Alliance Annual Conference: speech by the Minister for Europe and International Development - 24 September 2020

Keynote speech given by the Minister for Europe and International Development, Jenny Gilruth MSP, at the Alliance Annual Conference on International Development on 24 September 2020.


I’m delighted to attend this year’s Alliance Annual Conference.  I would like to thank its Chair, Simon Anderson, for his kind invitation to join you all today and Jane Salmonson for making the arrangements.  I would also like to thank our Chair for the day, Talat, for her introduction.

Though I am unable to attend the whole day, I look forward to hearing about your discussions on the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, how these are being approached, and lessons learned for the recovery period as well as the longer term.

As we meet it is important to remember that the 75th Session of the  UN General Assembly is also meeting. Amongst other things there will be discussion on Covid-19, the Sustainable Development Goals and Climate Changes. It will be interesting to see what the outcomes of that General Assembly will be.

I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome the recent Report of the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group – on the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development ‘Building Back Better: The SDGs as a roadmap for recovery.’  It will be interesting to hear the UK Government’s response to this report. 

Though, given the Prime Minister’s recent comments to Westminster’s Liaison Committee on the possible unilateral change to the definition of ODA by the UK Government, I am not hopeful that any response will be that positive.


Turning now to today’s Conference - 

The theme of this Conference is the Covid-19 pandemic, and the effects it is having both in Scotland and the wider world.

However, we should also remember that as the UN has highlighted, ‘the pandemic is not the only issue the world faces. Racism, intolerance, inequality, climate change, poverty, hunger, armed conflict and other ills remain global challenges.’

The global pandemic has had a significant and sudden impact on almost all aspects of day-to-day life. Scotland, in common with other countries, has faced – and continues to face - enormous challenges in living with and emerging from the pandemic.  The First Minister announce new restrictions in Scotland earlier this week.

During these uncertain times we all need to look at new ways of doing things.  This includes the use of technology for virtual events such as these.  However our response to COVID isn’t, and shouldn’t be, limited to an attempt to find new ways to recreate life as it used to be before the pandemic hit.

The UN’s plan to ‘build back better’ calls on governments to use the current crisis as an opportunity to create a more sustainable, resilient and inclusive society.  This is the approach that Scotland is taking.

In April, the Scottish Government published its “COVID-19: framework for decision making”, which set out the challenges Scotland faced and outlined the approach and principles that would guide us as we made decisions about transitioning out of lockdown arrangements.

Within that Framework, we committed to Renew our country, building a fairer and more sustainable economy and society.  We were clear too, that we must also look outwards:

  • that “billions of people have faced the same challenges that we do now and will find their own innovative and inspiring ways to recover”. 
  • that “we will engage with, learn from and collaborate with other countries”.
  • and that “we will continue to support our international development partner countries.”

That commitment continues to reflect the First Minister’s pledge in 2015 to implement the Global Goals, and her dual commitment for the Scottish Government to tackle poverty and inequality at home in Scotland and to help developing countries to grow in a fair and sustainable manner. Our International Development programme is a key part of Scotland's global contribution within the international community.

In common, I’m sure, with many of the organisations here today, Covid-19 has also acted as a catalyst for the Scottish Government to reflect on what we do and how we do it.  Hence the announcement in the Programme for Government that we will review our approach to International Development. 

I will come back to our review later.  However, as I indicated to the Malawi CPG last meet at their meeting, this Review is refreshing what we do against a new backdrop.

COVID-19 has, as you know, already impacted on a number of the projects we support in our partner countries.  We are continuing through this unprecedented time to support our partner countries through projects funded under both our International Development Fund and our separate Climate Justice Fund.

In March we had asked projects to carry out impact assessments in relation to COVID as part of their end of year reporting - and consider whether their existing project could assist in the Covid response in the partner country concerned.  I’m pleased that the majority of projects were able to continue at that time, with some adaptations where necessary.

We have continued to monitor the situation closely, including through contact with partners and others on the ground in our partner countries.

One positive outcome of the pandemic is that it has allowed me a really good opportunity to hear first-hand from our local implementing partners how our project and COVID has been affecting them and their communities.  In June, for example, I hosted a series of Zoom roundtable sessions with our grantholders and local implementing partner across all our partner countries.  Normally in this job that would have meant me travelling to our Partner countries.

International Framework Review

However, COVID-19 necessitates change, for all of us.

On the part of the Scottish Government, we will update Scotland’s International Framework and Policy Statement in light of the Covid crisis to ensure it clearly articulates our international position and priorities.

It will demonstrate how Scotland will participate as a proactive international partner, including our future approach to European engagement following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

It will highlight how we are ready to engage and support others as we continue the global effort against Covid.  It will also make clear our commitment to working with others to tackle the global climate emergency.

Climate Justice

Although, over the last 6 months, there has understandably been such a  keen focus globally on COVID-19, the global climate emergency has not gone away and, as a Government, we remain absolutely committed to international climate action. We have liaised closely with our implementing partners in order to assess the impact of COVID upon our Climate Justice Fund work in our partner countries, and have been able to support all of our projects to continue.

CoP26 Doing things differently

[And so]  As we look forward to COP26 next year, we remain committed to delivering an inclusive and successful summit that engages sectors and communities in Scotland and beyond. It is crucial this includes representatives from the Global South who are amongst those least responsible for the global climate emergency but are being affected first and most severely by it.  COP26 must set the world on track to net zero emissions in a way that is fair and just, and supports global green recovery efforts.

Black Lives Matter

This time of change in our country, and indeed globally, is also stemming from movements such as Black Lives Matter. That movement, and the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on ethnic minority communities, have further highlighted the historical, structural, social and economic inequalities which impact our ethnic minority communities.

In terms of the international development sector, I note that Bond reported in June 20 that only 3% of Charity Chief Executives in the UK are people of colour.  I would call on all of you, and your organisations, to take this opportunity reflect on this and consider how you can remedy the situation.  We have published the draft Principles that will guide both our review and our approach going forward, and I ask you to consider how the principle of “Inclusivity” and breaking “the white gaze” is proactively achieved going forward.


Turning now to other recent events and catalysts for change:

The Scottish Government has been consistently clear that our approach to values and rights is crucial to policy-making both at home and abroad. In particular our development work has at its core, and as a primary focus, the interests of our partner countries and their people.

I should therefore make clear again the Scottish Government’s views in relation to the decision to merge the FCO and DFID.  Speaking at your Conference in September 2018, the First Minister said – and I reiterate this again today – that:

“The Scottish Government does not believe, we never have believed and will never see, that aid is given primarily for our own national interest”.

I have made clear my view that the UK Government’s focus on aligning development aid to the UK’s national interest is a deplorable decision. It risks putting UK foreign policy, commercial and political objectives ahead of supporting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities, in a time of crisis.

I have also set out that the Scottish Government is clear – that international development is about reducing global poverty. And that we remain fully committed to playing our part in tackling the shared global challenges of poverty, injustice and inequality.

We have urged the UK Government to reverse its decision, to protect the jobs at DFID in Scotland, and to ensure that UK aid is free from political influence.  We have of course also previously raised concerns about the impact of Brexit on international development.

Build Back Better

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of international cooperation.

We need countries to work together as never before to ensure we emerge through this pandemic with a green economic recovery that has inclusion and wellbeing at its heart

Working collaboratively has been a key feature and strength of our international development work to date. Again, in our new draft Principles, you will see that ongoing commitment to collaboration and partnerships.

International Development Review

As I mentioned earlier we are taking this opportunity to review our approach to International Development in light of the backdrop of COVID-19. 

As an overarching principle, the Scottish Government believes that, especially in these difficult times, international Solidarity in our interdependent world is more important than ever. We have already embedded a human rights approach into our programmes and this means that we shall speak out with clarity of purpose in support of democracy, human rights and the rule of law -  equally, of course, in relation to our partner countries.

In order both to guide the review itself, and our future approach to our International Development work, we have drafted and recently shared online a new draft set of Principles. 

These Principles aim to ensure that our all our work will:

  1. Be Partner-country led development:
  2. Do no harm: recognising Scotland’s historical white privilege, and the enduring inequalities stemming from them.
  3. Amplify global-south voices: supporting advocacy for the poorest people and those in vulnerable situations.
  4. Be Inclusive: respecting and valuing diversity and seek to break the ‘white gaze’ in international development.
  5. Support Collaboration and partnerships:
  1. Be Innovative, adapting and sustainable:
  1. Embrace technology:

I would encourage you all look at these draft Principles – you will find them online on the Scottish Government’s international development pages. 

I am keen to work with the sector on these Principles, and am pleased to note that many of the Breakout Sessions running today cover many of the issues at the heart of our new draft Principles –

Although I am not able to join the discussions, I will look forward to reading the notes from them, and will of course consider them as part of the ongoing discussion and conversations with the sector as the review progresses.


In closing I would like to thank you for the opportunely to speak to you today.  This has been a difficult year for all of us both professionally and personally.  We must now look forward to how we can Build Back Better, domestically and internationally.

I believe that there will now be a Question and Answer session, so I will hand back to Talat.

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