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Eilidh Whiteford, MP for Banff & Buchan

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Independence Could Help Us Build on Our Long-standing Spirit of Internationalism

Thursday, 11 July 2013

 from the Herald

In his Agenda article earlier this week Labour's Alastair Osborne asked: "Should Scotland be an internationalist country?" This struck me as rather strange question, as I'd long been under the impression that it already was, and that no-one was arguing otherwise.

Indeed, this year Scotland and Malawi have joined together to celebrate the bicentenary of one of our true internationalists, David Livingstone. His legacy is seen in the many links that continue to thrive today between Scotland and Malawi – between individuals, families, schools, churches, communities, civil society and government. In recent years politicians have worked together on a cross-party basis to support these links – with former First Minister Jack McConnell leading efforts to establish inter-government relations eight years ago and current First Minister Alex Salmond ensuring the relationship remains vibrant and healthy in welcoming Malawian President Joyce Banda to Scotland back in March.

However, Scotland's international role has not just been warm words and a warm welcome. Despite international development being reserved to London, successive Scottish Governments have funded international development work across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and at times of humanitarian disaster have funded relief efforts from Haiti to Sri Lanka, Gaza to Syria. These efforts have received strong support across all of the political parties in Holyrood, as well as from the Scottish public – not least the quarter of a million people, myself included – who marched round Edinburgh eight years ago demanding action to Make Poverty History.

This spirit of internationalism will, I believe, continue and grow with independence. In fact it is the UK whose record on international development has been lacking. Despite fine words and sentiments, for 43 years the UK failed to meet the UN target to spend 0.7% of wealth on aid set in 1970. By contrast our small independent European neighbours met the target many years ago. Sweden met it in 1974 and by 1975 was joined by the Netherlands. Norway and Denmark reached it in 1976 and 1978 respectively, and all four countries have met it ever since. Luxembourg joined the group in 2000.

For all the grand rhetoric of various Labour politicians, the 0.7% target was not met during the many years when Gordon Brown was Chancellor and Prime Minister. Funding for illegal warfare in Iraq was sourced without difficulty. Funding for life-saving development and humanitarian aid was stubbornly elusive. The UK will, at last, meet the target this year some 43 years after the promise was made.

Yet in contrast to the cross-party support in Scotland, there are those on the Tory backbenches in Westminster who are opposed to meeting the 0.7% target, and lobbied hard for it to be dropped. They seem to forget that almost 19,000 under-fives die from poverty-related conditions every day, and that 800 women die in childbirth or from pregnancy complications. Such poverty is a political issue. Almost all these deaths are preventable through low-cost interventions; to stand aside, to pretend it's nothing to do with us, or convince ourselves we can't make a difference runs counter to a current that runs deep through Scottish history and culture. We are all, let us not forget, Jock Tamson's bairns.

These are the reasons why NGOs such as Oxfam and Christian Aid have called for the 0.7% target to be enshrined in legislation. This would protect aid spending for the future, and in fact it was proposed in the Coalition agreement, yet notably absent from the Queen's Speech. The Scottish Government has pledged that an independent Scotland would act on this to protect aid spending in the future.

This is just one example of how, with the powers of independence, Scotland has the capacity to develop a robust approach to international development – building on our existing work including our world leading and ground breaking initiatives on climate change and climate justice, championing the ethos of "do no harm", supporting development education in our schools, and meeting our aid targets – and yes, building on our long-standing spirit of internationalism.

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