Susan Smith examines the impact of tensions between the London and Edinburgh office of UK charities after the Scottish independence referendum
The ugly side of cross-border charity relationships began to emerge from the shadows during last year’s referendum campaign. At that point the fear was mostly that UK trusts and foundations might cut off Scottish organisations, but a few UK-wide charities also began to question the future of their Scottish arms.
Behind closed doors, relationships between London and Edinburgh have always been tense. “They don’t understand us” is the inevitable whine of the Scottish public affairs professional every time a UK-wide press release about a devolved issue is blanket sent to the Scottish media. They have a point, and further devolution will only exacerbate the issue. Already, many capable people in Scotland’s third sector chose to work for smaller Scottish-only organisations rather than major household-name bodies because of this issue.
It could be argued that while Scotland remains part of the UK, there isn’t always the need for a Scottish headquarters for every charity. Services can be directed from London and where Westminster remains the focus of lobbying work, the need to campaign in Scotland is limited.
Despite unrest, Scottish staff at Asthma UK and RNIB have so far resisted all-out revolution, clearly believing they are better together
This doesn’t apply to health charities like RNIB and Asthma UK, however. These organisations not only have to lobby the Scottish Parliament – they both provide the secretariat for cross-party groups, for example – they are also likely to be involved in negotiations with devolved local bodies, including the new health and social care joint boards. While there may be tough financial pressures on UK charities, cutting back on their Scottish operations at this time is likely to have negative consequences for service users.
Despite unrest, Scottish staff at Asthma UK and RNIB have so far resisted all-out revolution, clearly believing they are better together. However, TFN has been hearing rumours of several other charities that have run out of patience and decided to become wholly independent.
In the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum there is a residual unease between British citizens north and south of the border. That may smooth over in time, but if charities are unable to resolve tensions in the meantime, we will see a growth in Scottish only organisations – either through independence or new bodies moving into vacated territory.
The question is, will that be a bad thing?