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Agenda: Small, independent countries best equipped to tackle global poverty

Scotland's contribution to tackling global poverty will soon be the focus of a report from Westminster's International Development Select Committee, "concerned" about the potential implications of independence.

But so loaded are this pro-Union committee's questions, so partisan were its evidence-gathering sessions, and (I suspect) so pre-determined are its conclusions, it has been described as an "official enquiry into how calamitous independence would be for international development". I would be surprised if any of the major aid agencies even dignified it with a response.

Playing political football with the issue of global poverty, which many of us regard as the main moral challenge of our generation, is a not only a missed opportunity for worthwhile debate, but also an insult to the millions at the sharp end of global poverty. They, and we, deserve better.

My own view, having observed national aid programmes of all shapes and sizes around the world, is that independence offers Scotland a huge opportunity to do things better. Independence will enable us to put our values into practice and, more importantly, to increase our impact on this global scandal.

The Centre for Global Development ranks 27 countries in terms of their overall commitment to alleviating global poverty.

At the top are small European countries with similar populations to Scotland, and, thanks to strong public and cross-party support, I believe an independent Scotland would join them at the forefront of international development.

The British Government, to its credit, has committed to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on aid this year but it forgets to mention that this target was first agreed 43 years ago and has been missed until now.

The price of this Tory and Labour negligence to the poor over the years is £87.5 billion. In stark contrast our neighbours such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden met this target in the 1970s and have maintained it through the economic vagaries of subsequent decades.

The UK's commitment is fragile. A manifesto pledge to enshrine the 0.7% commitment into law has been broken. Question marks also exist over how these funds will be used, and in whose interests.

Ivan Lewis, then Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, pointed out in May that "it has been suggested that in the future UK aid will be used to replace cuts to the defence budget and promote British trade interests".

The Scottish Government's approach is stronger and more forward-thinking. As well as a firm commitment to enshrine the 0.7% UN target into law, it has also agreed to support development education centres that teach our young people about their roles as global citizens.

With an educated and supportive population, our aid budget could become one of real development; that is, not just making the lives of the poor more comfortable but ridding their lives of a poverty which de-humanises them.

I have no doubt that the Westminster committee will argue that an independent Scotland would forego "representation" at the tables of the International Monetary Fund, UN Security Council, G8 and so on.

But I doubt whether our values were represented at that 'top table' by former Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher when she was soft on global workers' rights, or by Tony Blair when he argued for war on Iraq.

The values of Scotland's inhabitants, demonstrated in the Clutha Bar tragedy, could produce a very different, more holistically focused approach to development.

Not as something imposed by an ex-imperial power with its delusions intact, but as a movement of solidarity with so-called developing countries, producing friendship rather than exploitation, and a sharing of resources.

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