Martin Sime: Skid marks and a BBC car crash

Our man north of the border berates patronising radio and reflects on The Gathering and indyref2

Martin Sime
Martin Sime

I'm a collector of self-deprecating jokes about the voluntary sector, so here's a good one: what's the difference between a charity chief executive and a cat that are both lying dead in the road? There are skid marks in front of the cat!

Speaking of car crashes, I'm writing this listening to Lord Grade's contribution to The Bottom Line, a BBC Radio 4 attempt to host a sensible discussion about charities. Not a clue really about the real issues confronting fundraising, just patronising and simplistic stuff about cost ratios.

On the subject of dissonance, the Prime Minister was recently in Glasgow inviting us all to subscribe to her version of nationalism. It seems we are soon to be given a choice in what has been affectionately dubbed indyref2. I expect this one will be even less focused on what politicians and the conventional media say and do. The argument will be won and lost in grass-roots community debates where the voluntary sector will be much in evidence.

Despite Storm Doris, more than 3,000 people and 100 exhibitors visited the third sector networking event The Gathering in Glasgow in February. Most of the 57 events and conferences were over-subscribed, and a host of politicians came to listen and engage with our many good causes. This enthusiasm is in rather sharp contrast to the research the SCVO published to coincide with the event, which shows a sector largely just surviving rather than thriving.

I've always believed leadership in the voluntary sector ought to come from the people we work with, or at the very least from our trustees and volunteers. Traditional leadership in the public and private sectors is built on those who have power and money. If we really are in the business of empowerment, it makes sense to differentiate ourselves from that rather than mimic it.

They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but I did not have high hopes for a hastily arranged meeting with Chris Skidmore, Minister for the Constitution, who was in Glasgow recently. I'm happy to say that he came across as one of the more engaged, interested and thoughtful Westminster politicians I have met. His interest in what voluntary sector communities can contribute to voter registration and democracy was a breath of fresh air.

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

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