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Scotland’s aid promises

November 28, 2013

The section on international development in the Scottish government’s white paper Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland is enlightened but leaves a few questions unanswered.

International development

Our priorities for action

With a focus on working in partnership and achieving real and  tangible outcomes on the ground, the Scottish Government’s  international development policy seeks to build upon the  historical and contemporary relationships that exist between  Scotland and the developing world. Scotland will seek to  be a global leader in the field of international development,  championing best practice and innovation. Being a global leader  in international development is not necessarily just about the  size of aid given in absolute monetary terms, but the impact that  can be made across government policy. The provision of aid is one tool within international development and an independent Scotland would enshrine a legislative commitment to spending  0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on Official Development Assistance.

Delivering a coherent approach to international development  across all Scottish Government policies – crucially trade,  environment, defence and finance – would be the key to  success and global impact. The Scottish Government therefore has several key propositions that will guide our approach to  development. They are:

  • More and better aid: The Scottish Government would meet  from the point of independence, and thereafter maintain,  the 0.7 per cent target, with an aspiration towards one per  cent over time and ensure Scotland’s aid is of high quality,  including through appropriate geographical and thematic  focus. The Government plans to introduce a legislative basis  to ensure adherence to the 0.7 per cent target as a binding,  statutory commitment
  • Debt relief: The Scottish Government will 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
  • Gender equality: Gender equality and the empowerment  of women are Millennium Development Goals in their own  right. They are also critical to the delivery of other key  development goals including in education and health. An  independent Scotland will put gender equality at the heart  of our development work
  • Do No Harm – ensuring policy coherence: As an expression  of the values driving our foreign policy, this Government will  ensure that other Scottish Government policies do no harm  to developing countries, do not undermine international  development aims and ideally contribute to international  development success – through a rigorous approach  to policy coherence for development. A key example of  this approach is that our Climate Justice Fund and our  International Development Fund are being developed and  implemented within and across Government, providing a  streamlined approach to both international development  and climate change

Scotland’s international development programme will be  delivered as part of an integrated approach to international relations. However, we will not allow commercial or other considerations, including military considerations, to influence  our approach improperly.

Development sections within Scottish overseas offices will  ensure effective delivery of programmes supported by the people of Scotland and will work closely with Scotland’s private  and third sectors, and our civil society partners, to maximise the  impact of both governmental and non-governmental efforts.

The Scottish Government intends under independence to  work with the UK’s Department for International Development  (DFID) to ensure that there is a smooth transition phase for  programmes on the ground in developing countries. There  will be continued support, where appropriate, to those DFID  programmes which span the independence period to avoid any  sudden disruption to those programmes and their recipients.  International development is just one of the areas where future  Scottish and Westminster governments can choose to work  together to complement each other’s activity. Scotland is also  likely to be a significant donor to multilateral organisations  reflecting similar priorities as the UK in this area.

It’s all progressive stuff, especially the commitment to enshrine in law the 0.7% GDP target with the aim of reaching one percent. In Australia and Canada the new conservative governments this year reneged on their country’s promises, cutting international development assistance and merging development with their Departments of Foreign Affairs. Signing the Scottish aid commitment into law would help cut the chances of future governments backtracking: the SNP won’t necessarily govern forever after independence.

0.7% of GDP is a billion quid (using the Institute for Fiscal Studies‘s recent high-end estimates of Scottish GDP including North Sea oil output on a geographic basis), about 10 times what Scotland currently spends on aid. This would be a lot of welcome dosh, and Scotland has already shown it can spend aid money well.

As in Westminster, other departments are likely to get pissed off at the new Scottish overseas development agency raking in a mighty cash pile at a time when resources are stretched thinner than Jim Murphy’s lips. Ring-fencing aid tends not to inspire the love of education, health and transport ministers.

“Delivering a coherent approach to international development  across all Scottish Government policies”, whilst laudable, might therefore prove a challenge. Hitting the target of one percent of GDP, which would place Scottish largesse among its generous Scandinavian neighbours, would be an even bigger ask.

But it’s still a good idea. Scotland has long had an enlightened political culture in which the needs of the worst-off are considered important, unlike the increasingly poisonous culture of Westminster in which the elitist fop Boris Johnson today set out his case for Tory leadership by “mocking the 16% “of our species” with an IQ below 85″.

Scotland, a country which profits from globalisation and which helped perpetrate some of the iniquities of colonialism, recognises that it must contribute to global welfare. Aid is in the interests of Scotland, promoting political stability and lowering the cost of doing business internationally (Sudanese piracy adds up to a tenth to shipping costs). Finally, Scotland gets to look good in the world. 

The promise not to burden developing countries with more debt is another sensible piece of policy, as is pledging to “do no harm”. It’s no accident that the sections of the white paper before and after are on international relations and defence. Many thoughtful commentators recognise that rich countries and international institutions continue to undermine their international development efforts by flogging unwanted loans to the governments of poor countries, selling them arms and providing havens for dictators to hide ill-gotten cash. Alongside that billion quid it’s probably just as important to make sure Scottish companies don’t pollute the world, or exploit Chinese workers, or pay bribes to African kleptocrats.

Doing no harm, though, is easily fudgeable. That’s why i’d have liked to see a commitment to rein in the financial sector. One of the biggest pieces of harm done by rich countries over the past decade was to destabilise the world economy. The financial weapons of mass destruction so favoured by the likes of Royal Bank of Scotland caused mayhem in the developing world.

The collapse in international trade that followed the global economic crisis hurt all countries, developing and industrialised. When European orders for flowers dropped Kenyan farm workers sat idle. Foreign investment inflows dwindled. Overseas aid wilted as rich governments rejigged their budgets. By the time the rich recovered it was too late for the poor, for whom austerity meant eating less and not sending kids to school. 

Why in the white paper was there no commitment to curbing tax evasion? For every dollar that goes in to developing countries, ten dollars drains out, partly facilitated by big finance and secrecy jurisdictions. Why so little to curtail finance? If Scotland really wants to show it cares about the world’s poorest it should promise to stamp out tax evasion and tackle tax havens. The City of Edinburgh should recognise that the City of London is no model to follow. The Royal Bank of Scotland debacle wasn’t just a tragedy for Britain, it was a problem for the world.

Salmond obviously doesn’t want to ruffle British government feathers unduly, so he’s obviously conciliatory on the issue of how to take over Scotland’s bit of the Department for International Development. Scottish development minister Humza Yousaf has promised to protect the jobs of the half of DfID staff who work in East Kilbride. It seems likely he’d transfer a lot of them to new Scottish government departments.

But lots of people think DfID is beginning to lose its enlightened edge, contracting out too many projects and confusing foreign relations with aid. It’d be good to see Scotland take a different path, keeping a proportion of important development jobs in-house and making sure that aid stays apolitical.


Not that it’s directly connected with aid, but on p.227 the white paper says Scotland will join the World Trade Organisation. Referring to the European Court of Human Rights, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Commonwealth and the WTO, the paper says: “Each of these organisations has its own procedure for membership. Scotland is already a member of them through the UK, and so already meets the essential requirements. Following a vote for independence, the Scottish Government will initiate steps to ensure Scotland’s membership as an independent country as swiftly as possible.”

Not so fast. One of the areas I work on — WTO accession — has to be done according to a strict schedule. A working party of members is established and a process of negotiations undertaken under article XII of the WTO agreement. Of the 31 accessions to the WTO since it was formed in 1997 at least 11 were new countries which had split from a bigger one: Albania, Macedonia, Estonia, Kyrgyz Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan and the Ukraine. All had to negotiate a separate accession agreement based on new negotiations. All underwent a more rigorous trade liberalisation process than predecessors based on the WTO principle of progressive liberalisation. Scotland’s trade policy is already very open as part of the UK, but it can’t expect to join the WTO automatically. Presumably it’ll have to go through the same process as the other 24 accessions currently underway.

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