Yea or Nay - Opportunity Awaits

With the Scottish referendum only one day away, NICVA Chief Executive, Seamus McAleavey looks at the bigger picture, whatever the result turns out to be.

First things first, the Scottish referendum is a matter entirely for those living in Scotland, but its impact is clearly much wider.

Secondly, when the votes are cast and it’s a Yes or No the post-match analysis will go on for years. It will be a field day for academics, analysts, sociologists and psychologists particularly in examining how people made their mind up: emotionally or rationally?

An independence referendum is such a big question it’s hard to see how anyone has the capacity to consider or process the multitude of issues rationally. So it might boil down to how individuals and communities feel about the big picture or vision that the two sides present them.

As an outsider it does seem to me though that the Yes campaign is better at making the emotional argument and the No campaign has focused too much on trying to make the rational argument, linked to fears on matters like the pound sterling, pensions and prosperity.

The voluntary and community sector in Scotland is reflective of Scottish society, so I know many people on both sides of the argument, including within organisations themselves.

So when the vote is determined what would the likely impact be on the sector? From a legal point of view, not a lot. Would UK organisations have to separate out their assets and liabilities like two independent States? Well, no. It would be a matter for them individually. I cannot really see an independent government in Scotland or at Westminster passing a law to say only ‘national’ organisations can legally exist.

In Northern Ireland there are many organisations that operate on a cross border basis including the main churches, sporting organisations and other voluntary organisations. The Carnegie UK Trust was set up in 1913 and is headquartered in Dunfermline but it maintains its UK and Ireland remit to this day, its choice. The RNLI survived partition too, even with its ‘Royal’ title intact!

The job of government, good government, in a democratic society is to develop the best conditions for citizen action to take place. Governments can help this process or hinder it. It is essentially a philosophical point or question. Social movements drive change in society, pushing governments to change long standing law. Think about the abolition of the slave trade in Britain or women’s suffrage.

Scotland is being offered independence by the Yes campaign and is now offered "Devo Max" by the No campaign; either outcome will present the voluntary and community sector in Scotland with a major opportunity.

After the referendum, Scots will reflect on the type of country they want to have and the society they want to shape. That will be a good opportunity for the optimists in civil society to push forward positive social change. Their vision can focus on developing ‘the good society’. In this sense the referendum can be a huge catalyst and maybe more sure to happen if the result is Yes.

But didn't David Cameron try this when he launched his ‘Big Society’ debate during the last election? However his big idea floundered and disappeared in rancour and cynicism and was neither understood by his party or his opponents, and didn’t really amount to more than two campaign speeches. I don’t think I was ever asked the question, what is this about, more often than about the Big Society idea. Now no-one mentions it at all.

If the outcome is No then the debate in the short term will be on Devo Max and that will have ramifications for Northern Ireland, Wales and indeed England. The last time I suggested Stormont maybe should have more fiscal powers, the response of many was ‘you must be mad’, we cannot handle the powers we have and more responsibility would not produce better governance.

Looks like we are a long way behind Scotland whether you are pro independence or support Better Together.


This article first appeared on the Stratagem website and is one in a series about the Scottish Referendum.

The opinions, views or comments in this article do not necessarily reflect any views or policies of NICVA.

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