Trade and industry links with Malawi

MY role as Minister for External Affairs and International Development took me to Malawi and Zambia last week, and I was very pleased to be the first Scottish Government minister to visit Zambia in an official capacity.

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The Scottish Government has over 45 projects in Malawi and Zambia which are helping to continue the relationship between these countries and Scotland which has existed for over 150 years. This relationship started back in the 1850s when Dr David Livingstone started his explorations, and I am proud that it is still as strong as ever today.

The purpose of my trip to Malawi and Zambia was to visit some of the Scottish Government-supported projects and also to explore trade and industry opportunities to create local wealth, and therefore create local jobs, helping people help themselves out of poverty.

Immediately after we arrived in Blantyre, Malawi (named after the town of Dr Livingstone's birth) I attended a business roundtable discussing investment in Malawi, held in Mandala House. Mandala House was home to the first European company to be established in Malawi in the 1870s - the African Lakes Corporation -set up by two brothers from Glasgow, John and Frederick Moir.

In Malawi I also met teachers who have benefitted from the twinning arrangement between schools in Malawi and Glasgow.

This partnership has transformed the teaching of children throughout Malawi, helping them to get even more from their education.

In each place I visited I was warmly thanked by people I met for the work the Scottish Government is doing. However for me it's not an issue of charity or simply aid, it's an issue of justice.

The actions that the developed world took in the past, such as colonialism and slavery, and our current excesses have played a significant role in the harm that has been inflicted on those in the developing world.

They are suffering because of our actions past and present, and offering support, training and education to the people of Malawi and Zambia is the least we can do to redress that imbalance.

I am pleased that through links with Malawi, Glasgow is known internationally for its compassion. I hope Glaswegians are able to demonstrate this compassion further by welcoming those fleeing the war in Syria.

Last week the UK Government committed to offering refuge to those caught in the crossfire of this bloody conflict.

The First Minister has been calling for the UK Government to resettle refugees since September, and this announcement, if overdue, is welcome.

RECENTLY I attended the Scottish Refugee Council's AGM where I was able to talk to refugees and asylum seekers about their experiences and hear their views about independence.

It was heartening to see the majority of people asked felt Scottish people are welcoming, and after a question and answer session 53% of those who took part in the SRC's poll were in favour of independence, and only 22% against.

This positivity was matched by an excellent poll conducted by ICM, showing that support for independence has increased by 5% since September.

The poll found when the "don't knows" were excluded, support for Yes stood at 46% compared with 54% No.

However, when people who answered 'don't know' were pressed further on their views and asked how they were 'most likely' to vote, the gap between Yes and No narrowed even more, and support for independence stood at 47% compared with 53% No.

This is extremely encouraging, and with eight months to go we can see that our positive message is making significant progress, and a swing of just over 3% will put Yes ahead.

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