THE SNP’s international development minister Humza Yousaf told MPs that an independent Scotland would be “the world leader” in tackling world poverty and offering aid to poorer nations.
However, Mr Yousaf said the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) could have a “continued presence” in an independent Scotland for a transitional period.
The minister, speaking to the Commons international development committee, also rejected claims that starting a new aid department under independence would lead to a huge expense and a risk to jobs.
Mr Yousaf, speaking at the committee as its members visited Edinburgh. said: “I’d have no objection to DFID having a continued presence in Scotland, adding that “Scotland could do better” at helping poor nations if it had the full powers of an independent country.
He said: “We could be the world leader in international development.”
Speaking ahead of the committee, Mr Yousaf attacked successive UK governments for failing to meet the UN’s target of spending 0.7 per cent of gross national income on aid for 42 years.
The SNP would enshrine the target in law if it gains power in an independent Scotland, according to Mr Yousaf.
He said: “With independence we will legislate to enshrine the UN’s 0.7 per cent aid target in law, effectively future-proofing the aid budget. That contrasts to the UK’s record on aid, which is one of missed targets.
“For 42 years the UK failed to meet the United Nations aid target to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on aid - a failure which led to ‘missing aid’ of £87.5 billion since 1970 according to House of Commons library research.
“This year the UK should finally reach the target, something our Scandinavian neighbours did decades ago.
“However they have also failed to enshrine the target in legislation, despite promising to do so in the coalition agreement and in both the Tory and Lib Dem manifestos.
“We know that the Conservative right wing have consistently attacked the aid budget despite its life-saving work, and therefore without future-proofing the aid budget there is huge uncertainty over its future.
“It’s hard to quantify the precise difference that the UK’s missing aid would have made to the world’s poorest, but there can be no doubt that it would have made a positive difference and would have saved and improved lives.
“We know aid saves lives, be it in humanitarian emergencies, in long-term efforts to get children into school or to improve healthcare.
“Every day almost 19,000 under-fives die from poverty-related conditions and around 800 women die in childbirth or from pregnancy complications.
“The UK’s missing aid reflects a huge missed opportunity to both save lives and improve lives. An independent Scotland will not make the same mistake.
“We already know from previous Westminster Select Committee reports that the UK intends to reduce the number of civil service jobs at its East Kilbride office. The UK’s failure to future-proof the aid budget also fails to protect those jobs.”
• The Scotsman Conferences is hosting a series of events capturing the many facets of the Scottish independence debate. 3 December sees a formidable line up of expert speakers tackle “The Independence White Paper: A Business Plan for Scotland?” For more details on this and other great events please visit www.scotsmanconferences.com