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Scottish Parliament: International Development (11 Jan 2017)

On Wednesday 11th January, I spoke at a debate on Scottish Development International. Below is an extract from that speech.

The Government’s international development strategy document touches on a wide range of matters, but I will focus my brief comments on three main areas: first, the importance of trade and trading relations; secondly, the key part that civil society in Scotland plays in the promotion of international development; and, thirdly, the global impact that is made by NGOs that are based here in Scotland. In other words, I want to talk  about the positive role that people who are living, learning and working right here in Scotland play internationally.

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which states that I am a local councillor in Dumfries and Galloway. That includes a voluntary role as Dumfries and Galloway’s fair trade champion. I am also the convener of the Parliament’s cross-party group on fair trade, which is an honour so soon after being elected to this chamber. The post gives me the privilege of being able to continue to promote fair trade, and I pay tribute to the many volunteers and campaigners who have actively promoted fair trade for many years, particularly in Dumfries and Galloway, where I have worked closely with them as the chair of the regional fair trade steering group.

The contribution that volunteers from Dumfries and Galloway have made was recognised most recently at the Scottish fair trade awards, at which the fair trade group in the village of Dunscore won the community award, the Dumfries fair trade group was the joint winner of the campaign of the year award and Dumfries’s Paul Tofield won the volunteer of the year award. The region also boasts fair trade groups in Wigtown, Kirkcudbright and Castle Douglas. Thanks to the work of all those groups, we are well on our way to achieving fair trade zone status for the whole of Dumfries and Galloway.

Those are examples of fair trade activities that I am keenly aware of, but I know that outstanding activities and campaigns promoting fair trade are to be found in all members’ constituencies and in regions right across Scotland. Much of the work is organised, co-ordinated or supported by the Scottish Fair Trade Forum, and I commend the valuable role that is played by the forum. It not only led the way in securing fair trade nation status for Scotland—which the minister mentioned in his opening comments—but continues to do much to ensure that we retain that status. Along with Wales, Scotland helped to develop the idea of the fair trade nation, and the model is now shaping interest in the development of fair trade nations and regions across the world.

Just recently in Glasgow, the Scottish Fair Trade Forum hosted fair trade representatives from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the UK’s Fairtrade Foundation, Sweden, the Netherlands, Poland and Canada to discuss the development of the fair trade nations and regions model. In these times, when the nature of international connections can sometimes seem fragile, it is welcome to see that Scotland is taking a leadership role in the process of developing an international commitment to fair trade. The fair trade nation campaign has had the support of all successive Governments in Scotland—support that, I am pleased to see, the international development strategy commits to maintaining.

Much has been achieved in the promotion of fair trade in Scotland but a lot more still needs to be done. Trade that is fair and mutually beneficial is a means to promote development that is sustainable and empowering, yet much global trade is still inherently unfair and exploitative. Therefore, the support of the Government and people in communities across Scotland for fair trade needs to continue and has never been more important.

It is not just in the area of fair trade that the support of the Government and civic society in Scotland is important. There are many examples of positive engagement with international development across civic society, and that engagement is perhaps more necessary than ever at a time when global uncertainty is on the increase. Therefore, the commitment in the strategy to prioritise the engagement of the people of Scotland is important, as is the commitment to raise awareness of Scotland’s international development work through networking organisations.

I have commended the excellent work of the Scottish Fair Trade Forum, which I hope the Government will continue to support, but I also recognise the work that is being undertaken by other networking and advocacy organisations such as the Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland, the International Development Education Association of Scotland and the Scotland Malawi Partnership. Those networks build support in Scotland for the work that is undertaken overseas, and we see that support every day in our communities, not least in our schools.

Claudia Beamish mentioned a number of schools in the south of Scotland. Lockerbie academy is also in that region. For eight years, the school has had a partnership with Thawale primary school in the Mulanje district of Malawi. The link, established by Helen Wright, a teacher at the academy, through Link Community Development Scotland in 2009, has included significant fundraising, enabling—among many other things—the academy to sponsor the Mary’s Meals kitchen in Thawale primary school. The kitchen has encouraged more pupils than ever before to attend the primary, and thanks to the continuing fundraising efforts of Lockerbie academy, a scholarship fund has been set up to allow students from the primary to go on to secondary school.

That global link is about more than just fundraising. It is about sharing experiences through regular exchange visits; and it is about pupils in all years at Lockerbie academy having the opportunity to be involved in the school’s African link and encouraging them to be responsible citizens in their local community and to understand that they are also citizens of a world community.

As well as those learning in Scotland, there are also many examples of people in our local communities working to make a massive contribution to international development.

I suspect that few members will be aware that the world’s largest humanitarian mine clearance organisation is based in Scotland, in rural Dumfriesshire. The HALO Trust works in 20 countries and territories across the world, clearing landmines, cluster munitions and improvised explosive devices. It has destroyed tens of millions of bullets and bombs, clearing an area the equivalent of about 40,000 football pitches. As important—indeed, lifesaving—as the HALO Trust’s work on the physical clearance of the debris of war is, it is about more than that. In its work to make people and places safe, it very much embeds itself in local communities around the world, providing skills and a livelihood to the 6,500 people it employs, offering opportunities to rebuild lives and preparing the way for development and long-term stability.

Although the trust is not active in the four partner countries identified in the Government’s strategy, it is pursuing funding to carry out work in Malawi, where badly stored ammunition in military stores is posing a threat to civilians’ lives. I hope that the minister will give careful consideration to whether the Scottish Government could support that work and thereby show a commitment to harnessing Scottish expertise, as set out in the strategy. Indeed, I urge the minister to take the opportunity to visit the trust’s headquarters in Carronbridge on the outskirts of Thornhill.

I visited the HQ recently. It was an eye-opening experience to walk in and be introduced to the Afghanistan desk officer who co-ordinates the work of 2,500 Afghans and international staff from a converted barn in Dumfriesshire. That is very much international development in action, taking place right here and right now from Scotland.

I have highlighted some of the examples of people living, learning and working in our communities who play such a positive role in promoting and delivering international development—examples of which we can be proud; I am sure that they are replicated in other members’ constituencies.

As the Government’s new strategy is implemented, there is obviously a need for the Government to provide more detail on how it will turn its good intentions into action. I look forward to seeing that detail, including—I hope—continued practical support for fair trade and for networking organisations, to build on public support for international development work and NGOs to ensure that we harness Scotland’s expertise as a force for good across the world.

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ColinSmythMSP

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