On Friday 26th March, a day of big political announcements ahead of the Holyrood elections, Scotland’s International Development Alliance hosted a lively, online question time asking how we can build a fairer world from Scotland.
Representatives from all five main Holyrood political parties outlined how they would tackle poverty, climate change and sustainable development globally ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections and the UN COP26 meeting in Glasgow later this year.
At the event chaired by renowned campaigner Talat Yaqoob, around 100 members of the public had the chance to put their questions to SNP’s Jenny Gilruth MSP, Minister for Europe and International Development, Scottish Greens co leader Patrick Harvie, Liberal Democrats environment spokesperson Liam McArthur, Scottish Conservative Shadow Economy spokesman Maurice Golden, and Scottish Labour International Development spokesperson Katy Clark.
There were also questions from partners around the globe including from Tanzania, Nicaragua and Rwanda. Questions focused on the cuts to the UK official development assistance (ODA) budget from 0.7% to 0.5%, achieving an equitable commitment to COP26 (which is being held in Glasgow later in the year), and where funding might be most effective in future. Key themes across the evening were the response to COVID-19, achieving net-zero carbon emissions and building resilience, with a focus on prevention of future disasters.
The politicans were also asked about practical aspects of what we call policy coherence for sustainable development – focusing on what positive change looks like in Scotland and the countries where we work. Is our policy consistent and joined up? Discussions also included how we can build responsible travel and tourism within Scotland, and how we could reduce our carbon footprint by taking less international flights for our work around the world.
Further questions touched on topics like the Wellbeing and Sustainable Development Bill, what a just transition looks like, and export restrictions and how they relate to arms deals.
All these topics link clearly to the Alliance’s five point plan which calls on the next Scottish Government to:
- Tackle poverty and ensure promoting equality and solidarity with the most vulnerable is at the heart of everything it does
- Build an economy that puts people and planet first
- Champion climate justice and pledge support for those hardest hit by climate change
- Protect and enhance Scotland’s international development work to play it’s part in the fight against global poverty
- Invest in Global Citizenship education to empower future generations of Scots to build more inclusive, peaceful and secure societies
On tackling poverty, Labour’s Katy Clark said her party supported the Alliance’s call for a Wellbeing and Sustainable Development Bill, “Labour will support a Wellbeing and Sustainable Development Act and what we mean by that is…all public bodies will be responsible for setting objectives towards sustainable development outcomes and looking at the impact their policies have on people and the environment, both here in Scotland and globally…and continue to support Scotland’s status as a Fair Trade Nation.”
On building a sustainable economy, Scottish Green’s Patrick Harvie said his party wanted to see a more ambitious transition from fossil fuels. “People like to talk about a Just Transition. But they don’t necessarily like to talk about a transition on the scale that is required on fossil fuels. We still have a UK and Scottish Government willing to support new exploration licences for oil and gas and to continue with existing licences. Transition is not about diversification…it’s also about the stuff we have to stop doing. Most parties are not at that point.”
On climate justice, Scottish Lib Dems’ Liam McArthur said the forthcoming COP26 needed to be inclusive and represent those most affected by climate change. “Our partner countries in international development need to have their voices heard. We need solutions that make sense. COP26 needs to hear from those affected, for example in Malawi, we have seen aid to support sustainable development being transferred into emergency assistance, whether floods or disasters.”
On international development, Scottish Conservatives’ Maurice Golden defended the UK government’s cuts to aid which were criticised by the other candidates and said he hoped they would be restored to previous levels. “I am confident the UK will remain a world leader with very few countries having done more to lift countries out of poverty or tackle climate change. There are also figures that don’t count as aid such as £½ bn to peace keeping and security or £4bn to IMF lending. During Labour’s time in their first 13 years, they spent £62 million in aid and the Conservative Government in just six years went beyond that. But I hope that soon, we will restore the UK level of contributions.”
All the party candidates were agreed on the importance of Global Citizenship education in schools in Scotland.
Alliance chair Simon Anderson said:
“With the Holyrood elections just weeks away, this is a critical opportunity for political parties to set out how they would ensure the next Scottish Government would play a positive role on the world stage. Scotland will enter the global spotlight as Glasgow hosts the vital UN COP26 climate change negotiations in November. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that our economic prosperity and wellbeing is inextricably linked to the poverty and environmental threats experienced elsewhere.
“If we are serious about building a fairer, greener world, then we should lead from the front and encourage other nations to follow. It is vital that when the political parties release their manifestos ahead of the election, we see the kind of ambition needed to help Scotland rise to that challenge and become a global leader in sustainable development.
“The next Scottish Government must renew, and increase, Scotland’s actions towards global sustainable development. The level of financial commitment to supporting sustainable development, and tackling inequalities and humanitarian suffering is critical, but direct funding alone is not enough to end global poverty. The whole of government, local authorities and other sectors need to pull together to achieve shared universal goals and craft responses to multiple crises in systematic ways.”
In particular, we know that the climate crisis demands major action and transformational change across all sectors urgently. But action here cannot be done in isolation. The worst impacts of climate change continue to be felt by people – too often women and girls – in the poorest regions around the world, compounding the public health emergency while many millions more are forced into poverty. How does a mother wash her daughter’s hands and keep a social distance when they live in a slum with no clean water?
Esther Sekani, a participant in the Scottish Government funded Climate Challenge Programme Malawi, says: “We can see the climate change here. This year the harvest is bad. We don’t know if there will be enough food. When I was young there were lots of trees, more food. It seems there is less now.”
The full Alliance 2021 manifesto is available here.
Want to read a summary of the conversations? You can view the social media conversation by searching for the hashtag #AllianceQT.