Kudos to Lord Smith for working with politicians, the public and civil society. So far so good. Working at pace is important so that faith isn’t lost in the promises made before the referendum. But I’m concerned that the process might move so fast that it becomes exclusive and ends up as bad as the old fashioned political stitch ups which we, as an electorate, have made it very clear we won’t put up with any more. So my plea to Smith is: whatever you do, don’t leave this to the politicians alone to sort out.
SCVO’s role in all of this is of course drawing together and advocating what our members and the wider third sector is saying. And interestingly, compared to the two-year referendum campaign, they have a lot to say.
We’re in a very open and creative process here & we should embrace that rather than being reluctant to raise issues for fear of being shot down
We, by which I mean civil society, want to see people, families and communities empowered to shape the decisions that impact on their day-to-day lives – not just at referenda and elections.
That means devolution down to communities, and I mean alongside and beyond local authorities. It also means more connections upwards to UK and to Europe too. We have to channel the activism unleashed by the referendum, not just into institutions, but to people to help them to come together to find new ways of doing things for themselves and those around them. This is where charities and third sector organisations really come in.
Canvassing the third sector to see what powers they would like devolved has been fascinating. It goes without saying that the welfare system is a top priority. SCVO will be formally calling for a coherent package of social security powers and budgets to be devolved. We know we can use the system, as a set of tools, to be more supportive of positive behaviours, and less punitive of things beyond people’s control.
And we don’t just want administrative responsibility for some of these things – what’s the point in that? We need the ability to redesign them so that people come first.
The tax system is also emerging as hot topic. One idea, for instance, which would also test the public appetite for higher taxes is an opt-in extra penny on income tax to support charities. How much better would that be than the clunky system of Gift Aid? Actually I think this could be done with the machinery delivered by the 2012 Act rather than any further devolution of power but it needs more thought.
Undoubtedly many more ideas will surface over the coming days and weeks we have to influence this debate, and I look forward to hearing people’s thoughts however embryonic or unworked as yet. We’re all in a very open and creative process here, and we should embrace that rather than being reluctant to raise issues for fear of being shot down.
We need to look beyond conventional practice, and lift our eyes to look beyond Scotland and the UK. What’s great about this debate is that we are all coming together around ideas. Let’s work towards making them happen together too.