Commonwealth Day 2006

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:23 pm on 16th March 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green 5:23 pm, 16th March 2006

I echo those words and thank Sylvia Jackson not only for leading the debate, but for leading the CPA visit to Malawi, which I attended. I, too, thank Margaret Neal and Roy Devon for putting together a multi-faceted programme that ran extremely smoothly throughout the 10 days we were there. It was my first visit to Africa, and it was the first time that a Green politician from these shores had been on an official Commonwealth parliamentary visit—not before time. We all have a responsibility to make sense of globalisation and to connect with people, communities and other parliaments around the world. The Commonwealth has a clear role to play in that, which I value.

There are numerous challenges that we need to address throughout the world and through the Commonwealth. One of the challenges, which the Executive has acknowledged, is that if everybody lived as we do in Scotland, we would use up three times our planet's resources. The situation in Malawi is different. If we all lived as Malawians do, we would need only half the planet's resources, but we would be living in extreme poverty. These are two countries that are, for different reasons, living completely unsustainably but there are the possibilities of dialogue between them and of their learning from each other.

In many ways, Malawi is able to jump to some of the solutions that we are now considering in Scotland. Malawians are perhaps able not to make some of the mistakes that we have made over the past 150 years. In some respects, Malawi is blessed with a very low demand for electricity and energy. That will have to grow so that the country's economy can grow over time, but it could potentially move straight to the endgame—to renewables and decentralised energy. That is very important and we can develop that link.

This morning we talked about making poverty history and we reflected on the themes of trade, aid, debt and climate change. One of the things that really resonated with me and other members was our visit to fair-trade sugar producers. That is an incredible organisation that has grown and has real capacity to trade with the United Kingdom under fair-trade premiums. I was struck by the investment that the organisation had managed to make in health care, education and its community.

In contrast to that was our visit to the coffee producers in the north of the country who are not yet trading under fair trade with the UK. There is a real potential for us to channel some of the Executive's aid into sustainable economic development and to help the producers to develop the capacity to trade with us in the west. That is kind of capacity that David Livingstone wanted. He wanted Africa to develop solutions to its own problems; we can help to facilitate that and bring some wealth into the country.

Malawi's Government has only £500 million to spend every year, so it therefore obscene that it is still paying back debts to the west. There are issues about governance—as Alex Neil mentioned—and we in the Scottish Parliament can play a role in assisting with those issues.

My overwhelming impression of Malawi was that it is a very good place to live until a person gets sick or the rains do not come, and then there are huge food-security issues. It is clear that parts of Malawi, and other areas throughout sub-Saharan Africa will become inhospitable in the years ahead, which will create tensions. People will migrate from those areas and will put pressure on the areas that are still viable because of rainfall and food security. That will create huge problems that will stifle development. We in the west therefore have a moral imperative to tackle climate change, to work with our partners and to reduce emissions here. We can thereby allow Malawi's emissions to increase so that the country can have some economic development and room to breathe.

The trip to Malawi has affected me deeply on a personal and political level. I look forward to building links with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and with the people, communities and parliamentarians whom we met on the trip.