Interview: Scotland’s place in building a just world

Interview: Scotland’s place in building a just world

Date: 30 May 2014

In September, Scottish people will go to the polls to vote on whether we want independence from the UK. The independence referendum debate has taken over the airwaves here in Scotland, but debate has centred on domestic and economic policy: what currency we would have, whether we will be richer, how our economy will fare if we became independent – all important issues. But there has been very little debate about Scotland’s place in the wider world.

This is why WDM Scotland got involved with the 2014 Matters debates: a series of events across the country that brought politicians, academics and activists together to debate the role Scotland can play in the world – whatever the outcome in September. The events were well attended and we had some very interesting discussions.

The final event took place in Edinburgh and featured Jim Murphy MP, shadow secretary of state for international development and Humza Yousaf, Scottish government minister at the Department of External Affairs and International Development, alongside Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland. One of the main topics of discussion was policy coherence: how to ensure policies on tax, investment, development and aid work together, rather than cancelling one another out, when tackling global poverty. Listen to the podcast of the event


Jim Murphy MP debating with Humza Yousaf MSP at a 2014 matters event

Jim Murphy MP and Humza Yousaf MSP on the panel of the final 2014 Matters event in Edinburgh.

After the event, WDM interviewed Jim Murphy MP and Humza Yousaf MSP on their vision for the future of Scotland.

WDM: Would Scotland’s contribution to global equality through overseas aid money be more effective with Scottish independence or if the UK remained unified?

Humza Yousaf: With the powers of independence Scotland can ensure that never again do we fail to meet our promises to the world’s poorest.  For 42 of the last 43 years the UK have failed to meet the United Nations target to spend 0.7% of GNI on aid – resulting in £87.5 billion of missing aid over the period since 1970 – aid that would definitely have saved and changed lives.

The Centre for Development’s Contribution to Development Index highlights the influence that small independent countries such as Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden and Ireland can play in making a difference. Our commitment to meet the 0.7% target, and crucially our commitment to enshrining it in law, as well as focussing on gender equality, policy coherence and consideration of unjust debts will ensure that an independent Scotland can play a big role in making this a more equal world. 

Scotland’s unique approach to international development, with its focus on working in partnership with developing countries, sharing Scotland’s knowledge and expertise and piloting innovative projects has made a significant contribution to the global fight against poverty and inequality and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. We have achieved Fair Trade Nation status and the Scottish Government’s International Development and Climate Justice Funds have supported work throughout the world on education, healthcare, gender equality and mitigating the impact of climate change. With independence we could do much more.  An independent Scotland would seek to be a global leader in international development, championing best practice and innovation.

Jim Murphy: No one has any idea of what the international development policy would be under independence. There is no development policy on the referendum ballot paper. The only thing that will be decided is should we be a separate state. The one certainty is that on development we are far stronger, far more influential as part of a United Kingdom.

 Today, Scotland has an everyday influence in world events. I have met so many Scots in the Royal Navy, serving on ships built on the Clyde and Rosyth delivering lifesaving aid directed by staff from East Kilbride. We should be really proud of those people, the Scottish aid workers and the hundreds of Scots still serving in Afghanistan today. We can force a change because development is a policy where we are a superpower with the second biggest development budget in the world. As part of DfID we have made a real difference – we’ve helped lift 3 million people out of poverty a year, supported 40 million children into education and provided global leadership on funding the Millennium Development Goals.

It’s another one of those areas where only a Nationalist could see the hidden logic of walking out.

WDM: Increasing involvement of the private sector in the provision of aid by DfID to countries in the global south is a development that worries WDM and we have argued that it undermines social justice. Do you agree? And if so, which outcome of the independence referendum would be more likely to change this?

Humza Yousaf: Aid quality and aid effectiveness must always be to the forefront in delivering aid assistance, and international best practice, including the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness, must always be met.

I understand concerns about the direction the current UK government is taking the UK aid budget, and I am clear that aid standards must be met in every case. Furthermore I have concerns about UK government plans to divert aid spending to defence spending, something the Scottish government opposes.

International development is not just about aid but also supporting sustainable economic growth for developing countries through trade and investment and that is where we believe the private sector can have the biggest positive impact. Indeed, I have been very encouraged by recent discussions between Scottish investors and Malawi’s Trade and Investment body, which we hope will result in job and wealth creation in Malawi. However, NGOs can and must continue to provide an important sense-check for government in this regard.

Jim Murphy: The private sector, along with governments, civil society, supranational organisations and aid agencies has a vital role to play in development – but none should be at the expense of social justice.

The private sector can help spur on growth and economic growth has the potential to be the engine that drives development. But we should be clear: growth without jobs, inclusion, healthcare, education, human rights  – growth without power, won’t do.

So Labour will put empowering the powerless at the heart of the Department for International Development, and a commitment to social justice will be at its core, because that is what true development is about. So in government Labour will learn from the best innovations across the world, to tackle some of the structures of inequality.

The best way to secure a progressive and ambitious DfID is to have a strong Labour government at the heart of a strong United Kingdom. We don’t have to change our passports to get a fairer country.

WDM: The Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland’s (NIDOS) manifesto ‘Scotland’s Place in Building a Just World’ proposes that the Scottish and UK governments should aspire to the principal of ‘do no harm’ across government departments. This is about policy coherence.  Policies on global trade, debt and tax have a significant impact on countries on the global south, cancelling out the good work done through aid. Would a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ vote be most effective in enabling us to challenge the status quo on this issue?

Humza Yousaf: In Scotland’s Future we committed to a coherent approach to international development across Scottish government policies through the Do No Harm proposition. Indeed this is a policy direction I have championed since coming into post, and I am glad that NIDOS back our stance in this matter.

The UK sadly have a track record which has lacked policy coherence in international development – for example providing Export Credit Guarantees to back the export of arms to regimes which have broken humanitarian law.  

 Already we are working cross-department in the Scottish government to support international development aims – e.g, through support for Scotland’s network of Development Education Centres. With the powers of independence we can work to ensure trade, defence and other departments do not undermine Scotland’s work on international development.

Jim Murphy: Securing progress on trade, debt and tax require global agreements. As part of the UK we have a powerful voice and a proven track record on the global stage. Under the last Labour government the UK was the driving force behind the Gleneagles agreement in 2005 to drop third world debt.

 We were only able to do that because of our size and strength. As part of the UK, Scotland has a seat on the UN Security Council and a leading role in the G8, NATO and the EU, and we have real clout amongst the international community.

Today, because of all of those advantages, Scotland is a part of a leading global voice for progressive change. An independent Scotland would have none of those advantages. 

WDM: Finally, could you share the vision you have for Scotland with regard to its impact on the wider world, and the contribution of the Scottish people to that vision, post the referendum on independence this September?

Humza Yousaf: The Scottish government has an ambitious vision of the role Scotland could play as a global citizen.  We have a unique contribution to offer the world through our people’s expertise on climate change and energy, education, health improvement and research along with our innovative approach to international development. We are already making a significant contribution but with independence we could do much more. The first minister has set out his aspiration that an independent Scotland would be a “progressive beacon”.  With independence we could fulfil that aspiration and achieve our potential as a nation contributing fully to the international community, and playing a leading role in international development.

Jim Murphy: There is so much wrong with the world that has to be put right. As part of the United Kingdom, we can make a difference and have the best of both worlds: significant decision making powers here in Scotland together with the strength, stability and security that being part of the UK brings in an unstable world. As part of the UK the Scottish people have a seat at the top table. That’s where we belong. That’s the way to a better future for Scotland and the way for Scotland to help shape a better world.