Back to the future

Jack McConnell,jpg.jpgJack McConnell on why preparations for next week’s G8 summit bring memories flooding back

Days before the 2005 Gleneagles Summit, the Make Poverty History campaign had reached its crescendo. 225,000 had marched in Edinburgh. Concerts were held in every G8 capital city, this time not to raise money but to challenge those who could decide. Compassion and justice were the words on everyone’s lips.

The UK had decided this G8, in the heart of Scotland, would focus on the poorest people on the planet. But disrupting these events had become an international sport. Hundreds of violent anarchists descended on Edinburgh, leaving us no choice but to cordon off the city centre. 

The action then moved to the farmlands of Perthshire and the sport changed to climbing the fence. Inside the fence however, African leaders joined discussions at a G8 for the first time ever. Bono and Bob Geldof helped persuade the reluctant. Children organised by UNICEF into a mini- G8 presented their call to action: it was time to commit resources from the rich world to the poor.

And then came the London bombs, in which 52 civilians died and over 700 more were injured. Tony Blair left a subdued Gleneagles for Downing Street. The news rightly moved on to cover the horror that was unfolding 500 miles away.

But in a show of grit and determination everyone involved stayed the course. Blair returned, tired but steely in his resolve. Agreements were reached, and significant support for African development was secured.

There was to be action on education and health, debt write-off and a $50bn boost to aid. There were commitments on 0.7% of GDP from rich to poor and hopes of a new deal on fairer trade. UK leadership and the first truly global grass roots campaign had delivered.

In 2013, the UK and the G8 face different challenges. The security threat, if it exists, may be from a different source, and there seems to be less appetite or momentum for mass disruption or violent anarchism. An age of austerity has followed the brave attempt to redress the injustice of African underdevelopment. But global challenges still demand global leadership.

I wish the Lough Erne summit well. A successful G8 will be a boost for the normalisation of politics in Northern Ireland. If it is without incident, it will be the best signal yet that peace can be enduring: that a new dawn really was created on Good Friday 1998.

For David Cameron, following Gleneagles was never going to be easy. The commitments of 2005 remain unfulfilled and those who signed up then should not be allowed to forget their broken promises. But the PM could not simply reopen that debate.

So, the agenda of Trade, Tax and Transparency was the right one. It builds on the Gleneagles Agreement, outlining the next steps in the campaign for global justice. And G8 leaders must meet their responsibilities and deliver.

It has been estimated that tackling global tax avoidance would deliver three times as much for developing economies than aid. Billions are hidden away by already rich people and corporations in tax havens. This is simply immoral. It costs lives: in many cases the lives of those whose work or spending makes the profits possible in the first place.

The G8 must make a shared commitment to transparency. They must open up access to information on ownership, sources of profit and tax paid. 

Individual G8 countries must then lead the way in persuading or, if necessary, forcing tax havens to sign up and play their part. Changes agreed must be made by all, including UK dependencies and territories. And the G8 must ensure developing countries benefit from this new structure as much as loyal taxpayers in developed nations.  A deal that left poor countries walking away with nothing would be inexcusable.

On this agenda, the G8 can build upon Gleneagles and start another new chapter in global relations. No longer just aid, but fairness in corporate behaviour, local revenues for poor countries, and a little less greed and secrecy all round.

And with that, the citizens of Northern Ireland will be able in future to speak with pride about Lough Erne 2013 in the same way we Scots still celebrate Gleneagles 2005.

Lord Jack McConnell is a backbench Labour Peer and was First Minister of Scotland at the time of the Gleneagles summit

Published 13th June 2013

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