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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

A new politics, a new democracy and a new Scotland

This opinion piece is almost 10 years old

John Downie, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organistions director of public affairs, argues the case for a radical new approach in the aftermath of the independence referendum

Throughout the referendum campaign, the people of Scotland took part in an inspiring, uplifting and imaginative campaign.

Scotland witnessed the engagement of millions of voters who had ordinarily stepped away from politics and civic engagement, and for the first time in a life-time politics was genuinely sexy.

At SCVO we want to see this momentum become a catalyst to create a genuinely new and better future for people, communities and organisations across all of society.

For the first time we believe there is the potential for the public, private and third sectors to work together in a new way, to create real, fundamental and last change in a new Scotland.

Whatever way they voted in the end, 97% of Scots were empowered to register their intention to take part in this momentous decision.

It would a colossal failure if post-referendum Scotland failed to tap into this wave of empowerment by ensuring that the Scots of the future are genuinely involved in the important decisions facing them, their communities, and their country.

Politicians take note: it has been the grassroots campaigns, the politician-free debates in community centres, the discussions at bus stops, cafes and football pitches across the country that have really sparked the public’s enthusiasm.

John Downie, director of public affairs, SCVO

Only by harnessing renewed civic engagement can we can deliver the democratic institutions, economy and services we seek

John Downie, director of public affairs, SCVO

The fundamental change we need in our political system is to ensure this level of public engagement is allowed to flourish.

Fortunately, Scotland is now in the prefect position to further galvanise ordinary citizens to mould our future through the creation of an independent constitution.

A citizen-led constitutional convention can ensure that the basis for our future is agreed by the people of Scotland, not a few select members of the political classes.

A citizen-led constitutional convention must be supported by but not led by UK coalition government in the form of Lord Smith of Kelvin, the Scottish Government and all Scotland political parties.

The citizens of Scotland have taken this decision, they have considered the options, thought through what kind of future they want and voted in record numbers; it is they who must lead what comes next.

So who should own the process of creating a constitution for Scotland? It would be quite easy for UK and Scottish governments to assimilate the call for a citizen-led process by setting the parameters and consulting with citizens.

SCVO believes that would be failing to maintain the spirit of the referendum. Now is the time for political parties and governments to cede power to those with the most to contribute and benefit – our citizens.

In this way we can show that this really is the dawn of a new age. An age in which government, politics, society, and the way they relate to and inform each other is starting again.

Genuinely changing how we make decisions in Scotland is how we empower the people of Scotland to help build their own solutions to social problems and help create a fairer society.

Civil society organisations representing those in workplaces, communities and education institutions have a crucial role to play in this process, but it also requires a commitment to new ways of engaging citizens and small communities of interest more directly.

Crucially, we must take this opportunity to embrace citizen rights but also look beyond existing narrow conceptions of constitutional issues and democracy, to create a new political system that puts the people first.

Local democracy is one of the winners from the referendum debate, engaging and empowering people in their towns and cities, away from the often distant and removed national debate.

At SCVO we also believe this means using the building blocks of many other successful small countries: a genuine social partnership model.

We all recognise that governments have no magic wand it can wave to solve all our problems or immediately make things better either. Tackling deep rooted issues such as poverty and inequality will take time.

A citizen led approach to creating a fairer and more equal society means we can tackle and achieve it much sooner.

SCVO is calling on the Scottish Labour Party, Scottish Conservative Party, Scottish Liberal-Democrats, and both the UK and Scottish governments to agree to take the powers offered by the three main unionist parties in the referendum campaign as a starting point for a citizen-led constitutional convention but have a mandate to look beyond.

We'd like to see a citizen-led constitutional convention, to begin late 2014/early 2015 and to form proposals by the start of 2016 for a Scotland where democracy is citizen-led and the people are empowered in the decisions that affect them.

The proposals from the citizen-led constitutional convention would be decided and endorsed by the people through the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.

We'd also like to see the introduction of a genuine social partnership model, which would safeguard and co-ordinate a citizen led constitution.

Furthermore, we’re working with the STUC and NUS Scotland to help keep that space open for civil society and the people of Scotland.

We have jointly written to the UK government (via the secretary of state) and the First Minister asking both governments to endorse a citizen-led process to ensure the people decide the next steps for Scotland.

A new Scotland requires a new way of political stage. Scotland will face challenges ahead but these will be easier if citizens are genuinely empowered to make a difference.

Only by harnessing renewed civic engagement can we can deliver the democratic institutions, economy and services we seek.

I genuinely hope all political parties in Scotland agree.

What do you think about the result for third sector? Post your comments below, email [email protected] or tweet @thirdforcenews.



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almost 10 years ago
Where has SCVO been in this debate? Cowering behind the sofa, that's where.Civil society has played a massive part in the indyref debate but that was in spite of (not facilitated by) SCVO. Groups like Common Weal, Third Sector Yes, Radical Indy and so on: congratulations, you gave a voice and participated.SCVO? Can anyone name anything that SCVO did to enhance the referendum debate and to give third sector workers and/or marginalised people a voice? Other than the imagination-free option of giving Salmond and Darling slots at the Gathering, no.SCVO is irrelevant. Even more so now than before. They stood back and watched as Scotland discussed its future.
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