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September 25, 2013

Third sector reluctant to engage

Whatever the outcome of next year’s vote on independence, the impact of the result is sure to be felt by everyone. And that makes the ambivalence of Scotland’s Third Sector (as reported in SCVO’s recent survey) towards the referendum debate hard to fathom – especially in light of OSCR’s new guidance which gives a green light for charities to become involved. While there’s much to be critical of in terms of how the debate has been conducted to date, shouldn’t we try to shape the terms of that debate rather than look the other way?


Third Force News 10/09/13

THE Scottish independence debate is uninspiring, alienating, off-putting and boring according to Scottish charities.

New research from the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) has revealed strong feelings in the third sector against the current debate.

The majority of organisations are also not planning to take a position on the outcome of the referendum, despite recent reassurances from Scotland’s charity regulator that they can.

Of people working for charities who responded to the latest survey into attitudes towards the referendum, only 3% said that the arguments being put forward by the yes and no camps were clear.

Charities criticised the debate for focusing on the wrong issues and being too partisan. They called for the debate to move away from simple yes/no clashes and instead focus on the issues that matter to their members and clients.

The top issue that charities want to see discussed more is poverty, followed by welfare, social care and community empowerment.

However, Martin Sime, chief executive of SCVO, urged charities to ensure that the voices of their members and service users are heard in the debate about independence.

“It’s not surprising that people working for Scottish charities are uninspired by the debate so far. Neither side has created a vision of the future of Scotland that engages the ordinary people that charities work with every day.

“The third sector has many voices which use their influence to shape society and tackle the issues that really matter to people – welfare, social care and jobs.

“Now is the time to be heard about the kind of Scotland we want to see and to redouble efforts to get the views of those we work with into the centre of the debate”

Fears of alienating funders, members and service users as well as staff capacity and lack of information were the main reasons that charities gave for not getting more involved in the debate so far.

However, earlier this summer, Scotland’s charity regulator produced guidance on the referendum that made it clear that charities could get involved in the debate and even support a particular yes or no outcome if it was in keeping with their charitable objectives.

The Network of International Development Organisations in Scotland (Nidos) is also encouraging its members to get involved in the debate. It held an event in May where nearly 200 people from different sectors debated the values and principles that should drive Scotland’s international relations in the future.

“We want Scotland’s relations with the world and action to tackle global poverty to be included in the referendum debate,” said Gillian Wilson, chief executive of Nidos. “We think this is an important consideration in how we shape the future of Scotland, whatever constitutional outcome is voted for.”

Both Better Together, which is campaigning for a no vote, and yes Scotland also urged charities to help mould the referendum campaign.

A Better Together spokesperson said: “Given the importance of the decision we are being asked to make it’s vital that charities get involved in the debate. It can’t be left to politicians to argue among themselves. No matter their view, different voices across society shouldn’t be afraid to speak out.

“We need the facts about the impact of separation on Scotland’s charities and the important work they do. Whether that’s on welfare, the economy or our public services, people need honest answers not more assertion.”

A spokesman for Yes Scotland said: “The voluntary sector will continue to play an important role in an independent Scotland and we are keen to engage with it as the campaign progresses.”