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A tough task

This opinion piece is over 9 years old

Jamie Livingstone, head ofOxfam Scotland, on giving Scotland's poorest communities a voice

Lord Smith of Kelvin certainly has a big job on his hands.

Delivering coherent proposals for the devolution of further powers to Scotland won’t be easy.

But we should make his task tougher still.

Because in a key sense, we need to set the bar very high: consultation with the people of Scotland.

Securing agreement between the political parties won’t be enough.

Instead, a priority for the Smith Commission should be to undertake meaningful engagement with people across Scotland – particularly our most deprived communities.

Oxfam has experience of undertaking participatory processes through the creation of the Oxfam Humankind Index – a tool for measuring what really matters to people in their lives.

The process determining further powers should learn from this approach.

Its ability to do so will be severely constrained by the Commission’s tight timescales. That’s disappointing.

Oxfam knows from our work with partners in Scotland, that people in poorer communities have a voice, indeed many voices: but they tell us they are simply too seldom listened to.

The debate prior to the referendum started to bridge that disconnect, we must continue that process.

Consideration should therefore be given to ‘testing’ any proposals which emerge from the Commission’s work through a participative process. In this way it could become a spring-board to a better way of doing politics.

But, wherever powers lie, we know from our work with partners in Scotland – including those providing emergency food parcels – that significant policy change is badly needed.

Right now, estimates suggests the richest three families in Scotland are wealthier than the poorest 20 per cent of the country’s population put together

Jamie Livingstone, Oxfam
Jamie Livingstone, Oxfam

Right now, estimates suggests the richest three families in Scotland are wealthier than the poorest 20 per cent of the country’s population put together. Perversely, at the same time, 820,000 Scots live in poverty.

We need to build a social safety net fit for the 21st Century; a tax system that enforces collection, redistributes wealth and promotes positive activity; and economic development that promotes good quality, satisfying, secure and suitable work.

But nor can the Smith Commission ignore Scotland’s wider impact either.

Right now, the UK Government’s welcome delivery of 0.7% of Gross National Income to international aid makes a massive difference to the lives of millions of the world’s poorest people.

Regardless of any constitutional change, we would expect this to continue – delivered either by the UK Government or within the devolved Scottish context.

As things stand, despite international development policy being a reserved power, Scotland has a successful International Development Fund and an innovative Climate Justice Fund.

Crucially, they are additional to the UK’s aid spend and, with cross party support, have created substantial extra benefits for some of the world’s poorest people. They literally save lives.

We believe the Scottish Government should continue to be able to pursue an international development programme, with consideration given to formalising this role.

But many areas of Government policy and practice impact on the world’s poorest communities.

Therefore, the use of any further powers devolved must recognise the potential impacts beyond Scotland, including upon climate change, to ensure a coherent approach to international development.

In short, the depth of consultation and the impact on poverty will be our key tests for the Smith Commission.

Jamie Livingstone is the head ofOxfam Scotland