I must begin this piece with a big declaration of interest.
As someone who has been asked to participate in a new independent research institute called Scotland International (SI), I suppose there is a vested interest in bringing its imminent launch to the attention of readers.
While SI has yet to be formally launched and its website remains a work in progress, the mission statement of its founders and fellows makes clear the case for its long overdue presence as a body whose purpose will be "dedicated to the analysis of policy issues which are of significance to Scotland and its place in the world".
Why does Scotland require such an independent institute? Previously in this column, I have expressed what I believe to be a pressing need for a take on foreign affairs viewed through a specifically Scottish rather than Westminster telescope. After nearly three decades as a journalist covering foreign news stories and analysis, I am more convinced than ever of the need for Scotland International's self-declared role of examining the issues of security, development and democracy as they impact on our nation at home and abroad.
I was reminded of this need again recently during a trip to Malawi to look at the problem of child exploitation through forced labour and trafficking. During that visit I had the opportunity to see the impressive results of a project funded in part by Scottish Government money and run by the humanitarian agency Tearfund and its local Malawian partner, the Livingstonia Synod Aids Programme (LISAP). With a Scottish grant of £400,000 supporting more than 16,000 vulnerable girls and boys in Malawi, many youngsters have been rescued and brought back into full-time education having previously been sold off as child brides or forced to work as labourers.
Over the years I've come across many humanitarian and development projects, but this one was run with an ethical underpinning and a financial transparency singling it out as something Scotland can be proud of initiating and supporting. For this project to work as well as it does, requires both a proper understanding of Scotland's historical relationship with Malawi as well as the ability to identify the right local partners and organisations on the ground.
This is just one small example of where an independent research institute like Scotland International can prove invaluable. Humanitarian intervention, global development and trade, military provision, nuclear disarmament, human security, environmental concerns would all fall under the remit of such an institute, giving a Scottish interpretation of how such policy issues might be addressed. In its two founding directors, Dr John MacDonald and Dr Colin Fleming, SI has researchers whose expertise is renowned in both Scottish and overseas universities. This expertise includes international relations, war studies and transatlantic security. It is their firmly held belief that broad civic knowledge and participation are the cornerstone of any vibrant democracy.
With or without a Yes vote next year, Scotland International will be a welcome addition to our nation's intellectual life and policy shaping portfolio.
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