13 January 2005

S2M-2240 Make Poverty History

Scottish Parliament
Thursday 13 January 2005
[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

Make Poverty History

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business today is a debate on motion S2M-2240, in the name of Nicola Sturgeon, on the campaign to make poverty history, and three amendments to the motion. I call Nicola Sturgeon to speak to and move the motion.

… … …

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is encouraging that all the members who have spoken and all the motions and amendments support the make poverty history campaign. That is a consensual basis upon which to start the debate.

All in the chamber seek to tackle debt. Debt means money, but it does not just mean money.
Historically, we owe many of the affected countries and adjacent countries big time—intellectually, culturally and for the very basis of our civilisation. Financial record keeping started 6,500 years ago in Samaria—in modern Israel, Palestine and Jordan—and banking derives from gifted individuals in Mesopotamia, in modern Iraq. Indeed, the concept of and symbol for zero come from Hindu culture, from the Indian sub-continent, so our debts are historical as well as immediate. By the way, it is no accident that the derivation of the word "pay" comes from the Latin word "pacare", which means to make peace. When we pay our debts, we make peace with those to whom we owe them.

Is not it ironic that we are patting ourselves on the back for all agreeing to back the make poverty history strategy? We heard earlier in the debate that it would take £1 per head per year to tackle third-world debt, and Scotland has given £4 per head in only a few weeks. That gives the context and shows the scale of what we are talking about when we talk about debt—a huge benefit to the third world but a small, almost trivial, price for us in the civilized world. We should keep that thought close to our hearts.

We must not be complacent. We in the developed world are the world's biggest debtors. The United States runs the biggest deficit economy of any, and we are running a deficit that is measured not in hundreds of millions of pounds—as we might end up measuring our support for the countries affected—but in billions of pounds. In other words, what we give back is much less than what we take.

What is money? Why did money come into existence? Well, in the grain stores of Samaria, excess production was put in store to be drawn back down at a later date when it was needed. Money is a way of storing the excess production that we have now for later. We run deficit economies, so we are taking the excess production of third-world countries and building our economic success on their labour. Is not that a thought to carry forward from here?

Do not let us confuse money with help. Money enables help, but it is not help. We have to move rapidly to a position in which local communities that are affected can rebuild for themselves.
Des McNulty introduced the issue of women. I suspect that we do not yet know one thing about the tragedy, which will affect fishing communities in particular. The men were all at sea and survived, but the women and children were on shore and perished. I speak to men when I say that society can continue pretty well satisfactorily with a major cull of males, but it cannot survive a cull of females. That is a simple biological fact that we must be aware of.

Phil Gallie: Is not the culture, in particular in Indonesia and to a degree in Sri Lanka, based very much on family life, and would not it be somewhat dangerous if we singled out women?

Stewart Stevenson: I do not deign to suggest to anyone what their culture should be and I think that Phil Gallie should be aware that, in Indonesia, there are many dozens of entirely different cultures and patterns of family life. It is not for me or anyone else in the chamber to comment on that.

I return to the subject of money in relation to the role of women, particularly in India. The provision of micro-loans to women in India has been one of the most successful ways of empowering communities and individuals and I hope that there will be a focus on introducing such schemes in many of the areas affected by the tsunami. After all, women are the future in a way that men are not.

Indeed, it could be in our own interests to take such an approach. For example, when South Africa moved from apartheid to liberation, the white, western banks would not lend money to people in the squatter areas to allow them to develop and improve their housing. However, it turned out that the people who had least and borrowed least were the most likely to repay their debts. As a result, western banks lost out, to the benefit of indigenous bank developments.

We should not support a programme of rebuilding in the countries that have been affected. Instead, we should learn from the past and build anew, to empower the people in those countries. We should not get too caught up in supporting Governments; it is people that we need to support.


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