Half of DfID staff in limbo over Scotland referendum

U.K.-funded humanitarian supplies for Iraq are loaded onto an aircraft. Almost half of the staff of the Department for International Development are based in Scotland. Photo by: Neil Bryden / Royal Air Force / DfID / CC BY-NC

As Scotland gets ready to vote on independence from the United Kingdom on Thursday, a feeling of uncertainty prevails among nearly half of the Department for International Development’s 1,280 civil servants working from its premises in East Kilbride, near Glasgow.

That includes entire agency departments as well as some major policy functions, including U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s much-trumpeted global initiative on nutrition. At least a dozen senior DfID positions are based in East Kilbride, but should Scotland vote “Yes” and break away from the U.K., all those jobs will have to move elsewhere.

But would affected government employees be relocated to London or another U.K. city? And would they be laid off or potentially rehired by a new Scottish aid agency?

DfID did not reply to Devex’s request for comment at the time of posting. Like all U.K. government departments, it claims not to be engaged in contingency planning for Scottish independence. However, the department is likely to be more affected by a majority vote for independence than others. Indeed, according to the Institute for Government, it has the greatest proportion of civil servants outside England.

Those opposing independence remain unconvinced that Scotland would be able to absorb so many employees, even if the incumbent Scottish Nationalist Party has repeatedly promised to protect all civil service jobs in Scotland — including DfID staff.

“Not only would we be able to maintain and continue the employment of those people,” Scottish Minister for External Affairs and International Development Humza Yousaf recently told the Edinburgh parliament, “but other opportunities would be available, including an external affairs function.”

That might reassure East Kilbride’s civil servants, but would still leave DfID with reduced personnel, not to mention Scotland “not necessarily getting the right mix of staff” to conduct its aid work — an effect feared by Sir Malcolm Bruce, a Scottish MP sitting in Westminster, where he chairs the U.K. parliament’s influential International Development Committee.

In the event of a Scottish vote to secede from the U.K., Bruce predicts the situation will surely be “chaotic for quite a long time.”

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About the author

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    Anna Patton

    Anna Patton is a freelance journalist and media facilitator specializing in global development and social enterprise. Currently based in London, she previously worked with development NGOs and EU/government institutions in Berlin, Brussels and Dar es Salaam as well as in the U.K., and has led media projects with grass-roots communities in Uganda and Kenya. Anna has an master’s degree in European studies — specializing in EU development policy — and is a fellow of the On Purpose social enterprise program.