“Should Scotland be an internationalist country – Yes/No”
Now that would be a debate worth having. In all the discussion that has taken place on the forthcoming Independence Referendum, a great deal has been said about Scotland’s potential status in the world (European Union; NATO; UN), but very little has been said about Scotland’s contribution to the world. The debate needs to focus much more on the practical and political implications and impact of independence. Some very useful work has been done in this respect on the implications for defence. However, virtually nothing has been said about the possible impact on International Development. The Scottish Government has begun to treat its small but very effective Scottish International Development Fund as if it were an embryonic DFID. It only exists because of a provision in the Scotland Act which allows for the Scottish Government to ‘assist Ministers of the Crown’ in this reserved area. However the SNP Government has used this and the post of Minister for External Affairs and International Development to create a kind provisional Scottish Foreign Office.
The Minister for External Affairs. Humza Yasouf, is on record as saying earlier this year that an independent Scotland will increase its International Development Fund from around £9m at present to hundreds of millions and that Scotland’s aspiration would be to surpass a target of 0.7% of national income and aim for 1%.
This leap over logic completely ignores the fact that Scotland already contributes nearly £1billion to the UK overseas development total of £10.7billion (which includes the Scottish Government’s £9m fund). Scots do this through their 9.6% contribution to the UK tax take.
Should Scotland become independent it will in all probability have an international development budget of ‘hundreds of millions’ because it will have access to the tax take that previously contributed to the UK. This will depend on the political priorities of a Scottish Government, and, crucially, the resources available to it. But there will be a loss of the economy of scale of UK Aid in all the bilateral projects and the multilateral projects through Europe, World Bank; UN; G8 etc will not have the benefit of the UK’s considerable influence and experience in shaping and delivering programmes. As for the boasting that Scotland will sail past the 0.7% target and go for 1%, this is just one more example of where the SNP are prepared to promise extra resources (often the same resources) for all kinds of things. The financial dividend of Scotland becoming non nuclear is promised to fund conventional defence forces we can be proud of; it is also promised for much needed housing regeneration; and now for increases in international development. Experts are not even convinced that an independent Scotland will become non nuclear, and, if so, that there will be a non nuclear dividend.
In reaching its 0.7% target, the UK joins a very select group currently comprising only five countries within the Development Assistance Committee that have reached the target of 0.7% of their national income in aid: Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark and Luxembourg. Many other countries that the SNP hold out to be examples of the benefits that accrue from independence are well below the target.
A very important but separate issue is the impact that independence would have on the 500 plus DFID jobs currently located at Abercrombie House in East Kilbride. The balance of work in East Kilbride has moved from what it was originally set up as—effectively a transactional and corporate support function—to one that’s much more part of the core headquarters of the Department with responsibility for bilateral and multilateral projects. Just as with the debate on defence, there would be no simple transfer of Scottish based jobs or services to a Scottish Government. These jobs serve the whole DFID operation and there would have to be a disentanglement of the whole operation. A continuing UK DFID would not locate a third of its staff in another country.
The SNP like to paint a picture of an independent Scotland where, free from the shackles of the UK, Scotland can pursue its natural preference for progressive politics. Scotland doesn’t need to look to an independent future to achieve a progressive contribution to international development. We can be proud of our progressive record to date as part of the UK. Labour MPs from Scotland have helped secure UK majority Labour Governments committed to pushing international development high up the political agenda. Labour appointed the first Minister of Overseas Development, established DFID with a Secretary of State in the cabinet; doubled the aid budget; secured debt relief; set in place the 0.7% target of national income by 2013; and in 2013 that target is reached Today Scots can be immensely proud of their contribution to that record. Millions more children are in school, mothers give birth safely and AIDS sufferers have access to life-saving medicines because of decisions made by the Labour Government they helped elect. Budget after budget, international summit after international summit, a Labour Government fought on the side of the poor and the marginalised and transformed their lives for the better – and established Britain as a leading force for social justice in the world.
Leading figures on that path have included many Scottish MPs – Judith Hart; Tom Clarke; George Foulkes; Douglas Alexander and Gordon Brown. However, Scottish Independence would lead to the withdrawal of all Scottish MPs from Westminster, putting at risk the likelihood of a progressive majority to support keeping international development high on the political agenda of the rest of the UK. When the Tories came to power in 1979 the aid budget stood at 0.51% of national income. By the time Labour got back into office in 1997 it had shrunk to 0.26%. It could happen again. There might be the political will in an independent Scotland to maintain the 0.7% target; even to raise it to 1% – but 1% of what? Already the UK development budget is less than it should have been because of the Tories’ failed economic policies and there are powerful sections of the Tory Party who would like to see overseas aid cut. Labour’s record and commitment to maintaining and developing our international development goals are proven. The return of a Labour Government in 2015 would provide the opportunity for progressive post 2015 international development goals to be pursued and achieved. Why put this at risk by going down the unmarked road of Scottish Independence?
Alastair Osborne is Scottish Officer for LCID