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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.

Social Renewal – from Buzzcocks to Oasis

This opinion piece is about 3 years old

Anna Fowlie reflects on her time on the Social Renewal Advisory Board and the If Not Now, When? report

Now that the Social Renewal Advisory Board’s report If Not Now, When? has hit the digital newsstands and I’m seeing the reactions in the twitter bubble, I’d like to share some thoughts.

When I was asked to join the advisory board, I was pretty dubious. One of my favourite songs from my teenage years reverberated round my head.  Boredom by Buzzcocks. So many groups comprising mostly the same people were discussing the same thing.  They would all produce reports that people would be grouchy or ecstatic about. B’dum b’dum. But I decided to give it a chance.

On the refreshing side, the advisory board is probably the only government-led group I’ve been on where the voluntary sector outnumbered the public sector. Usually, every single part of the public sector gets separate representation – education, social work, several strands of health, public bodies, many government departments etc – but the entire diversity of our sector gets one, possibly two, reps. That changed the conversation.

However, there the tensions between communities of interest and communities of place were present. And we did occasionally play the old game of top trumps of disadvantage. There were exhortations to be bold and aspirational and reality checks about money and reserved powers. And we all have a thing we’ve been banging on about for years and think this is the very time to shoehorn it in.

There’s also been passion, determination, experience, knowledge, constructive challenge and hard graft.  And lots of engagement with a whole variety of people all over the country.

So what have we got? Having begun as a patchwork of disparate ideas from the various circles, the final report and its 20 calls to action are reasonably coherent and evidenced. Some of the things it calls for would take many years, others could happen tomorrow if we just got on with it.

But who’s the “we” that should just get on with it? The twitter bubble – both the ecstatic and the grouchy – is full of “they”s.  They’ll never change, or they’re going to be fabulous. Maybe that’s why Scotland doesn’t do well with implementing things – we come up with the great words, and they have to put them into action.

If Scotland is really going to be the green, socially just, inclusive society set out time and again in policy documents and manifestos of every hue, everyone will need to make it happen. Businesses, councils, the health service, voluntary and community organisations, individual people and governments. All services, whatever their sector, will have to change, cede power and focus on the things that matter.

Now I’ve got an Oasis song from another stage of my life in my head – the buggy-pushing years!  Not for its title, Cigarettes and Alcohol (despite my retro liking for both) but for the You Gotta Make It Happen line, over and over again.

That’s why I’ve decided not to participate in any more groups creating utopia. I will get involved in groups to implement things, but I’m not redefining the same problems or looking for yet more new ways of doing things.  It’s time to make it happen.