Discussing international development with the Scottish Parliament


By Dr Neil Thin

On 1st May 2014, Neil Thin represented the University of Edinburgh and the Global Development Academy at the Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee in a meeting to discuss the Scottish Government’s proposals for an independent Scotland’s international development policy and aid programme. Discussions were structured around evidence submitted in response to four explicit principles articulated in the policy proposals, namely:

  • More and better aid: the policy would be guided by a binding, statutory commitment to meet the aid expenditure target of 0.7 per cent of GDP, hoping to rise to 1% of GDP, which would likely be £1-1.3 billion per year.
  • Debt relief: The policy would seek to avoid creation of any new “unjust” debts, and would establish procedures for debt arbitration
  • Gender equality: Gender equality would be ‘at the heart’ of the policy both as a goal and as a procedural principle
  • Do No Harm and policy coherence would be guiding values of all foreign policy, including development cooperation.

GDA’s comments, submitted prior to the meeting, proved influential in prompting critical, but generally supportive discussions, which will be reported in full shortly in the public minutes of the EER Committee.

The committee considered various ways in which such a colossal leap in aid expenditure could be managed responsibly, noting particularly the important role that major multilateral aid channels and direct budget support (as opposed to projectised aid) would have to play.

There were also discussions regarding Scotland’s aspirations to exercise ‘global leadership’, vis-à-vis its more modest aspirations to continue developing constructive aid partnerships with a very small number of countries and agencies.

Regarding the ‘do no harm’ policy, we had sounded a warning that this must not be used as an excuse for risk-aversion, which can reduce the ability of aid to reach those most in need. We also noted that ‘policy coherence’ implied a quite separate set of important issues that could not be reduced to the avoidance of harm. The meeting paid considerable attention to the need to establish structures to promote policy coherence and synergies between aid and non-aid pathways through which Scotland influences global development.

Regarding the ‘gender equality’ rubric, we had also raised the question as to whether other rubrics might be more helpful and realistic, such as ‘gender justice’ or ‘gender equity’. The discussion linked this with the need for any development cooperation policy to be based not only on vague principles, but more importantly on inspirational goals, including specific achievable forms of gender progress.

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