Scottish Labour committed International Development as a ‘Public Service’, says Party Leader

Scottish Labour committed International Development as a ‘Public Service’, says Party Leader

On 22nd February 2019, Richard Leonard MSP, Leader of Scottish Labour, joined members of Scotland’s International Development Alliance and the Scotland Malawi Partnership for an engaging roundtable discussion at the City Chambers in Edinburgh.

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This meeting came at a useful time for both Mr Leonard and our sector. Political parties of all persuasions in Scotland are now in the early stages of policy formulation for their 2021 manifestos. Much can change between now and then, but as Mr Leonard himself pointed out, “the 2021 Scottish Election will be won by what is said and done in 2019 and 2020.”

Recognising the significant role played by Scottish Labour in the creation of Scotland’s international development work, and the Party’s ongoing support for it, participants welcomed Mr Leonard’s opening comments, which reaffirmed his Party’s commitment to “tackling not only poverty, but also inequality”. Reflecting on the UK Labour Party’s 2018 Policy Paper on International Development, Mr Leonard also emphasised his Party’s rejection of the current trend that sees aid increasingly linked to trade and the national interest.

Mr Leonard was pressed by participants to outline what Scottish Labour would do differently to the current Scottish Government if the Party is in the driving seat at Holyrood in the future. Initially, Mr Leonard cited the greater involvement of the trade union movement and a greater focus on fighting inequality as two distinctive elements of what Labour would seek to bring to the fore in their international development policy in Scotland.

However, he also framed his answer around a wider point about ending austerity, and said that they want to make sure all public services, including international development, benefit from increased investment. He said that as the country moves towards a post-Brexit reality, there is a political imperative to recast our international relations.

Mr Leonard made it clear that his Party would seek to strengthen and formalise the relationship between civil society and government in regard to international development, and make sure that future international development policy under a Scottish Labour-led Scottish Government would be developed in conjunction with the sector.

On climate, Mr Leonard was pressed to give details of his Party’s position on the Climate Bill currently going through the Scottish Parliament. While welcoming the party’s commitment to reducing Scotland’s emissions to net-zero by 2050, participants emphasised the urgent need to do more, citing the recent IPPC report and the moral imperative of climate justice arguments which were also raised at a recent meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on International Development.

The Alliance and many of its members have called for the latest Climate Bill to be bold, and set a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest, and a reduction of 77% by 2030. Some Alliance members are working towards proposing amendments to the bill as part of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition.

In his response, Mr Leonard acknowledged the tensions within the Labour movement in terms of economic priorities, including jobs in impacted sectors, and environmental trade-offs, especially for industrial trade unions. However, he said his party does support a move away from fossil fuels, with appropriate economic planning and a just transition. Above all, he said he recognises that bold climate policy is “a moral obligation as well as a social, economic and environmental one.”

Towards the end of the meeting, Mr Leonard was asked about how his Party would: ensure better mechanisms for ensuring coherence between different strands of Scottish Government policy (e.g. between climate justice funding and domestic emission reduction); mainstream their stated commitment to the promotion of gender justice; add value to the unique Scottish partnership with Malawi; and strengthen the provision of global citizenship education within Scotland’s schools. His responses demonstrated a willingness and desire to seek views and expertise from civil society in our sector, while also acknowledging that countervailing agendas within the Labour movement can only be addressed by long-term economic planning and through the introduction of strategy that moves away from what he described as the neoliberal economic doctrine of the past 30 years.

Jane Salmonson, Alliance CEO said:

“As a sector, we should use the opportunity when political parties are in listening mode to help shape the approach they adopt now whilst shaping their future manifestos, and aim high in our aspirations when doing so. This roundtable was therefore part of a series we are hosting with every party represented in the Scottish Parliament.”

Alliance members are invited to get in touch with expressions of interest, if they would like to be involved in this advocacy work in the months ahead.


This meeting was part of an ongoing series of meetings with political leaders in Scotland organised by the Alliance.  For more information about this meeting or any other, please get in touch!