Make Poverty History, Edinburgh, 2005/wikimedia
The Scottish Government's white paper highlights 4 key areas of priority in international development. One of these is debt relief – reflecting the asks of diverse coalition of organisations across Scotland who make up Jubilee Scotland. This also reflects a clear divergence from UK government's priorities, where Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Vince Cable stated earlier this year that (against Liberal Democrat policy) there would be no audit of debts owed to the UK.
The Scottish Government currently has a pretty good track record on international development. Bypassing the fact the it is technically a reserved issue, they have created a £9m international development fund and a climate justice fund (recently increased to £6m) and their innovative method for distributing it, by focussing on key target areas and themes, is seen by many as more effective than the UK mode
In the hefty 670 page white paper, there is not much space given over to international development (although forgive me if I've missed a section – the huge demand this morning proved a bit too much for the website and I have only been able to download it in chunks!), but this is reflective of the fact that there is little significant change here from what Scotland already does in this field. The four key priority areas highlighted bear out the Scottish Government's stated desire to be a 'world leader' in international development.
Firstly the commitment to “more and better aid” and a promise to enshrine the 0.7% commitment agreed to in a UN resolution in 1970, but only pledged by the UK government this year, in legislation. It also speaks of an aspiration to increase this to 1%, bringing it in line with Norway, a model country for many of the Scottish Government's policies.
For those who remember the three central aims of the Make Poverty History Campaign in 2005, it is a familiar sight see debt highlighted alongside aid. And the second priority area of debt marks the only one which would change significantly with Scottish Independence, with Scotland inheriting a share of the debts currently owed to UK Export Finance. In the white paper, the Scottish government pledges to:
“give careful consideration to the question of unjust" debts; will work to ensure that Scottish export policies do not create new unjust debts; and support moves to establish Scotland as an international centre for debt arbitration”
While this is not the total commitment to conduct a debt audit that Jubilee Scotland campaign for, the use of the phrase “unjust debt” is in itself something the Government should be applauded for – recognising the concept of illegitimacy in global debt opens the doors for its cancellation. By committing to ensuring that Scottish exports do no create new unjust debts they are again recognising the unequal global systems which create debt (and slyly having a dig at the UK Government's Export Finance department which is under fire from debt campaigners at the same time!). Finally the commitment to support the establishing of Scotland as a seat for international debt cancellation; an innovative policy which would firmly establish a niche for Scotland in the world and a clear example of Scotland using its expertise for good.
Gender is highlighted as the third priority area, with no specific policy asks but instead a commitment to “put gender equality at the heart of our development work”. A laudable aim, but with no specific methods for doing so included in the document, not really giving us much to go on, so forgive me if I don't dwell on this.
Finally, the principal of 'Do No Harm' – striving for policy coherence and ensuring that other departments within the Scottish Government do not undermine international development aims. The idea of policy coherence is highlighted in the Network of International Development Organisations Scotland (NIDOS)'s excellent report 'Scotland's Place in the World', which must take the credit for this ask appearing in the white paper. At a launch event for the NIDOS project last year, International Development Minister Humza Yousaf spent much of the day deep in conversation with the opening speaker, a Swedish expert in policy coherence, and the Swedish example is a great one to follow in this area.
Unfortunately, this final aim is not always upheld even within the white paper itself. In the international development section, we have clearly seen a commitment to non-damaging exports. In the sections not meant for the eyes of international development hacks though, any mention of exports is only accompanied with promises to boost them. Ensuring exports do not create unjust debt means transparency, restrictions on damaging projects and more regulation. If policy coherence is to become a reality, this needs to be mentioned when discussing how Scotland can have a flourishing export market. Similarly, the phase 'Do No Harm' is only mentioned twice in the document, in the one paragraph about the principle itself. (again, with the caveat above about difficulty accessing all the document!).
Overall, the international development aims in the white paper are to be welcomed. There are clear commitments to make Scotland's contribution to the world ambitious and effective, regardless of size or budget, and a commitment to policy coherence which continues the current successes of the climate justice and international development funds. Debt justice could be an area where Scotland is able to show itself globally to be a nation which does development differently, and operates in solidarity with vulnerable nations around the world. It's inclusion as one of the 4 priorities should be welcomed as a demonstration of the Scottish Government's willingness to confront global injustices. What is also clear though is that if Scotland votes for independence, development agencies will have our work cut out to ensure that the laudable aims of the government's international development wing are truly reflected across policy.
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