The first British diplomat that I met was Her Majesty’s Ambassador in Paraguay who was rejoicing at the “re-election” as President for the 8th time of General Adolfo Stroessner and praising his “free-market zeal.” Stroessner was of course a brutal dictator and notorious for providing refuge to Nazi war criminals, and his free-market zeal was largely centred on smuggling. Paraguay in the 1980s was officially a huge consumer of Scotch whisky amongst other things. The Ambassador lamented that Thatcher could not be persuaded to fly in for a visit.
More recently I have been a regular contributor to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s week long training course on human rights and have made similar presentations at the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs. The UK has some excellent diplomats doing some good work on human rights, but it is still mired in political compromise where it pretends to have strategic interests. In Bahrain, where my friend and former colleague Abdulhadi Alkhawaja was sentenced to life in prison following torture and a show trial, the UK continues to provide support to a corrupt dictatorship. All governments make compromises where there interests are at stake, the Irish are not keen to discuss human rights with China, but it is the post-colonial delusions of the UK that lead it into sordid deals with the corrupt, the brutal and the sponsors of terror.
The most important reasons for voting Yes are to do with how we can help shape a better Scotland, but independence will also give us an opportunity to represent ourselves, our values and our interests in the big bad world. Justine Greening reckons that Scottish independence “would damage the world’s poorest.” The evidence actually suggests that smaller countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Finland and Ireland (who all come above the UK in the Commitment to Development Index) are more efficient and effective. Funny how a Tory Minister suddenly finds big state run institutions to be more efficient?
I have seen first hand how vibrant and diverse the Irish sector working for development and human rights is, and I attended in May the annual conference of Dochas, (The Irish Association of Development NGOs). I also drafted my organization’s contribution to the review of the White Paper on Irish Aid in 2012. Clearly there are also many Scottish NGOs doing excellent work on development, but they cannot have the same level of influence over government policy that they would have after independence. And an independent Scottish Aid would also boost Scottish based international NGOs and the further engagement of the Scottish public.
Joe Costello TD, until recently the Irish Minister for Trade and Development, speaking at the Dochas conference, criticised the UK Government for blurring the lines between trade and development and insisted that Irish Aid would remain untied. He also stressed the importance of human rights and the role of independent civil society in terms of aid effectiveness, areas in which the UK’s Department for International Development has been weak.
I am about to reach my 25th anniversary of working for international human rights organizations. I worked at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London for thirteen years where I served as Director of Campaigning and Crisis Response and then Director of the Africa Program. I have worked for eleven years as Deputy Director of Front Line; The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, and now split my time between Dublin and Edinburgh.
One of the ongoing challenges for Amnesty is that the world’s oppressors routinely refer to it as a London-based organization. It is perceived, wrongly, to be linked to a British world-view and British political interests. This is one of the reasons that it is going through the trauma of trying to move significant numbers of staff to the regions. One of the advantages of now working for a Dublin-based organization is that most of the political baggage is positive. One could argue that the image is sometimes a bit too romantically rosy, but Ireland has a very good reputation around the world and can use that to good effect.
It is clear that an independent Scotland will also start with many advantages in terms of the global perception of our identity. The very fact of our independence being achieved peacefully through a free and fair vote will in and of itself be a very positive example for the world. There will be significant potential for Scotland to build on that in terms of a contribution to conflict resolution around issues of self-determination. The removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland will also be welcomed with huge appreciation around the globe.
And we will also have an opportunity to shape how we want to represent the values of our society on the international stage. From my perspective, I will be arguing for Scotland to join those governments who make human rights an integral part of their foreign policy. It is not only with regard to North Sea Oil that we could learn much from Norway. Others might argue to give a priority to peace-building, the environment or effective action on poverty. We will hopefully have something to contribute to the world on all of these issues and we will not be compromised by post-imperial delusions or corrupt deals with the likes of Saudi Arabia.
The third sector exists to promote public engagement and change. Independence for Scotland will open up great opportunities for those seeking to work through civil society on international issues. Independence is not a magic wand and like other states we will have to engage with the world as we find it, not as we would like it to be. Economic issues will be important and we should retain due humility before we seek to influence others. Nevertheless, I am convinced that as we stop the world to get back on we will open up great possibilities for the third sector in Scotland to make a positive impact internationally.