Optimism important as 2018 gets underway...

Optimism important as 2018 gets underway...

A new year message from Jamie Morrison, Chair of Scotland’s International Development Alliance Board of Trustees.

Twelve months ago, the world seemed to be entering an era of unprecedented uncertainty and risk. Those involved in international development were imagining what Brexit and a newly elected President Trump might mean for their work and for the world.  As 2018 gets underway, the outlook seems mixed, with glimpses of hope to be found amongst the perils and risks carried over from last year.

One thing is for sure, here in Scotland, support for international development remains resolute - with the Scottish Government announcing that it plans to maintain current levels of funding for International Development, for the Climate Justice Fund and for the Humanitarian Emergencies Fund.  While the funding is extremely welcome, it is not all about money.  The Scottish Government’s International Development pledge of commitment to policy coherence for development is just as important in terms of this small nation’s contribution to the sustainable development goals.  We should feel proud that this year we in Scotland are likely to see some of the most ambitious climate change legislation in the world go through parliament and become law. The Climate Change Bill sets out bold commitments to decarbonise our economy and place Scotland at the forefront of the global fight against climate change.

Globally, the Trump Administration continues to worry those committed to a fairer world, as exemplified by the recent announcement from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that he would step down and not seek re-election. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein had openly criticised world powers, including the US, and is reported as having been asked to tone his comments down.  If his refusal to do so made his resignation inevitable, then that is a worrying signal for the international community concerned with human rights and the independence of multilateralism.

At the UK level, a change in personnel at the top came at the end of the year, with Penny Mordaunt replacing Priti Patel as Secretary of State for International Development.  While quite new to aid and development, Penny Mordaunt does seem to be committed to it and is perhaps more likely to champion aid and development than her predecessor.  Immediately after her appointment, during her first overseas visit, she announced a further £12m in aid for the Rohingya crisis, as she met with refugees in Bangladesh. Given the pressure from some powerful elements in the media and the UK Conservative Party, we could have seen a minister with deep-rooted scepticism of DFID and of aid and development more generally.

During a visit to Djibouti from where UK aid is shipped to Yemen, the new minister warned of the “human tragedy” of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with over 11 million people needing help to survive and pledged an extra £50 million in aid.   She also called for an immediate opening up of commercial and humanitarian access into Yemen during a visit to Saudi Arabia, and condemned the continued Houthi blockages in the north of the country.  Her end of year message was this: “while 2017 was a year of harrowing humanitarian crises, the truth is 2018 could be even bleaker.”  She committed an extra £21m to the £55m DFID currently provides to the UN’s global emergency response fund.

For Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson however, his end of year message relating to the UK’s aid and development budgets was this: “the old jam jars are being smashed.  The cash will be more sensibly distributed with a view to supporting British foreign policy”.  He also said Brexit would allow the UK to determine how the £1.3bn currently contributed to the EU’s aid and development programmes is spent. 

As Chair of Scotland’s International Development Alliance, may I take this opportunity to wish our membership and the communities and individuals represented a safe and productive 2018. Despite uncertainties and apparent mixed messages, I remain optimistic for the coming year and confident that by continuing to work together we can realise our shared vision of a better and fairer world for all. I remain inspired and humbled by the phenomenal work undertaken by our membership and consider it a privilege to be working alongside you, so thank you for your encouragement, engagement and ongoing support of the Alliance. 

Jamie Morrison