Alastair Osborne, Scottish Officer of the Labour Campaign for International Development, writes here in a personal capacity about what our real priorities should be on international issues.
The Scottish Government’s submission to the Smith Commission is exactly what you would expect – a thinly disguised bid to revive their failed independence prospectus.
Despite all the noises they make about the other parties honouring “the vow” made before the referendum, their proposals do not relate to the issues covered in the vow at all. Even in the areas where they accept that powers will have to be reserved to Westminster they go on to list various aspects of the reserved areas that could be devolved or shared.
Writing before the referendum, I described the SNPs proposals for a separate International Development Department as ‘the Emperor’s new clothes’. They love to parade around dressed in the fine clothes of a progressive outward looking party, while advocating a policy that would have sliced over £1 billion from the current UK DfID budget to set up the separate vanity project of an independent Scottish Development Department.
Not only would the Scottish budget have lost the economies of scale of being part of the greater UK effort, but the remaining UK would have had to reduce its programme and reorder its priorities. In addition, time and money would have been spent both sides of the border on setting up new departments, institutions and systems – time and money which could have gone to relieving world poverty. Isn’t it ironic that, had there been a Yes vote on the 18th of September, the SNP would have brought about what the Tory right have failed to do – the end to a UK consensus on sticking with the DfID programme and the 0.7% target, achieved largely due to Labour’s record over the years. Everything would have been up for renegotiation, with projects competing with other projects to survive.
Thankfully the majority of the electorate eventually realised that the Emperor was in the ‘altogether’.
All that has happened now is that Nicola Sturgeon has grabbed a few fig leaves to cover their exposure and relaunched the independence prospectus. Their latest proposals are that the Scottish Government’s current international development activity ‘should be given legislative underpinning rather than relying on permission from the UK Government that can be removed at any time’ and that Scotland should be given ‘a commensurate share of the UK’s current international development budget for relevant countries’. What part of ‘reserved powers’ do they not understand? Of course, Scottish Labour must take some of the blame for this, for we started this off by getting the Scottish Parliament involved in undertaking limited development work in Malawi and a few other places.
Labour should strongly resist including anything relating to defence or foreign affairs in the discussions on new powers. That argument was settled in the referendum vote. They form part of the strong UK that Scotland voted for.
Instead, having delivered on more powers for our devolved Parliament, Scottish Labour should refocus on being a strong internationalist party. Scottish Labour should be discussing policies on Palestine and the Middle East, international human rights, international development, world disarmament and a whole host of other international issues. The Scottish Labour Party should be articulating its views on these within the wider Labour movement, making its voice heard within the leadership of the next Labour government, and working in partnership with our Scottish Labour MPs to do this.
Just as we successfully demonstrated that we don’t need independence to be proud Scots, we must now show that we don’t have to give the Scottish Parliament a pretend international role for Scotland to be a focus for strong robust progressive debate on international issues. The Scottish Labour Party should be leading that debate.