Susan Smith believes the third sector has more interesting things to say in the referendum debate than politicians
Regardless of the outcome of the referendum the rise in political dialogue and engagement generated is priceless and something we must hold on to after September this year.
This was one of the main messages that came from this week’s Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations’ question and answer session with deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon.
Are we taking for granted the unique access we have in Scotland to some of the most influential politicians in the country?
Sturgeon presented her argument for independence with a passion that was surprising given how many times she must have made the same argument over the last year. But as the debate ramps up to its climax, and the sniff of possible victory hits the air, the excitement within the Yes camp isn’t about to fade.
It seems to be a bit different though for those working in Scottish voluntary organisations. The turn out for this event was surprisingly low considering it was an audience with the second most important politician in Scotland. A similar event in the run up the last Scottish Parliament election saw almost twice as many people grill Sturgeon.
Are we taking for granted the unique access we have in Scotland to some of the most influential politicians in the country? Or could it be that even if the ordinary person in the street is getting excited about the referendum, those involved in the world of policy are not?
Sturgeon stressed a stronger welfare system, better childcare provisions and a nuclear-free future and questions covered poverty, human rights, disability rights and independent living, education, health and the impact of independence on charity governance and cross-border organisations. The question of our personal and social responsibilities also came up.
It is up to the third sector to explore some of these questions and ensure their members have a vision for the future that is worth voting for
They weren’t a bad bunch of questions, but they did make it easy for Sturgeon to bat them off, to be considered separately as part of a constitutional debate or to skim the surface of policy solutions.
Considering how much of the third sector is calling for radical changes to the way our current systems work, from community empowerment to self-directed-support, health and social care integration, public-social partnerships and environmental justice, it was disappointing that the event didn’t consider the bigger picture more. How will the Scottish Government cope with the transition, will it start poaching staff from the third sector, can we start from scratch and scrap many of the systems (and bodies) we currently work with?
It seemed that the final message from Sturgeon was that there are few answers available right now, but that everything can be addressed under the blank slate of a new nation with a fresh constitution. Given this, it’s no wonder that referendum events with politicians have gone a bit cold.
It is, therefore, up to the third sector to explore some of these questions and ensure their members have a vision for the future that is worth voting for. Over the next nine weeks or so TFN will be putting some of these questions to third sector people and organisations and publishing their responses in the paper and online.