Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Former official warns over Scottish aid commitment

A former head of international development in Scotland has questioned whether an independent Scotland could be a "global leader" on aid.

David Fish told a Holyrood committee that Scotland could have a "positive influence".

However, he urged ministers to concentrate on areas where a "real difference" could be made.

The Scottish government has promised to match current UK commitments on aid spending if voters back independence.

The Scottish Parliament's European and External Relations Committee questioned academics and former professionals in the field as part of an inquiry into proposals for international development policy, if there was a referendum Yes vote.

The Scottish government's White Paper on independence proposes to enshrine a commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid in law, and to be a "global leader" on international development.

The UK government has committed itself to a 0.7% target in line with international agreements and the Scottish government says it will meet this target from the moment of independence.

Giving evidence to the committee, Mr Fish, a former head of the UK Department for International Development (DfID) in Scotland, questioned whether the ambition could be met.

"I don't really see Scotland to be in a position of a global leader in the way that I interpret it, although there are lots of areas where Scotland can have a really positive influence," he said.

"I have to say that ministers, given the inclination, will spend money all over the place.

"When the Scottish programme started off, ministers wanted to do activity in 28 countries and we helped focus them down to a very small number."

Neil Thin of Edinburgh University argued a newly independent government should not rush towards immediately spending 0.7% of its income on aid.

Last year MPs on the House of Commons's international development committee claimed aid from the UK could fall by £1bn in 2015-16 if Scotland became independent.

Committee chair and Liberal Democrat MP Sir Malcolm Bruce told the BBC: "By definition Scotland would be opting to be a small player, not at the top table, finding a niche role for itself."

Scottish international development minister Humza Yousaf said Scotland's aid projects were already "transformational".

In its White Paper, the Scottish government said: "Being a global leader in international development is not necessarily just about the size of aid given in absolute monetary terms, but the impact that can be made across government policy."

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