Wednesday 4 December 2013

Manchester and Scotland!

Up in Manchester on Monday for a meeting with my Northern members on our manifesto preparations.

In a very caring sharing way we started off by a reflection on our highlights and lowlights of last week. Have to admit my highlight was ordering my Callow Farm organic turkey (currently in Orchard at farm!) And my door curtain purchase... Lowlight was hearing Panorama want to air their programme having a go at Comic Relief. Then it was into a discussion about what our sector can offer the parties if they are listening.

But now I'm in Scotland at our sister organisation ACOSVO who are holding a conference with the Carnegie Trust on how charities in the UK should tackle "cross border" issues for all those organisations who operate across the UK. ACEVO is a UK wide organisation and we have members in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. There are some 800 cross-border UK charities. The key issue we are debating is what will happen if Scotland vote for independence and what should our position be?

So a lively debate. Its clear from our own ACEVO constitution that we operate across all countries, and this is a geographic matter so independence will not alter our ability to recruit in Scotland. Not unless we change that, and we will not be expelling our Scottish members if its a Yes vote. Or change our links with ACOSVO. But all those charities who do operate UK-wide will need to think about the implications of a Yes vote in Scotland.

Then of course there is the issue of whether charities or the broader third sector should be taking part in the debate? Given the significance of the vote its a bit difficult not to have a view or join the debate. Its different from party political debate where we can't take sides, as there is division between parties on this.

I guess it boils down to whether we think we operate better as one country (better together for our beneficiaries), or whether independence would better serve our beneficiaries who live in Scotland? And some would say we shouldn't get involved and leave it to the Scots to determine their own future.

Interestingly the Scottish regulator has given advice on taking a view. But the Charity Commission (for England and Wales) has not given guidance. So where does that leave a UK charity? We have to take a long term view about how this would affect beneficiaries. Why would we not want to take a view on this?

Personally I'm a "better together" man. Like many people across the UK, I have Scottish as well as Irish ancestory, although my Scottish Great Grandfather x 5 fled from Scotland to Ireland in a boat with his parents in 1689 to escape persecution by the Calvanist hordes who were evicting Episcopalian priests from their Livings.  Not that I have a vote, clearly (or should have)! Should ACEVO have a view? We have not discussed this at our Board, but we better do that soon.

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that charities operating in Scotland - whether UK-wide or just Scottish-based - need to understand the implications of the vote in 2014. Whether its YES or NO there will be greater devolved powers. This mirrors the debate about localism in England. More and more decision-making is taking place at a local level, whether in health or local councils, so many national charities will have to structure their work differently.

Food for thought. But not haggis. 

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