Scottish church leaders argue for welfare not warfare

By staff writers
April 7, 2007

Two of Scotland's most senior church figures have accused UK chancellor Gordon Brown – who hopes to succeed Tony Blair as British Prime Minister – of wasting money on war rather than welfare, citing the Trident nuclear system as a major example.

The rebuke from the spiritual heads of the Catholic Church and the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland came as they joined Mr Brown and Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, at Gleneagles earlier this weekend.

The meeting was to discuss progress on aid after the G8 summit there nearly two years ago. The UK has made a major contribution to world aid, but acknowledges that there is more it can do on trade and debt. News from other countries is less encouraging.

Loud applause from an audience of anti-poverty campaigners, charity executives and schoolchildren greeted Catholic Cardinal Keith O'Brien when he declared: "I would suggest we need trade, not Trident. We need to keep our promises on aid. And we need to make our aid work."

The Rev Alan McDonald, moderator of the general assembly of the Church of Scotland and a minister near to Mr Brown's home town of Fife, added that he was "surprised at the ease" with which the Treasury found the £25 billion needed to replace Trident, and the £4.4 billion spent on Iraq.

"What could that deliver to the poorest countries of the world?" asked the Presbyterian chief, who with other church leaders across Scotland and the UK has been outspoken on the immorality and waste of nuclear weapons.

Mr Brown and international development secretary Hilary Benn confirmed at the event that the UK is to lead a new global initiative to provide free education for the 75 million children worldwide without schooling.

The government will give the UN children's agency Unicef £20 million to give an initial boost to the "education beyond borders" programme. However, Mr Brown acknowledged that educating every child worldwide would cost some £5.07 billion a year.

The chancellor, who is a Christian Socialist and whose father was a Presbyterian minister in Fife, sidestepped the criticisms on arms spending. But a majority of Scottish Labour MPs have voted against replacing Trident.

Aid and development agencies at the Gleneagles – including Save the Children, Oxfam and the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) – pointed out that the UK was still missing its own targets on aid. The 50 billion dollar a year pledge was already being broken and total UK aid levels had only increased slightly.

The Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund said the UK was "double-counting" the third world debts it had wiped out as aid. This meant the UK only spent 0.52% of GDP on aid, a long way short of meeting its 0.7% target set in 1970.

The government needed to increase its aid spending by 7.8 billion dollars to meet its own promises, the charities declared.

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