In an Agenda article last week, Duncan MacLaren sought to pre-empt yesterday's report by the House of Commons International Development Committee by suggesting that being small and independent would make Scotland better equipped to tackle global poverty.
The article refers to a study by the Center for Global Development (CGD), an organisation I sometimes work with in my job with a major anti-poverty charity.
Mr MacLaren implies that the size of the different donor countries in this study has something do with their effectiveness in fighting global poverty. He suggests that, because some of the countries at the top of CGD's ranking are small, an independent Scotland would also be a world-leader in poverty eradication. What he fails to mention is that small countries are scattered throughout CGD's ranking, with Switzerland and Slovakia towards the bottom.
A country's size is not what determines its international record. A report by international development charity ActionAid UK found that the UK is already a global leader, being second best amongst all donors at giving "real aid" - aid that helps poor countries stand on their own two feet, reduces inequality and supports the poorest people. By contrast, the report also found that Austria, a small, independent country, was one of the worst donors and Finland and Belgium, also small countries, came somewhere in the middle.
In my work I see for myself the brilliant work that UK aid does in many countries, most recently Tanzania, India and the West Bank. I have also seen money raised in the UK by some of our great British charities supporting vulnerable communities in Bangladesh to provide clean drinking water; women in Tanzania to earn a basic living; and girls in India to stand up for their right to go to school and live free from violence.
As a Scot, I am proud that the British Government has committed a record £500 million to help Syrian refugees living in desperate conditions. Increasingly, aid is becoming part of the picture only when it comes to defeating global poverty. Because of the last UK Government's international leadership, a historic global agreement saw £1 billion of debt written off for 18 of the world's most indebted countries.
Many other issues are vitally important in determining whether the world's poorest people will be able to thrive: from stopping climate change to tackling tax dodging and promoting women's rights. Each of these issues involves debate and negotiation at an international level and a country's ability to have a strong and progressive voice matters.
The EU is the world's biggest aid donor and is increasingly flexing its diplomatic muscles on the global stage. Cathy Ashton, the EU's chief diplomat, was credited with playing a crucial role in the recent deal over the future of Iran's nuclear programme. But with uncertainty over whether an independent Scotland would actually be part of the EU, it seems likely that we wouldn't even have a seat at the table. As chair of the G8, and as one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the British Government has prioritized action to stop sexual violence in some of the world's poorest countries. There are practical benefits for Scotland too, in the shape of 600 jobs at the Department for International Development's office in East Kilbride. Leaving the UK would see Scotland stand to lose these jobs.
As part of the UK, Scots have excelled at being global actors and changing our world for the better: from Mary Slessor and David Livingstone to Gordon Brown in his role as the UN Special Envoy for Global Education to Jack McConnell in his work on international conflict and peace building;.
There is room for improvement when it comes to the UK's record in fighting international poverty. But it helps no-one, least of all people living in poverty, for the Yes campaign to use this issue as a political football by seeking to diminish our country's impressive record.
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