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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.


 Anna Fowlie, Chief Executive, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO)

Scotland’s voluntary sector has long played an important role in our society. But, since the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament 20 years ago, new avenues have opened up that allow Scotland’s charities to work in close partnership with elected members and government to develop and champion legislation that has ultimately transformed our society for the better.

The impact of this change on individuals and our communities cannot be underestimated. From the smoking ban to ensuring equal marriage for all, civil society has led the charge in changing attitudes and legislation – often in the teeth of strong opposition from vested interests and those in power.

In virtually every challenge our country faces, the voluntary sector has a vital part to play. Looking back on the last two decades, we can now reflect on the benefits of that action and appreciate the determination and drive of those working in the sector and the unquestionable role they have played in creating a more equal and progressive Scotland.

This book gives us a chance to celebrate the last 20 years of the sector working with – while also being prepared to challenge, debate, persuade and influence – our Scottish Parliament.

Scotland has the benefit of being a small country with a strong sense of social justice and a history of innovation. From these strong foundations, we can maintain and cultivate these enviable attributes – working collectively to support each other and to respect each other’s right to be heard.

Partnership is a key theme emanating from the 20 campaigns highlighted in this book. By working together we see that collective strength and identification of common purpose can be harnessed to create change.

Through scandals at home and abroad and at a time when the trust built up in our politics has eroded, the term ‘lobbying’ has developed negative connotations, and new rules have been introduced to ensure contact with elected members remains above board. However, it must always be remembered that voluntary sector lobbying has played a crucial role in delivering the societal change we now celebrate.

Through this publication, we hope to champion and celebrate the amazing work that the voluntary sector carries out in Scotland. The 20 campaigns featured in this book – drawn from a list that could have filled volumes – demonstrate the variety, drive and talent that exists within our vibrant and eclectic sector.

It is crucial that charities continue to work constructively with the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government and MSPs of all parties to ensure that the communities that we are there to support are not forgotten. By progressing in this spirit, together, we know that, 20 years from now, we will be able to reflect on even more positive change led by a vibrant voluntary sector in Scotland.

Anna Fowlie, Chief Executive,
Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO)

Ken Macintosh, MSP, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament

The Scottish Parliament was founded on the principles of openness and equality and having served as a member across those two decades I know that these principles continue to inspire and challenge us today.

Back in 1999 we had the opportunity to build a modern, accessible Scottish Parliament, with the people that it serves at its heart. From the outset, the new parliament opened its doors to civic Scotland and that relationship has flourished over those 20 years to the benefit of all. Just as the parliament has grown and developed as an institution so, for example, we have seen the phenomenal growth of the social enterprise sector. Indeed, Scotland is now recognised as a worldleader in this field and part of a growing global movement.

The third sector embraced the establishment of the parliament and was influential in shaping the institution in the late 1990s and, since then, voluntary organisations have provided invaluable input and a unique perspective on policy development. There is no doubt that the creation of the Scottish Parliament has in turn made it easier for the third sector to access policy makers, politicians and civil servants. From briefing MSPs in advance of debates to providing evidence to our committees; contributing to cross-party groups or making contributions to legislation; the voluntary sector has helped shape the political agenda and provided insight born of experience on the issues that really matter.

I know only too well from my own time as a backbencher how influential the parliament’s relationship with third sector organisations has been. From UK-wide charities to local tenants’ and residents’ groups, anti-poverty campaigners to environmental activists, the sector has spoken up for thousands of people across Scotland and amplified their voice. It has done so with passion but also with reasoned analysis.

In the last year alone, 1.3 million adults formally volunteered through an organisation or group, bringing so much in the way of social and community benefit, but also helping volunteers themselves gain confidence, learn new skills or simply meet others who care. The sector employs more than 105,000 people, that is over three per cent of the total Scottish workforce, and there is no doubt that MSPs have engaged with the sector because of its fundamental importance to Scotland.

This book is a celebration of what the sector has achieved in the first 20 years of the parliament. I hope it also demonstrates the crucial importance of voluntary organisations as we look ahead to the next 20 years and together, we seek to build a society of which we can all be proud.

Ken Macintosh, MSP,
Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament