The start of a new parliamentary session can often feel quite daunting. 

Many of the MSPs that we have built relationships with over the last term, and in some cases over many decades, have moved on. As discussed in my last blog, a third of MSPs (42 of 129) are new to the Scottish Parliament. 

Like policy colleagues across the sector, the team at SCVO are wrestling with how best to introduce ourselves, our priorities, and our sector to MSPs, parliamentary research staff, and civil servants.  

Over the next five years the Scottish Parliament will engage with a broad range of issues; with Covid 19, the climate, and the Constitution expected to dominate. (The Scottish Parliament Information Centre delve into this in more depth in a recent briefing).  Already at meetings there are murmurings, how can the sector make the issues effecting the people and communities we work with relevant in a parliament dominated by the three C’s? 

It is helpful to remember that we have been here before. In the last session, before Covid19, Brexit was often considered the issue of the day and it was argued that other issues were drowned out. Such challenging political contexts are not new and colleagues across the sector rose to the challenge. Together and individually, we ensured a range of issues effecting people and communities across Scotland were recognised, understood, and, crucially, acted upon. 

Among the sectors successes was a vastly improved Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018. So much positive change was achieved in this legislation that I wrote a separate blog on this in 2018. In 2019, Marie Curie and MND Scotland won SCVO’S Cracking Campaign Award for their work to secure a fair definition of terminal illness within the Act.  

In session 5 there were also a huge number of big wins in the women’s sector:  

  • Securing ‘Equality and Non-discrimination’ objectives in the Social Security Act, the Planning Act, and throughout the Scottish National Investment Bank  
  • The Domestic Abuse Scotland Act(s)   
  • The Gender Pay Gap Action Plan  
  • The Forensic Medical Examinations Act  
  • Period Products Act  
  • The FGM Act  
  • The EHRiC inquiry into prejudice-based bullying, which led to the gathering of sexual harassment data in schools  
  • The Gender Representation on Public Boards Act. 

The Engender blog offers regular updates on progress in these and other areas. 

Similarly, there was remarkable progress for the environment. Friends of the Earth Scotland shared some highlights in their recent blog, including

  • Improved climate targets in the Climate Act 
  • A policy ban on fracking 
  • Commitments to phase out sales of petrol and diesel cars and vans and reduce car-km driven by 20%   
  • A new air pollution strategy. 

While Paths for All highlight; pavement parking legislation, the workplace parking levy, free bus travel, and a commitment to increase the active travel budget, as legislation that will benefit people across Scotland. 

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT), Inclusion Scotland, and Camphill Scotland welcomed significant progress on inclusive communication:  

  • A statutory duty on Scottish Ministers and Social Security Scotland to communicate in an inclusive way. 
  • A duty on the new Consumer Scotland body to use inclusive communication. 

While colleagues supporting children and families, including the Child Poverty Action Group and the Poverty Alliance finally welcomed the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017 and the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment. The Care Review – a response to a call from Who Cares? Scotland- also involved countless voluntary organisations in the development of The Promise.

BHF Scotland and others also celebrated the Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Act 2019 which establishes an ‘opt out’ system for organs and tissue donation for transplantation. 

I really could go on and on, particularly if I were to include the huge number of commitments the sector secured in political party manifestos. 

In all of these areas voluntary organisations provided unique and invaluable insights to the development of policies that effect the many people and communities our sector works with.  

Our sector has a lot to offer, and regardless of the political context, we have the expertise to influence the political agenda. Let’s recognise all we have achieved and look forward to once again working with MSPs across parliament to achieve real change. 

To learn more about engaging with new and returning MSPs join us and colleagues across the sector at our upcoming Policy Network session

SCVO have also been reflecting on the last 12 months of our policy work. 

For more on voluntary sector achievements read our book, Charities, Scotland & Holyrood: 20 Years Delivering Change.