Over the last 15 years, Scotland has developed a genuinely innovative, distinctive and effective approach to international development, despite this predominantly being a reserved area of government. Successive Scottish governments, of different stripes, have been inspired by the scale and impact of civic activism in the historic friendship Scotland and Malawi enjoy. This is a friendship which is underpinned by mutual respect and mutual understanding. It is made up of hundreds of individual connections, between schools, universities, churches, hospitals, businesses and community groups, each often modest in scale individually but, together, a powerful force for good.
Scottish governments, with the unwavering support of every party represented in the Scottish Parliament, have looked to engage and support this inspiring civic activism, rather than re-invent, control or impose new government initiatives. This has unleashed a powerful multiplier effect over the last decade and a half, with government, parliament and civic society working together, in both nations, to find innovative, people-driven solutions to fight extreme poverty, the great moral outrage of our time. Government resources have been multiplied many times over by far larger commitments from Scottish civic and associational life because the people of Scotland and Malawi have taken pride in what they can achieve, through friendship and solidarity.
With Scotland hosting COP26 in November, and Malawi chairing the ‘Least Developed Countries’ (LDC) block, this relationship is now more important than ever. The President of Malawi has challenged Scotland to use COP26 to hold the Scotland-Malawi relationship up as “an example to the world of two nations approaching climate change with the sense of urgency, and in the spirit of collaboration, commensurate with the existential threat this truly is”.
It is also now more vital than ever that Scotland holds to its commitment to positive internationalism, given the failure elsewhere in the UK to honour legal and moral commitments in this space. When the UK Government abandoned its Department for International Development to a merger with the FCO, I wrote to the Prime Minister expressing our concerns. The replies, from the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of State for Africa, emphasised that there would be no cut to the commitment to spending 0.7% of our GNI on international development because “it is enshrined in law” and “it is right in itself”. Within a few months, the UK Government reneged on this commitment and today we see the impact in countries like Malawi: projects have been started and abandoned, promises have been made and broken, and dedicated staff have been made redundant.
Scotland can and must have a strong voice. It must show moral leadership where others are not.
We must continue to champion an approach to international development which works with and through communities on the ground, looking to support local solutions and dignified partnerships of solidarity and support. The eyes of the world will be on Scotland in November. We can choose to re-set the global agenda, fighting the climate crisis by standing with our friends and partners in Malawi, holding up a new model of global north-south cooperation and friendship.
David Hope-Jones OBE, Chief Executive of the Scotland Malawi Partnership