This survey was undertaken to discover what the third sector currently feels about the debate; whether it is having any impact on organisations; and what they hope to see come out of the debate in the coming year. As SCVO will be holding an event on referendum issues at our November AGM, we also asked for organisations to supply one question that they would ask of the campaigns.
This survey follows on from a previous survey conducted in 2012, which found that the vast majority of organisations had no intention of getting involved in the referendum debate.
Just under 200 people began the survey, and there was a 68% completion rate.
- Nearly 40% of third sector organisations who responded to the survey remain completely disengaged from the debate, with less than one third stating that they are either ‘engaged’ or ‘very engaged’.
- In terms of debate content, over half found it to be predictable. Over 40% found it confusing and just under 40% found it uninformative. This compares to 20% who found it thought-provoking. Unfortunately, only 3% of respondents found the debate to be clear.
- The vast majority of organisations (nearly 70%) are not planning to take a position on the referendum in the coming year. Worries about alienating funders, service users/members, and concerns over staff costs were the top three reasons given for organisations not becoming more involved in the Referendum than they currently are, all just over 40%. Lack of information was also a significant reason given (just under 40%), whilst lack of internal support or interest was also commonly cited (30%). In open comments, a few cited their desire to remain politically neutral as an organisation as a reason for not becoming more involved, whilst others stated that it was not relevant to their organisation.
- The majority also found the debate had not encouraged their organisation to think about the future in general, whilst the overwhelming majority (over 70%) did not feel that the debate had helped their organisation plan for the future in terms of their organisations’ overarching purpose. In open comments, respondents highlighted that an uncertain future made it difficult to plan long-term. Others felt that the Referendum would have no impact on their organisation and/or was not relevant to their work, although a few found that it had provided opportunities for positive engagement and impact within the third sector and within the organisations’ communities.
- Looking to the future, the majority of respondents stated in response to open questions that they want more information on what an independent Scotland would mean. In particular, there was a desire for clear, non-partisan information, with many respondents keen to see less party politics. A number of respondents also wanted to see a wider debate on big issues, including some who wanted the opportunity to discuss a ‘vision’ for a future Scotland. A significant minority also cited the importance of receiving accurate charity-specific information.
- On the issues that the organisations wanted to see debated in the coming year, general poverty, welfare, social care and community empowerment came out top. Other issues included equality; the economy; health; employment/unemployment; wellbeing; and public services reform.
- Questions provided by respondents as suggestions of what SCVO should ask from the campaigns varied but fell under broad categories including direct charity-related issues such as tax and cross-border charity structures; welfare and disability rights; pros and cons of yes or no vote, and/or what will happen after yes or no vote; and issues around voting rights and engagement.
- Comments from respondents were varied. They included statements about the need for more information on what effect the vote may have on charities, society and individuals, as well as comments on the need for better engagement of ordinary people and worries that the debate was proving to be a distraction from issues that need addressing now and into the near future.
In more detail
The debate so far
We began the survey by asking how engaged in the debate organisations felt they were (Figure 1). Whilst almost one
third felt they were either engaged or very engaged, almost the
same number felt that they were only a little engaged, and four in ten felt they were not engaged.
Fig 1: Level of engagement with debate
We continued by asking respondents what they thought of the debate so far in terms of both content and tone. The majority of respondents associated negative rather than positive words with both the tone and the content of the debate. In terms of the tone of the debate so far (Figure 2), over half found the debate to be uninspiring, over four in ten found it to be off-putting (respondents could choose multiple answers), and just under one third found it to be alienating. This compares to around 15% finding it engaging, around 15% finding it exciting, and just less than one in ten finding it inspiring. Worryingly for a sector that often works with some of the most excluded in society, only 7.5% – fewer than one for every thirteen respondents – found it to be inclusive.
When asked about the content of the debate so far (Figure 3), over half found it to be predictable, with just over four in ten and just under four in ten finding it confusing and uninformative respectively. This compares to one fifth who found it thought-provoking, just over 13% who found it interesting, and just over one in ten who found it interesting. Only 3% of respondents found the debate so far to be clear.
Fig 2: Tone of debate
Fig 3: Content of debate
How the debate could improve
When asked in an open question how they hope to see the debate develop in the coming year, many respondents stated that they wanted more information on what an independent Scotland would mean:
“[I hope that] politicians might start actually saying what a yes or a no will mean. There is just mudslinging and no substance at the moment.”
“It would be good to hear the positives and negatives honestly, and for the information to be made much clearer. If the debate continues as it has – we will miss the most valuable opportunity we have.”
In particular, there was a desire for clear, non-partisan information, with many respondents keen to see less party politics:
“I hope to see more factual information and some clarity around the choice we’re actually being asked to make. There’s far too much tit-for-tat that I think seems designed to put people off and disengage them from the process. This could be one of the biggest decsions[sic] we make as a country with seem of the widest implications – whichever way we go – and we’re not being well-informed.”
“I’ve been extremely disappointed with the level of debate thus far and I feel that the electorate have been and continue to be disenfranchised as we spectate from the sidelines of the most pernicious political battle seen in probably centuries. This is not in keeping with 21st century democracy nor is it the kind of Scotland we think our members want to live in – regardless of their views on independence.”
A number of respondents also wanted to see a wider debate on big issues, including some who wanted the opportunity to discuss a ‘vision’ for a future Scotland:
“More debate on the bigger issues, like social justice, poverty, the environment etc., plus the detail of how Scotland could do these things differently (whatever the outcome of the referendum).”
“More information on what type of society the different options will offer.”
“More space for ordinary people to be helped to articulate their vision for Scotland.”
A significant minority also cited the importance of receiving accurate charity-specific information:
“I want to know how a yes vote will effect UK wide charities – all sounds very confusing and scary. The whole thing seems to alienate us from potential UK wide support.”
We next asked respondents to consider how their organisation was publically responding to the debate. We began by asking whether their organisation had an agreed position on the referendum question, or was planning to take one (Figure 4). The vast majority – almost seven out of ten organisations responding – stated that their organisation was not planning to take a position. Fewer than one in ten either had an agreed position already or were planning to take one. A significant number – over one in five respondents – did not know their organisation’s plans or position on the referendum question.
Fig 4: Position of organisation on referendum question
We then moved on to ask organisations what barriers they were facing that were preventing them from getting more involved in the debate (Figure 5). Worries about alienating funders was a concern for over four in ten respondents, with one respondent explaining that “Fears of political alienation and the very vociferous verbal attacks that are frequently launched against people who do voice opinions on this debate”prevented their organisation from getting involved.
Worries about alienating service users or members was also a top concern. As one respondent stated, “It is an individual opinion and I am not sure whether it is ethical for us to take a stand”, whilst another cautioned “It is against our aims to make a judgment and we could influence vulnerable clients.” Concerns around neutrality were also raised, with one respondent noting that “[We hold] a firm belief that no organistion [sic] should try to influence an individuals [sic] right to choose what they believe is best for the country”.
Another top concern was lack of staff capacity (“we are working hard to deliver our mission – which will still need to be delivered no matter the outcome”), followed by lack of information and a lack of support or interest within the organisation. As one respondent explained, “I raised it [the idea of getting more involved in the referendum] with our Board some time ago, and the view was, people should make their own mind up on whether independence or union leads to the best outcome for tackling […] our organisation’s purpose”.
Fig 5: Barriers to engaging with debate
Looking to the future
We then asked organisations to look to the future, and to consider what influence the Referendum debate has had on their thinking. When asked to what extent the debate so far has encouraged their organisations to think about the future in general on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being ‘not at all’ and 5 being ‘a great deal’, over half rated just 1 (‘not at all’) or 2 (Figure 6). About one quarter gave a rating of 3, whilst one quarter gave a rating of 4 or 5 (‘a great deal’). This demonstrates that for the vast majority of organisations responding to the survey, the Referendum debate has so far had very little impact on their future planning.
Fig 6: Future in general
Looking more specifically at organisations’ overarching purposes, nearly half of respondents stated that the debate had not enabled their organisation to plan for the future (Figure 7). As one respondent explained, “There is a dreadful lack of information at the moment which therefore hinders debate on the potential impact that the referendum may have to enable organisations to enable organisations to understand the impact that therefore allow them to have discussions internally. This is particularly challenging when working in an organisation with a UK wide format”.Furthermore, in response to this question, only 1% of respondents stated that the Referendum debate had helped their organisation plan a great deal.
Fig 7: Future with reference to organisational purpose
Changing the debate
We ended the survey asking respondents what topics they would like to see covered by the debate in the coming months. The top issues can be seen below (Figure 8).
Fig 8: Top fifteen topics respondents want to see debated /discussed
Other topics were (in order): housing; international development; homelessness; workers’ rights; fuel poverty; the arts; land reform; digital infrastructure; sport.
We then asked respondents to provide one question to the campaigns if they could ask anything they liked. The responses varied across a range of issues, including charity related issues, welfare and disability rights, pros and cons of a yes/no vote, and voter engagement. In full, the issues raised (in order of popularity) were:
1. Direct charity-related issues
2. Welfare / disability rights
3. Pros and cons of yes or no vote / What will happen after yes or no vote
4. Voting rights / engagement
= 5. Youth / children / families
= 5. Social justice
= 5. International issues
8. Technical issues (tax, money etc.)
= A vision for Scotland
10. Community empowerment
= Fuel poverty
“How would your vision of the future for Scotland support and encourage a thriving Third and community sector?”
“Welfare is becoming an increasingly negative concept, will you take the opportunity to design and develop a completely new social security system which fits with values and priorities of Scottish people?”
“What are you doing to encourage and support people living in poverty to get involved in the campaign and to come out and vote? In particular, make clear how voting yes or no will improve their income and human right to an adequate standard of living.”
At the end of the survey, we also asked respondents whether they had any final comments that they wanted to add. Many respondents raised thought-provoking concerns and issues for the third sector, the campaigns, and wider society. We finish with one such comment.
“The way the debate is currently going, it’s actually holding us back from truly facing – and tackling – the profound social and economic challenges that lie ahead for us as a Nation. Too many vital policy issues and challenges are currently being “kicked into touch” until “after the Referendum”.
It is essential that the third sector and others do not let this happen. Much more needs to be done by both campaigns but also by the third sector to help bring the debate about Scotland’s future to a much wider variety of people and to make sure that it addresses their concerns.