Civil Society on agenda

Civil Society on agenda

New Independence convention debates the links between civil society and Scotland’s continuing battle for home rule

Robert Armour
Third Force News

Independence would benefit Scotland’s voluntary sector and lead to a more inclusive society, according to organisers of two forthcoming debates on the issue.

The recently formed Scottish Independence Convention, which is hosting the debates, believes examining the home rule issue and its relationship to civil society is long overdue and could lead to a new approach in the way Scotland connects with disparate groups campaigning for social change.

Aileen Off, the convention’s spokes- women, said that this was the first time the issue has been debated at this level and that the time was now right to give third sector groups a bigger say in how they influence policy.

‘This is the first time such a debate has been discussed at this level among opponents and proponents and it will be interesting to see what comes out of it. The convention was set up to take these kind of discussions to a wider audience and to stimulate thinking among all groups in society so we can attempt to gauge the real depth of feeling out there.

‘Civil society and independence are two sides of the same coin in terms of principles and could lay down the foundations for a more inclusive society if we empower these kind of groups to take a bigger lead in an independent Scotland,’ she said.

The convention joins the Nationalists and two of Scotland’s smaller opposition parties -the Greens and the Socialists – together to campaign for the country to separate from the rest of the UK and for the repeal of the Act of Union, which celbrates its 300th anniversary next year.
Patrick Harvie, Green MSP, who will be speaking at the conference, told TFN that the issue of independence and civil society has become increasingly important since devolution as the lines between reserved and unreserved matters are become more blurred.

He said: ‘Organisations have found it so much easier to engage with Scottish Executive policymaking since devolution. and there are definite advantages that independence, or even steps in that direction, would have for organisations working in fields which are currently reserved.

‘If you’re working on issues like poverty and financial exclusion for example, you’re aware that debt is devolved but credit is reserved. That makes it easy to engage with government about the symptoms but not about the cause.’

The idea of a convention dates back to a fringe meeting at the 2003 SNP annual conference but the path to its formation has been a rocky one. When it was first mooted several years ago by Alex Neil, the left-wing SNP MSP, the then leader of the Nationalists John Swinney rejected it.
Salmond has now taken up the idea, although some of his MSPs at Holyrood believe that it is unwise for the Nationalists to be seen joining forces with the hard-Left SSP.

They have also say that the two other parties in the Convention do not have the objective of Scottish independence as their top policy priority – unlike the SNP.

The debates are on 2 and 15 May. Full details can be found at