Martin Sime: Perhaps Labour should abandon the party talk

Plus: a new left-wing party fails to talk about the sector and a visit to Belfast

Martin Sime
Martin Sime

After a pretty lacklustre campaign, the Scottish parliament election turned out as predicted. The parties that brought us devolution only 17 years ago have been decimated and the rise of the Greens now threatens their recovery. The relative success of the Tories can, at least in part, be explained by their campaign material failing to mention the party at all. Maybe Labour should adopt this strategy at the next election.

While our politicians have been preening themselves in front of the Scottish electorate, including daily photo opportunities with leaders wearing silly hats or doing ill-advised things with animals or small children, civil society networks have been buzzing with ideas and conversation about empowerment, community action and how to invigorate local democracy.

The public face of this election has been superficial: party politics is no longer the space where important issues are discussed.

Rise - Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism - is a new left-wing political party in Scotland born of the upsurge of interest in politics, post-referendum. Immediate electoral success was always unlikely, but it has managed to capture new thinking about how society could be organised to be fairer and more sustainable. Alas, its position on the voluntary sector is disappointing, being mostly about more money. Even in Scotland the left and our sector are uneasy bedfellows.

News that some Glasgow schools will open during the holidays to offer meals to people in need is a sobering reminder of the precarious nature of life on the breadline. The project brings charity and business together to provide practical help when free school meals are unavailable, but also plans to offer advice and support to families.

I've been in Belfast for our twice-yearly get together with our sister councils in the UK and Ireland. Listening to the stories from around the room it becomes ever-more obvious to me that, as far as governments are concerned, what goes around comes around. Whether hostile or friendly, the sector often ends up as a political football because opposition parties take a contrary view. That might be in the nature of politics, but much damage can be done to government-sector relations along the way.

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

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