Meeting date: Wednesday, October 6, 2021
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 06 October 2021 [Draft]
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Supreme Court Judgment, Scotland in the World, Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Rest and Be Thankful
- Portfolio Question Time
- Supreme Court Judgment
- Scotland in the World
- Business Motions
- Parliamentary Bureau Motions
- Decision Time
- Rest and Be Thankful
Scotland in the World
The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-01527, in the name of Angus Robertson, on Scotland in the world: championing progressive values. I call Angus Robertson, the Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, to speak to and move the motion for around 11 minutes, please.
It is a privilege to lead a discussion about the role that Scotland can play in the world to champion progressive, democratic values.
The Covid crisis has reminded us, as never before, of our interdependent world. Last year, the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said that the pandemic was a test of our common humanity and, as we emerge from the public health crisis, further tests will shape the world around us for this and future generations.
The Scottish Government is determined to play our part and make our contribution. That starts with an internationalist outlook that is based on co-operation and not confrontation.
We have the opportunity to build on strong foundations. As a nation, we are active and connected, with a long history of constructive engagement with our neighbours. We have a track record of leadership on climate change and climate justice and effective delivery of development assistance. At the conclusion of the debate, the Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development will say more about the opportunities that the 26th United Nations climate change conference of the parties—COP26—will present.
In the past five years, we have set out a clear direction of travel. For example, in January of this year, we published “Scotland’s Vision for Trade”, which was inspired by and rooted in our national performance framework. It describes the five core principles that underpin the trading relationships that we want Scotland to have now and in the future—inclusive growth, wellbeing, sustainability, net zero and good governance. Those principles allow us to weigh up future policy decisions, which are related to trade, in order to achieve our economic, social and environmental objectives.
The vision also aims for trade to contribute to addressing global challenges, such as tackling the climate and nature crises, reducing global inequalities and building international co-operation. Scotland will co-operate as a good global citizen and trading partner, respect international law, support human rights and seek to build global relationships on trade. Values such as those underpin not only our trade but all that we do, at home and abroad.
Of course, the context for our international engagement is changing rapidly. The decision of the United Kingdom Government to pursue a hard Brexit—when a significant majority of people living in Scotland, who voted in the referendum, opposed the very idea of leaving the European Union—has, in the view of influential observers, reduced the influence of the UK in the world.
Former senior UK diplomats have been queuing up to point out what Lord Ricketts, a former head of the Foreign Office, called “uncomfortable truths”. Commenting on the aftermath of what he described as the “Afghanistan debacle”, Lord Ricketts noted that
“Britain has become less useful as America’s ally”.
Sir Nigel Sheinwald, former UK ambassador to Washington, when talking about “global Britain”, said:
“There is no point in writing new Atlantic charters which depend on mutual trust, mutual confidence and the rule of law when you are operating as chancers.”
All of that follows the threats that the current Westminster Government made to break international law during the passage of the UK Internal Market Act 2020.
The United Nations refugee agency has suggested that the UK’s Nationality and Borders Bill violates the 1951 refugee convention. The president of the Law Society for England and Wales has said that
“There are significant concerns and a lack of clarity over whether the … Bill would comply with international law or, indeed, uphold access to justice for extremely vulnerable people.”
In that context, we will go the extra mile to ensure that the Scottish Government can continue to engage internationally for the benefit of Scotland’s people, businesses and institutions, and that is why the programme for government sets out an ambitious agenda for Scotland’s place in the world. Guiding our work will be an updated global affairs framework, which will articulate how our internationally-focused programmes of work fit together and link back to the national performance framework. It will help us to keep our focus on being open, connected and making a positive contribution internationally, which is a key national outcome.
International development is a key part of that positive contribution. It encompasses our core values—historical and contemporary—of fairness and equality. We have a distinctive development contribution to make through focusing Scotland’s expertise, being innovative and employing our unique partnership approach for global good.
In the light of the Covid-19 pandemic, we carried out a review of our approach to international development in 2020, to ensure that our work is led by the voices of the global south, and to focus our work on areas in which we can make the biggest differences.
We have made it clear that we believe that the UK Government’s cut to the 0.7 per cent commitment is a deplorable decision that is hitting the world’s poorest and most marginal communities at a time of great need. We have made, and will continue to make, strong representations to reinstate international development funding.
By way of contrast, we have committed to not only maintaining but increasing our international development budget by 50 per cent to £15 million. That will help to support Covid-19 responses and recovery in our partner countries, and it will double our just transition fund to £20 million.
An independent Scotland could be a global leader in development, because it is not necessarily just about size in absolute monetary terms but the impact that we can make. Indeed, according to the Centre for Global Development, the countries with the highest quality of aid are Sweden, Finland and Denmark.
If our policies and actions abroad are consistent with our focus on fairness and inclusion at home, we can be a leader in other areas, too, and we should aspire to that. For example, the Scottish Government is determined to play its part in making the world a better place for women and girls. However, we can, and should, do more. Over the coming months, we will engage with, and seek to learn from, those who have an interest in helping to shape a feminist approach to foreign policy.
Alongside those responsibilities as a good global citizen, our international work is vital in promoting Scotland’s cultural and economic interests. Our cultural heritage is recognised and celebrated all over the world. By harnessing the global profile and expertise of Scotland’s world-renowned festivals, companies and creative entrepreneurs, cultural diplomacy has the potential to develop and maintain relationships with key partners in Europe and beyond. It can support our cultural and creative sectors to work and collaborate internationally, fostering the cross-border cultural partnerships and networks that are vital to the sector’s operation. In our programme for government, we have committed to developing a cultural diplomacy strategy to ensure that cultural links with our partners in Europe and beyond are developed further.
The pandemic has clearly taken a significant toll on our cultural and creative sectors, but it masks the damage that has been done by our no longer being part of the European Union. The strategy will help to support those sectors to recover and flourish, and ensure that they can continue to enrich our lives, put Scotland on the world stage and contribute to our own sense of nation and place.
We are already taking forward work to support touring artists and other creative professionals working internationally to overcome the challenges of the pandemic and the end of freedom of movement. We are currently considering what measures could be put in place to mitigate the loss of access to key programmes, such as creative Europe, to ensure that cultural exchange continues to be supported, and we are pressing the UK Government to minimise barriers.
One of the ways in which we will support Scottish culture is by ensuring that Scotland’s international presence is enhanced. We will open a Scottish affairs office in Copenhagen next year, and in Warsaw during this parliamentary session. Our network, which began under a Conservative Government and was expanded under a Labour and Liberal Democratic Administration, offers excellent value for money. Work to attract investment by our offices both at home and overseas has helped to increase foreign direct investment into Scotland by 6 per cent in 2020, compared with a 12 per cent fall across the UK as a whole.
Nordic countries are key trade partners for Scotland. In 2018, Scottish exports to the Nordics were worth more than £2.6 billion. There is much that we can learn from one another in areas such as the transition to net zero and reducing inequalities.
The new presence in Warsaw is likely to focus on people-to-people links, policy exchange, support for trade and investment and cultural co-operation across the central European and Baltic regions. Members will know that we are very fortunate to have around 92,000 Poles who choose to call Scotland home; they sustain a vibrant and active Polish community across the nation, and we highly value their contribution to our society.
I have touched on the negative impact of the UK’s departure from the EU. In recent debates, members have looked at the example of Brexit in more detail. We know that the Prime Minister’s bluff and bluster about the ability to strike trade deals across the world cannot disguise the fact that there will not be a deal with the USA any time soon, or that his deal with Australia will contribute just 0.02 per cent to gross domestic product in the long term. Based on analysis of external studies, the Office for Budget Responsibility expects UK GDP to be around 4 per cent lower with the deal compared with continued EU membership.
Of course, membership of the EU is about much more than trade deals, and Scotland shares with the EU a vision for Europe that embodies democratic values, promotes the wellbeing of all in society, rises fully to the challenge of the global climate emergency and supports a sustainable economic recovery from the global pandemic.
We believe that the pandemic and the response to it have demonstrated the need for more co-operation between independent nations, not less.
The election in May once again underlined the people of Scotland’s strong support for our view that rejoining the EU at the earliest opportunity as an independent country represents the best future for Scotland. [Interruption.] Forgive me, but I have just 20 seconds in which to conclude.
Until that time, we will maintain alignment, where possible, with EU legislation, policy, and standards. That will help to ensure that Scotland is able to protect and advance the high standards that we enjoyed as a part of the EU, promote ease of market access for our people and businesses, and smooth the process of Scotland’s reaccession.
To choose a Scotland with the power to make decisions in areas such as social security, taxation and immigration is to build a better country—a Scotland that is ready and able to play our part in the global community of nations, championing progressive values and helping to build that better world that we know is possible.
That the Parliament welcomes the internationalist vision for Scotland set out in the Programme for Government and the Scottish Government’s commitment to be a good global citizen; supports the measures outlined to promote progressive values globally and offer practical help to international partners, notably a 50% increase in the Scottish Government’s International Development Fund and doubling of the Just Transition Fund, the opening of additional Scottish Government hubs in Copenhagen and Warsaw, and the ambition to align domestic policy objectives with the approach to international development; regrets the actions taken by the UK Government, particularly since 2016, which have reduced its standing in the world, for example the deplorable decision to cut its Official Development Assistance by a third, which will hit the world’s poorest communities at a time of great need; notes the increasingly interdependent nature of the world and the necessity of cooperation between nations to address global challenges; welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to promote democracy, fairness and human rights across the world; recognises Scotland’s distinctive profile on the world stage, and believes that Brexit, which the overwhelming majority of people in Scotland did not vote for, is at odds with that internationalist ambition.15:41
I will start with what I hope are uncontroversial points. International relations is a reserved matter. Under the devolution settlement, it is clear that foreign policy is the preserve of the UK Government. That is not to say that we cannot debate international affairs—of course we can, and rightly so. It is also only right that successive Scottish Governments have fostered links with our European neighbours and with nations beyond Europe.
Anyone with a sense of Scottish history and an appreciation of Scotland’s international traditions will recognise that there is a long and proud story to be told of Scotland’s role in the world, whether as an independent country before the union of 1707 or, equally, from its role in the union as one of the founding nations of the United Kingdom.
More recently, there has been a strong tradition of promoting Scotland abroad. That was true even before devolution. As the cabinet secretary just said, it was a Conservative Government in the 1990s that promoted the footprint for international offices that the Scottish Government seeks to expand. I will return to that topic in a moment.
No one disputes that we should promote and celebrate Scotland abroad. There are good reasons to do that, including trade, culture and maintaining links with the Scottish diaspora. However, we should not pretend that the Scottish Government can unilaterally make and pursue its own foreign and diplomatic policy. It cannot. The reality is that the devolution settlement prevents that, for very good reason.
The Scottish Government’s efforts on international affairs should operate in tandem with UK Government foreign policy, rather than against it. That is precisely why so many Scottish Government international offices are located in UK embassies. The Scottish Conservatives seek constructive engagement between the Scottish Government and the UK Government when it comes to international affairs, not endless differentiation for the sake of it or—worse—grievance seeking simply to manufacture a row.
We believe that the Scottish Government should work constructively with the UK Government for the benefit of everyone in Scotland. I suspect that, behind the rhetoric, there is a lot more commonality than might at first appear to exist. I am not naive—of course there will be policy differences when three very different political parties make up Scotland’s two Governments. Brexit, which has proven to be deeply divisive here and in the wider UK, is one example of that. It is as divisive as the independence referendum, to be honest.
On international offices, I have touched on the fact that we have no objection to the current set-up and network of eight foreign offices in countries around the world or to the 30-plus trade hubs that are based in British embassies and consulates around the world, which Scottish Development International runs. However, there are justifiable concerns about expenditure, especially when it appears that there are plans to extend the network.
At a time when all our efforts require to be directed at recovering from the pandemic, when our national health service is under acute pressure and when our economy is faltering, it is right to question the current cost and the proposed expansion, purely as a matter of political priorities, especially when this does not formally fall within devolved competence.
I appreciate the member’s point about the importance of counting costs. Will he concede that the money that the Scottish Government expends on such offices is an almost imperceptibly tiny fraction of the amount that the UK Foreign Office spends on some of its more palatial residences and other offices around the world?
I do not accept that. It is entirely reasonable for any Opposition party to question Scottish Government expenditure. We have a crisis in the NHS, underfunded schools and struggling local authorities, and the Scottish National Party Government has spent more than £8 million on international offices in one year alone—the 2021-22 financial year—to employ staff around the world. The most expensive hub is the Brussels headquarters, where 17 people are employed at a cost of £2.3 million a year. The Washington office has a budget of more than £805,000. The London base will cost £2.2 million, with 14 staff.
To move on from that, let us look at why the Scottish and UK Governments should act in tandem and why the Scottish Government should support the UK Government. Much has been done that is different from what might be viewed as traditional diplomacy. The UK Government’s new pact with the United States and Australia—the AUKUS pact—will extend the UK’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region by enhancing the development of joint capabilities and technology sharing and by creating deeper integration of security and defence-related science, technology and industrial bases while creating hundreds of highly skilled jobs across the United Kingdom, including in Scotland.
I am glad that climate change has been mentioned. The UK Government is lobbying nations around the world to take urgent action to address climate change ahead of COP26. That is not new—over the past 10 years, UK Government funding has provided 41 million people with improved access to clean energy. It has installed 2,400MW of clean energy capacity and has avoided or reduced 180 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. The UK Government has also committed £11.6 billion over the next five years to helping developing countries to limit and manage the impacts of climate change.
International relations is not just about high-level policy or funding emanating from the Foreign Office. I could point to the work of the British Council, which drives forward campaigns for girls’ education and for religious and media freedom. I am sure that other colleagues will touch on the UK Government’s plan for global Britain, which was published in 2021 and outlines various interests. It restates the fundamental values of democracy and a commitment to universal human rights, the rule of law, freedom of speech and faith, and equality—principles that I hope we can all support in the chamber. To borrow from the title of the debate, the plan is an example of “championing progressive values”.
The UK and Scottish Governments should act together to promote progressive values around the world. We must be wary of exceptionalism at the Scottish and UK levels. It is easy to lapse into a sense of moral superiority about our own values and the need to promulgate them. However, by acting together, the four nations of the UK can continue to be a force for good in the world. Scotland in particular can, and surely will, play its part in that endeavour.
I move amendment S6M-01527.2, to leave out from “welcomes the internationalist” to end and insert:
“calls on the Scottish Government to work constructively with the UK Government in supporting international development programmes around the world as well as promoting the Scottish diaspora on the world stage; welcomes the UK Government’s plans for Global Britain, which put the freedom to speak, think and choose at the heart of its foreign policy for the decades to come; recognises the UK Government’s efforts to make the world a safer, cleaner and greener place through international alliances such as the AUKUS pact and its Presidency of COP26, and notes with concern the level of spending by the Scottish Government on overseas offices and its plans to further increase the number of such offices.”15:48
I am pleased to speak in this debate on Scotland’s place in the world and the championing of progressive values. Scots have a long-standing history of internationalism. There is a lot that is worth celebrating but also a lot that requires a more solemn recognition, such as our role in the expansion of the British empire and our other historical exploits in imperialism. When we debate today how Scotland is committed to being a good global citizen, it is worth remembering that we have not always been as progressive as we might think we were, and parts of our history cannot be swept under the rug.
That said, I think that all members will recognise the significant positive role that Scotland has played and continues to play on the world stage. Our country has played an integral part in the formation of the modern world and has provided global influences in economics, medicine, technological advancements and so much more. That progressive tradition continues even today—for example, my colleague Monica Lennon’s Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill resulted in Scotland becoming the first country in the world to make period products free for all. Recently, we have also become the first country in the world to embed LGBT education in the school curriculum.
Those successes are worth noting and celebrating, but the systemic problems that we face as a country remain and must be recognised. Although it is vital to look outward, we must recognise that there are severe failings at home that need to be addressed. Poverty and inequality are deep rooted in society, especially here, in Scotland.
Just this week, the Scottish Government has been warned that it is set to significantly miss its targets for reducing child poverty. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has said that the Scottish Government’s “political failure” to meet child poverty targets will have “a profound human cost.” A JRF report has highlighted a
“failure to make inroads into the significant levels of poverty”
among the priority groups for action as identified by the Scottish Government, which include families from ethnic minority backgrounds, families where someone is disabled, those with a child under the age of one and single-parent households. The JRF researchers found that more than 80 per cent of children in poverty in Scotland are from one of those groups. That is systemic poverty that we have failed to take seriously or tackle.
If people look inward to Scotland, they will see an education system that fails far too many young people and does little to support economic growth at home. They will see unacceptable levels of homelessness, poor housing and public services that are buckling at the knees, with no coherent plan to build a dynamic economy that works in the interests of the majority of Scots. Therefore, let us not kid ourselves that everyone who looks at Scotland does so through rose-tinted glasses, because they do not.
I could not make this speech without mentioning our role in and contribution to conflicts around the world and, in particular, the plight of Yemen.
It is right that the Scottish Parliament has condemned the UK Government’s decision to cut international aid. More than 80 million people around the world are displaced from their homes and countries as a result of persecution, conflict and human rights violations. We have rightly opposed the cutting of international aid, and we must use our limited influence to build the case for an international consensus that will support migrants to live in safety and peace, free from persecution.
I hear what the SNP says about Europe, but let us not look at Europe with blinkers on. Oxfam has said:
“At Europe’s borders, migrants and refugees are denied their basic human rights”.
There have been reports that EU states have been co-operating informally to deny refugees asylum rights. Many European countries are rolling back civil liberties that we in Scotland take for granted—indeed, that is happening at a worrying rate.
My main plea is that we must use the little influence that we have at this time to bring countries together to work to deliver a more global vaccine strategy, because none of us is safe until we are all safe.
I move amendment S6M-01527.1, to leave out from “welcomes the internationalist” to end and insert:
“recognises Scotland’s distinctive profile on the world stage and that successive Scottish administrations have sought to support and empower partner countries around the world; regrets the actions taken by the UK Government in taking the deplorable decision to cut its Official Development Assistance by a third, which will hit the world’s poorest communities at a time of great need; notes the increasingly interdependent nature of the world and the necessity of cooperation between nations to address global challenges, including the moral responsibility of those in the Global North, including Scotland, to work on climate protections for those in the Global South, and the need to end the vaccine apartheid; calls on the Scottish Government to support the roll-out and sharing of vaccines to the Global South, considers that the Scottish Government’s failure to address poverty, inequality, intolerance and violence against women in Scotland undermines its ability to promote progressive values abroad, and regrets the Scottish Government’s inaction regarding Police Scotland providing training to the police forces of countries, such as Sri Lanka, which it considers are engaging in human rights abuses and repression.”15:54
The Government is rarely modest in its parliamentary motions, but I have to say that today’s motion verges on smug. It is certainly unjustified in relation to the SNP Government’s role in the world, where it is apparently championing progressive values. The evidence contradicts that assertion.
As an example, we can take the £10 billion deal with SinoFortone Group Ltd and the China Railway Company No 3 Engineering Group Co Ltd in 2016, only five years ago. The First Minister signed the agreement without even bothering to check their backgrounds. The Norwegian oil fund had blacklisted the China Railway Group because of allegations of widespread corruption. In 2013—years before the agreement was signed—Amnesty International published a report that tied the China Railway Group to illegal forced evictions in Africa. That perhaps explains why Alex Salmond refused to meet the Dalai Lama when he had visited a few years earlier—for fear of offending the Chinese Government. Chinese officials had visited the then First Minister days before the Dalai Lama visited.
The Scottish Government kept quiet about human rights abuses while seeking up to £1.3 billion from the oil-rich state of Qatar. On an official visit to Qatari leaders in May 2013, the then Minister for External Affairs and International Development, Humza Yousaf, failed to mention the lethal conditions that were faced by hundreds of thousands of migrant workers. He was also advised to discuss the plight of an imprisoned Qatari poet only with UK officials. That does not sound like championing progressive values to me.
Willie Rennie is doing an excellent job of outlining the Chinese Government’s horrendous human rights record. Does he agree that the Scottish Government could do more to welcome Hong Kong residents to Scotland, so that they make Scotland their home, under the visa scheme that was announced by the UK Government?
Yes—that should certainly be happening, and on a more widespread basis.
The SNP condemned the recent hasty withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and rightly so. Its current Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, said that
“UK ministers must accept their share of responsibility and do more to support the many Afghan citizens who are clearly in danger, and have been left behind in fear for their lives, safety and human rights.”
Mr Blackford was clearly oblivious to the views of his predecessor—one Angus Robertson—who, 10 years earlier, was urging a hastier withdrawal from Afghanistan. On Hogmanay in 2010, Mr Robertson said:
“UK involvement in Afghanistan has now lasted longer than either of the world wars. If David Cameron is to make a New Year’s resolution, it should be to bring troops home by Christmas 2011.”
My final example of failure on the international stage relates to antisemitism. The SNP is now in a coalition Government with a party that has not endorsed, and still refuses to endorse, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. The Greens have voted in favour of a motion that describes Israel as a “racist state” based on “Jewish supremacy”, but the First Minister still authorised the coalition agreement without even challenging the Greens on that incredibly sensitive and important matter. How is it possible for the coalition Government to champion progressive values across the world when it will not fully endorse the international definition of antisemitism?
Whether it is human rights abuses in Qatar and Africa, kowtowing to the Chinese over the Dalai Lama, hypocrisy on Afghanistan or antisemitism, there is little justification for today’s smug motion. The SNP is in no position to lecture anyone about progressive values here or anywhere else in the world.15:59
The presidency of the United Nations Security Council is currently held by Ireland. Four of the 10 non-permanent members of the UN Security Council have populations smaller than Scotland’s, as have 77 member countries of the United Nations. Small and medium-sized countries matter on the global stage—in particular, when it comes to leading progressive and humanitarian values rather than parading military might, so I very much welcome the Government’s motion.
In this modern but troubled world, Scotland needs to find her own voice. We also need to give voice to those who are most in need but are too often not heard, so I am particularly pleased to see the programme for government’s emphasis on women and girls. Whether it be to address state-sponsored violence against women and girls in the likes of Afghanistan or the responsibility that is placed on mothers to rebuild families and communities in many parts of our conflict-ridden world, it is right that women and girls be supported and placed centre stage.
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs said recently that
“When women participate fully and equally in peace processes, those peace processes last.”
I therefore also welcome the £500,000 fund for local organisations in international development partner countries to take forward work to ensure that women and girls are safe, equal and respected.
The motion also condemns the UK Government’s cut in the aid budget from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of gross national income. I agree, but I would go further, because in reality it is much worse than a cut to 0.5 per cent. We now know that the Treasury plans to use accounting tricks in this month’s spending review to squeeze the aid budget by yet more billions of pounds.
The BBC reports that charities that operate on the front line have already condemned such moves. Romilly Greenhill, the UK director of ONE, the global campaign against poverty, has said that
“It’s incredibly worrying that UK aid looks set to be cut again, through accounting trickery by the Treasury.
The chancellor looks set to count the sharing of surplus vaccine doses, a new injection of cost-free foreign exchange reserves and the cancellation of debts that haven’t been repaid for decades as part of the aid budget.”
In effect, the UK Government plans to commit considerably less than 0.5 per cent of GNI to foreign aid. While it is shackled to this declining UK state, Scotland’s options are regrettably limited.
There is much to be welcomed in the Scottish Government’s approach, including the expansion of our residential fellowship programme to train women to take on leadership roles in mitigating the effect of climate change, for example.
Until Scotland becomes independent and takes her own seat at the United Nations, a frankly mean-spirited UK will constrain our actions and influence. One thing that we can all do is use our voice to speak up on behalf of those who are most in need in this troubled world. That is what I intend to continue to do.16:02
I recognise, as other members have done, the importance of co-operation between nations to address global challenges. Nothing has underscored that point more than the Covid-19 pandemic.
The SNP would have us believe that post-Brexit Britain is a silo and that we have turned away from the world, but the UK Government has helped to lead international efforts in response to Covid-19, with its pledge to donate 100 million Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses overseas by June 2022, 80 million of which will go to COVAX, which guarantees fair and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccine for people in all countries. The UK Government ensured that funding for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was based on its being affordable around the world. The vaccine has the greatest global reach of all of the vaccines—175 countries and territories use it. That is the United Kingdom being a force for good in the world.
In less than a month, Glasgow will host the COP26 summit as a direct result of the UK’s COP presidency. Together, if we can work as one, we can recover and build back better, and we can save our planet. That is global Britain in action.
At the height of the pandemic, about 1.6 billion children were not able to attend school or access education. Together with other G7 countries, the UK has committed to helping 40 million more girls into school and to getting 20 million more girls reading by the age of 10, in the next five years. It has also pledged £430 million to the global partnership for education in order to fulfil that ambition. That is “championing progressive values”.
Against that background of international engagement, the SNP keeps returning to Brexit. It seems to believe that EU membership is the only form of internationalism. The new trilateral defence partnership between Australia, the UK and the US will help to create hundreds of highly-skilled jobs across the United Kingdom, including in Scotland.
The SNP-led Scottish Government is choosing to ignore the scores of trade deals that have been secured by the UK as an independent trading nation, even though they will help to drive forward an exports-led and jobs-led recovery for Scotland. Instead, the First Minister announced in this year’s programme for government that the Government is planning to open new offices in Copenhagen and Warsaw, in addition to the eight international hubs it already has. They have cost the public purse more than £8 million in just one year. The NHS is in crisis, our schools are underfunded and local authorities are struggling.
Will the member give way?
I am in my last minute. The public will understandably question the cost of those offices, given that international relations is a reserved matter.
The climate change crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic are stark reminders of just how interdependent—[Interruption.]
Could we have less chat from a sedentary position?
Thank you, Presiding Officer. They are stark reminders of just how interdependent the world has become. By combining the resources of our union, we can respond to those global challenges. Let us work together, not apart.16:06
I open with a quote from the great Winnie Ewing, who said after winning the Hamilton by-election in 1967:
“Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on.”
For centuries now, Scots have travelled the world, sharing their skills, wisdom, ingenuity and friendship everywhere, from the US and Canada to Australia, India and China. Along the way, they have influenced everything from technology to world-class academic institutions to banking and government and so much more. At the same time, they have helped to construct and maintain Scotland’s international reputation, establishing the iconic recognition that Scotland enjoys today.
Those on-going relationships are supported by a group of international offices situated in key locations: Belgium, Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Ireland and the USA. The Scottish Government will build on those with new offices in Copenhagen and Warsaw. I really cannot understand the criticism of the Scottish Government looking to support Scottish business by opening up more offices; I do not get that at all. The offices play a critical role in supporting Scotland’s international reputation and deliver economic success.
Each of the offices is dedicated to improving Scotland’s international profile; attracting investment to Scotland; helping Scotland-based businesses to trade internationally, which is so much more important since Brexit; and protecting and enhancing Scotland’s interests in the EU and beyond.
During 2020, foreign direct investment projects in Scotland increased by 6 per cent, compared to a decline in the UK of 12 per cent and a 13 per cent decline across Europe. Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen are in the UK’s top 10 FDI cities outside London, with Edinburgh overtaking Manchester to move into first place. The cabinet secretary talked about the export growth plan.—[Interruption.]
I want to make progress. I have only four minutes for this.
The Scottish Government has set an ambitious target of increasing international exports from 20 per cent to 25 per cent of GDP over the next 10 years.
We have recent examples of other countries taking their place in the world. Estonia regained independence in 1991. Its gross domestic product has since increased five-fold, and today it is recognised as Europe’s Baltic tiger. After the velvet divorce from the Czech Republic, Slovakia saw its economy grow by 60 per cent in 10 years. Denmark and Norway have higher GDP than that of Scotland, at between 30 per cent and 40 per cent.
The success of the countries that I have just mentioned is also solidly based on cultural confidence, an irrepressible national identity, bold leadership and a people who never gave up. Are there lessons for Scotland or are our circumstances simply too different, as our Opposition would tell us?
Will the member take an intervention?
No, I am conscious of the time—I have only a minute left.
When Scotland was taken out of the EU against its will, there was a massive impact on the 200,000 EU citizens who called Scotland their home, and the Scottish Government established the stay in Scotland campaign.
Scotland is a proud European country—I am proud to be Scottish and European. Many EU citizens see themselves as being European and Scottish.
Today, Boris Johnson is reported to have said in his conference speech that he wanted to end the “broken model” of a low-wage, low-growth economy. That broken UK economy has failed Scotland over many years. There is another way. [Interruption.] No. I am in my final minute.
Boris Johnson said that on the day on which he will plunge millions into poverty with the cut to universal credit.
An independent Scotland would meet its international obligations on foreign aid, and it would not support the selling of arms to the Yemen, whose long-suffering people Alex Rowley mentioned.
In his last speech to the EU, the then SNP MEP Alyn Smith insisted that Scotland was a European nation and added that independence would offer the country a “route back”. In a plea to other European politicians, he said:
“colleagues, I’m not asking you to solve our domestic discussions. I am asking you to leave a light on so we can find our way home.”
Scotland is on that journey and will find its way home soon. Scotland will regain its rightful place in the world.16:11
In its motion, the Scottish Government emphasises its commitment to Scotland being a good global citizen, but that commitment lacks substance. It is easy to say that Scotland in the world should be a champion of progressive values. Everyone in the Parliament would probably identify themselves as an internationalist. We would all say that we support Scotland being a champion for fairness, democracy and human rights, but achieving those goals requires fundamental change to our failed economic system, because the global challenges that we face, from the climate emergency to vaccine apartheid, are a direct result of wealth and power being concentrated in the hands of a few. That will not change while the Scottish Government pats itself on the back with motions rather than bringing forward a real plan to tackle those international issues. [Interruption.] No.
The scale of the challenge could not be greater. The world’s richest 10 per cent now own more than 80 per cent of global wealth. There is a growing divide between the north and the global south when it comes to access to healthcare, education, housing and wealth, and the pandemic has exposed that divide, with the global south set to suffer from greater debt and lack of access to vaccines. It is also set to bear the brunt of the climate emergency.
So, the Scottish Government’s commitment to increasing its international development fund by 50 per cent is a welcome step forward, but it does not go nearly far enough, especially in meeting its own self-image as an international progressive force.
The Labour amendment calls for specific commitments from the Scottish Government on access to vaccines and highlights the importance of matching rhetoric with reality when it comes to promoting human rights.
The Scottish Government’s current action on human rights is totally inadequate. We can see that in its refusal to address the activities of Police Scotland’s international development and innovation unit. That unit is proactively offering training and technical advice to some of the world’s worst offenders when it comes to human rights abuses. Several organisations, from Pax Christi Scotland to Freedom from Torture, have highlighted that the Sri Lankan regime is engaging in the use of torture and state surveillance of human rights defenders. Police Scotland has claimed that its training activities with the Sri Lankan police are helping to promote gender equality and tackle gender-based violence, but, as recently as August, the Sri Lankan police confirmed that cases of intimate partner violence would not be taken to court. Therefore, how can anyone say that that training is working?
The activities of the unit extend far beyond Sri Lanka. Police Scotland is also offering technical advice to the police force in Colombia, a country that has faced long-standing allegations of human rights abuses and which launched a major crackdown on recent protests. What is the Scottish Government’s response to that alarming activity? To repeatedly pass the buck to Police Scotland. There is no point in having a justice secretary who is not prepared to stand up for human rights and hold the police to account when things go wrong, yet we have exactly that in Keith Brown. He avoids answering questions about human rights abuses, and he has nothing to say about Police Scotland providing political cover and legitimacy to those human rights abusers.
My question to the member is this: will he urge the justice secretary to seek an immediate suspension of Police Scotland’s activities with any country that engages in human rights abuses? Will the Scottish Government also launch a full-scale review of the international development and innovation unit’s activities?
This debate has asked us all, as MSPs, to consider Scotland’s role in the world. Although the Scottish Government’s motion seeks to paint a picture of Scotland as a progressive beacon, the reality, at home and abroad, could not be more different. It is yet another example of Scottish Government ministers talking progressive while failing to deliver real change.
James Dornan joins us remotely.16:15
I am pleased to speak in today’s debate about Scotland’s place in the world in order to highlight our progressive, inclusive and international world view as a nation. That world view stands in stark contrast to the xenophobic, insular and cruel one espoused by the UK Government led by Boris Johnson and gleefully supported by such right-wing idealogues as Priti Patel.
That attitude from the Westminster Government has been laid bare in recent weeks in the disgraceful way in which it handled the situation with refugees from Afghanistan, along with its on-going crusade to quite happily see asylum seekers floating about in the water with nowhere to go or to round them up and send them to Albania. I honestly wish that I was making that up. Such anti-immigration and anti-refugee rhetoric has no place in a modern, civilised society—and certainly not here in outward-looking Scotland.
Scotland has a long history of being part of the international community; it is not a new thing. If you want confirmation of that, listen to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s hero, Winston Churchill, who famously said:
“Of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind.”
Yet still—amazingly—according to many in opposition, and the above-mentioned Johnson, we are apparently the only country in the world that is unable to handle being independent and playing our full role on the international scene.
The contribution of Scottish people to the shaping of the modern world has been beyond compare. Scotland has a proud history of innovation in all manner of different fields, from philosophy and economics to engineering. Of course, we aspire to greatness—but not greatness as defined by our neighbours in the form of big bombs and being keen to go and fight, and not necessarily in huge individual wealth, but in being a great country for all the communities that live here and in being an example for other countries abroad.
I heard the previous contribution. When it started off, I thought, “Fair enough, I get that—I do not like the economic system as it is.” However, attacking a Government that does not have the powers to do any of the things that you want it to while, at the same time, always being in a situation in which you will vote against it is a wee bit of an interesting take on politics.
We believe that everyone matters, whatever their start in life. That is why we reintroduced free university education, along with the baby box, free school meals and the Scottish child payment, and it is why we oppose policies such as the bedroom tax, the rape clause and the £20 per week cut to universal credit.
We see ourselves as natural members of Europe and the EU. The people of Scotland said that loud and clear at the referendum; yet, as so often in this union of equals, the voice of Scotland is drowned out by the braying from another place.
There is no doubt that the Brexit effect is just starting to hit; the delivery shortages are just the beginning. I saw today that there is another dispute between Westminster and France. Be assured that those things will continue to get worse as long as the crony Government, which is more interested in lining the pockets of its friends and family than in ensuring that our health workers and carers are protected and that the poor have enough to eat, stays in power.
If ever we needed proof that independence is required, we need simply look at the past 24 hours. The UK Government tried to bypass Holyrood with yesterday’s legislative consent motion and, today, a Supreme Court decision said that this place—this Parliament, which we are all meant to be so proud to represent—does not have the powers to protect our own children. Donald Cameron highlighted why in his contribution: because of the constitutional settlement. We should not be having such a debate in the first place.
We should never have been dragged out of Europe against our will, particularly as the whole thing was simply a Tory leadership stunt in the first place. We belong in Europe and we would be welcomed back into Europe. I mean, how could it refuse us? After all, as the famous French poet, philosopher and playwright Voltaire said:
“We look to Scotland for all our ideas of civilisation.”
Let us be fair—he was a very wise man.
Before I call the next speaker, I remind members that we expect courtesy and respect to be shown to all members. During that contribution, there was a lot of sedentary chattering from members on the Conservative benches, which was not really in keeping with the need to show respect and the obligations that we are all under as members of the Parliament.
I call Maurice Golden, who has up to four minutes.16:20
Thank you, Presiding Officer. I think that the previous speaker showed a lack of respect to colleagues in the chamber as well as to you.
Mr Golden, please resume your seat for a second. The content of speeches is not a matter for the chair. Every member will have their own view. Nonetheless, it is important to listen respectfully to all contributions in the Parliament. Please resume.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
The most pressing issue is, of course, climate change. It is undeniably a good thing for Scotland to play a role in helping those around the world who are most vulnerable, such as in Malawi, where Scots are often at the forefront of efforts. The Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, for example, is working hard to improve access to food, water, and energy there. In Nepal, Tearfund works in the heart of local communities, with much support from a generous Scottish public, as I saw at first hand when I visited in 2018. We should welcome Scottish Government efforts to support climate action in at-risk communities, such as its commitment to train women in leadership roles to mitigate climate impacts.
I certainly concur with what the member says about the efforts of all those organisations. Does he feel that those efforts around the world are helped or hindered by a UK Government whose stated ambition is to cut the money that the UK spends on international development and potentially to redirect some of what is spent through other Government departments?
The UK is one of the leading nations in both tackling climate change and alleviating poverty. In the past 10 years alone, Britain has protected 88 million people around the world from the impact of climate change, including through helping 41 million people access clean energy and avoiding or reducing 180 million tonnes of emissions. I hope that the member recognises that wonderful contribution. In addition, Britain has committed almost £12 billion over the next five years to support developing countries.
That incredible global mission opens up a huge opportunity for Scotland to lead the world on climate change, strengthen vulnerable communities, protect millions of people and make the world a better place.
The rest of the world looks to Britain as a global leader. With Glasgow hosting COP26, Britain is leading the discussion on how the world tackles climate change. The world pays attention when Britain speaks because we do not just ask others to do the work—we roll up our sleeves and lead by example. The UK has reduced emissions by a quarter in the past decade alone and, just this week, the British Government committed to completely phasing out electricity from fossil fuels by as soon as 2035.
Refusing to fully engage with or even recognise Britain’s global success simply leaves the SNP-Green coalition looking weak and insular. Let us look at its motion: it talks of being a “good global citizen” but then forgets to mention COP26. How is anyone supposed to take the coalition seriously when it forgets to mention the world’s biggest environment summit being hosted in Scotland?
This is the dilemma that the nationalist coalition faces: it wants a bigger global role, but it lacks the credibility to make it happen. Its credibility on climate action was already “wearing thin”, as SCIAF said in its evidence to the Constitution, Europe, External Affairs and Culture Committee last week. That same session also saw Oxfam issue an equally stark warning. It said:
“Scotland’s credibility on climate justice is now in significant jeopardy due to it missing three successive annual emissions targets.”
In fact, more than two thirds of SNP climate policies are now off track.
If the SNP-Green coalition wants to be taken seriously on climate change, on the world stage or on anything else, it needs to stop putting its interests before Scotland’s.16:25
Many of us have, for some considerable time, given much thought to the role that Scotland has played in championing progressive values—on climate action, on welcoming immigrants, on peace and, importantly, on how we can be better.
Although we have a long and proud tradition of leading change around the world and of creating progressive values, we must also understand the role that Scotland has played in the worst episodes of imperialism, old and new, from slavery to the hosting of nuclear weapons. That is not to say that, as Scots, we are somehow unable to change or make recompense for those episodes. However, we must recognise that they are not just issues of the past. The long shadow of slavery darkens the present day. The impact of our role in imperialism continues to drive division, from Ireland to south Asia. We can, though, redeem those actions and become a global force for good. But before I speak more about how we can be a global force for good, I implore everyone here—indeed, all Scots—to recognise the darker elements of our history as well as the more fêted moments.
We see at Westminster the outcome of having a Government that cannot see the historical impact of its actions. The UK Government’s abandonment of its commitment to international development funding is disgraceful, short-sighted and contemptible. We continue to make the case for restoring the funding. Although cutting aid might play well to British empire chauvinists in the home counties, it is nothing short of a default on the UK’s obligation to return some of the plunder of imperialism to those from whom we stole.
I want Scotland to do better. I want Scotland to live up to all our aspirations as a global builder of peace and justice. I want Scotland to be a champion for enhancing the rights of people at home while recognising that those same rights apply to all individuals and communities across the globe. I want Scotland to find our role in the world as being a force for good.
Even without being a fully independent state, Scotland, as a nation with devolved powers, can take a more active role in the international community. We can build our influence and contribute to global efforts to address the pandemic, enhance human rights and progress the transition to a net zero economy. A significant part of climate justice relates to the way in which our emissions have a disproportionate effect on people in the global south.
I know that we can do better. In the previous session of the Parliament, Scottish Greens forced the Scottish Qualifications Authority to undertake a review of its international activities. That resulted in withdrawal from six countries whose human rights records would cause us all concern, including Saudi Arabia.
More than 25 years ago, Robin Cook spoke of an ethical foreign policy, marking a move from self-interest. Although he was unable to deliver on that, he set an important principle. We need to adopt another approach: policy coherence. We simply should not be arming Yemen while sending aid to Yemen to ameliorate the damage that our arms do. Similarly, we should not be using public funds or support—more than £31 million in enterprise funding in the past 15 years—to line the pockets of international arms dealers, whose weapons have been linked to alleged war crimes, killing civilians. That is both morally wrong and economically unjustified.
An ethical approach and policy coherence must run right through the Government and all its actions. As members suggested, that will not always be easy. It will mean a shift in thinking. It will mean doing things in a way that is very different from business as usual. It will mean moving beyond the policy silos of the past. We cannot have one bit of the Government doing one thing and another bit directly undermining it.
We need policy coherence and progressive values at the heart of our global mission. That means that we need to think about everything that we do, from climate justice to the manufacturing that we support, to make sure that it is advancing all our positive values across the world.16:29
Today’s debate is a perfect demonstration of the determination among the people of Scotland to do what is right regardless of who is telling us that it is not our job. There is a difference between Government responsibility and moral responsibility, and that difference is laid bare when we consider the work that Scotland has done internationally despite the limits of devolution and the UK Government’s stubborn, immoral focus on devolved competence above all else, including ethics.
Only this morning, the UK Government was successful in overturning a unanimous decision by this Parliament to enshrine the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in Scots law. The UK Government is so petty that it would rather take human rights away from children than have the Scottish Parliament make the decision to implement them. It is so intent on ensuring that Scotland knows its place that it does not care that it is trampling over kids’ lives to do so.
The member seems to be attacking both the Supreme Court and our legal system. Is she suggesting that we have a non-impartial legal system in the United Kingdom?
I do not think that it is attacking the Supreme Court to say that the law is wrong. There is a difference between upholding the law and saying that it is not correct. We can say that the devolution settlement is not adequate, which it is not, without saying that it is the fault of the Supreme Court for enforcing it.
I think that most of us in the chamber and most people who are listening know that Scotland’s place is on the world stage. Scotland is a champion of human rights around the world. World-leading human rights legislation is being taken forward here against racial discrimination and discrimination against women, and to improve the rights of disabled people.
There is, however, the catch that we are still beholden to what the Tories at Whitehall think is best on reserved matters. Scotland does not yet have the power to make full, rounded decisions on human rights or international affairs. Never before has the contrast between what we have and what we could have been so stark. Instead of being able to strengthen children’s rights and tackle fuel poverty, we are stuck mitigating cuts and lamenting the UK Government’s decisions on tax increases for the poor and breaks for the rich, the biggest overnight cut to social security in seven decades, and Brexit.
Is SNP policy still such that people who support and vote for independence in any future independence referendum would also be voting to go back into Europe?
The important thing to note here is that Scotland being in or out of Europe should be a decision for Scotland, whereas we have been torn out of Europe against our will. The Tories in England cannot even govern without breaching existing human rights, so they certainly cannot be trusted to strengthen them.
Scottish Labour’s amendment to the motion accuses the Scottish Government of failing to address violence against women. I would never claim that there is no more work to be done to tackle violence against women. I am a young woman in politics, so I am no stranger to misogyny, discrimination or sexual assault. However, Labour’s amendment explicitly says that this Scottish Government—led by Nicola Sturgeon, UN global advocate for women—has failed to address violence against women at all and that that undermines our ability to promote progressive values. That is as ridiculous as it is offensive. I am tired of seeing accusations that the first female First Minister and the first First Minister to introduce procedures for dealing with complaints against those in her position, leading by example, is somehow bad for women in Scotland. Scotland’s foreign policy, limited in scope as it may be, is feminist at its core.
Following the harrowing details of Sarah Everard’s murder coming to light, a Conservative police commissioner said that she should have been “streetwise” and should not have “submitted” to her fake arrest. Boris Johnson then assured us that we can trust the police. I ask members to compare that with the First Minister’s response. She said:
“The problem is male violence, not women’s ‘failure’ to find ever more inventive ways to protect ourselves against it.”
Our ability to promote progressive values internationally is certainly being undermined, but let us lay the blame at the correct door.16:34
“Progressive” is a word that is thrown around by Governments of all stripes to justify a wide variety of reforms, many of which are anything but. True progress means a world in which homelessness is a chapter in a history book, not a daily reality. True progress means paying people a wage that is more than barely enough to keep their heads above water. True progress is people’s right to food being enshrined in law; the rest is window dressing. “Progressive” is a badge that Governments like to wear on the world stage and a topic that they like to fill parliamentary time with, because it says something about how they wish to be seen, regardless of how far from reality that may be.
I welcome any opportunity to consider the values that we should encourage in Scotland. I will start by recognising that, although the Scottish Government might be progressive in relation to one of the harshest Tory Governments in living memory, that does not hide the fact that, when it comes to standing up and being counted on pay, public service investment and infrastructure development, it is sorely lacking.
I will take the opportunity to reflect on our shared commitment to internationalism. I congratulate the Government on that sentiment, but I do so with a word of caution. We have to encourage future generations to believe that people working together in common purpose is the only hope for a world free from climate catastrophe and desperate greed. However, seeking to do so through the lens of exceptionalism—by which I mean suggesting that Scotland is uniquely enlightened—is not the way to go about it.
Nevertheless, the Scottish Government has correctly derided Downing Street’s decision to slash overseas aid. That decision was made to send a signal to a reactionary part of Britain that we will return to a cold-hearted view of the world in which anything that we put in must be paid back double. That is not progress; that is stone-age thinking. However, we should expect that from the Tories; beneath the buffoonery of Boris Johnson, the UK Government is committed to redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich and rewriting the history of our role in creating global inequality.
I ask the Scottish Government to learn from that example and ensure that we do not do that. For all the positives that are no doubt plentiful in our history, Scotland’s role as part of the UK in spreading war, injustice and intolerance around the world is just as potent and regrettable as any other part of this island. Let us recognise that, so that we can move forward.
To be an example to the world, you have to govern with consistency, and that starts with the basic principles of holding to commitments and respecting the will of the people. What does it mean, as stated in the motion, to “promote democracy” when the Scottish Government continually pushes for a referendum because it did not like the answer the first time? Implicit in that disregard for democracy and in the motion is the suggestion that Scotland is different and that we stand apart from a callous UK and a tough global north, but there is no truth in that. Those are the stories that nationalists tell themselves in every part of the world. We do not need to do that to be progressive. We do not have to create a “them and us” narrative. We simply need to reset our priorities and start going after the profiteers and the privilege that damage us all.
The next time that we discuss the issue, perhaps that can be the focus, rather than the vague advert for an imaginary Scotland that few who live at the thin end of the wedge would recognise.16:38
Scotland is a country with huge ambition, and rightly so. Since devolution in 1999, the Scottish economy has grown, which has allowed Scotland to drive forward policies that are important and beneficial to the people of Scotland. In the past 20 years, Scotland has stood on the world stage and set many precedents in human and ecological wellbeing. Scotland has joined an international movement that seeks to transform the economic system into one that delivers social justice with a green agenda.
Internationally, Scotland, along with New Zealand and countries such as Iceland, is creating an economy that prioritises the wellbeing of its citizens. It was recently reported that Scotland is the first industrialised country to generate 97.4 per cent of its electricity from wind and solar. In 2019, our First Minister became the first world leader to declare a climate emergency and the first to treat climate change with the seriousness that it deserves. As a world leader in climate action, Scotland will host COP26 in a matter of weeks. [Interruption.] I will not take an intervention at the moment, sorry.
We will have the opportunity to facilitate the acceleration of action to tackle climate change on an international scale. Today, I was approached about visiting COP26 delegates who want to discuss Scotland’s green energy success. Developing countries are looking to Scotland for lessons on renewable energy strategy and clean green energy.
Scotland is a modern country that is made up of many ages, abilities, cultures, languages, beliefs, geographies and interests. Scotland is committed to ensuring that participation in democracy is representative of all voices and communities and it has set up a citizens assembly. The first assembly met earlier this year to consider what kind of Scotland the people want to build, how the Scottish Government can overcome international challenges such as Brexit and what the future of Scotland could look like.
I will name just a few of our progressive achievements. Scotland was the first nation to set minimum pricing for alcohol. Scotland is one of the world leaders in family support, with three and four-year-olds eligible for 1,148 hours of early learning and childcare, saving families almost £5,000 per child annually. Scotland is leading the way in transforming women’s health and the inequality found in the process of diagnosing and treating endometriosis and the menopause. Police-recorded crime fell by 41 per cent been 2006 and 2019 and, internationally, Scotland has led the way in tackling knife crime.
We are leading on other devolved issues and we can gain further autonomy over social care and social security. Scotland looks to the future, orientated towards more kindness, dignity and compassion. Scotland will continue to welcome refugees and asylum seekers, despite our limited powers in that area. Scotland has a long history of providing homes for those fleeing war and terror. The recent image on the news of a desperate parent in Afghanistan handing their baby to a stranger in the hope of a better future for the child is one that should haunt us all. The Scottish programme for government includes a promise of an additional £500,000 to support local authorities to accommodate more unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in Scotland.
In economic terms, far from being a disaster, Scotland has performed well since it has been handed greater powers. We argue that devolution is a disaster only from the perspective of those such as the Prime Minister, who sees the success of an SNP Government in Holyrood as a threat to Scotland remaining in the UK. In 1999, the first bricks were laid for this building, which represents Scotland’s democratic choice to realise our potential. Inscribed on those bricks are the words written by Ayr’s own Robbie Burns, and I wish that I could say them in a Scottish accent:
“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!”
We move to closing speeches. Foysol Choudhury, you have up to six minutes.16:42
I support the amendment in Alex Rowley’s name.
There can be no doubt that Scotland has a proud record to look back on. Since 2005, successive Scottish Governments have, through a specific international development fund, built a development programme to support and empower partner countries, including Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia and Pakistan. We have seen that programme contribute to progress made in tackling rising inflation, investing in local health services, improving food security and increasing access to financial services and schemes to support young people back into school, such as the Pakistan Scottish scholarship scheme for school children.
However, there can be no doubt that more can be done, particularly in the fight against Covid-19. It is clear that, although cases of Covid-19 are declining in Scotland and much of the west, we still have tens of millions of people without a first dose of the vaccine, which poses a threat to us all from possible new mutations and strains of the virus. As we recover, as a country of evident wealth, technology and manufacturing, we should be at the forefront in assisting the many citizens across the world who are still waiting for that first shot of the vaccine.
This is a time when we can show our country’s values and tell the world who we really are, and we did—or, at least, the UK Government did, by making a huge cut to international development at a time of international crisis. Conservative Party members should hang their heads in shame.
The research group Airfinity stated that there are now a “staggering” number of stockpiled “use now” jabs, which will be of no use to anyone by December. In its research, the group also predicted that, by the end of September this year, 7 billion vaccine doses would have been available around the world, with that number rising to 12 billion by December. Although it is good news that more supply is available, if our Government will not take the actions that are needed to prevent a new global outbreak, we are heading for a vaccine waste disaster.
The crucial issue now is how and where the vaccines will be distributed. If there is no plan, and if no agreement is drawn up urgently, many lives in the poorest nations on the planet will be lost needlessly. It is unthinkable that more than 100 million vaccine doses will have to be thrown away from the stockpiles of rich countries while the populations of the world’s poorest countries will pay, in lives lost, for our vaccine waste.
In Scotland and the UK, we need to up our game. In government, Scottish Labour would, of course, maintain the international development programme, including an increase in the climate justice fund, and improve its effectiveness. That includes strengthening safeguarding standards and improving transparency. Defeating Covid-19 requires international co-operation, and Scottish Labour is committed to the global effort to guarantee that everyone has equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments. We will not be safe until we are all protected.
Scotland can play a role in a range of international issues, including human rights, migration, refugees, global public health and climate change, as well as help to inform public and policy debate. Scottish Labour would support the establishment of a Scottish council for global affairs, which would be much more effective than the current system. By drawing on Scotland’s academic centres of excellence, as well as civic society and businesses, that body would serve as an independent repository of expertise on international affairs, and help to enhance knowledge of international affairs within Scotland.
I end my contribution by reflecting on the values that we hold with regard to human rights. I am deeply concerned by the Scottish Government’s poor stance on Police Scotland’s provision of training to the police forces of countries such as Sri Lanka, where those forces have engaged in human rights abuses and repression. In recent months, the Sri Lankan police have allegedly been responsible for torture and extrajudicial killings and have been implicated in a large pattern of such abuses over many years, despite receiving Police Scotland training on an almost continuous basis since 2013.
Mr Choudhury, please wind up your speech.
“Police Scotland should halt its Sri Lanka training program until the Sri Lankan government and police demonstrate a willingness to reform”.
That is a direct quote from Yasmine Ahmed, the UK director of Human Rights Watch.
Thank you, Mr Choudhury. Your time is up.16:49
Today, we have heard a variety of views from across the chamber, including from Angus Robertson and Alex Rowley, and we heard powerful speeches from Willie Rennie and my Conservative colleagues about Scotland’s place in the world. Although views vary, we can all find common ground in our desire to see Scots contributing to societies across the globe in a positive and thoughtful manner.
The history of Scotland and the United Kingdom is littered with examples of Scotland as a leading light in the world. Whether it is through the charitable works of Andrew Carnegie, the influence of David Hume and Adam Smith, or the power of Walter Scott’s pen, Scotland’s influence has been felt far and wide and has brought enlightenment and prosperity to the lives of others.
Of course, not all our overseas adventures have gone so well—just look at the infamous Darien scheme or the role of the Glasgow tobacco lords in developing the slave trade. On the whole, however, Scotland and the UK have excelled in setting a positive agenda around the globe, and in forging partnerships that endure to this day.
As my colleague Donald Cameron highlighted, it is only right that Scottish Governments seek to develop relationships with other nations. Jack McConnell’s trips to New York and the Scotland-Malawi partnership come to mind, but those schemes were never designed to interfere with UK foreign policy. They were designed to complement it, not compete with it; that is where the difference lies. As with so many aspects of devolution, constructive engagement in foreign policy creates an environment for co-operation and success, rather than for division and failure.
The development of international offices, although it is unobjectionable in itself, comes with an eye-watering price tag. As Donald Cameron highlighted, £8 million is a huge amount of money that could be better spent close to home on recruiting ambulance drivers or more teachers. Quite why we need to spend £2.2 million—[Interruption.] I cannot take an intervention, as I have a lot of points to get through. Quite why we need a £2.2 million international base in London is a question to which I am yet to hear an adequate answer. One would think that any Scottish Government that promotes international trade—[Interruption.] No. I will not take an intervention as I want to get through my points. One would think that any Scottish Government that promotes international trade basing trade hubs in British embassies would support the UK Government’s search for new markets for Scottish products, and its plans for free ports to boost Scottish manufacturing. However, we hear nothing in support of those efforts.
There is no recognition of the 70 trade deals with countries in every corner of the world, nor of what they mean for Scotland. There is only silence on that from the SNP. If we look at any trade deal that the UK Government has signed—whether it is with Japan, Australia, Ukraine or Singapore—we see that the SNP has voted against them all. The SNP has failed to back any trade deal for more than 15 years—even the EU-Canada agreement. For a party that is supposedly keen on international trade, that is a strange way to go about things.
Just a second, please, Ms Dowey. There are conversations going on across the chamber and across walkways. Could members please show Ms Dowey the courtesy of listening to what she is saying?
All those deals are good news for Scottish businesses. Often, it is Scots in the Foreign Office or the Department for International Trade, working on fostering the links that lead to trade deals, who strike the agreements. Their work is undervalued by the SNP, which is a shame to see.
Tess White explored the issue a little further and looked at the range of fantastic initiatives that are being promoted by the UK across the globe, all of which involve Scots in leading capacities. Whether it is the admirable efforts that have been put into distributing the Oxford vaccine overseas, the commitment to get 40 million more girls into school, or the impact of the AUKUS deal on enhancing global security, those projects are all joint works among the people of Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. One could say that they are achievements of the four nations. However, we do not hear from the SNP about those laudable schemes, nor do we hear about the role of Scots in securing the objectives.
It is not only in foreign policy that the United Kingdom, with Scotland as a partner, is succeeding. On the climate front, the UK’s efforts to combat climate change across the globe have continued for many years. As Maurice Golden pointed out, those efforts are providing clean energy to millions and are reducing greenhouse gas emissions by hundreds of millions of tonnes. On top of that, the UK Government has committed nearly £12 billion to helping developing countries to manage the impact of climate change. Let us also not forget that the UK was the first advanced economy in the world to set a net zero target for 2050.
Of course, there is still a great deal of work to do. The UK has always been a standard bearer for international liberty, the rule of law and liberal democracy, and it must continue to be that. We have a duty to promote free markets and to uphold the international order, which is increasingly under threat from authoritarian regimes. [Interruption.] That was a bit loud. Such regimes will only prosper from division among the four nations of the UK, which means that it is more important than ever that we stand together.
The same goes for the world of science. Today, the Prime Minister set out his ambition for the UK to secure status as a science and tech superpower by 2030. The Oxford vaccine programme, which is being rolled out across the world, is just one part of that grander strategy. So, too, are the drive to create Scottish space ports and the push to attract the best and the brightest through the global talent visa.
When standing together, Scotland and the UK are one of the greatest progressive forces for change in the world. When our people work hand in glove, great things happen.16:56
Before I respond to the points that have been raised in the debate, I thank all the members who have participated. As the cabinet secretary noted in his opening speech, it is a privilege to be involved in a discussion about Scotland’s role in making a positive and progressive contribution to the world.
Today’s contributions have been wide ranging. At times, the exchanges did not always reflect that positivity. However, this is a timely conversation for us to have and one that all members and every party should be a part of.
Last weekend, on the 31st anniversary of the reunification of East and West Germany, Angela Merkel warned that democracy must be protected. I hope that, irrespective of our differing views in this place, we can all agree with that important sentiment
I want to start on a note of consensus around an area over which I have ministerial responsibility—to my mind, it rarely gets the attention that it deserves, but many people, including Foysol Choudhury, mentioned it during the debate. In 2005, the then Liberal-Labour Executive committed to the first iteration of Scotland’s international development fund. With a budget of £3 million, it focused on Scotland’s historic relationship with Malawi. The Labour amendment rightly points to the fact that, politically, irrespective of who has been in government, our international development fund has always been well supported by Parliament. In addition, there has always been an understanding that the Scottish Government spend on the fund is in addition to the funds that the Scottish taxpayer already contributes to, because international development is—for the moment, anyway—largely reserved.
The cabinet secretary mentioned that, last year, we reviewed our approach to international development in the light of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, which pose questions to all areas of Government. Whom we listen to as a Government tells us a story about whose voices we value. The programme for government commits to the establishment of a global south programme panel. The panel will lend expertise to our international development work and ensure that voices from the global south directly shape our international development offer. We are also developing a new £500,000 women and girls fund, which Michelle Thomson noted. That will support local organisations in our partner countries to ensure that women and girls are safe, equal and respected.
We will also reconstitute our ministerial working group on policy coherence for sustainable development, which will work across portfolio areas of Government, and, as Maggie Chapman mentioned, move beyond policy silos of the past.
On that point, the Labour amendment highlights Police Scotland’s work in Sri Lanka, which Mercedes Villalba and Foysol Choudhury mentioned. That directly relates to policy coherence. It is vital that, if we espouse an international development offer with human rights at its heart, we ensure that our contributions internationally are coherently linked to that agenda. I understand that the UK Government is funding work through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in that regard. I also understand that, of course, operational issues are a matter for the chief constable. However, I assure Labour that I am keen to meet Police Scotland and hold discussions with the organisation in the spirit of the dialogue that I initiated with it during the international development review.
On vaccines for poorer nations, as Alex Rowley mentioned, Covid-19 knows no borders. I was pleased that last year, in the previous session of Parliament, we contributed £2 million to our efforts in support of our partner countries in the fight against Covid-19 via UNICEF. In this session, we have been able to support Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia with oxygen concentrators, ventilators and surplus personal protective equipment. Tess White mentioned the UK Government’s commitment to donate 100 million surplus coronavirus vaccines, and we would welcome that. However, I think that the UK Government, as a member of the G7, must do more, and I will come back later to the role that Scotland can play in that.
In his opening remarks, the cabinet secretary noted the deplorable decision of the UK Government to cut spending on development aid. Following the publication of the FCDO annual report in September, it has been confirmed that UK overseas development aid spending next year will be cut by 59 per cent in Zambia, by 51 per cent in Malawi, by 42 per cent in Rwanda and by 39 per cent in Pakistan. That is not just needlessly heartless; it is also short-sighted in the extreme. As non-governmental organisations told the UK Government in May, aid cuts will mean that 700,000 fewer girls will receive an education globally. I know that there are Tories who disagreed with the ODA cuts. Some of them spoke recently in the debate that we held on Afghanistan, and Ruth Davidson has spoken publicly regarding the cuts.
However, the Conservative motion states that the Scottish Parliament should call
“on the Scottish Government to work constructively with the UK Government in supporting international development programmes”.
Last year, I wrote to the Minister for Africa, Mr James Duddridge. I really wanted to speak to him about the merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, which directly impacted on Scottish charities. I wanted to understand better what that policy decision meant for the UK Government’s international development offer, which Scotland is meant to be part of, and I also wanted to seek Mr Duddridge’s views on my review of Scotland’s international development programme. He refused to meet me. Nor has it been just with regard to international development. Nineteen separate requests to meet on matters relating to immigration were refused. Three requests for the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands to meet Liz Truss were sent, and every one was ignored. We were gagged from speaking at the partnership council meeting with the EU and prevented from joining EU exit operations meetings the week before the EU settlement scheme ended, and an unelected parliamentary under-secretary of state for Scotland, who has bought his way into Government—
I know that the minister is upset about being ignored by UK Government ministers, but is she going to address the points that I raised about investment from Qatar, about SinoFortone and about the relationship of the Green Party with antisemitism? Is she going to address any of those issues at all?
I thank Willie Rennie for his intervention, although I do not think that his tone was particularly helpful. I addressed what he said in his contribution in my remarks regarding the working group on policy coherence for sustainable development, which is going to look specifically at that issue across Government. I hope that he takes some assurance from that.
Donald Cameron can rest assured that the cabinet secretary was consensual when he finally had a meeting with the UK Government’s immigration minister earlier today. However, he should understand the very difficult political reality that preceded that meeting, which I think it is fair to say is one of disrespect and contempt for devolution. It should not be like that. Our programme for government sets out further positive steps on migration. We will develop a migration service for Scotland, and we are committed to developing a rural visa pilot proposal. We will also press on with our population programme work, the ministerial task force having met just this morning.
I have heard today as well—[Interruption.] I would like to make progress, thank you. COP26 must galvanise all parties to take action that ensures that the world is on a pathway to net zero that is fair and just. It is vital that countries such as ours take our share of responsibility for finding solutions to the climate emergency.
We will also use our position as European co-chair of the Under2 Coalition to encourage greater action and more ambitious climate commitments from member Governments to demonstrate that global climate action cannot be met without action by Governments at all levels.
From a tailored approach to migration that meets Scotland’s needs, to increasing funding on international development by 50 per cent, to establishing a centre for peace, the Scottish Government is leading the way in progressive action on the global stage. We will not shy away from our responsibilities as a good global citizen. However, as we step up, we do so in spite of a UK Government that is determined to punish the world’s poorest as they attempt to recover from the global pandemic. We do so while the UK Government trumpets meaningless slogans such as “global Britain”, and we are doing so in the teeth of a UK Government that has no respect for devolution or for this institution.
The makar’s poem set a test for us all on Saturday:
“We seek good governance, Parliament.
Act bold. Be kind. Stay strong.”
The Scottish National Party and Green Party co-operation agreement asserts that the only way to do so is to take on the full powers of an independent nation—to make the choices, to protect our people, to govern ourselves with respect and to be accountable to our people across every policy area, as a normal Government should be.
In bringing the debate to a close, I again point to the value of an internationalist perspective and the vital connections between our actions at home and abroad. By being open and connected and making a positive contribution internationally, we give ourselves the greatest possible chance of building a successful, confident and independent Scotland.