The Department for International Development is a force for good through which Scotland can lead change, writes ANAS SARWAR
Since the Scottish elections the debate about Scotland’s role in the United Kingdom has rightly been reignited. But when discussing Scotland’s role in the United Kingdom, we must also consider Scotland’s role in the world.
I recently returned from a visit to East Africa. For decades the region has been plagued by conflict, corruption and extreme poverty. I visited Rwanda, DRC and Burundi and saw development projects spearheaded by the Department for International Development (DFID). East Africa is a part of the world where more than half the population live in extreme poverty; one in five children dies before they reach the age of five and preventable diseases like malaria are prevalent.
I was welcomed into the home of an orphan family in Shombo village who live every day with the threat of conflict, starvation and disease. I met with representatives of other donor countries and agencies like the UN, the World Bank and USAID. We discussed how we could work in a more co-ordinated way to minimise overlap and maximise impact on the ground. With DfID’s technical assistance and investment we are not only saving lives, but also helping build infrastructure and institutions, offering health and education services. With DFID investment and technical assistance, the UK has helped increase Rwanda’s tax revenue six fold over 10 years – just one of many success stories.
The first priority for every elected member is quite rightly his/her own constituents. But my wish for every child to have the same opportunity in life, for every family to be treated with fairness and for every citizen to have access to justice doesn’t border my constituency or my country alone. It’s often said at meetings with UN agencies and NGO partners that DFID’s biggest asset isn’t the money but its people. Scots are at the heart of DFID’s work. We can proudly say that Scotland is home to DFID headquarters in East Kilbride and employs 450 people. At the same time talented Scots are working in DFID offices across the world, often in some of the most volatile and difficult places.
DFID’s budget of around £7 billion a year, funding 27 bilateral programmes as well as several multilateral relationships with the World Bank, UN, the EU and others, demonstrates the strength of scale and unity.
It’s clear that the UK is a global leader and an opinion former on development. I am proud that Scotland has a seat at the top table and that, as part of the United Kingdom, we don’t just deliver change, we lead it. My experience with the International Development Committee has underlined for me that, together, not only can we make Britain better, we can make the world better too.
Anas Sarwar is Labour MP for Glasgow Central. Follow him on Twitter at @AnasSarwar.