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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.

What charities need to know in the run-up to a general election

The UK Prime Minister has announced a general election for the 4th July 2024. We know that charities may have questions about how this affects their activities, which we’ll try to answer here.

What can and can’t charities do in the run-up to an election? 

There are rules that apply around charities doing political campaigning that apply at any time. Political campaigning can be allowed, but must be related to your charitable purposes and in the interest of your organisation, as well as being allowed by your own governing documents.  

In an election year, it’s particularly important to be conscious of this. The sector’s voice can and should be heard when it comes to influencing government policy, so make sure you’re doing it legitimately. 

Here’s what OSCR guidance on campaigning and political issues says: 

"Under Scottish charity law, your charity can campaign if:

  • it is advancing your charitable purposes
  • your governing document does not prevent the activity
  • you are not advancing a political party, and
  • you can show you are acting in the charity’s interests

Scottish charity law says that an organisation set up to be a political party or to advance a political party cannot be a charity.

Our position is that charities can campaign on political issues to advance their charitable purposes, including during election periods, as long as the requirements of charity law and, where necessary, electoral law are met.

Political campaigning – for example taking a position for or against a change in policy or legislation – is a legitimate way for some charities to achieve what they were set up for, their charitable purposes."

Read more in the OSCR guidance on campaigning and political issues and their accompanying note on Updated guidance for Scottish charities on campaigning about political issues

The Electoral Commission has produced a Non-party campaigner Code of Practice

This gives guidance on a range of activities and approaches.  

The Charity Commission and Electoral Commission have also shared advice for charities engaging in public debate

ACEVO and NCVO’s The Voluntary Sector Manifesto is full of important asks for organisations here in Scotland, from continuation of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, to respecting devolution, investment in public services, a fairer tax system for charities and more.

What happens to new or revised law and regulations in this period? 

Civil servants and MPs are subject to regulations during a pre-election period of sensitivity which may slow down or stop the passage of legislation through parliament. 

As it is the Westminster government - not the Scottish Government - who are in the pre-election period, Scottish Government work should in theory be able to continue largely as normal. However, they have to be cautious that they don’t take any action that could be seen as being party-political or likely to influence the election. Some civil servants or political representatives may also have roles in both governments and therefore may be subject to purdah.  

Any bills going through Westminster parliament needs to have completed its journey through parliament and received Royal Assent before Parliament is dissolved, or they will fall. There is normally a “wash up” period where the Government and Opposition will try to get certain bills through more quickly. 

Staff and trustees 

It’s important to share any relevant information around campaigning with both staff and trustees, to make sure they understand their responsibilities when representing your organisation, and any restraints.  

If you have a social media policy for staff or trustees, this might be a good time to remind people of it.

CharityComms have guidance for doing Comms in an election period (it's not Scotland specific, but will still be useful to organisations here).

Supporting your communities to take part in the general election 

In your work with communities, particularly those who may face barriers to inclusion, you may wish to support people to take part in the elections. Here are some helpful links: 

Anna Fowlie

“It is our sector that steps up, time and again, to provide vital support to people and communities across Scotland impacted by Westminster decision-making – on issues like immigration, social security, the economy and more. 

“As we head towards polling day, our sector will be making the case for a humane way of doing politics, one that puts people and communities first. Their voices must be heard, and SCVO will be supporting them to do just that. 

“With the Scottish Parliament turning 25 this year, it is a good opportunity to reflect on the vital contribution our sector has made, using new avenues to transform society for the better. I want to see that legacy built upon. It is crucial therefore that we see a commitment from all parties to let that happen, by respecting devolution.”    

Anna Fowlie,
Chief Executive, SCVO

Get involved

Collaborate with us and our members to develop and promote voluntary sector policy perspectives for Scotland