A national review needs national conversation

The success of the SDGs will be determined by the willingness of governments to implement them in a deep and open dialogue with stakeholders. In this blog Paul Bradley, SDG Network Scotland Coordinator, explains how stakeholders are working with the Scottish Government to make sure this happens.

‘If there is light at the end of the tunnel, it's people like your members who will create it.’

Those were the closing remarks of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights in a recent webinar with SDG Network Scotland and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. They ring true for members of UKSSD too, as do they for so many others pushing for action on sustainable development at home and overseas.

The UK Voluntary National Review on SDG performance - currently underway - provides the perfect opportunity for groups such as UKSSD and SDG Network Scotland to build on the conversation kickstarted by the Measuring Up report; not simply the report’s content, but also the way in which groups, individuals and organisations were mobilised to contribute.

The review provides a much larger opportunity for governments, civil society organisations, businesses, academia and communities to come together and add to the existing movement for the SDGs. However, in our recent submission to the International Development Select Committee, the SDG Network Scotland outlines concerns that this simply is not happening.

The review must be more than turning up to New York with a glossy paper in hand and more than a product of the Government or an account of its activity; it is a national review. Yet the UK Government’s approach has so far provided limited opportunity for the voice of devolved nations and indeed even less for non-governmental stakeholders to shine through.

Domestic engagement is the most important aspect

During the webinar with the UN Rapporteur, Philip Alston remarked that the most important aspect of the review is whether the UK Government and others engage domestically to reflect what progress is being made. Scotland is moving in the right direction in this regard, and the UK Government should look at the collaborative partnerships forming within the devolved nations to inform their approach.

SDG Network Scotland, an open coalition bringing together the voices of over 250 people and organisations across Scotland, is working in partnership with the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) on the review. In September, the Network set up a VNR Working Group. The group was joined by the Scottish Government and COSLA, and since then has been working to consider how Scotland can contribute to the review and use this as a catalyst to widen involvement. All meetings of the VNR Working Group are open for anyone to join and notes, papers and agendas are shared in an open online folder. This approach has allowed us to keep wider civil society and key networks up to date on developments and to bring new voices to the table.

It has also helped us to collaboratively develop an engagement approach for Scotland’s contribution to the UK Voluntary National Review and any Scottish supplementary review. This month, the Network and the Scottish Government launched a joint call for evidence on Scotland’s progress towards the SDGs. Hosted on Scotland’s National Platform for the Goals – set up by SDG Network Scotland – this outreach has been a team effort geared towards adding to the strong and inclusive partnerships on sustainable development that already exist across society.

Setting the tone for a future relationship

Of course, Scotland’s contribution to the UK Review will be government owned and it will be signed off by the Scottish Cabinet. We must be realistic, and that means accepting there will be parts of the review that  stakeholders disagree with. What this partnership does, however, is set the tone for the future relationship between different groups and provides a space for conversation to find some middle ground in delivering what I hope will be Scotland’s first of many reviews, as well as a potential National Implementation Plan.

By being clear on what matters to us in a partnership, SDG Network Scotland has secured the full publication of independent analysis of Scotland’s SDG performance, as well as sharing all submissions to the call for evidence on the SDG Network Scotland’s site. This gives civil society and other stakeholders the opportunity to develop their own thinking alongside supporting, promoting and informing the official review.

Partnership and public engagement lie at the heart of the SDGs. As with all intergovernmental agreements, the success of the SDGs will be determined by the willingness of governments to implement them in a deep and open dialogue with stakeholders and major groups in all its forms. Although too soon to measure the success of this partnership in Scotland, the transparent and collaborative approach taken by the Scottish Government and SDG Network Scotland could inform the wider UK approach on delivering meaningful opportunities for participation. Only then will light at the end of the tunnel seem less far away.

Paul Bradley is the SDG Network Scotland Coordinator