Following an initiative from Scotland's for Peace, a steering group is working on establishing an international justice and peace centre in Scotland. (December 2009)
Scotland has a long international tradition, some of it benign, some in the context of empire, less so. We also have a substantial Scottish Diaspora from our long experience of out-migration. But Scotland is a small country and, it could be argued, cannot be expected to make any significant international contribution. Should engagement with the major problems of our world be left to countries with more substantial resources? Can a small country make a contribution to addressing issues of war and peace, environmental degradation, human rights, social and economic injustice? If we look around us, smallness is not a bar to effectiveness. Switzerland, as home to the International Committee of the Red Cross, has made such a contribution during the last century and is also home to U.N. agencies and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. Sweden/Norway have the international Nobel prizes and the Swedish International Peace Research Institute. Finland has the Crisis Management Initiative for mediation. Austria is a centre for several international organisations and has the European University Centre for Peace Studies. Ireland has a strong record of contributions to the United Nations and its agencies. The Netherlands is a centre for international justice. So, could Scotland do more?
Where Are Our International Resources?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the institutional resources in Scotland that have some international focus? In comparison with England, we lack their policy centres/think tanks. We don’t have equivalents of the Bradford School of Peace Studies, Chatham House, the Oxford Research Group or the Institute of Strategic Studies which bring together expertise and develop and disseminate policy analysis and proposals. On the positive side, Scotland is rich in a wide range of organisations specifically involved in peace and disarmament work, international economic, human rights and environmental justice issues. Most have very limited resources. We also have major institutions like churches and trade unions which have a long-established involvement in these international peace and justice issues. While we only have a small number of university departments primarily focussed on these areas of work, we have considerable higher education international contacts as we do in the professions and business, in cultural organisations and public authorities. In addition we have a resource in the many individuals in Scotland who have substantial experience in other parts of the world.
So we are not short of the potential expertise and interest but we are short of the resources and the institutional support to make it more effective. Scotland with its academic and civic strength should have developed this in a more focussed way.
The Scottish Government and Parliament across the political parties have indicated an interest in developing their role in relation to ‘soft’ international powers e.g. the Malawi initiative, E.U. affairs, economic/cultural delegations making overseas visits, and they have expressed views on disarmament and conflict issues like Trident and the Gaza war. Such international interests are likely to expand rather than contract but they need to be well-informed and developed from the perspective of what Scotland can best contribute. We want to give Scotland the building blocks to develop a positive role in international affairs and the Mandela Centre would aim to increase our capacity for an effective role.
Scotland does not have an international think tank to develop policy and initiate cooperative projects, drawing together various strands of interest and action. We are proposing to fill this gap with a value-based policy and education organisation to promote informed understanding of international conflict transformation, development, environmental, human rights and disarmament issues, recognising that these are inter-connected. The aim is to strengthen Scotland’s contribution to all aspects of peacemaking. The value base would be very broad – a general commitment to peace, justice, sustainable development and international understanding. The role envisaged is not to compete with existing organisations but to be a facilitator, bringing groups and individuals together on specific work programmes. While an organisation of this kind has to develop flexibly over time, it does require a defined focus for its initial activities.
1) To evaluate Scotland’s current and potential role in peacemaking and international justice and, where appropriate, to produce and promote policy proposals.
2) To promote informed opinion on international issues among both those with specific interests and the wider public.
3) To create and maintain a resource base of individuals and organisations in Scotland with international links and expertise.
1) To bring together visiting contributors from home and abroad in relation to specific programmes.
2) To organise seminars, debates, informal meetings.
3) To engage in research, directly or commissioned.
4) To publish briefings and disseminate information.
Steering Group Members (in individual capacity)
Rev Ewan Aitken Secretary Church and Society Council Church of Scotland
Fr Chris Boles Director Lauriston Jesuit Centre
Malcolm Chisholm MSP
Jackson Cullinane T&G/Unite Scotland
Rev Ian Galloway Convener Church and Society Council Church of Scotland
Janet Fenton Society of Friends and Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre
Robin Harper MSP
Professor Lynne Jamieson Edinburgh University
Bill Kidd MSP
Isobel Lindsay Scotland’s for Peace
Alan Mackinnon Scottish CND
Stephen Maxwell Former Associate Director of SCVO
Judith Robertson Head of Oxfam in Scotland