No show: where is the third sector Better Together campaign?

Third sector yes video web

Third Sector Yes says there has been almost zero response to its viewpoints from the no campaign 

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12th September 2014 by Paul Cardwell 23 Comments

Third Sector Yes has questioned why there is no vocal support within the voluntary sector for the Better Together campaign.

With less than one week to go to the referendum, the group which campaigns for a yes vote claimed the reason there is not an equivalent third sector group representing 'no' is because only independence can create the sort of country which civil society aspires to.

In the latest Third Sector Yes campaign video, featuring ‘David’, it says those working in the sector know the policies which are needed to change things in society to help the most vulnerable, and the majority of those who have revealed their preference within the sector have come out as yes supporters.

The video, which you can view below, is just over three minutes long and says: “For every pro-independence group you can find you can usually find a similar group on the other side who are trying to encourage a no vote.

“There’s no such thing as Third Sector No. Throughout this entire campaign there just hasn’t been a voice within the third sector who think a no vote is going to make things better or fix these problems. We need to ask ourselves why that is?

“Politicians on both sides of this debate will tell you that voting with them is the best way to build this fair and just society but we expect to get that message from politicians.

"What happens when we look at the message coming from the people who work on these issues every day and from the volunteers who give up their time to actually try and help these causes? 

“We’ve not heard from Third Sector No because there is no Third Sector No. The people working and volunteering for a fairer Scotland are overwhelmingly voting yes.”

To coincide with the release of the video freelance writer Maggie Kelly, a member of Third Sector Yes and former coordinator of the Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform, said her view is that only with independence will there be an opportunity to pursue a fairer, more just society in Scotland.

We have published viewpoint after viewpoint from experts across the third sector in favour of independence with almost nothing in response - perhaps the counterarguments simply aren't there

In her blog which can be read here, she said: “Over the last few years, many of us in the third sector, in grassroots campaigns, in faith groups, in trade unions and elsewhere have fought long and hard against the coalition’s social security cuts.

“Of course, voting yes will not guarantee us a more socially just Scotland. Nobody can guarantee us the future. There are always risks.

“We have heard a lot about the risks of independence but the risks of leaving power with Westminster are even greater and we have the opportunity now to take a different path.”

Eliot Stark, who has worked in the sector for more than 25 years, was one of the first voluntary sector workers to come out as an individual supporting Third Sector Yes when it launched last year.

He added: “Of course there is a range of views in the third sector but our experience is that there is overwhelming support for yes.

“We have published viewpoint after viewpoint from experts across the third sector in favour of independence with almost nothing in response. Perhaps the counterarguments simply aren't there, or perhaps those on the no side don't see the third sector as a crucial constituency.

“In clear contrast, the yes movement is driven by a passion for third sector issues and improved social justice, which we firmly believe will best be achieved by voting yes on Thursday.”

The Better Together campaign has been asked for comment but is yet to respond.

12th September 2014 by Graham McCulloch

Have "Dave " and Eliot really decended to the flawed logic of the football fan bulletin board ?"We’ve not heard from Third Sector No because there is no Third Sector No."Perhaps we can all stay in our beds next Thursday because Third Sector Yes has more Facebook friends than anyone else and Eliot and "Dave" will have "won" !Those that shout the loudest, might get heard first, but is the ones that speak softly to the heart, that get remembered. – Leon Brown

12th September 2014 by jj

It's certainly true that there's very strong support for Yes within the third sector. In some ways that's very obvious - how can anyone who works on shoring up Westminster's failures think the UK is OK?

12th September 2014 by Ian Smith

Dear me, the arrogance of this. Did you ever think that people in the Third Sector might just be focusing on the people they want to help and choose to pursue their political aspirations in their own time? SCVO has placed itself firmly in the middle of this debate and promoted the Yes campaign - what chance that alienates a number of member organisations?

12th September 2014 by Chris

Graham and Ian - I don't see it that way. I think it's just pointing out that there have been so many passionate third sector voices in favour of yes, and not much engagement from the no side. Reasonable enough stuff - and Eliot himself concedes that there is a range of views within the sector. Having said that, my experience is that there is a big majority for Yes in the sector and I agree with David on the video - it's a powerful endorsement of the argument that a Yes vote is the one that is more likely to see social justice.

12th September 2014 by Gill Watson

This is an interesting article, video and comment thread. Ian Smith, I don't think the video is arrogant - surely it's just reflecting a fact: that there is a notable absence of voices from within the third sector who are calling for a No note.I don't find it terribly surprising that a majority of people in the sector, working hard to improve our society and to achieve social justice, see more hope and potential for that in an independent Scotland than by remaining in the UK. I remember an SCVO poll a few months ago on third sector views on independence indicated just that.

12th September 2014 by Eliot Stark

SCVO has held a neutral stance, with opportunity for wide ranging discussion, meetings, articles and interactions face to face and through social media from Better Together and YES perspectives. My personal belief is that YES is the way forward for a better more just and equal society and for me that is worth voicing my opposition to the neo liberal excesses of current UK Govt and the hurtful austerity that all major UK Westminster parties seem hell bent on enacting on those furthest from opportunity in out society.

12th September 2014 by Andrew

The voluntary sector is a small community: NO supporters do not wish to put themselves in the spotlight and risk cuts to Scottish Government funding for their organisations. The YES campaign may say this is paranoia, but we simply can't take the risk.Also, the voluntary sector YES camp are very vocal and regard themselves as having 100% of the moral high ground: any attempt at rational persuasion by NO gets drowned out very quickly and characterised as failure of vision, reactionary negativity and lack of faith in our ability to reshape society for the better.To try and redress the balance, here is an attempt to put the very simple and strong case for voting NO: 1. We already have a substantial amount of power devolved to Holyrood in the areas closest to the third sector’s heart, such as health and social policy. There is a strong likelihood that further devolution can target many of the remaining shortcomings. More control over taxation and welfare are the most obvious of these, and are clearly going to be included in the package eventually hammered out.2. YES's financial plans are unsound in a number of areas and independence would bring significant cuts in public spending and/or a rise in taxation. These will be detrimental to the vulnerable people we serve and will make reshaping the. Third Sector YES seem to accept too easily the assurances that as a wealthy country, funding will not decrease.3. Many Scottish charities receive substantial funding from Trusts and Foundations based in the rest of the UK. While few of these would immediately stop making grants to an independent Scotland, it is a safe bet that independence would not attract an increase in grants and it is very possible that we would see a gradual decline.

12th September 2014 by Chris

Fair enough Andrew - all good debate. Don't agree with the comments about Yes folk within the sector being overly vocal though. I guess it's a week away from the ref and it's getting a bit intense all round. But third sector folk usually pretty respectful on both sides. And many people are as reliant on UK govt funding as on Scot govt funding so I'm not sure I'd go along with that one either. Just on your third point - charitable giving is substantially higher in Scotland than in the UK as a whole. So don't you think that trusts would balance out over time? i.e. There would be as much (or more) money go into trusts set up with Scotland-only restrictions as would be lost to Scottish charities because of any rUK-only restrictions.

12th September 2014 by Alex Thorburn

This article has surprised me because as far as I was aware the third sector are mainly charities, who have to be politically neutral and avoid where possible making political statements. As an advocate, I neither promote Yes Scotland or Better Together's views. I will say though, that I sent a total of 17 questions to both Yes Scotland and better Together which were asked of me by the large number of disabled people that I support Throughout Scotland, mainly on disability issues. Within 2 days, I had a full and detailed reply from Yes Scotland to all 17 questions. Yet after a total of 8 emails and a snail mail letter, plus copying it to my constituency MP who supports Better Together, I have not yet had a reply from them. I did receive 2 cursory emails stating that they were "busy" and finally one which rather than answering the questions asked me to take a look at the Better Together website. I had done this before, because both sides have ignored the issue of disability during this campaign, however after 90 minutes trawling through the website, I had not found a single word on the subject of disability. In the end, because postal votes were on the doorsteps, I was forced to send out the only information that I had been given. This of course went against my principles as an advocate but I was being bombarded by my contacts seeking answers and were willing to receive anything that I had been given. As approx. 20% of people in Scotland are disabled or have a long-term health condition, the Better Together camp were ignoring a huge slice of the electorate. When you add the family, friends, carers, personal assistants and general supporters of disabled people who are interested in these issues, the number of voters is huge. In 50 years of campaigning on political, socio-economic and disability issues, I have to admit that the campaign run by Better Together is by far the worst I have ever seen. Thjs is not the only campaigning blunder made by better Together and if they lose on the 18th, in my opinion, the result will be down to their ignorance, arrogance and sheer lack of political awareness.

12th September 2014 by Alex

I think this is a really valuable question to ask- individuals working in the third sector have come together in their personal time to really question what constitutional future could really make a positive difference to the people they work to help across Scotland and around the world. Surely the reason we all work in the third sector is because we know the system isn't working, and here we are being offered an opportunity to change it. Who could turn that down? Seems to me that it's for that reason that there really is no strong collective voice from across the (very varied) third sector that really believes a no will deliver change, benefits, and a brighter future for healthcare, human rights, international development, etc etc.

12th September 2014 by 'David'

I don't think our logic is flawed Graham. If we can agree there has not been a group, collective or even one off event with a pro-union voice rooted in the Scottish Third Sector community, the next obvious and reasonable question is to ask why that is?If sufficient numbers within the Third Sector strongly feel a No vote is the way to best serve their important work, doesn't it seems like the sort of thing they should let the wider public know about?I'm not sure the Leon Brown quote hits the nail quite on the head. This isn't shouting loud vs speaking softly. It's speaking calmly and clearly vs silence from lack of participation.I don't think this is a question of neutrality either - organisations remain neutral, and although not often easy, it's individuals (independent of who they represent in the Third Sector) who form Third Sector Yes.A Third Sector No group could have been entirely possible but has not materialised.

12th September 2014 by Andrew

Chris: thanks for your reply. On trusts: there are a number of large Scottish Trusts, but there are far more English-based ones that make grants in Scotland. I source over 50% of the grants for the befriending project for people with learning disabilities I manage from England. New trusts get set up, for example by the Weirs, but they are not thick on the ground and the majority were set up 40-200 years ago. Ironically, the only way grants from England might increase is if Scotland ran into terrible problems financially which meant we needed aid: I think this is unlikely but not impossible. The most disadvantaged in society need security and stability, and we are risking this unnecessarily if we go independent: we may be confident in our ability to reshape society but history is littered with examples of movements with the highest ideals that fall victim to hubris, human nature and political & economic realities: Scottish independence is not immune to this. I think we have a good and improving devolution settlement and membership of a union which has recovered well from the economic crisis and will offer stability and security. I favour this over an independent Scotland which has poor longterm macroeconomic prospects and all the ingredients of a potential decline that would do more damage to the people who need support than anything Westminster can come up with. People running charities need in some ways to be more hard-headed than businessmen because our finances tend to be marginal: it doesn't take much to seriously knock us off course or destroy us completely. We cannot afford to be self-indulgent: as much as we would love to have all the levers of power, if the money and stability aren't also present then it won't do us and the people we try to help any good.

13th September 2014 by chris

Andrew, likewise, I value your response. But I disagree with it..! I think we need to take a step back and look more broadly. Why are there so many people in need of third sector support in scotland? It's not because we lack resources. I think both sides of the referendum debate agree that Scotland is a wealthy country, and many countries with fewer resources than us have much lower levels of poverty. Therefore we have poverty and need because, primarily, of inequality - and I come back to my point about the UK being the most unequal country in Europe. Almost all of the big levers to tackle inequality (eg welfare, min wage, pensions, taxes) remain at Westminster. We need to get our paws on them to fix the fundamental, underlying issues.

13th September 2014 by Tiiu-Imbi Miller

Maybe the NO lot are more cautious. Personally I am definitely for the NO, and I could even make out a good definite case (not just hopes of a fairer society) that would satisfy OSCR to bring my charity into the NO Camp. All the most likely funders for us seem to be in the South, and so are many of our supporters. This was highlighted in our last fund raiser where 2/3 of the money came from the South. As a separate country we would have lost the gift aid, and therefore probably some of the donations too. But surely some of our Scottish supporters would personally favour YES, even if our charity would lose out. They would not be happy to be signed up to NO. I want to respect that. A second reason could be that, judging by what I read in the TFN, most Scottish charities seem to be just about Scotland, though I hasten to add that the Scottish government has given generous donations to overseas work, and the people have too.. This inward looking stance might bias one towards independence, even if one was mistaken (as I believe) in thinking that this would benefit Scottish charities. But if you think that people in Scotland have more social conscience should not the Scottish charity sector consider more than their own good? Splitting the Union would probably ensure a Conservative government in Westminster for some time. Do labour voters in Scotland really want that for their compatriots down South? And do we really want to lose all influence in the Westminster parliament? If we are that uncaring will we really create a better society at home either? I want to campaign for a better society for ALL. I am already frustrated that it is often not appropriate for me to sign US petitions, because they refer to something internal. I don’t want to be in the same position as regards the rest of the UK. I do not feel distant from Westminster. I have corresponded with and signed petitions to MPs, MSPs and MEPs of many parties, and held an extended discussion with a Westminster cabinet minister. If you want a better world join Avaaz, 38 degrees,, World Development Movement, and many more. They get results, but it's persistent work, harder than wishfully thinking that if we but get a different set up we will magically elect a great government.

13th September 2014 by Tiiu-Imbi Miller

Andrew writes 'NO supporters do not wish to put themselves in the spotlight and risk cuts to Scottish Government funding for their organisations.’ After reading Mr. Sillars’ comments I realise, with shock, that Andrew is not paranoid. Sillar says there will be a 'day of reckoning' for businesses that have been ‘scaremongering’ i.e. warned about adverse consequences to independence. Sillar promises consequences like nationalisation for BP, and other stuff. I have little idea as to whether nationalisation of BP should be considered, but it should never be for opposing the YES side. That’s how dictators behave. If the YES campaign have reason not to believe the many warnings, why don’t they discuss these reasons, demand for example that the likes of John Lewis show some accounts to justify their stand and pick holes in these, instead of resorting to meaningless cries of ‘scaremongering’. I am scared. I have good reason to be scared, for both our economy and now even our democracy.

13th September 2014 by simpson

Pretty simple really. 1. A naive belief that wishing for a better fairer society will be achieved through Independence. 2. Who pays the piper calls the tune ( or silences the opposition....... Eg my Health aboard gagged senior Doctors.Who cannot be ashamed of the weakest paying the greatest price. Deserting those who are suffering in England is the worst of the YES case moreover every action of SNP Gov.has been regressive, benefitting better off more or much more than poorer or poorest

15th September 2014 by Eliot Stark

Interesting comments, some I certainly agree with, others I do not. The real reason for the support of a non party YES vote this coming Thursday sits with social equality and democracy, this is not nationalism and it is not about the SNP. These aspects will take the people who live, work and contribute in Scotland forward with a rigour of involvement in politics never seen before, and why should they settle for the grudging scraps given from an elite table of Westminster. Societies are judged on how they treat those furthest from opportunity and let the people have their day.

15th September 2014 by Tiiu-Imbi Miller

Eliot Stark, you are right that it should not be about nationalism, but for many it clearly is, and not a pleasant form of nationalism either. Hoping for social equality from Holyrood looks like wishful thinking. Our governments are elected (good). Elections cost money (bad). The rich have money, the poor do not. So to get elected all governments, however well meaning, have to come to some accommodation with the rich. Nonetheless I don't see why Salmond doesn't want to raise the top rate of tax to 50p. That was tolerated before. Support the campaigning organisations I mentioned earlier if you want social justice, and a lot of other good things too.

15th September 2014 by Katherine

I agree with Andrew.As an organisation we have maintained a neutral position in the debate as it would be unprofessional not to.However personally speaking, I am employed by one of the UK's largest charities. The services we provide in Scotland are massively subsidised by our UK pot, as our Scottish fundraising operations are not buoyant enough to solely support our services, staff, building costs etc, north of the border.Yes, we have a registered Scottish charity number, and could legally operate if Scotland were to go independent - but, in my personal opinion, in the event of independence I cannot imagine my organisation would be in a position to sustain its Scottish operations long-term. Both financially-speaking, but also because 95% of our funding comes from public donors - and 95% of those donors live in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I can't imagine they'll want to see their donation going to Scotland - a foreign country.But then, that's just my personal opinion...

15th September 2014 by Eliot Stark

Tiiu-Imbi Miller we will have to agree to disagree, under no circumstances do I think we will ever achive equity and fairness with a Westminster system. It is morally corrupt and Scotland has shown in its elections before its ability to elect politicians from a rainbow of views be it Greens, Socialists or independents. Holyrood has excelled at being accessible and has shown a cross party ability to learn and act from its systems and it's peoples experiences. Let's not confuse the current democratically elected parliament with the possibilities of independence, or the changes this can bring to all parties outlook and manifestos for the ongoing future in Scotland. Further the choices presented through the Westminster system do not give any hope for social justice or redistribution, fearless human rights, with all choices being to the right of the centre. When the main parties agree on capping welfare, more austerity and seem hellbent on privatisation of universal health services, we should all take note and beware.

16th September 2014 by Disabled people for yes

Hi, this echoes our findings. We challenged Better Together to debate disability issues with us after they released a video claiming Independence was too risky for disabled people. We got no response except some derisory comments from BT supporters on Twitter. We created this video to refute their claims: addition, despite coverage on the BBC of our launch, they managed to almost completely bury our actual Yes message and instead claimed that disabled people felt that neither side was listening to them, despite that never actually being said by us.

16th September 2014 by Graham McCulloch

Interesting to see that a fictitious person from a campaigning video should respond to my views using their sunday name "David" . I however have a different view about TFN's "Comment " button . I see it as a means to allow me to post my comment on an article wherein others have had an opportunity to espouse their views . I didn't seek to engage with the parties (real and or imaginary ) mentioned in the article ... it wouldn't have been hard for me to contact Eliot should I have ever felt the need to do so (and that was well before any prominence he might have gained from his role in Third Sector Yes ). Nor was it my intention to start a thread whereby comments which the aforementioned featured campaigners viewed as needing correction were responded to and their authors rebuked. Anyway - I didn't come here for an argument - I'll just toddle off and do some work shall I ?

16th September 2014 by Tiiu-Imbi Miller

Eliot Stark, where's the difference between the Holyrood system and the Westminster system? The difference between us is that you put your trust in one of these systems, and I trust neither. Both our governments need money from the rich, not just for election expenses, but also for taxes. The richest 1% pay nearly 28% of the taxes, and the poorest 50% together pay about the same. The more obscenely big the pay packet, the greater the tax benefit to the government. So to get more equality we need more than another government along the same lines. I don't see that on offer in Holyrood. Not engaging in discussions on fiscal warnings and going into the referendum without a currency does not engender trust. I've been reading up on this, and it seems the hoped for currency union is unlikely. We could easily end up poorer. However good the intentions, without money we cannot help the poor. So, without believing that all our politicians are bad, I put my trust in genuine people power - organisations like Avaaz with almost 39 million members worldwide, or, for the NHS, 38 degrees. A petition signed by 100,000 38 degrees supporters can be effective. These 100,000 are voters. I want to fight for the whole UK, and I don't want to take unnecessary risks, even though only the Deutsche Bank man predicts real disaster which is surely unlikely. But the more I find out, the more certain I am to vote NO on Thursday.