Last night’s #SCVOHustings was my first at SCVO. I was excited. Having all the main party leaders taking part felt like a bit of a coup, and when our inimitable host Brian Taylor reflected on this as a mark of respect to the sector I felt optimistic about what the night would bring.
In some ways, that optimism was justified. The sector’s role in the pandemic and more widely was highlighted and lauded, the diversity of the sector acknowledged and valued, and the potential role for the sector across many aspects of Scottish society was put on the table, including an intriguing “third sector first” tagline. All of this suggests that, regardless of its political make up, we’re going into a new Parliament that’s on the side of the sector. And in contrast to the situation faced by our colleagues in England, that’s not to be sniffed at.
Beneath the well-rehearsed support, however, were some misunderstandings and misconceptions that suggest there’s a way to go in ensuring that the sector is understood in the way that we would like it to be. The size of our paid workforce, our contribution to the economy and the complexity of ways in which we source income were conspicuous by their absence in the discussions. This all suggests that SCVO’s recently developed policy priorities around funding, partnership and other aspects of the sector’s operating environment are the right ones to be pursuing, but that in order to make headway in those areas we’ll have to first make sure that decision makers understand what we’d consider to be the basics about the sector. We’d already anticipated that this might be the case for new MSPs (and this is informing our ‘voluntary sector 101’ approach to initial engagement with the incoming cohort), but I was caught a bit short by the realisation that this might also be useful for established politicians and those who brief them.
Also conspicuous by their absence were any big new ideas or concrete commitments. There was a sense of frustration amongst the audience that promises made have been made before but not implemented; at an ‘in the flesh’ hustings there would have been heckling. I share those frustrations, and was in the same position as a sector colleague who reported shouting “but, but but” at her laptop. The big P political nature of a hustings means they’re never going to be the right setting for a nuanced discussion of solutions, but we have to ensure that in the upcoming session of Parliament we do have spaces for those discussions between the sector and both the government and opposition parties.
It was clear from the lack of new ideas last night that the onus will be on us to bring the innovation and the solutions to those discussions. We can justifiably bemoan that politicians fell more easily into a debate about local government than to raising the stakes in discussions about the sector, and I I’d have liked nothing more for my first SCVO hustings than the announcement of a big ticket commitment, but if I’m being charitable I wonder what it is we expected them to announce. Are we really clear, as a whole sector, what it is that we’re asking for that makes concrete our desires for “sustainable funding” or “parity of esteem”? We may each know what would help our own organisations, but are there any silver bullet solutions that mean we would all have gone away from last night with a spring in our step? These questions left me with lots to think about.
My first #SCVOHustings was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, taking me from pride and optimism to disappointment and doubt, but as I take a step back and reflect, I think what it has mostly left me with is a work plan for the next 5 years. From a starting point of all the right warm words, we have to make sure that our parliamentarians really understand the complexities and realities our sector is facing; if we can do that, we should have fertile ground for influencing decision making. To influence meaningful change, we will also need a strong collective understanding of the solutions as well as the problems, and it is SCVO’s role to help facilitate that thinking across the sector.
You can view a recording of the event here: