Martin Sime: You can talk about the EU up here... but not down there

Interpretations of the law on campaigning seem to differ if you cross the border, writes our columnist

Martin Sime
Martin Sime

Much amusement followed the publication of contrasting sets of guidance from the Charity Commission and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator about the EU campaign.

At one level it was a matter of tone - whether our regulators encouraged charities to weigh into the debate or not. But interpretation of the law on campaigning seems to differ too, raising the prospect that UK-wide charities can say and do things in Scotland that would be ultra vires elsewhere.

The SCVO recently held a small reception with the Sheila McKechnie Foundation to showcase an exhibition of the great campaigner's life and work, displayed on the walls of our Edinburgh office. It seems to me that campaigning for change has reached a tipping point for our sector. We can either stick to our knitting, recreating the Victorian version of charity, based on obligation and mitigation, or we can get behind our campaigners and assert our right to be advocates of change, whatever it takes.

I know which side Sheila would be on.

The campaign for the Scottish elections has been low key so far, partly because the SNP enjoys a huge lead in the polls.

Our politicians are doing themselves few favours with a relentless focus on their new toy - the ability to change the rate of income tax by one percentage point. Next year they'll be able to play with the bands and set differing rates too. With that 1 per cent accounting for 90 per cent of election coverage, no wonder people aren't engaged.

Where there's a problem, the instinct of civil servants is to set up a committee, which is what the Scottish government has done to address the shambolic introduction of the living wage to adult care services. If it's a big problem, call the committee a board, which gives a rather superficial expectation of powers and control, which never materialise. We await the conclusions of the Health and Care Living Wage Programme Board with great interest, but low expectation.

At the time of writing, I still await an answer to my complaint to the BBC about its radio interview with William Shawcross. That was over a month ago. Perhaps when Lord Grade has finished sorting out the fundraising community, he could be persuaded to advise his old bosses about how to deal with complaints from the public.

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

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