PERSPECTIVES: Implications Of Scottish Independence For Development Cooperation

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Photo: The writer | Credit: ECDPMBy James Mackie*

BRUSSELS (IDN) - While the debate on Scottish independence is heating up prior to the referendum in September 2014, it is important to consider what implications an independent Scotland would have for UK and European development aid. While the UK aid would undoubtedly be affected, this new donor country would need to make an effort to minimize the effect on further aid fragmentation.

Scottish independence would lead to more fragmentation of European development cooperation and a major reduction in Department for International Development (DFID) programmes as a result of an estimated GBP 1 billion cut in its budget, yet neither of these two outcomes are really dealt with in two recent reports on what a Yes vote in the 2014 Scottish referendum would mean for development cooperation.


The UK House of Commons International Development Committee (IDC) published its report on the Implications for development in the event of Scotland becoming an independent country on December 19 and a few weeks earlier the Scottish development NGO umbrella Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland (NIDOS) launched its proposals on how to shape a ‘coherent international development policy for Scotland.’

Both reports welcome some key features of a development policy announced in the Scottish government white paper on Scotland’s Future such as a commitment to enshrining in law the international 0.7% ODA/GNI target and a ‘Do No Harm’ commitment to promoting policy coherence for development.

The IDC estimates a GBP 1 billion or 8.3% cut in DFID’s budget on a pro-rata basis of Scotland’s share of the UK population. It quotes the Secretary of State to say that like every Government department ‘we would have to cut our cloth according to the budget we are given’, but it does not go into detail on what this might entail in terms of either DFID’s bilateral programme or its funding to multilateral organisations. Equally while the Committee makes a strong point about how Scotland cannot hope to have as much of a transformational influence as DFID, it says nothing about the possible loss of influence DFID might suffer as a result of such a major reduction in its budget. Of course Secretary of State Justine Greening will still be able to maintain that she expects to continue to meet the pro rata 0.7% target, but such a large budget cut in real terms will nevertheless have consequences.

Rather than focusing on the impact on development the Committee makes a major point about the likely disruption to DFID’s work caused by the need to close its office in Scotland. This office employs some 550 of DFID’s 1,280 UK based civil servants and relocating most of these to England would involve costs and disruption over several years and a ‘risk to DFID’s staffing structure’ that needs to be carefully managed.

Scottish contribution

The NIDOS report on the other hand, focuses on policy recommendations for a new Scottish international development programme. One of its strongest emphases is on policy coherence for development (PCD). Here it argues that Scotland should aspire to follow Sweden’s approach to PCD and it provides a well-informed analysis of the implications such a choice would imply in terms of long-term policy thinking, cross-party political support and regular monitoring and accountability. It also refers to the EU’s biennial PCD report and the importance the European Consensus on Development attaches to PCD. If a new post-independence Scottish government were indeed able to follow such a path this would provide a welcome boost to the promotion of PCD in Europe.

However, although the report does recognise European work on PCD, it remains silent on the wider EU framework for development cooperation that Scotland would be expected to operate in if it continued as a member of the EU. The contextual chapter talks about the global and UN context but says nothing about the EU. Yet if Scotland stayed in the EU then part of its contribution to the EU budget would be for development cooperation and it would be expected to pay into the European Development Fund.

A sizeable proportion of Scottish Official Development Assistance (ODA) would therefore be channelled through the EU, and Scottish government representatives would be expected to participate in Council working groups overseeing the use of this ODA. There are several EU member states with aid budgets of around Euro 1 billion, similar to what Scotland might have, and around a dozen with less.

There is therefore plenty of small donor experience in the EU from which Scotland could learn in defining a clear vision and role for Scottish development cooperation. Scotland would also be expected to reflect the European Consensus and the more recent Agenda for Change in its own policy. Although the NIDOS recommendations are not far removed from these two policy statements their relevance to an independent Scotland is not explicitly recognised.

Aid fragmentation

Perhaps the most difficult issue however is the further aid fragmentation that Scottish independence would bring. The continued aid effectiveness debate from the 2005 Paris Declaration has highlighted that global aid delivery is too fragmented and that raises costs for partner countries. New member states joining the EU has regularly meant an increase in the number of donors and Scotland should learn from this.

While it is to be warmly welcomed that an independent Scotland would seek to make a substantial contribution to international development, a new Scottish government would need to think carefully about how to manage this contribution responsibly without causing further fragmentation and higher costs for partners.

Working with a limited number of partner countries as both the current Scottish government and NIDOS are suggesting, is certainly helpful, but even better would be to take the really radical step of avoiding to create a new development agency altogether and instead channelling 100% of Scottish ODA through existing delivery organisations such as NGOs, the UN or the EU.

*Dr James Mackie is Senior Adviser EU Development Policy to the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM) based in Maastricht. This article was originally published on ECDPM Talking Points on January 16 and reflects the author’s personal view. It is being reposted with slight modifications. [IDN-InDepthNews – January 17, 2014]

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