as a Parliament and as Scottish people together. 

Fraser Graham, Liberal Democrats

Hi there. My name is Fraser Graham. I’m the Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh Pentland and also on the Lothians list. Now, we live in a gloriously diverse world. We are all stronger because of it, and all the evidence is that societies and economies are stronger when every person can contribute, and we work to eliminate discrimination. That means there should be equal opportunity for everyone, no matter what we look like, who we are, or where we come from. Scottish Liberal Democrats have always spoken out for human rights and in support of democracy and the rule of law. 

We don’t shy away from calling out or challenging the powerful, be they domestic figures, US presidents, or the Chinese governments breaching the rights of the people of Hong Kong and the Uyghur muslims. As we put recovery ,first we will put human rights first. We’ve proposed a commission with cross-party backing to prevent violence against women and girls; we will bring human rights standards into Scottish law whenever we can, incorporating the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of AllForms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

We’re also really concerned about vaccine passports. We feel they’re grossly unfair to the millions who have not been vaccinated yet, and to all those who have been advised not to take the vaccine. It’s a massive step for the state to insist that people be vaccinated before accessing everyday services. It could be an ID card by the back door. This absolutely must not go ahead until the people have had a chance to say in these elections. The best way to keep our country safe is to suppress the spread of the virus and vaccinate almost everyone.

As a party we’ve also shown that we can be relied upon to stand up for civil liberties. Scottish Liberal Democrats have a positive record that shows we are the champions of human rights in the Scottish Parliament. We campaigned for years for the age of criminal responsibility to rise in line with international best practice. It took the SNP government over a decade to raise the age from 8 to 12 to meet the UNinternational minimum, and by the time they did, the UN had actually raised that minimum again to 14. So there’s some progress, but Scotland is still below the UN-approved level. 

Elsewhere in justice, we’ve won the stronger presumption against counterproductive short-term prison sentences; we have exposed delays in fatal accident inquiries taking up to a decade; and we have just won a vote at Parliament that should set us on a course to decriminalise drug misuse, so that people using drugs get sent for treatment instead of to prison. We put a stop to the SNP super id database that would have seen 120 public bodies, including Quality Meat Scotland and the Royal Botanics, get access to the NHS central register. We were the first party to call for incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law back in 2015-16, and that was finally passed in the last days of the Parliament just gone, the result of years of campaigning by us and organisations across the third sector. 

And finally, the Scottish Liberal Democrats believe that trans rights are human rights, and will fully support reform of the Gender Recognition Act to include for self-definition and the recognition of non-binary identities. Thank you.

James Kelly, Labour

My name is James Kelly. I’m the Scottish Labour candidate in Rutherglen and also on the Glasgow list. Can I thank Amnesty for organizing the event this evening, and for all that you do in the promotion of human rights. 

I believe that human rights are absolutely integral to many of the issues that we consider in the Scottish Parliament, from the rights of the young child through their education system, to people having the right to safe and secure homes which are wind- and watertight, so protecting women in our society and ensure they’re not discriminated against, to people’s right to freedom of expression and demonstration, and to the rights of those in the workplace to assembly, to protest ,and to argue for better workplace deals through trade unions. Scottish Labour believe that what is needed iss a strong set of policies going forward to strengthen the human rights framework, so particularly making the public sector equality duty working better, and ensuring that by the introduction of school plans that every child is catered for. 

Obviously we’re emerging from the pandemic and there’s going to need to be a public inquiry. Part of that needs to be looking at whether the human rights of those in care homes was properly looked after. The acknowledgement recently that people were released back into care homes who hadn’t had a negative test is clearly an infringement of human rights. 

Moving forward I think there’s got to be important progression in looking after the rights of women and young girls, particularly in relation to domestic abuse and sexual assault, and our justice system needs to be strengthened for that. 

On housing, I think it’s a scandal that there are 150,000 people on housing waiting lists and 70,000 of those children, with 27,000 and waiting in temporary accommodation. 

And I also think Scottish Labour believes that there needs to be close regard given to the issue of policing in human rights. I think some of the recent technological developments in relation to facial technology are very worrying, and we need to have a strong position on that make sure that the police don’t have too much power and that people’s rights are entrenched. I look forward to the discussion ahead and I’m sure it will be a very enjoyable evening. Thank you.

Kim Long, Scottish Greens

Good evening to everyone watching, and ramadan mubarak to Muslim friends. My name is Kim Long. I’m second on the Scottish Green Party’s Glasgow list, so our top candidates are Patrick Harvie our co-leader, me, and then Nadia Kanyange, who’s running to be the first black woman MSP and the first former refugee MSP.

My background is as a community worker and an unpaid carer, and those experiences made me furious about inequality in our city, so I ran for election and I’ve been a local councillor for the Scottish Greens for the last four years. I’ve been particularly involved in equalities issues, so from working cross-party to agree the first council gender pay gap action plan in Scotland, and last month getting all the women counsellors together to make a joint motion on sexual harassment and violence against women. I’ve also been really involved in asylum justice, so despite Glasgow being the only Scottish dispersal city, the council was not regularly engaging with these issues, so I created a regular slot for a committee’s accountability. I’ve worked with grassroots partners to raise concerns, stand against evictions, and campaign for asylum seeker housing to be out of private hands. I also led a community campaign which successfully prevented a constituent being removed from the UK. 

Now obviously there’s a tonne more to do, so the Scottish Greens manifesto includes commitments to decolonise the curriculum with an accurate presentation of history and the reality of British empire slavery and colonialism, to take action on Scotland’s race pay gap, to review the experience of black and minoritised communities in policing and the criminal justice system led by the communities themselves, to introduce mandatory recording of racist incidents and prejudice-based bullying in Scotland’s schools, and work with third sector partners to build anti-racist competence in schools. Both in the council and Holyrood, Greens won cross-party support for vision for a new national museum of slavery, empire, colonialism, and migration. 

We know that for disabled people, the pandemic has supercharged existing inequalities, so we support the incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People into Scots law, and we want to see new social security powers, and the new national care service, to be co-designed with the lived experience of disabled people at its heart. For trans people, we need to have the right for self-identification and also the recognition of non-binary identities, but we need to go beyond that. Scottish Greens have been campaigning for trans health care led by our trans members, because the current wait time for an initial appointment is three years, and that is utterly unacceptable.

We also know the single biggest threat to all of our human rights is the climate crisis, so Scottish Greens have a plan for a green recovery from the pandemic. We’ve got fully costed plans to invest in renewables, in public transport, in renewing nature, and in warm homes. All of these mean lower emissions, they’re good for our health and well-being, and they create good green jobs in the industries of the future. The Scottish Greens have a vision for a fairer, greener Scotland ,where we live sustainably and where everybody has access to dignity. That’s why on the 6th of May we’re asking you to vote like our future depends on it and vote for the Scottish Greens. Thank you 

Shirley-Anne Somerville, Scottish National Party

Thank you very much and good evening, and thank you for the invite to be able to come along to this hustings today on such an important issue. It’s been one of my privileges in the last Parliament to serve as the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security, but my responsibilities also included equalities and human rights, and therefore I’m particularly pleased to be able to get the chance to come along and speak to you all tonight. 

One of the first priorities we will have to face as a Parliament, and indeed as a country as we move forward, is of course moving out of the pandemic, and ensuring that we hold a full public enquiry into the pandemic, and that’s something which Nicola Sturgeon has committed to do beginning before the end of this year. And it’s important as part of that, and central to that is of course, equalities and human rights, so that judge-led public inquiry ensuring that we’re looking at all aspects of what’s happened within the pandemic, both here in Scotland, but I hope another inquiry at UK level as well, because there is important lessons for all parts of government and for society to learn as we go through in that.

One of the most important aspects as we do that is absolutely to listen to and respond to those who have been most affected by the pandemic to ensure that we’re working with people that have been most affected as we deliver the remit and what will work for this public inquiry to have the confidence that people require within it. And that also takes me on to another important point though that I think it goes well beyond a public inquiry and to covid, and that’s the importance of ensuring as we move forward, as a government, that we use the experience of people to make sure that we are developing the best possible policies. We’ve seen good examples, I think that, within government, within social security, but we absolutely need to do more of that and actually build policies with people rather than for people.

One of the biggest privileges I had in the last Parliament was to co-chair the human rights task force along with Professor Alan Miller, and as we went through under the covid pandemic, the real sharp focus was brought once again onto the importance of human rights like it has, I think, never before. The work that was going on within government was unprecedented and we knew those decisions about some of the policies we were putting in place were unprecedented, and that really does bring into importance the focus on human rights. So I was absolutely delighted that the task force recommended, and the government accepted, that we should move forward with a human rights framework bill that will take on not just [the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women], but the [ International Covenant on Economic,Social and Cultural Rights], the [Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination], and the [Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities] as well.

We’re also going further on issues to do with the environment, on issues to do with older people, on access to justice, and on rights for the LGTBI community, and the fact that we have managed to get that level of consensus within stakeholders about how we will take things forward is, I hope, a sign of the consensus that we want to see in the Scottish Parliament as we move forward with this framework bill. 

I also think it’s an important example of how Scotland can not just lead in a domestic setting but actually can be a forerunner on an international setting about what can be done to ensure incorporation into domestic law of different treaties, and we have a proud record with what we have done so far within Scotland, but we can go so much further, and certainly the SNP is determined to do that. 

One of the other aspects I’m also determined to do is ensure that we protect the final bill, one of the final bills that we looked, at which is now the UN CRC act protecting the rights of children. We’re seeing an attempt by the UK Government to take the Scottish Government to court over this, which I think is deeply disappointing, and we are absolutely determined to ensure that we defend that act and defend the rights of children, as we will do as we move forward with the framework bill.

There’s so much more that we need to do on housing, on the right for food, and those of course will be included in that framework bill as well, but obviously moving forward in particular with a hundred thousand affordable homes to ensure that that right for a home is accessible to people as soon as possible.

So those are some of the top priorities for the SNP if we have the fortune of being elected to become the next government. Thank you 

Deborah Kayembe:

Now I will remind everyone now we have two to three minutes to answers to answer our questions and now I have some questions to ask to each one of you, and we’re going to go for the same order we started from the beginning and the question is this:
What is your view on the importance of the Human Rights Act as a tool to protect and fulfill the right as Scotland continue its journey to the pandemic into recovery and is now the time to further strengthen legal protection for human rights in Scotland by incorporating UN treaties.

Jeremy Balfour, Scottish Conservatives

Thank you very much. If I can just pick up the point Shirley-Anne made at the end in regards to the UK challenge, I think it has to be very clear what that challenge is about. The Dean of Faculty has made it very clear, but it’s a legal point not a political point, and the UK government was clear with the Scottish Government, that they thought there was one particular amendment that required changing, so that the Act was then legally enforceable, and unfortunately that wasn’t accepted by the Scottish Government when it was debated in the Parliament just a few weeks ago. So the UK government and the Scottish Conservatives are committed to human rights and committed to making sure that these rights are enshrined wherever it is right within law but it has to be done in a way that is legally correct.

And so I’ll go back to a point I think I made earlier as well, that yes it is important that these rights are found in law, but we need to see them also a part of our culture as well and I think that’s a bigger challenge for us in Scotland, because we are very good at passing laws, sometimes we’re not so good at enforcing those laws and making the laws work as they should do, and I think a challenge going forward. 

Fraser Graham, Scottish Liberal Democrats

Scottish Liberal Democrats are committed to preserving the human rights and protections of minority rights, as set out within the Scotland Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act, and we are campaigning to defend the Human Rights Act. It protects your rights to privacy and fair trials, bans torture, slavery and forced labour, and ensures we all have freedom of expression and religion. It’s a fundamentally good and liberal piece of legislation that has protected the rights of us all, which is why it’s frustrating that the Tories, with the help of hard-right politicians like Nigel Farage, have repeatedly threatened to repeal it. 

As a party we also want to bring these human rights standards into Scottish law wherever we can, and as I said in my opening statement, we want to incorporate the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We were the first party to call for the incorporation of the UN Convention on theRights of the Child into into Scots Law back in 2015-16 and we were glad to see the passing of the bill. We kind of share Shirley’s annoyance that the bill is now being held up by legalese in the UK supreme court and hope that could be resolved and actually get that enshrined in law. 

I do agree with Jeremy in some way that there is a need to ensure that as well as passing law, we also work on the culture of the UK as a whole, not just Scotland but the UK as a whole. There are issues within the UK, there is still structural institutional racism at play within the UK as a whole. As a member of the LGBTcommunity I’ve been subject to an homophobic attack in the past, and I know many who’ve been subject to homophobic and transphobic attacks both online and in person. The only way we tackle these is by working to change the culture and educate people, and I’d welcome any moves from any party to work on improving culture and education, and just to pick up on I think what Kim said in her opening statement, the calls for having more education about the culture of the UK about our history of colonialism, that’s important and I totally agree with that as well.

James Kelly, Scottish Labour

Thank you. The Human Rights Act was an important step forward in providing vital protections for people in relation to human rights, and Scottish Labour totally opposes any attempts by the Tories to undermine that legislation or undermine the protections within it. I think there are three specific things that the next Parliament can do to strengthen the work that is within the Human Rights Act. First of all, in relation to the public inquiry on covid, I think there are going to be a key conclusions coming out of that which will require additional legislation with human rights protections. I mentioned in my opening statement the issues around care homes, and Scottish Labour have also raised issues about whether students’ human rights were properly protected when they were sent into overcrowded properties at the height of the pandemic.

The second point I would make is I think we need to review all the laws to see that they’re fit for purpose and whether there’s any additional human rights protections that needed to be added, but I think linked to that, we need to be looking at the Scottish Parliament budget, how we actually spend our money, and whether that money is properly spent in areas where there are human rights and protections. So I think we need to to look at that and make sure that that’s correct.

Finally, in relation to the treaties, we should incorporate the treaties where that is correct and strengthens human rights law and as other speakers have mentioned the UN [Convention on the Rights] of the Child was the correct decision there and any attempt to undermine that with the Tory Government should be resisted.

So overall the approach should be in the next Parliament, not only to strengthen the provisions of the HumanRights Act as they apply within the devolved settlement, but to look at our current laws and also our budgetary spend to see where we can make improvements which will give people further protection.

Kim Long, Scottish Greens

The Scottish Greens support the incorporation of the UN treaties into Scots law. I think this is quite an exciting time for Scotland. We look forward to working with other parties to see it progress and make sure it’s as good as it could be, and I think James’s point is well made in terms of looking at what’s going to come out of the of the inquiry there.

I think on the point on is now the time to strengthen legal protection, yes, and that’s crucial for two reasons. First of all in terms of the pandemic, we know that the pandemic has exposed the crevasse of inequality in our society, and it has then deepened those inequalities. So for disabled people who had their social care packages stopped, or who are reliant on the kind of services that are not running at the moment, and there’s going to be this massive backlog of or people that need to be seen, for BME people who’ve obviously been more affected by covid as well as structural racism, for women have been forced into taking more caring responsibilities. So it’s absolutely crucial that in the next time of Parliament, we spend a lot of time and energy working on each of these issues and also how they intersect. 

But the other reason that this is really important that Scotland takes a very strong stance in terms of human rights, is that human rights are under attack. So on one hand you have Brexit, you have a whole new category of people who are going to be at risk of having no recourse to public funds. So we already know that there’s a lot of people, especially in Glasgow who are currently in receipt of public funds, and that’s a real concern, but just generally we’ve got attacks on the travellers, we have attacks on trans people we have the proposed UK immigration plans that are utterly horrifying, we have the bill to restrict protests, we have the Sewell Report that said that institutional racism was not a thing, like the normalization of far-right speech and policy and practice, it’s really clear. 

So as that grows and it grows in confidence, we need to be just as active just as vigilant just as tenacious in response. Scotland has a chance to take a divergent course here, but it’s going to take continued persistence, and yes it’s not just about the laws but how we how we put them into practice making them real for people as well.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, SNP

As I said in my opening remarks, now is the the time to look at an incorporation of the UN treaties as far as we can under the devolved settlement, because there are of course aspects of those that are to do with reserved policies that wouldn’t be in the competence of the Scottish Parliament to do. One of the reasons why Scotland absolutely has to take the lead on these issues is when we see, for example, the UK government undertaking a review of the Human Rights Act, and let’s face it they’re not doing that with the intention of coming out and strengthening that Act and making it easier for people to to use their rights, that’s not the basis from where they are coming from, and certainly when we responded as a Scottish Government to that UK government review on the Human Rights Act we were absolutely clear that the act works exceptionally well and that it should be protected and maintained. But of course as I say we can go further up in Scotland, and we can ensure that we can incorporate it.

I absolutely do take the point that other speakers have made that legislation isn’t enough. I think it’s integral that we do that, but it isn’t enough, and that’s why when we look at the human rights task force recommendations which the Scottish Government accepted as a whole, we’ve also got aspects around the importance of a genuine accessibility to access to justice, to ensure that people are aware of their rights and then have the ability to be able to access justice if they feel that those rights are not being fulfilled. Part of that absolutely is ensuring that there’s greater awareness within the public and within particular groups insociety about the rights that they have, but absolutely integral to that is that access to justice point, to make sure that when they realize their rights maybe aren’t being fulfilled that they can then do something about it and that’s about empowering organizations to take on cases, but we need to ensure that we’re empowering people to to be able to put pressure on politicians and on governments as well.

And one of the other areas where we know that legislation isn’t enough is where we can look at, for example, at what we can do within our schools. I was delighted to support the tie campaign which looked at inclusivity within education for LGBT issues and also again the review of the curriculum that’s now being undertaken that we’re looking at in terms of  following on from the Black Lives Matter debates. Now those are the types of things that government needs to to look at and governments of any persuasion need to be challenged to make sure that we are going far enough and consistently keeping up with what people are doing on that, so I’m really really pleased that we are.

One of the other areas where I think we need to be absolutely conscious of the need to protect another minority group is I think one of the groups that Kim mentioned, and that’s the gypsy-traveller community, and one of the most persecuted communities that we have still unfortunately within Scotland, and some of the laws that are coming in down south against gypsy-travellers are quite frankly frightening in taking away their their civil liberties and their ability and their right to to actually exercise their lives the way that we they want to do it. 

So when we’re looking at examples like that, I think it absolutely demonstrates why yes, we need to change culture, yes we need to do everything we can within the education system and whatever, but we need to have those rights enshrined in law that will protect gypsy-travellers, it will protect other communities as we move forward if, for example, there’s any change in governments in Scotland where perhaps those politicians don’t hold dear to the gypsy traveler community rights as I do.

Deborah Kayembe:

This is my second question. Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve seen the consequences when ahuman rights-based approach is not taken into policy and public order serious concern has been raised about digital surveillance technologies such as cyber kiosks and live facial recognition reconnection and now they are concerned about vaccine passports. Over the next five years how will you ensure that the use of digital surveillance technology by Police Scotland the Scottish government and private businesses in Scotland are compatible with human rights and non-discriminatory? 

Fraser Graham, Liberal Democrats

It’s clear that, you know, the pandemic has tested the ability to police by consent like never before. Whilst many of the new and far-reaching powers were necessary in the context of the pandemic, there have been clear frustrations about the last-minute nature of some government announcements, and often officers have only had a matter of hours to turn the Scottish Government’s directions into action, and it’s vital to ensure that these emergency powers do not remain in place any longer than is necessary. It’s likely to be an early task and challenge for the next Parliament to review these powers and work out what we still need need at this stage in the pandemic. I know that in Westminster, the Liberal Democrats voted against a further extension to the Coronavirus Act.

In successive Parliaments, we’ve carefully scrutinized the emergence of new technologies that have the potential to challenge our civil liberties. It’s been six years since the Liberal Democrat investigation first triggered concerns about how the police use new and emerging biometric technologies. We revealed the unregulated use of facial recognition technologies, and then secured inquiries by both Her Majesty’sInspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland, and John Scott QC, both of which vindicated our concerns and led to the creation and recent appointment of the first biometrics commissioner. We note that facial recognition technology employed by the Met has been independently found to be discriminatory. According to analysis of their data, 93% of supposed matches in their four years of trials has been wrong. And as well as being inaccurate, it’s also been shown to be much less accurate in identifying women and ethnic minorities than it has been for identifying white men, which means that women and BAME people are much more likely to be stopped without reason than white men. 

Now, we also note that Police Scotland started rolling out cyber kiosks in 2018 with little to no thought to privacy or human rights, and that earned them a dressing down from MSPs, the Information Commissioner, and the Scottish Human Rights Commission, and they’ve now been rolled out but with more information available in the public domain, but we need to be very careful and ensure that any such technological necessity that’s been brought in for the sake of policing needs to also be examined for any potential human rights abuses that could be affected by that.

We’ve been calling for clarity around the use of vaccine passports, and we still believe that at this point they are essentially ID cards by stealth, that it’s forcing people into a position where they’re having to give over information on their medical history in order to access services such as hospitality, and we don’t believe that’s right. In fact, when the SNP tried to create a super ID database which would have shared lots of private information between 120 public sector bodies, such as Quality Meat Scotland and the RoyalBotanical Gardens, we fought against that and stopped that happening, because that was giving people’s NHS medical records to bodies that had no need to have it, and it may it may have been an unintended consequence, but that’s something you need to be wary of whenever it comes to data and protection of people’s privacy. 

Now as more and more data and biometric information is available, we want to develop the approach that’s been taken in Estonia, where data is considered to belong to the citizen, where people have the right to know who has accessed their information. We want to take steps to safeguard people from the misuse of their data, cctv images, facial recognition, or biometric information. We rewrote the law and abolished so-called consensual stop and search after a two-year campaign. SNP ministers from Alex Salmond downwards said they were comfortable with industrial-scale stop and search, and the opposition said that children under 10 years were capable of giving their consent, so we put a stop to that. Now there’s a respectable and proportionate system in place and that’s what we want to do, we want to continue fighting for your rights and ensure that you’re protected when it comes to policing and use of your data thank you thank you.

James Kelly, Labour: 

Thank you. I think there are three parts to this question: it’s about policing going forward, learning some of the lessons from the from the last few years, facial recognition and digital technology, and vaccine passports.

On policing, it’s right there should be proportionate policing and proportional laws, however Scottish Labour will speak out where there are concerns, and of course in the last Parliament we led the campaign to repeal the Offensive Behavior at Football Act, which was not only a bad law but which infringed the civil rights of football supporters. Also during the course of the pandemic, I had course to take up the case of Black LivesMatter protesters in George Square, who’d been unfairly treated by police and kettled and taken away from the George Square site. Subsequently there was an investigation into police conduct which is still underway. So there’s going to be proportionate policing in terms of the new technology. 

In relation to facial recognition and digital technology, I think new technology and digital technologies aregiving us great advances in our lives, however the way that we’ve seen it deployed at times can be very worrying. I’ve seen it discriminately deployed at football matches unfairly without justification, and this is something the police and [Justice] Subcommittee of the Scottish Parliament has looked at, and has done some very important work in flagging up some of the flaws, so I think the there have to be some serious considerations as to how that’s going to be used going forward, not only by police but also by private sector organizations, because we run the risk of people’s not only human rights being infringed, but their identities have been captured, now we were very worrying indeed 

Finally, on the issue of vaccine passports, I think we need to tread very carefully there. We run the risk of there being a position created where there are inequalities, because people haven’t been able to get the vaccines, or not been able to to take it up. They would be unfairly treated under vaccine passports, as well as some of the other potential infringements for human rights, so I think there are some important issues here around policing, the laws around technology, and the use of vaccine passports going forward, and they will need to be explored very carefully by the Scottish Parliament in the next term.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, SNP

To deal with the issues around covid first up. The thing that I said during my opening statement, I’m well aware that the government I’ve been part of has taken unprecedented steps, which have been supported by the Parliament, and we know that there has been infringements on people’s rights over a myriad of different issues during the pandemic, and I have to say as as someone who’s been involved in that decision-making process, those have been some of the hardest decisions I think I’ll ever have to take as a politician, because it went really against my kind of ethos, and against the ethos of the other members of the Cabinet, but we were always having to look at our focus on the need to protect public health and the right to life and to ensure that we were dealing in a proportionate manner, and what we were doing was necessary to be able to protect public health and the right to life, but that didn’t make it easy decisions for us to take, and it certainly didn’t mean that there wouldn’t be controversies about some of that as we move forward. I think again that’s one of the things I’m sure any public inquiry will look at, did we get as we feel we did but did we get the necessity and the proportionality of some of those measures correct. Now of course the government can’t keep any of those powers in place for any longer than is necessary, and we absolutely check that all the time.

We’re moving on to the issues around digital technologies and around digital and surveillance, and there have been quite understandable concerns around this area over the past years and that’s exactly why comes Hamza Yusaf, the Justice Secretary, and the previous SNP government, formulated this same Independent Advisory Group that going forward will look at all the legal and the ethical issues around all of these emerging technologies. We need to ensure that what’s being done, not just within government but within police and within our wider society, absolutely is enshrined in our equality and our human rights approach, and our manifesto absolutely commits us to a robust scrutiny and oversight of that as we move forward. 

Moving quickly just onto the vaccine passport proposals, I can see why some businesses think that this is the answer. I’ve spoken to businesses within my own constituency of Dunfermline who think that this might mean that they’ll be able to open faster, that they’ll be able to get more business in, so I can see the attraction of it from some people’s point of view. I’m inherently uncomfortable by it, and the First Minister has made clear, that that she’s not convinced at this point about the use of of vaccine passports, because of the ethical and human rights aspects around those who couldn’t, for example, access a service or access a place because they haven’t had their vaccine, and vaccines are not mandatory in Scotland and nor do we want them to be in the SNP, so how do we deal with those equalities and human rights  issues, and until we do I think there’s got to have to be some skepticism about how these would work. The area where they might work in the future is around some international travel, so we’ve seen examples in the past which some of us might have used when we’re traveling around certain countries, so there might be an aspect around international travel that’s slightly less controversial I think, but in the domestic setting I do have reservations around that, that we would need to be further tested, and absolutely do that with stakeholders to make sure that that they have their voice heard in this really controversial issue.

Jeremy Balfour, Scottish Conservatives

If I can start with the issue around the pandemic and the legislation that the Parliament has passed, I think I do have concerns that perhaps when we do review it we will see that we maybe went too far. We saw already that the legislation was challenged in regard to the right to go to the synagogue or to go to a mosque or to go to a church, and the court said that we went too far in regard to that. As a Parliament, our Scottish Government legislation was breaking people’s right to worship, and I wonder if there will be other challenges as well. I think we also do have to review this very carefully once the new Parliament is up and running,  and when we come to September I would expect and hope that most of the legislation will not be required going forward.

We always have to be very careful in regards to human rights. The reason the Conservative  group in this Parliament voted against the Hate Crime Bill was because in our view it infringed on individual human rights, particularly within the household, and particularly around the issue of free speech and being able to have that, and all legislation, I think, has to be checked carefully around that.

Going on to [vaccine] passports, I think I’m actually in agreement with others speakers. I personally do have concerns about some kind of passport if you’ve had a vaccine for the reasons given by others and I do also agree with Shirley-Anne, but I think on international travel there may well be more argument for that.

Clearly policing has to be done with consent. It has to take the public with you. Technology can and has radically changed the way that crimes are investigated, and some of that has been very good, but it also has to be balanced around the whole issue of human rights and making sure that individuals and are not having their rights overrun by that, and I think it will be a debate that we will have going forward over the next few years, and that balance between absolutely wanting to find and bring to justice those who have committed crimes, but at the same time making sure that civil liberties are not taken away. 

Kim Long, Scottish Greens

On the pandemic, I think we need to see what the inquiry brings up. There’s definite concerns around care homes, around disabled people, and certainly there were reports of disproportionately disabled people being asked to consent to do-not-resuscitate orders, etc, and there were kind of existing issues with social care so we see about that but we’ll need to keep a very close eye on that. 

In terms of surveillance, the Greens would oppose mass surveillance, whether that’s by the state or by private corporations. Any surveillance of the population needs to be a proportionate response to a specific issue, so for example I think it’s quite a knee-jerk reaction, and this is because I’m a local counsellor, but I think local communities can have a really a reaction that there’s something happens and the response is ‘we need more cctv’ and actually it’s like, well no, do you need actually well-funded community work and well-funded youth work, for example. We also need to have democratic oversight over any and all surveillance.Green MSP John Finnie has been a really a leading voice in the Parliament on this, and against the use of facial recognition technology by Police Scotland. John Finnie said that it’s clear that this technology was inno fit state to be ruled out, or indeed to assist the police with their work, and that the facial recognition technology as it is throws up too many false positives, and it does contain inherent biases that are known to be discriminatory. As we’ve heard earlier, we’ve also led scrutiny of the of the roll out of cyber kiosks, and we need to review the use of these. They’re really quite concerning that they were rolled out without adequate checks being done in terms of equalities impact, security impact, etc.

Patrick Harvie MSP has also had some success over the years of pressing for kind of open document formats and opposing the use of citizen databases, so not just the ID cards bill but the use of citizen entitlement cards and the NHS register, and I think it’s worth noting that during Indyref, however long ago that was, it feels like a long time ago, but there was a Green briefing and kind of document for a discussion or digital rights and no none of the other parties did that, so I think it’s it’s it’s fair to say that the Greens have have really led on this area. 

Just briefly on the question of vaccine passports that’s been asked, our position is that we would be really weary on this. I am really concerned that it’s discrimination against young workers in particular, and obviously there’s some people who for various reasons cannot get a vaccine. So we need to be making sure that we learn from from what’s happened already. We need to be really really cautious, and we can’t have a two-tier recovery in which some people by age – you know it’s absolutely reasonable that the vaccines have been done by age because the science showed that – but you can’t then say that, okay well, that means that young people just don’t get access to services for the future indefinitely.

Deborah Kayembe:

I’m now gonna pass to Angela, who is going to take a Q&A question from the public.

Angela Daly:

Thanks very much to the candidates. I think that last question kind of segues quite nicely into the digital rights part of this evening. We’ve already started it with that previous question. So first question from me now relates to online hate speech. As we know that’s been a very hot topic, both here in Scotland across the UK and internationally, and also kind of legislative developments in the Scottish Parliament with regards to hate speech as well. Can I ask the candidates: what will your party do to address the worst forms of online behavior while still safeguarding the right to freedom of expression?

Jeremy Balfour, Scottish Conservatives 

I think it’s a really good balance you’ve got to get. It’s a difficult balance but it’s a good balance. Clearly freedom of speech is really important to be able to express what you want, but it must be done in a way that doesn’t bring about hate and bring about comments which are inappropriate. As somebody who has a disability, from time to time on Twitter people will pick up on that and will make comments about my disability, or say things which are inappropriate. Now, I am personally big enough to take that, but it’s not right and it’s not correct, and that should be true for all the different characteristics protected. I think we need to see the companies – Facebook, Twitter, others – step up to the mark here. I’ve been really impressed to see what’s happened with the football clubs down in England and some of the global players down in England around the whole issue of racism, where they’re saying ‘we’ll just simply come off these social medias unless they do something’, and ultimately I think that will have the biggest effect. If people unlike me who have thousands if not millions of followers actually do something very proactive, then that will be what will trigger Facebook and Twitter and so I think these companies do need to step up and we do need to do more.

We do need to make sure that people can absolutely debate issues, you know I love debating issues and my five my four other colleagues here and I will agree on some things, but we disagree on lots of things. I hope we can do that in a way that respects each other, but we listen to each other, and I don’t think social media should be any different from that, and so I think that’s what we need to strive for, and I think we need companies that run these to step up and do more in regard to that.

Fraser Graham, Scottish Liberal Democrats

You hit me with a very difficult question here because it’s something I personally feel quite strongly about. I until this year was an exec member of the LGBT+ Lib Dems, and within that we have seen a lot of debate online particularly when it comes to issue of trans rights, and we have seen a lot of hate speech on that. There is difficulty here because there is a freedom of speech, but that’s not a freedom from consequence. If you make the decision to go online and say something which is hate speech which attacks the right of others, that’s not engaging in debate, that’s making hate speech, and you need to face the consequences of that, and we need to be working with these social media companies to make sure that they are actually being proactive and actually tackling that, because it’s been shown that some of these social media companies have widely varying approaches to these things, that they’re not consistent with how they deal with things, so the judgment in some cases is just shocking and that needs to be tackled. We need to be pressuring and speaking out and saying no you need to be working on this you need to be making sure that hate speech is kept off your platforms. We we saw you know twitter making big waves during the presidential election when they took away the then incumbent president’s twitter account but that’s one big action, but what we actually want to see is proper change when it comes to tackling these things online.

James Kelly, Scottish Labour

There’s no doubt the development on the online world and social media has had many great advantages. People are able to access information much more quickly, they’re able to interact with friends and people who they previously haven’t even known, but unfortunately one of the downsides has been the whole area of online abuse, and it seems to have unfortunately given a platform for people who feel that they can they can say whatever they like in a hateful manner, and it’s deeply regrettable.

So like other speakers, I think it’s right that people should be allowed freedom of expression, and you should be able to express views robustly, however what you can’t do, particularly in relation to protected characteristics is express those views in a hateful manner. This is a continually developing area and we’re going to need to continue to look at the laws to see that they’re strong enough to ensure that there are protections, and that people who do behave in a hateful manner online are taken to court on the matter. 

I think, as other speakers have said, I agree there’s got to be a great responsibility on the social media companies. They’ve been been very slow to to act on this. I think the other thing is that there’s a responsibility on political leaders, political parties, the organizations, private and public, to try and improve the culture around online engagement, because regrettably too many people do behave in an inappropriate manner, even if there will be an argument as to whether they’re breaking the law, and I think is a job on everyone to try and improve the conduct of their whole community and society online.

Kim Long, Scottish Greens

As others have highlighted, there’s a lot of complexity to it. Online hate speech is having a real impact, and I think it will be clear in decades to come that this has a real, we can see it already, the impact of in terms of women not feeling comfortable to stand for elected office. I’m sure that’ll be replicated in minority communities and disabled people, so this isn’t this sort of an academic thing, it really does have an impact. I think it has an impact on safety as well,  so some of it’s about accountability for the kind of big corporations which as we know is not simple. 

Some of it is on political parties. There’s a whole manner of things here, so first of all like in terms of leadership not behaving in inappropriate ways online. Now most politicians are not stupid enough to say something they would maybe say down the pub that they wouldn’t put on the internet, but it doesn’t take away that they have a responsibility, so if you’ve got a facebook page that’s yours with your name on it, and someone is coming on and posting abusive things, then I think that’s your responsibility to monitor that page and to remove things that are that I hate speech about other people, or even if they’re not technically hate speech but if they’re an abusive comment about one of your colleagues, I don’t care if you politically agree with that colleague or not. You shouldn’t be letting someone say that about about someone else. It’s a basic level of human decency and I find it really upsetting. I’ve seen this fairly often in Glasgow City Council.There’s a level of tribalism that seems to make people behave in ways that we wouldn’t find appropriate in any other workplace and this seems to be an excuse to be really horrible about people that we politically disagree with. So I think we’ve all got responsibility, all political leaders, political parties, have a responsibility to tell the truth on the internet. We’ve got a responsibility to behave with respect towards other politicians, doesn’t matter if we agree with them or not. 

I think there’s something about this kind of increasing like personality politics, and I don’t know I think this is complicated and I understand that, but I think the SNP’s choice to be so much about the campaign slogan ‘I’m with Nicola’, and I do wonder what that’s done in terms of allowing people to feel like they can treat the First Minister as on a kind of first name basis. I don’t know about that, I don’t know what that means in terms of women’s safety generally, like that’s a trend that I’m seeing again 

The Scottish Greens have in our manifesto looking at a disinformation to have an independent office to to look at this and to teach about it in schools as well to teach critical thinking.

Shirley Anne Somerville, SNP

I genuinely with the greatest respect don’t get the point that Kim’s trying to make about that about Nicola there. We run campaigns with Nicola on it because when we speak to people in the streets they call her by her first name. I don’t think the fact that we have a female first minister who people call by their first name is the reason why we have difficult decisions on  difficult abuse online, and I think one example is that is actually the level of abuse that Nicola gets on her personal Twitter which she does herself, and if she thought she could sort that by changing it to ‘Ms Sturgeon’ I’m sure she would do it, so I think we can do better than than that, I’m not quite sure where that was going  

I do think there’s an issue though around online abuse, absolutely, whether that’s politicians or whether it’s members of the public, and the fact that we somehow as a society genuinely think there’s certainly a small minority of people think that they can get away with saying things online in the privacy of their own homes that they would, you know, never say to people on a street or face to face is disturbing, and there’s a role for all of us absolutely to to tackle that. There is absolutely a role for the service providers and the site administrators and platforms to look at that. I thought the point about absolutely that was made around Trump actually from Fraser, that was sheer tokenism. Twitter took a stand on one man and leaves thousands of other tweets and pieces of abuse up, day in day out, against whether it’s celebrities or members of the public, so you know you need to do a wee bit more when you’re an organization that has a responsibility of that the name than than just banning one man. I think we we need to look at what we can do within the Scottish Parliament to assist on that 

I’m genuinely really disappointed that the Scottish Conservatives would want to repeal the Hate Crime Actthat’s just went through. I think that does give a level of protection against hate crime while absolutely still ensuring that there’s a freedom of expression and a freedom to protest, because you have to bear in mind that that the stirring up hatred offences, people can still have controversial challenge and their views can even still be offensive to people as long as it’s not done in a threatening or abusive way that is intended to stir up hatred, so that is a high bar that that we have, and indeed some may argue that that’s why we have so few hate crimes recorded, one of the reasons is because the bar is as has been high in the past and remains high. 

So the Hate Crime Act is really important but I think as a society we’ve got an issue with that, and absolutely politicians all politicians, whether they’re in government or not have a role to play in the demeanor that we play and the types of debates that we have, and hopefully as you’ve seen tonight you know we’ve all disagreed on some parts we’ve been consensual in other parts but it’s been done in a respectful way, and I think that’s how politics should be done and needs to be done and that’s the only way that we can maybe encourage more women to get into politics.

Angela Daly:

The next question for me is one relating to government transparency about the activities of our public sector agencies. I think this has become a really important topic as we see lots of controversies around procurement and tendering on behalf of the UK government, but also issues around the Scottish Government and freedom of information, particularly during the early part of the pandemic. So the question to candidates is: what are you going to do to improve government transparency in Scotland, freedom of information, and access to public data?

Jeremy Balfour, Scottish Conservatives

I think clearly we want transparency within our politics, and we want transparency within our government, and it does frustrate me how even as I was as a former MSP, to often get information I would have to put infreedom of informations, whether that was the Scottish Government or whether that was to local authorities, and I do think we still have a culture within the civil service, within some of the government agencies, that we just don’t give that information unless we’re really forced to do it, and I think we need to see a change in regard to that. I think we need to see much more transparency, so that people can see how the decisions are made and where we are going. 

Before I came into the Scottish Parliament I was a local councillor in Edinburgh for 10 years, and one of thegreat frustrations as our opposition leader in the council, was I was often told by council officers ‘I can’t tell you that because it’s commercially sensitive’, eg we don’t trust you with that information, and that’s a cultural thing that we need to challenge and needs to be changed. I think we need to see a much more greater willingness for people to open up information, to share that information, and we see that in all areas. When I was growing up it was very difficult to get your medical records, to get the information that doctors were saying about you, now that has changed, and that’s changed because of pressure from people within the public. So I think we need to keep that pressure on government, government agencies so that we can be much more willing to save our information, unless there really is an absolute reason why it shouldn’t be shared.

Fraser Graham, Scottish Liberal Democrats:

I pretty much agree generally. There is an importance that what happens in government, and what agreements and deals are made in government, should be transparent, and we should be able to see them and be able to critically understand them. As a party we want to strengthen and enhance the freedom ofinformation rules and apply them to companies which provide government services as well as the government itself. And we also want to introduce a new duty to record, so the public can access accounts of important ministerial meetings and decision-making processes, and we want to strengthen the role of the Public Audit Committee so that it can scrutinise business grants of more than £250,000 before they are paid, to satisfy themselves the recipient company pays a fair level of UK tax.

As well we’ve got concerns of when when people are receiving government funding, we want to make sure they still have the freedom to criticise the government without a risk of their their funding being cut, because there are charities that work and have government funding that should also be critical friends to the government, and should be able to actually point out when something is not going right. It should just be expected that as a government, you are honest with the people about what you’re doing. There is not a huge amount that gets done within the Scottish Parliament that really needs to be secret and kept secret from the people, so why don’t we make as much of that available to the people as possible, so they can make sure and be satisfied that the government is serving them, is serving them for the good of the people.

James Kelly, Scottish Labour

I think the example that you gave about public sector procurement is is quite an illustrative one in terms of this discussion. I think what is important to remember is that one of the things that changed in the Scottish Parliament in that the last session was more income tax was devolved. What that means is that when the Parliament takes budget decisions about how much tax people are paying, the tax they’re paying is directly funding these public sector procurement contracts, which companies are getting large amounts of public money from, so it’s important that they’re accountable to the public as the public are paying directly for that. People are right to challenge and ask questions about how they’ve been paid and also how their employees have been treated. I tried to change procurement law to ensure that the real living wage was mandatory in 2013, and unfortunately that wasn’t successful, and I think that links into the whole issue around freedom of information, and I think the SNP are very defensive on this issue, no doubt when Shirley-Anne comes to speak she’ll speak in glowing terms about transparency and accountability, but their record is one that are quite defensive. Quite often people put in freedom of information requests and they get responses back that there’s no minutes of that meeting, or there’s limited minutes, and that’s simply not good enough, so if we’re going to be serious about accountability and transparency then we need to look again at the rules around public procurement to ensure that the organizations that have been granted these contracts are accountable, and also if the FOI legislation isn’t working then that needs that needs to be changed so that people have access to the information, and also the Government are truly accountable.

Kim Long, Scottish Greens

I think there have been some some good points made here in terms of the need for accountability and transparency. For me as well, and I think specifically I would commend Fraser’s point about charities being able to be critical friends of the government, and having the confidence to be able to tell the truth, and say if they have concerns or if they’ve got  aspects that that needs to be better, and I think they should be able to do that without being worried about their funding. I think that that again is something that we don’t need to be defensive about. I think that can be something that is that is seen as good, because it makes everything it makes it better. It strengthens legislation, it strengthens the process. 

For me as well this is about empowering citizens, so it’s not just about a political opposition to be able to see what’s going on, although that is obviously incredibly important, but it’s also about how citizens can be involved in decisions that are that are made, and what empowerment actually means. Empowerment is a word, community empowerment, that’s that’s been talked of more, and if we want to see genuine community empowerment and that needs to be accessible to people. Thinking about budget processes, and especially obviously I’m coming from this as a local councillor, but you know the day that we take the budget decisions, and which is the most important decision in the whole year, people don’t know what’s happening, people don’t know what’s going on, they have very very limited ability to get involved in those incredibly important decisions, and quite often it’s only after something happens and then six months later then people are kicking up a fuss about it, and rightly so. But that’s a very reactive, very unhelpful way, if we actually want to make things better we need to be able to work with with communities to make sure that people have a way to get involved in decisions as they’re as they’re being made, and that’s about transparency and it’s about accessibility as well. 

Shirley-Anne Somerville, SNP

One of the issues that a couple of people have have brought up there is around this, that the ability for any organization that’s funded by government to be a critical friend or indeed just critical of government. I have to say I absolutely I fundamentally completely agree with the point that they’re making. There have been some, I think, really disturbing accusations made, particularly around the issue of trans rights, that just because the Scottish Government gives a core funding or project funding to an LGBT group or a women’s group, thenthat means that they are somehow saying things just because we want them to say it. Genuinely hand on heart that really disturbed me and disappointed me, because I work very hard with those organisations. I know I have lots of difficult conversations with those organisations, and indeed many others who don’t agree with what the Government’s doing, and that is a fundamental part of our democracy, and I really hope I think that’s something that we can all agree on is is absolutely fundamental to what needs to happen in a society, is that third sector organizations can be critical of government with no fear of what what happens to them. 

The issues around public sector procurement have been something obviously that have been raised particularly in covid, more to the UK government with real concerns, understandable concerns, around PPEcontracts being given to people who seem to have exceptionally close dealings with the Conservative party and donations etc, and the fact that that’s getting discussed and is a concern therefore just leaves an unpleasant taste in everybody’s mouth, and if they fear that the system’s not working for the best use of the people that it’s meant there to serve, but actually just for the politicians and for their their friends and colleagues, and I think that’s something that we do need transparency on. I hope I’m right in saying we’ve not had that similar type of issue up here around contracts and around particularly around covid, and that’s something which I think is because the Scottish Government took that really seriously  to make sure that we we don’t have anything like that up here, because quite rightly that should be condemned at all levels. Even the hint of that perception of that I think is exceptionally damaging all round 

Angela Daly:

We have time to last question and I’m going to ask the candidates to be very brief. How will you and your parties ensure that people’s privacy, particularly in communications, is protected, and also ensure that governments don’t reverse the protections on privacy that we have, and other digital freedoms, and I think particularly in the Scottish case, and given the powers of the Parliament and theGovernment really this is how are you going to ensure this vis-a-vis public agencies in Scotland, and in particular the Police?

Jeremy Balfour , Scottish Conservatives

Just to say thank you again for tonight and for organizing it. I think it’s about public bodies holding information. I actually think we have laws in place which are good. These laws just have to now be enforced. So I don’t see a radical change required in regards to legislation, but I think it’s on monitoring and I think it is making sure that these laws are followed through by public agencies, including the Police, and I think it is right to take those challenges to court then if appropriate.

Fraser Graham, Scottish Liberal Democrats 

As I sort of said in one of my earlier answers, as a party we want to develop the approach taken in Estonia where data is considered to belong to the citizen, and where people have the right to know not just what information is held, but who’s actually had access to information. I think that’s really important when it comes to privacy, not just online but in in the physical realm, when you’re about and you’re getting recorded on cctv, it’s about ensuring that people have the right to know who’s been trying to access what they’ve been doing and why that person’s accessing it, so that they have the opportunity to challenge that where it’s not right. Because everybody should be able to feel safe being online, going out about meeting your friends, making communications, without a risk of some arbitrary rule allowing someone to look at whatever they’re doing when there is actually no need, so having that protection is really important. 

James Kelly, Scottish Labour

Thanks for organising the event, which has been really constructive and well organized. This whole issue of data is one that’s going to continue to to grow and come under scrutiny, particularly around privacy. Two points I would make from a Scottish Labour perspective is the importance of post-legislative scrutiny, so if there are breaches in terms of data, what we need to do is we need to review the Scottish Parliament legislation to see if it needs to be changed to ensure that people have good protections going forward. And the second point I’d make is that the Scottish Parliament committees have got a key role here. We’ve heard throughout the evening the important role of the Scottish Parliament Policing committee in relation to data and privacy breaches and I think that that can continue to be the case.

Kim Long, Scottish Greens 

As I’ve already said, Green MSPs have been really leading the case on this work, so with John Finnie MSP on the use of technology with the Police and raising concerns around the rollout of cyber kiosks, and as I said we need to review their use, and Patrick Harvie has been leading on looking at open document formats and opposing the use of citizen databases,so with a that’s ID cards bill also citizen entitlement card, so I think the commitment I can give is that Green MSPs, whoever is elected, will continue to be to be really strong on this front. We’ll continue to make sure that there are proportionate and sensible protections in place for protecting people’s human and digital rights. Thank you very much for organising this evening.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, SNP

Thanks very much. As has been said I think a number of times throughout this this evening in different formats, data is such a critical issue, people’s privacy is such a critical issue in relation to that, and they will only continue to grow in importance, and I think that’s why it is absolutely integral that whoever is elected and becomes the Scottish Government, or whoever is elected and becomes some of the critical friends within the Parliament in the opposition, we need to all ensure that this is one of our main priorities as we go through, that protection of freedoms, whether it’s with public agencies or and indeed with with private companies, is something that’s important. Access to justice is part of that, but I would actually in a degree consensus to finish off agree with James Kelly, that the role of Scottish Parliament committees can be integral to this as well, and that’s a part of the Scottish Parliament which has maybe had a bit of a tough time in the last session, but I think they can come back for all the stronger for that, because they do have a really critical role to play in ensuring that they’re holding government to account and public agencies to account and they’ve done that very well in the past in certain events. 

Angela Daly:

So thanks very much for in your responses. I’d just like to thank again all the candidates: Jeremy Balfourfrom the Scottish Conservatives, Fraser Graham from the Scottish Liberal Democrats, James Kelly from Scottish Labour, Kim Long from Scottish Greens, and Shirley-Anne Somerville from the Scottish NationalParty.

I also like to thank everyone who tuned into this and sent us questions. I’d also like to thank in addition Amnesty international and the Open Rights Group for organising, and would like to thank my co-moderator Deborah Kayembe as well.

Mike Morel, ORG

Thank you Angela, and on behalf of Open Rights Group Scotland as well as Amnesty Scotland, we’d also like to thank our amazing moderators as well as all the candidates for your time and helping our our members and supporters understand where the parties stand on these important human and digital rights issues. Also thanks, I’ll echo the thanks Angela gave, to the attendees who participated at this late hour or who tuned in I should say and submitted questions both in advance and in the chat during the event. Thanks so much everyone, have a great night.