Scotland, a nation of debt justice

This blog first appeared on SCVO’s Future of Scotland website:

At Jubilee Scotland we think an independent Scotland could become the home of debt justice, meaning Scotland could hold no unfair debt, create no unfair debt, and could provide a place where countries suffering the effects of unfair debt could come to seek arbitration.

Unfair and unpayable debt is a huge global problem. Despite big steps forward, through mobilisations such as the Jubilee 2000, and Make Poverty History campaigns, some of the world’s poorest countries are still locked into a crippling cycle of debt. We believe there needs to be an appropriate mechanism to deal with this debt, especially given the growing economic crises we’re seeing in Europe.

An independent Scotland could become the home of this mechanism by promoting itself as a seat of fair and transparent arbitration for unfair and unpayable debt. By doing this, Scotland would not only be utilising its position as the holder of a strong arbitration act, but would take its place on the international stage as a home of economic justice.

Jubilee Scotland, together with the global movement working for debt justice created a set of bespoke rules on debt arbitration. These rules were presented by Fiona Hyslop MSP in March, and represent great progress towards making Scotland a centre of debt arbitration. Within just a few years, we could see Scotland offering itself as a destination for countries suffering unfair debt to seek justice. In addition to this, Scotland should take steps to ensure it is neither the holder nor creator of unfair global debt.

In the case of Scottish independence we do not know how Britain’s debt would be divided up, but one can assume that some of the debts owed to Britain will be passed over to Scotland. Many of these debts will be the result of failed exports; arms deals to dictators or ‘white elephant’ projects, which benefited British industry to the detriment of the host country.

Many of these deals will have resulted in human rights abuses, or environmental degradation, and in many cases, paying back the debts will have significant negative impacts on the lives of people in debtor countries. Very simply, when focus on government spending is on servicing debts over investment in healthcare and education, people will die. An independent Scotland must audit these debts and cancel those which it finds to be unjust.

Finally, Scotland must refuse to engage in unethical export practices. Currently Scottish companies receive financial support from UK Export Finance for international deals. With independence this function will be carried out by a Scottish department – most probably Scottish Development International. Care then must be taken to ensure that this does not follow the pattern of UK Export Finance but instead leads the way in becoming a positive and socially responsible export agency, with a strong focus on ethical guidelines and practices.

If Scotland commits to these three asks – to promote itself as a seat of arbitration , to audit and cancel its share of unfair debts owed to Britain, and to create an ethical export agency – it will prove itself a nation of debt justice.”


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