Speech from Rt Hon. Alex Salmond to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

Wednesday 11 October 2017, Palais de l'Europe, Strasbourg, France

As I have listened to this debate, my mind has turned to the figure of David Maxwell Fyfe. 
He was the first rapporteur of the very first legal committee who brought to this Assembly our foundation Convention on Human Rights.

What would Maxwell Fyfe have made of our progress over these last 70 years?

First, he would be pleased that the foundation Convention has been supplemented by many other conventions over the years.

Second, he would be gratified that the lives of tens of millions of our fellow European citizens have been improved by the exercise of these rights - even if few of them have anything more than a vague awareness of the existence of this body.

Third, he would be delighted that the number of participating countries has increased from the original 12 to the current 47.

However, he would still have the questions that have preoccupied this debate today and in particular raised in an excellent report from Mr Tiny Kox.

How do we make our high ideals enforceable and how do we therefore make our decisions consistently meaningful.

The proposals made by Mr Kox are entirely sensible. However, there are two other things which are required.

The first of these is the clarity of thinking of this Assembly and its officers. Let me give you an example.

On Monday, I was really disappointed to see a statement from our Secretary General issued after a meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister in which he stressed the importance of the unity of Spain. 

The unity of Spain or indeed the independence of Catalonia are not matters for this Assembly or its officers. They are a matter for Spain and Catalonia. 

What is a matter for this Assembly is the right of Catalans to exercise their rights of free expression under Article 10 of our Convention without being beaten up by the Spanish state police.

In that light, I was pleased to see the strong statements from our Human Rights Commissioner and indeed our then acting President Sir Roger Gale on Monday. 

However, we have to be clear that our purpose is not constitutionality but enforcement of human rights. It should be noted that, given our Convention is part of the Spanish constitution, that member state finds itself in clear breach not only of our Convention but their own constitution in supposedly defending constitutionality.

That brings me to my second point.  This Assembly must have the self-regard to speak without fear or favour when these flagrant breaches occur. It is not enough for individuals to have redress through the Strasbourg Court. There has to be a collective and timeous upholding of rights. It doesn't mean that each and every demonstrable breach of Convention rights should be met with penalty far less expulsion.

What it does mean is that the moral force of this Assembly upholding key European values should be felt by those in state power.

My last point is this.

David Maxwell Fyfe was a Scottish lawyer and a Conservative MP. 

I am a Scot but not a lawyer and certainly not a Conservative. 

However, as First Minister of Scotland, I was able to agree in the Edinburgh Agreement of 2012 with a UK Conservative Prime Minister a means by which the people of Scotland were able to exercise their right of free expression and self-determination in peaceful, dignified and democratic fashion.

Now Scotland is not Catalonia and Spain is not England. The two situations have many differences both historical and constitutional. 

However, one thing is the same. With proper accord to the principles which we hold so dear it should be just possible to find an agreement if not on constitutional destination but at least on the democratic means of decision which will enable Catalonia and Spain to find some settlement of their disagreement.

We should be self-confident enough to see a role for our Assembly in assisting such a process.
If we were to do so then it would be yet another achievement of which David Maxwell Fyfe and our other founding spirits could be proud.