May 10, 2017 : John Downie

Brexit and the Third Sector – will we have a place in Europe?

As the unedifying spectacle that is UK general election continues to depress us with its stage managed press conferences and lack of genuine debate, you have to question the state of our democracy.

It’s even more depressing if you start thinking of it in the context of Brexit.

Ahead of a Scottish third sector visit to Brussels to engage with the EU Commission and Parliament to ensure our voice is heard on Brexit, I was reflecting on a recent meeting with Mike Russell MSP, Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe.

The Minister, I have to say, now fully understands the concerns and priorities of the third sector – I won’t repeat them all here, set out as they are in our recent briefing.

At the same time he had some strong messages for the sector. Yes, he sees the sector as a key partner, but also as a source of ideas and influence on key issues, and wants to work closely and in partnership with us. He was also very much of the opinion that the real debate on the issues starts immediately after the UK general election – where the Tories look set to win and the Prime Minister will have her Brexit ‘mandate.’

That will be the time to influence the debate – so publish your proposals, get them into the Scottish Government and make sure your voice is heard. Even if the UK Government won’t listen, the Scottish Government, EU Commission and European Parliament (in particular) will. And we do have a story to tell – we know that Scotland’s third sector is:

  • Overwhelmingly pro-European
  • Wants to remain closely linked with Europe and its institutions (in line with Scottish Government thinking and the EU referendum outcome)
  • Recognises the tangible benefits derived from EU policy and funding
  • Understands that all member states experience similar challenges, which we feel are best faced down together
  • Has strong networks with civil society across Europe, which we wish to protect and enhance
  • Has very real concerns about human rights regression in the UK and the erosion of EU migrants’ rights
  • Wnats to ensure the voice of our organisations is heard at both a UK and EU level, as negotiations progress

There are innumerable issues relating to Brexit – both overarching ad practical – but underpinning them all is still: “what kind of country do we wish to become and what to we need to get there?” Defining our priorities and key asks is becoming even more critical. For starters we might want to consider:

  • The transfer of laws and repatriation of powers. What powers do we want to see back from the EU and Westminster?
  • Free movement of people and trade. The impact of the loss of EU nationals in our social care workforces will be considerable – what’s the answer?
  • Human rights and social protections. How do we prepare for the threats we know will be coming from a newly emboldened UK Tory Government?
  • What should a new post 2020 funding model look like and how do we use this ‘opportunity’ to rethink and reinvigorate third sector funding?

There are many others, such as the impact on research into major health issues, funded by third sector organisations, and the weakening of environmental legislation at a time where the UK Government is being taken to court over missing air pollution targets. The sector has work to do to develop our key asks, and more importantly, consider how we can achieve them.

Or is it even possible?

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don't represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

by John Downie