Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today, I am honoured to be with you for this important policy consultation – even if we are not together physically.
The fact that we are not physically together today highlights the challenging nature of the circumstances for international development.
While we in the Global North are now beginning to move towards considering the pandemic over and working out how we live with COVID, far too many in the Global South still suffer and die from what is now a survivable disease, even if not a preventable one.
We also face difficult circumstances for international development in our domestic politics. The UK Government has reneged on its commitments on Official Development Assistance and has opposed a waiver of intellectual property rights which would aid those in the Global South to manufacture the vaccine doses and protective equipment they desperately need.
This need is shown most starkly in Africa. Over 300 million people live in African countries with vaccination rates under 10%. The Democratic Republic of the Congo alone, a country of some 90 million people, has a vaccination rate under 1%.
The fact that more than six hundred thousand of Britain’s doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine had to be destroyed in August last year is nothing less than a scandal, not least in the wake of the government’s promises about donating surplus doses to poorer nations.
Similarly, we have seen other scandals around the world of less economically developed nations receiving donations of vaccines that were either at, or so close to their expiry date that they could not be used at all.
As Gordon Brown has rightly pointed out in recent months, not only is this vaccine inequality a humanitarian disaster, it also threatens our own security by raising the risk of new variants which could potentially break through the protection that vaccines have afforded us.
In short, none of us can be truly safe until we are all safe.
But the good news is that it does not have to be like this. We will continue to campaign for that waiver that would allow the less economically developed world to catch up with our level of COVID protection.
We also recognise the debt that the Global North, including Scotland, owes to the Global South in tackling climate change, the causes of which have been primarily in the former, while the effects are being felt most keenly in the latter.
We will continue to champion Scotland’s potential to be at the forefront of green energy, pioneering renewable energy technologies that provide hope for the future, and we must ensure that technologies for climate mitigation and adaptation are shared with those in the Global South.
At COP26 last year, my colleague Sarah Boyack and I met with the Minister of Information of Bangladesh, where we discussed the urgent need for climate adaptation and the tremendous problems that will be caused in Bangladesh if the annual floods and now-annual cyclones continue to get worse at the current rate.
What quickly became apparent was how much we could learn from each other. We are each facing starkly different challenges from climate change, but as communities in each country seek to protect and empower themselves, they amass experience and expertise that can be applicable far beyond their own borders.
We therefore encouraged conversations between Bangladesh and the Scottish and UK governments to share best practices for climate adaptation and the potential of renewable energy such as hydroelectric and tidal power.
We must continue to value and develop these bilateral relationships if we are to succeed in promoting international development and climate justice. We must be outward-looking, which is something the current Scottish Government all too often lacks.
While the SNP are too content to pat themselves on the back and celebrate their brand of Scottish exceptionalism, our internationalism links our values at home with causes overseas.
There is still much to be done, for example, to protect and embed Scotland’s status as a Fairtrade nation, such as ensuring that Fairtrade products are included in all public procurement processes.
Edinburgh has been a Fairtrade city for almost two decades and has built up a proud legacy of supporting fairer trade terms and working conditions across the world.
We know what best practice looks like in this field, and it involves helping communities across the world build their own community power through more ethical trade and procurement practices at home.
We know that this is one of the best possible ways to expand the use and power of cooperatives in the Global South.
It is overdue for Scotland to build upon this legacy and apply these considerations nationally.
Lastly, I would note that while we in Scotland have a proud history of contributing to international development projects despite it being an area reserved to Westminster, this can be so much more effective when Holyrood and Westminster work together rather than apart.
To this end, last year I met with the Shadow Cabinet Minister for International Development, my Labour and Co-operative colleague in Westminster, Preet Kaur Gill, to discuss how we can work together more closely on these and many other issues.
While the world faces many development challenges in the coming years, meetings such as this make me feel confident that the Labour and cooperative tradition of internationalism is in a good place for the future.