Scotland and the sustainable development goals: a national review to drive action

This review provides a statement of our pre-COVID-19 ambition on driving progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in Scotland. It brings together evidence, actions and stories of how we are making progress to meet the Goals.

Delivering the Goals

Scotland’s National Performance Framework

Our Purpose
sets out the direction and ambition for Scotland

Our Values
help guide our actions

11 National Outcomes
describe what we want to achieve

81 National Indicators
give us a broad picture of progress

The SDGs require local adaptation, meaning that they should help foster and enrich existing local and national plans or programmes, helping to identify any gaps and lend momentum. Scotland’s NPF is the main mechanism through which we are localising and implementing the SDGs in Scotland. The NPF is Scotland’s wellbeing framework and the SDGs share the same aims contained in this: to encourage transformational social, economic and environmental change to achieve increased wellbeing and a more peaceful and prosperous future, recognising our assets and their relevance to future generations as well as our use and distribution of resources.

Scotland’s NPF was launched in 2007, put into law in 2015, and was last refreshed in 2018. The NPF sets an overall purpose and vision for Scotland. It highlights the broad National Outcomes that support the Purpose and provides measures on how well Scotland is progressing towards the National Outcomes. The NPF is intended to inform discussion, collaboration and planning for policy and services across Scotland – encompassing public sector, businesses, civil society and communities. The 2018 refresh of the NPF saw the most fundamental change, and was launched by Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, and COSLA in June 2018. This followed extensive consultation with experts as well as the public, involving over 200 organisations in Scotland and cross-party adoption by the Scottish Parliament. The NPF is not just a government framework but belongs to the whole of Scotland. Therefore, through the NPF everyone has a role to play in making a better Scotland a reality.

The Values statement within the NPF describes a society in which we treat each other with kindness, dignity and compassion, and in which we respect the rule of law, openness and transparency. At their core, the Values inform the behaviours we want to see in everyday life in Scotland and are part of a commitment to improving individual and collective wellbeing. The Values also inform decisions about what we choose to prioritise to progress the National Outcomes and Purpose, and how we shape our behaviour to achieve these priorities. This means placing greater emphasis on openness and transparency, taking action based on listening and understanding real life experiences as well as the quantitative evidence. This, and the focus on improving equality within the NPF, work hand in hand with the leave no one behind agenda which underpins the SDGs.

Approach to data and monitoring

Similar to the SDGs, the NPF has a set of indicators which draw on social, environmental and economic measures to help us better understand our performance, and identify priority areas needing further attention. As natural allies, the NPF already embeds the SDGs through mapping alongside the National Outcomes, and we have also aligned Indicators where possible. As part of this review we have learned more about how we can further strengthen Scotland’s local mechanism to truly reflect the SDGs and to help us make them a reality by 2030. This review has revealed challenges with the available data. It also shows that in the instances where the NPF and SDGs do not closely align, we need to make sure we do not lose sight of the 2030 Agenda.

Further data and evidence can be found at:

A partnership approach to implementation

The NPF is underpinned by legislation through the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. The legislation places a duty on Scottish Ministers to consult on, develop and publish National Outcomes for Scotland and to review them every five years. This means that every future NPF cycle will help Scotland play its part in achieving the SDGs.

As part of the NPF being a Scotland-wide effort, the legislation also places a duty on public authorities to have regard to the National Outcomes in carrying out their functions. That means that how public bodies deliver services for the people of Scotland, and how they identify priorities and spend money has to contribute to achieving a better Scotland as outlined in the NPF. This also extends to communities. In Scotland, we have Community Planning Partnerships which bring together all the services taking part in community planning. There are 32 of these across Scotland, one for each council area. These partnerships also have to show that their work and focus is aligned with the NPF through the Local Outcome Improvement Plans, a mechanism by which improved outcomes for their communities are delivered. They are based on a clear understanding of local needs and reflect agreed local priorities, all of which contributes to the NPF.

Working in partnership is critical to achieving both the National Outcomes and the SDGs, as Goal 17 highlights. No one organisation, including government national and local, can achieve the ambitions alone, which is why we have taken a collaborative approach to this review. In Scotland we already have a good partnership infrastructure in place which the NPF approach has helped to nurture over the years by providing shared Outcomes and a common language. We also know, however, that there is more that can be done to work across boundaries to make a positive difference.

Leave no one behind

Significant advances have been made in tackling discrimination and disadvantage but Scotland is still too unequal and some of these inequalities are long-standing and deep-rooted. There is a range of legislation, plans and policies in place in Scotland that support the leave no one behind agenda, including the Public Sector Equality Duty to support public authorities to deliver services and policies which take account of the differences between us. The Equality Evidence Finder is a key resource to find equality evidence to inform policy and decision making.

Scotland’s approach to international development

While much of the material provided to this review is focused on domestic implementation, international development is a key part of Scotland’s global contribution within the international community. It encompasses our core values, historical and contemporary, of fairness and equality. We place great importance on Scotland being a good global citizen. This means playing our part in tackling global challenges including poverty, injustice and inequality. In 2016, following a public consultation, the Scottish Government published Global Citizenship: Scotland’s International Development Strategy, which sets out Scotland’s contribution to the international community and is specifically designed to align with the SDGs. Our Strategy is focused on four partner countries: Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia and Pakistan; and has an International Development Fund to support and empower those four partner countries.

Key to Scotland’s approach to international development is the concept that Scotland can be a global leader in international development, providing ethical leadership on issues such as climate change. Being a global leader is not necessarily just about size in absolute monetary terms, but the impact that can be made across government policy and through wider involvement outwith government. Therefore, increasingly, we are focusing our international development work through the lens of our commitment to the ‘beyond aid’ agenda: to do no harm, to eliminate policy incoherence that would detract from Scotland’s international development goals or efforts; and going further, identifying policies beyond international development policy that can contribute positively to development outcomes.

The Scottish Parliament, sustainable development and the SDGs

Sustainable development has formed part of the Scottish Parliament’s role since it re-convened in 1999. Considerable progress has been made using sustainable development thinking to improve how the Parliament scrutinises the Scottish Government, and makes law. Sustainable development thinking is also being used to assess how the parliament operates as an organisation. This work helps the Parliament meet the statutory requirements placed on all Scottish public bodies, under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, to act sustainably. Standing Orders, the rules of Parliament, require the Scottish Government and others introducing legislation to assess sustainable development impact, and for parliament to scrutinise that assessment and the legislation itself. For legislation to be effectively scrutinised Parliament needs to have the right capability and tools. The Parliament has committed resource to establish sustainable development as a scrutiny lens. Parliamentary officials have sought to integrate sustainable development into work carried out by parliamentary committees. Such an approach improves scrutiny by:

  • Garnering a broader range of written and oral evidence highlighting social and environmental issues
  • Mitigating committee silos through the more holistic and systemic approach of sustainable development
  • Focusing scrutiny on what is important – the root causes of problems and potential unintended or perverse consequences of policy/legislation

The Parliament has developed an innovative Sustainable Development Impact Assessment (SDIA) tool rather than a checklist which can result in assessments being a ‘tick-box exercise’. This tool is based on the requirement for users to talk through the implications of any given piece of policy or legislation. This enables users to engage with the issues, question their own and other’s assumptions, and develop a deeper understanding of implications. The Parliament’s Non-Government Bills Unit is now routinely using the SDIA tool to help shape and assess the impact of legislation. Audit Scotland, Scotland’s independent auditor, is also working on developing an approach to using this tool and/or the SDGs to audit public bodies. Such an approach was used in scrutinising the NPF with nine parliamentary committees using sustainable development as a scrutiny lens. The Scottish Parliament plans to further develop this work and share learning with other parliaments.

Approach to this review and link to UK Voluntary National Review published by the UK Government

A partnership
In Scotland, many groups with an interest in sustainability and development have been engaging with national and local government to explore ways of working and to undertake projects, programmes and initiatives. The SDG Network Scotland, an open coalition bringing together the voices of over 380 people and organisations across Scotland, was formed to assist with the development of a Scotland wide response to the SDG challenge.

The UN expects all 193 member states to review national progress towards the SDGs at least once and to present a report on this to the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York. This process, or Voluntary National Review (VNR), is an important element of the 2030 Agenda and is intended to reflect current SDG performance, identify challenges and achievements, and highlight next steps in relation to these. The UK has not presented a VNR before and has done so for the first time this summer.

The UK VNR, presented to the UN by the UK Government, has been used as an opportunity to take stock and assess progress in Scotland within the context of the NPF and to help consolidate relationships with and between SDG and NPF delivery partners. The Network has worked in partnership with the Scottish Government and COSLA on production of material to inform the UK VNR. A VNR Working Group was established in 2018 to focus on this work. The group has provided the principal partnership and guiding mechanism through which Scotland’s contribution to the VNR was developed and as a catalyst to widen involvement.

Members include Scotland’s International Development Alliance, UN House Scotland, One Stone Advisors, Learning for Sustainability Scotland, Keep Scotland Beautiful, University of Glasgow, Glasgow Caledonian University, Scottish Human Rights Commission, University of St Andrews, Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations, COSLA and the Scottish Government. The group has taken an approach based on openness, transparency and inclusion echoing both the Open Government principles and the UN’s principles for conducting the Review, for example, making material publicly available for review and comment.

Our underpinning principles for the development of material for the VNR in line with UN guidelines, were:

  • For the VNR to develop through and be reflective of our overall effort to meet the 2030 Goals
  • To uphold a meaningful partnership approach to development
  • To leave no one behind and involve a wide cross-section of different sectors
  • To produce an open, honest and constructive account of achievements, gaps, challenges, opportunities and priorities

Further detail on the Network and process, policies and principles for this work and this review are available at The approach adopted has helped to establish and maintain trusting, respectful and productive relationships throughout the VNR process. The extent and character of this partnership has provided us with a strong foundation for building our longer term collaborations through this report and beyond.

The approach to developing Scotland’s contribution to the VNR included:

  • Raising awareness and involvement in the SDGs including through social media crowdsourcing and communications pack
  • Survey of views and facilitated conversations on SDGs actions and performance through the Network, Scottish Government and COSLA
  • Commissioning independent baseline assessment of Scotland’s performance against the SDGs and delivery capacity and infrastructure. This was produced by Dr Graham Long of Newcastle University and has provided an excellent point of reference for this review

In addition, the University of the West of Scotland and Oxfam Scotland published an independent snapshot review of Scotland’s progress in meeting the SDGs. All of this activity has given us the opportunity to reflect nationally on where we are with achieving the National Outcomes and the SDGs, to consider what ‘good’ practices and processes look like, and to assess where more action is needed on our journey to achieving the 2030 Agenda.

The approach taken by the UK Government to the VNR meant that it was decided within Scotland that a Scottish National Review was needed, showing both the full results of the process and valuable contributions received, and the next steps for Scotland. This review provides a more detailed assessment and account of Scotland’s story to inform future conversations and actions. Scotland, along with the other devolved administrations in the UK, did however provide a contribution to the UK’s Voluntary National Review, published on 26 June 2019 by the UK Government. This review serves to enhance and expand upon the Scottish content presented in the UK VNR.

Approach to data

As Scotland’s NPF is a key mechanism to localise the 2030 Agenda in Scotland, NPF indicator data is included throughout this review where it effectively highlights performance and challenges in realising the Goals. This evidence has been supplemented with other data from a range of sources where it is important to illustrate progress with data more closely matching the relevant Goal, target or indicator.



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