IN a world that is seeing ever-increasing levels of conflict it is crucial that civilians and the most vulnerable are not forgotten. We must do what we can to help those who are unwillingly caught up in the middle of war.

Myself and some of my colleagues had the privilege of meeting with members of the White Helmets last week in Westminster. The Syrian organisation does a power of good in a country that has been torn apart by violence over the past 11 years.

Despite facing bombardments by Russian and Syrian military forces as well as Iranian-backed militias, their volunteers continue to bravely go to the heart of disaster to save lives. They spoke powerfully of the malign influence the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns have had on their work whilst also highlighting the continuing debilitating influence of Covid-19 on the Syrian population.

Civilians do not fight in wars, yet they are often the ones who suffer the most. We see this in Ukraine just now where the UN General Assembly recently passed a resolution assessing the humanitarian consequences of the war and called for further humanitarian support to be provided.

I and others in the SNP also spoke last week on an Urgent Question regarding the horrific use of rape as a weapon of war in Ukraine. In the same conflict, we have seen Russian military forces use similar tactics as they did in Syria with the repeated breaking of ceasefires and denial of humanitarian corridors. Such actions are despicable.

And then there are places like Tigray and Yemen which seem to have been forgotten by many of the commentariat. We heard first-hand earlier this month from Oxfam about the worsening situation in Yemen, where the UN estimates that 377,000 Yemenis have died because of the fighting and the subsequent humanitarian crisis, whilst 20.7 million people require humanitarian assistance or protection.

Meanwhile, in Tigray, despite the announcement of a humanitarian ceasefire on April 24 by the Ethiopian government, precious little aid has made it into the region. More than 90% of the 7 million people in Tigray are estimated to need humanitarian assistance. The UN says that 100 trucks a day loaded with humanitarian supplies are needed to be sent to the region to prevent further casualties. It is estimated that up to 200,000 people have already died from starvation.

It would be very easy for some to give in and accept that the world sucks and there is nothing that can be done to change it. Yet it is precisely because so many find themselves in tragic situations that, where it is in our ability to do so, we should help where we can.

The National: Ukraine is one of several countries being torn apart by conflict Ukraine is one of several countries being torn apart by conflict

Scotland is uniquely positioned in being able to offer itself as a feel-good story for the international community. Having once exported its people and some of its population having played a shameful role in the British Empire, we have the opportunity to make things right as a force for good. Independence will allow us to do this further but we are already using the limited powers at our disposal to help others.

For example, the Scottish Government currently spends £10m a year on the International Development Fund, which aims to support and empower our partner countries of Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia, and Pakistan. The Government It is committed to increasing this to £15m over the course of the current parliamentary session.

Some £3m a year is being spent on projects to help communities around the world tackle climate change via the Climate Justice Fund. A further £1m a year is allocated to the Humanitarian Emergency Fund, which aims to reduce the threat to people's lives and wellbeing caused by disasters, disease or conflict. A separate £4m was pledged to provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine earlier this year.

Scotland is doing what it can but what of the UK? Where once the Department for International Development was genuinely world-leading and set the global pace of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on aid, now the refurbished FCDO is a pale shadow of its former self.

Under the Tories, the UK was the only G7 country to cut foreign aid during the pandemic. This included cuts for reproductive healthcare funding by 48%, funding for education cut by 30% and water and sanitation projects cut by 39%, among other areas. The consequences have been devastating, with an additional 105,000 deaths of children who would have been otherwise vaccinated. Almost 1m children are out of school whilst an estimated 20m women and girls will not receive support from UK aid this year, compared to 2019.

Ahead of its new international development strategy due to be published in the spring, there are concerns that there will be further aid cuts with the subsequent politicisation of the remaining aid budget.

Scotland will aspire to do things differently. We are committed to restoring aid spending to the 0.7% target as well as creating a separate Department for International Development. With the Peace Institute that’s due to be launched later this year, we will hope to provide a forum for resolving conflicts.

And with a growing specialism in military medicine, we will hope that those trained in Scotland will be able to help save the lives of those caught up in the middle of violent conflicts. Independence will not only bring about an improvement in the lives of the people of Scotland; it will also be a good news story for the civilians in the world.