Laurence Demarco’s closing remarks to the Senscot AGM 1st Oct 2010

Laurence Demarco’s closing remarks to the Senscot AGM 1st Oct 2010

During my 30 year term as a community worker in Scotland – there have been two dominant political systems.  During the 70’s and 80’s – it was a ‘one state’ centralist socialism – where the brand of com. devpt. I practised – was considered ‘ideologically unsound’ – because it tried to move power from the local state to local people.  Thankfully this wasteful system destroyed itself.  Then we got Thatcher and the reaction to state collectivism became market individualism – and (lets face it) we all to some extent got swept along – maxed up the credit cards.  Now thankfully this system has also destroyed itself – and I believe that now – more than at any time in my life – there is a real chance that a different – a third system – will be tried – a system based on civil society – mutualism and social enterprise.

Traditional power elites are in decline.  Already the membership of civil groups is greater than that of political parties – trade unions – churches.  We are entering a period when the key unit of social change will be the self organising citizen’s group.  This here today is a citizens group.  100 individuals take membership – 40 attend the AGM – review the year – elect a few of their peers as trustees to make policy, supervise staff, oversee the accounts etc – by associating together we hope to change society in someway.  This process is repeated thousands of times every year across our country – the quiet, mostly anonymous workings of the Third Sector.  My personal thanks to each of you who have made the space in your day to attend today.  No AGM – No Senscot.

The past decade has seen a growth in the realisation – that if we can carry out our mission – but at the same time trade goods or services – so that we can cover costs – break even – then we enter a new realm of power and independence.  We call this social enterprise – and Senscot has played its part in spreading this awareness in Scotland.  I believe that social entrepreneurs and their enterprises exemplify the new third way – continuously inventing new ways to work for social justice – where possible as trading businesses – not for personal wealth but for the common good.  If the integrity of the social enterprise model becomes properly established – it can offer a new way for society to organise – a genuine alternative to the public and private systems.  But there are influential voices in the social enterprise community – particularly in England – which want to open the doors wide – in order to accelerate (and exaggerate) the growth of our sector.  Senscot takes a different view – that the term social enterprise has specific meaning – embedded in the values of the Third Sector.  For the term to retain its value – its boundaries with the public and private sectors need to be maintained.  But as Aidan said – this is under attack.  On one side the Govt is going to try to shoehorn chunks of the public sector into our movement – but – “the separation of civil society from the state is one of the hallmarks of a free society.”  We need to keep this separation.  And, from the other side, the private sector lobbies for a definition of social enterprise broad enough to include private ‘for profit’ activity.  But the very soul of third sector activity is that it is not for personal gain.  Again we need to keep this separation.  These boarder skirmishes are not resolved – and could still go either way.

I don’t think there is any doubt that the influence of civil society is on the increase – but because it is fragmented and disorganised it punches well below its weight.  Civil society is normally taken as collective activity outside either the coercion of the state or the drive of market – so it’s not just Third Sector, Voluntary and Community groups, and social enterprises – but can be seen to include co-operatives – mutuals – faith based organisations – trade unions – social movements etc.  Although this is a broad church – there is a surprising amount of alignment.

Across such fundamental issues as – The reduction of poverty and inequality – Transition to a low carbon economy – Democratisation of media ownership – Radical reform of banking – Decentralisation of decision making etc – there is broad agreement across civil society which is much more progressive – marching way ahead of current govt policy.  I believe that the next big challenge facing us is to construct a vehicle – which can enable all our disparate progressive social movements to come together – to share a campaigning platform – so that the influence of civil society can be fully realised.  I hope that in the coming years Senscot may play a part in achieving this.