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Scotland's journey to policy coherence

From Improving Policy Coherence in Scotland

This page outlines existing relevant recommendations and progress made around policy coherence for development (PCD) in the Scottish context. It charts the political journey to adopting language relating to policy coherence for development, and then to policy coherence for sustainable development.

Previous recommendations on PCD

In 2014, Scotland's International Development Alliance (formerly known as NIDOS) produced two, comprehensive reports on Policy Coherence for Development (PCD). These reports made a number of recommendations, most of which are still valid today.

Scotland’s Place in Building a Just World

The first NIDOS report, published in the run up to the 2014 independence referendum, made a number of recommendations to the Scottish and UK Governments, considering both possible constitutional arrangements following the referendum. It said that the Scottish Government should:

  • Put solidarity with the poor and equality at the heart of its external relations, and take a pro-development policy coherence approach;
  • Set up mechanisms for cross-government planning and policy review, and parliamentary and cross party structures, to scrutinise this to ensure a coherent approach that delivers a pro-development result;
  • Introduce a number of key focus areas for proactive policy development, which are periodically reviewed as progress is made;
  • Set up mechanisms for measuring Scotland’s impact on global poverty and human rights;
  • Have transparent biennial reporting of this impact;
  • Recognise the expertise of civil society and engage this in both the scrutiny of policy and in reviewing progress on a biennial basis;
  • Invest in building public support for a policy coherence approach.

Exploring and Learning from European PCD Approaches

In November 2014, NIDOS revised its recommendations in a second report on PCD after examining examples of how policy coherence was being pursued from across Europe. These included:

  • A strong legal, or at least policy, commitment to PCD to prevent loss of support if and when governments change;
  • A clear definition of PCD that makes it relevant to national and EU policies to avoid confusion;
  • The involvement of all ministries and leadership from the highest level to aid arbitration when tensions and trade-offs are identified
  • The involvement of southern partners to ensure credibility and measure impacts;
  • The identification of thematic issues to focus PCD work;
  • Annual or biennial government reporting on PCD with scrutiny by parliament and civil society to ensure transparency;
  • A strong role for civil society built in to mechanisms to ensure accountability and information exchange;
  • Appropriate funding committed to ensure systems can be put in place to improve PCD

The report also made recommendations for civil society:

  • Focus on thematic issues to make PCD relevant to development practitioners and decision-makers;
  • Reference PCD in all work and events;
  • Establish a working group for engaged member organisations to take forward work on PCD;
  • Use upcoming elections to secure commitments to PCD from political parties;
  • Produce civil society reports on PCD progress to hold government to account;
  • Develop positive formal and informal working relationships with government to share expertise and information.

Some of these recommendations have been taken forward by the Scottish Government and civil society, such as identifying thematic areas to focus on.

Linking NIDOS recommendations to the OECD's Eight Building Blocks

By mapping the OECD building blocks against the recommendations that were made in 2014 laid out above, it helps to demonstrate that much of what was recommended in 2014 remains relevant today (2019), but that with the change of context, and the importance of universality, these recommendations take on a new meaning beyond international development.

Indeed, the recommendations made on various issues elsewhere in this resource attempt to address the practicalities of achieving the OECD building blocks in the Scottish context, and as a result, also the previous recommendations from Scotland’s international development sector.

This is a mapping of the OECD building blocks against the recommendations that were made in 2014 by NIDOS. In the diagram, the blue boxes represent the recommendations by NIDOS in 2014, and the green boxes the OECD building blocks.

Previous recommendations made by other sectors on policy coherence

This section need contributions from non-international development actors.

It should be noted that in other domestically focused settings, broad policy coherence oriented recommendations might not have been traditionally framed using the 'policy coherence' language, and might use language like 'whole-of-government', 'holistic approach', 'systems thinking' etc...

Political journey towards PCSD action


The Scottish Government began its policy coherence journey in the run up to the 2014 Independence Referendum.

  • Civil servants from the International Development team went to Sweden to learn more about its approach and policy coherence was championed by Minister for External Affairs and International Development, Humza Yousaf. In 2013, he gave evidence to the UK International Development Committee during its inquiry into the implications for development in the event of Scotland becoming an independent country:

"we should not undermine the good development work that we do through other Government policies such as arms trade deals and so on and so forth."[1]

  • Humza Yousaf continued to support policy coherence during referendum debates. At a 2014 Matters event - a coalition with NIDOS and other Scottish NGOs - the Minister committed to:

"a coherent approach to international development across Scottish Government policies through the Do No Harm proposition. Indeed this is a policy direction I have championed since coming into post."[2]

  • Policy coherence received cross-party support and a commitment to PCD was made in the Scottish Government’s white paper for independence:

Do No Harm – ensuring policy coherence: As an expression of the values driving our foreign policy, this Government will ensure that other Scottish Government policies do no harm to developing countries, do not undermine international development aims and ideally contribute to international development success – through a rigorous approach to policy coherence for development. A key example of this approach is that our Climate Justice Fund and our International Development Fund are being developed and implemented within and across Government, providing a streamlined approach to both international development and climate change.[3]


  • In 2015, the European and External Relations Committee led an inquiry called “Connecting Scotland: how Scottish organisations engage internationally”, to which NIDOS submitted written and oral evidence.[4] As a result, the committee recommended:

"The Committee invites the Scottish Government to consider the following proposals calling for…the extension of the policy coherence approach in Scottish Government policy areas to ensure that they were coherent with international development objectives."[5]

  • In September 2015, Claire Baker MSP hosted a parliamentary event for MSPs and civil servants on policy coherence in Europe, with guests from Finland and Denmark. Minister Humza Yousaf was one of the speakers.
  • At this time, different NGOs wrote briefings and reports that asked politicians to commit to PCD. In their pre-election briefings for political parties, Oxfam Scotland made many of the same recommendations that had been made in the NIDOS reports the previous year.[6]
  • Scotland’s PCD approach featured in the OECD’s Better Policies for Development 2015: Policy Coherence and Green Growth, report.


  • The 2016 Scottish elections saw a commitment to policy coherence in the SNP manifesto:

"We will produce an annual report on the impact of our international development and other government policies on global poverty to ensure their impact is fully assessed."[7]

  • The Scottish Green Party also made a commitment:

"Green MSPs will support work to embed policy coherence for development across Scottish Government decision-making."[8]

  • Six-months after the election in October 2016, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon used a speech at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Iceland, to reinforce Scotland’s commitment:

"Scotland is now pursuing approaches which have been pioneered by Sweden and others – such as the idea that all government policies, not just aid policies, should be consistent with international development goals."[9]

  • Scottish Government’s International Development Strategy, December 2016 commits to:

"Promote the Beyond Aid Agenda – which takes a holistic approach to sustainable development, requiring all – government, local government, public bodies, private sector, communities and individuals – to adapt their behaviour in support of the Global Goals."

"...ensuring different Scottish Government policies work in synergy with our development policy eliminating policy incoherence which can undermine or hamper development progress.[10]

" across Ministerial portfolios to support international aims and identify other policies which can contribute positively to development outcomes. This will include (but is not limited to): International Trade and Investment, Education, Migration Policy, Climate Justice, Climate Change, Water Governance and Management"


  • Scottish Government’s refreshed International Framework and International Policy Statement, November 2017:

"We have put Policy Coherence for Development (PCD) at the heart of this new [Beyond Aid] approach, working across policy areas, and with global partners, to face the implications for developing countries of all Scotland’s actions: through a “do no harm” approach and through positive development contributions across policy areas."[11]


  • Scottish Government's inaugural Contribution to International Development Report made several commitments to PCD, including:

"The Scottish Government is committed to an international "do no harm" approach and to the Beyond Aid agenda. This means that we are taking a stepwise approach to eliminate policy incoherences and identify policies beyond international development policy that can contribute positively to development outcomes."[12]


  • At Scotland's International Development Alliance Annual Conference in September 2019, Scottish Government Minister for Europe, Migration and International Development, Ben Macpherson MSP, announced that the launch of a new Inter-Ministerial Group that will take forward their commitment to policy coherence for sustainable development.


  • On 18th March 2020, Mr Macpherson’s successor – Jenny Gilruth MSP – re-affirmed the government’s commitment to forming this group during Portfolio Questions on External Affairs in the Chamber at the Scottish Parliament.
  • She said that the first meeting of the PCSD working group was scheduled for May 2020, but no details of how this group would function, who the group would comprise of and what the group would focus on have ever been published.
  • In September 2020, the Minister then announced that the Scottish Government would be doing a review of its international development programme, and reference the importance of PCSD.


  • In March 2021 after the completion of their Review, the Government announced on Twitter that they had held the first meeting of this group. Details on who was there and what were discussed are not clear. This meeting also took place only 6 weeks before the 2021 Scottish Election so it is unclear what the group can hope to achieve in that time frame. At the time of writing, no statement on the future of this group was made either.