Martin Sime: Mutual interest in Scotland, belligerence in Westminster

The difference in approaches to the voluntary sector between the UK and Scottish governments is stark, writes the head of the SCVO

Martin Sime
Martin Sime

Fifteen years of devolution has led to some sharp divergences across the UK, at least on the political front. In Scotland, ministers and most other politicians remain ardent supporters of the voluntary sector. Government still makes a substantial contribution to sector infrastructure and capacity. It engages regularly and with strategic intent with a wide cohort of organisations.

There is a mutual interest in the capacity of people to do more for themselves and for each other. The climate north of the border seems a million miles from the patronising belligerence that seems to characterise the approach of the UK government.

Sir Harry Burns, who recently retired from his role as Chief Medical Officer for Scotland, once said: "There is no question that the way in which the voluntary sector works means it is better placed to return a sense of control to people and work with people instead of doing things to them. We should move control to the voluntary sector, but we do not know how to make that shift."

These are wise words - but a bit depressing. If from the top of the health service he couldn't find a way to make that shift, what chance do the rest of us have?

It's an election year in Scotland, so I'm expecting a longer than usual queue of politicians hoping to present themselves at the SCVO's annual Gathering this year - two days of events, exhibitions and networking for thousands of people who work in the third sector, which will take place in Glasgow in February. The third sector has rightly become a constituency to be courted, at least in part because of our deep roots and wide networks of supporters, activists, donors and volunteers. These are assets that most political parties can only dream about - which is probably just how things should be.

Martin Sime is chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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