Amidst the fever of the independence referendum debate in Scotland on issues such as currency, financial services and pensions, Lynne Featherstone and I took part in a series of engagements in Glasgow recently which reinforced with me what would be lost in terms of international development if Scotland voted to leave the Union.
As a former International Development spokesperson for the Party I am still passionate about this issue. I’m proud that the issues we as Lib Dems have long campaigned for have become a reality in government. Lynne and her team at DFID have worked tirelessly to make this happen.
Scotland, as part of the UK, has a big aid budget: the size and scale of the UK means our spending power on aid is vast. I’m proud of the fact that this year, we’ll be the first G8 country to devote 0.7% of our GNI in overseas aid – one of only six countries in the world to do so.
Our aid budget has already supported 5.3 million children to go to school (2.5m girls), distributed 12.2m bed nets to protect people against malaria and prevented 2.7m children and pregnant women from going hungry.
In Malawi, where Scotland has a historic connection from David Livingstone that continues today, Lynne’s department spent £115m in the last year alone, and is delivering real outcomes for people. We have helped to ensure that more than 100,000 babies will be born with the help of skilled medical professionals and around a quarter of a million more girls attend primary school in Malawi. Scotland also contributes an additional £5.75m to Malawi through the Scottish Government’s aid programme.
Scotland, as part of the UK, has international clout on overseas aid: we have a seat at the top table, we can get issues on to the international agenda and we can lead the way showing global leadership such as our Nutrition for Growth work with G8 leaders.
On my visit to Glasgow, I discussed ending global hunger with pupils from St Charles’ Primary School who were learning about why the G8 must act now to stop 1 in 8 people not having enough food in the world. Our achievements meant I could look them in the eye and reassure them that we are using our influence to lead on this issue at the G8.
Scotland, as part of the UK, also contributes with its expertise to DFID’s work. DFID has 550 staff in Scotland in their East Kilbride office. They work with governments, business, civil society organisations and communities around the world to tackle global poverty and inequality. Scottish aid agencies are partners with DFID as part of its civil society work.
With the scale of the UK’s development aid budget, the global network of DFID offices and Foreign Office embassies combined with a seat and voice at all the key negotiating tables, means Scotland can make a key contribution towards tackling poverty around the world. Scotland achieves so much as part of the UK on international development than we would as a separate country.
In fact, all this positive work would be lost if Scotland became independent as we would have to start from scratch to develop our overseas aid programme and relationships with other governments and we would lose our influence to show global leadership.
Let’s celebrate our achievements on overseas aid instead of putting it at risk.
* Michael Moore was the Liberal Democrat MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk from 1997-2015 and Secretary of State for Scotland from 2010-2013.