MPs warn independence would shrink Scotland’s role in transformational development work

by Alastair Osborne, LCID Scottish Officer

When it comes to the debate over Scottish independence, we believe strongly that the return of a Labour Government in 2015 would provide the best opportunity for progressive post 2015 international development goals to be pursued and achieved. We do not feel this should be put at risk by going down the unmarked road of Scottish Independence.

We welcome debate on this issue, writing about it here on our blog. This week the cross party International Development Select Committee has published its report on “Implications for development in the event of Scotland becoming an independent country.” (published 19 December 2013)

Read the full report here. According to the report, an independent Scotland would no longer be able to make a ‘transformational’ contribution to international development.

Sir Malcolm Bruce, Chair of the Committee and MP for Gordon, said:

“The UK’s aid programme, much of which is delivered from Scotland, is genuinely transformational. The UK provided £8.7 billion of aid in 2012/13, but it is the quality of this aid – not just its quantity – which sets the UK apart.

DFID [the Department for International Development] is a world leader in its field, and as a big player on the world stage, the UK also wields considerable influence in multilateral organisations. One example is the World Bank, where the UK has the power to appoint one of the Executive Directors.

As part of the UK, Scotland makes a tremendous contribution to all this. Scots have served as development Ministers in the UK Government and three Scottish MPs, including myself, sit on the International Development Committee.

If Scotland were to become an independent country, its development agency would inevitably be a much smaller player.”

From 2013 onwards, the UK Government plans to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income on Official Development Assistance. If Scotland were to become independent, the UK’s overall GNI – and the amount of money it spends on ODA – would fall.

Scotland has 8.3% of the UK’s population share, so we estimate that the UK’s ODA would fall by around 8.3%, or £1 billion. DFID’s work – either its bilateral programmes or its funding to multilateral organisations – would inevitably then be subject to cuts.

MPs are also concerned that during any transitional period, the restructuring of DFID and the setup of an independent Scottish development agency would divert management attention towards restructuring and away from frontline delivery by both agencies.

In addition, the report notes that a significant proportion of DFID’s workforce is based at its Scottish office in East Kilbride, including a number of senior staff. By contrast, the number of jobs available with an independent Scottish development agency is likely to be relatively few (or the new Scottish development agency would be heavily overstaffed). Estimates indicate the new agency would employ just over a hundred staff in its headquarters, compared to the 604 staff and contractors currently working in DFID’s office in East Kilbride.

Independence for Scotland would damage our ability to do good in the world

by Alastair Osborne, Scottish Officer for LCID

When it comes to the debate over Scottish independence, we believe strongly that the return of a Labour Government in 2015 would provide the best opportunity for progressive post 2015 international development goals to be pursued and achieved. We do not feel this should be put at risk by going down the unmarked road of Scottish Independence.

We welcome debate on this issue, writing about it here on our blog and welcoming the move by Anas Sarwar to secure a Commons Adjournment Debate, as well as the current investigation by the Commons International Development Select Committee.

Last week NIDOS (Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland) added their contribution to the debate with the launch of a new report.  With the support of over 100 Scottish organisations, including Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Mercy Corps, Oxfam and SCIAF, it is the most comprehensive document ever produced by the Scottish sector about Scotland’s contribution to international development.

Ahead of next year’s independence referendum, NIDOS and its members are not advocating any particular constitutional outcome. They do consider it essential that Scotland’s place in building a just world is part of the referendum debate – hence this report which they hope will stimulate a wide ranging debate.

The report sets out a framework for Scotland’s international development policy underpinned by key values: wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity as well as equality, sustainability and solidarity, and argues that any Scottish government, whatever its constitutional status, must consider the global impact of all its policies and activities, not just those directly linked to international development. In other words, any future Scottish Government (whether devolved or independent) should adopt the principle of ‘policy coherence’: the concept that all government departments and policies should comply with, and contribute to, equitable and sustainable global development. The report examines best practice which can also be adopted by the UK Government.

Labour believes there is an overwhelming case that independence would be bad for the future of our international development contribution, but the debate is an opportunity to go beyond merely arguing for a No vote, and instead, to open up a positive debate about how best Scotland and the UK can move forward to a progressive development agenda.