The common cause of Labour and the third sector

JA PhotoJames Adams is a senior professional in the Third Sector working for RNIB Scotland, and is standing for selection to Labour’s Glasgow and Rutherglen Regional List. He says we must urgently renew our links with those who implement our values in our communities.


Scotland has a large and vibrant third sector in every community across the country, from big national charities to small neighbourhood groups. It provides vital services, campaigns on important social issues at home and abroad, and supports and empowers some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our communities.

The third sector is a major player in our economy. It employs 138,000 people – as many as the creative and energy sectors combined – with a turnover of £5 billion per year. But its greatest strength lies in its volunteer base. Hundreds of thousands of fellow Scots give their time, energy and skill every week to care for others, advance the cause of gender equality, or campaign on environmental justice.

This activism and community spirit binds our society together and makes us all stronger.

As a Councillor in Govan I have seen the incredible role that these organisations play, from allotment holders to organisations providing support to homeless people. Working with the local community to grow the Govan Loves Christmas event and develop the Remember Mary Barbour campaign  has reinforced for me the crucial importance of Labour operating at the grassroots.

In my professional capacity with the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) Scotland, and across the wider disability sector, I witness daily the dedication and passion that staff and volunteers have for improving people’s lives. I was privileged to chair the Hardest Hit Scotland organising committee which worked with disabled organisations and their volunteers to organise Scotland’s biggest demonstration of its kind against so-called welfare reform. This campaign showed me the difference that can be made by people working together.

The third sector is a vibrant part of Scottish society. Its values of community, mutual responsibility and cooperation align with our fundamental Labour values. It is unsurprising, therefore, that Scottish Labour has traditionally enjoyed strong bonds with the third sector. Many of our members and elected representatives have been active in third sector organisations. Leaders in the third sector have often turned to Labour to advance their social policy agenda.

Worryingly, this is no longer the case. In recent years our links have frayed and the SNP has assumed the role we once played. This isn’t unique to the third sector, of course. The arts, sections of the media, even some of our trade union branches have forged relationships and increasingly an identification with nationalist politics. This is painful for us as Labour to hear, although we know it to be true.

But just as our previously strong alliances across civic Scotland have faded, so too we can earn trust back again. Nothing should be taken for granted in politics. Neither success nor failure. We can win again if we get our identity, offer and organisation right.

In my view a key litmus test for us is the health of our links with the third sector. For us to return to government, we must renew our core relationships – starting with those who on a daily basis implement our values in the community.

We should establish a dynamic Third Sector Labour Party Group. This will provide a much needed focus both for those working in the third sector to come together to discuss current issues, and for Scottish Labour to improve our engagement with policy makers, service users and providers, volunteers and charity trustees.

Given that the third sector is a large and diverse employer, we must align our efforts with trade unions. Together we can increase union membership and representation, and identify areas where we can support charities and improve the conditions of their workforce.

I am committed to this effort – as a campaigning activist, a third sector professional, a trade unionist, an elected local politician, an experienced party organiser, and someone engaged in our policy development.

It won’t be easy. It will require sustained commitment. But it can be done, and it is well worth the effort. Indeed, I believe our success depends on it.

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8 thoughts on “The common cause of Labour and the third sector

  1. As RNIB Scotland has been sold down the river by its own Trustees, against the wishes of senior staff, including the Chairs from Scotland, Wales and N Ireland, to be run from London, this article is a bit sad.
    I have no idea if RNIB Scotland will now be able to carry on the good work they have done for the last 150 years. There is little transparency in this take over.
    Will Mr Adams even be able to maintain his Union link, as his new employer has no Trades Union members in its organisation?

  2. ” It employs 138,000 people – as many as the creative and energy sectors combined – with a turnover of £5 billion per year. But its greatest strength lies in its volunteer base. Hundreds of thousands of fellow Scots give their time, energy and skill every week to care for others, advance the cause of gender equality, or campaign on environmental justice.”

    Seems to me that anything that generates a turnover of 5 billion a year on the back of unpaid labour is exploitative.

    Where does this 5 billion in credit go? Please tell me it isn’t the English London based Treasury run by the Neo Conservative Government?

    Please tell me this isn’t another Union benefit to the Westminster establishment?

  3. I work extensively with the third sector. They were overwhelmingly in favour of Independence as a route to a better way of doing things. A route that wouldn’t involve Tories humiliating their core client group – the poorest, most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

    Labour crushed their hopes. The third sector are frantically dealing with the human cost. And Labour will have to deal with the electoral consequences.

    1. Davie – not sure how you work out how Labour crushed third sector hopes when we haven’t been in power either at Holyrood or Westminster, but hey, when did facts ever intrude into SNP posts!

      1. Labour “crushed their (Third Sector) hopes” by leading from the front in the Tory campaign to keep Scotland part of the UK. Hundreds of thousands of votes were therefore gifted to the Better Together campaign as the core, die-hard, “Labour no matter what” section of their support did as the Party instructed them to and voted NO. Had Labour campaigned for Independence, those same votes would have gone to YES and the Third Sector’s hopes would not have been “crushed” …. at least not by Labour. Its not a difficult concept to grasp.

        1. Thanks MBP. Couldn’t have explained it more clearly myself.

          Not that I should have had to!

  4. “Worryingly, this is no longer the case. In recent years our links have frayed and the SNP has assumed the role we once played.”

    James the Scottish Labour section MSPs did not do the work when they were previously elected and in power in the Scottish Parliament and as a result the links have been broken to such an extent that they are unlikely to be forged again due to the infighting and backstabbing over the sections regional election lists for the Scottish elections. Until the various factions cease the infighting and backstabbing and support Kezia instead of plotting against her then the likelyhood of any links being mended are but a dream. Probably the best thing for the Scottish section would be to breakaway completely from the Labour Party UK and from a new Scottish Independent Labour Party.

  5. I believe in seven pillars of society – family / friends ; communities ; private sector ; public sector ; third sector ; information sector ; and government . The third sector was traditionally disparaged by socialists with their statist views . But it is now accepted that the third sector does what the public sector could never do as well – and its harnessing of volunteers are part of that . James Adams is right to emphasise its importance . I have never understood why food banks are disparaged . Sea and mountain rescue are third sector ; as are hospices and Maggies Centres ; and as are Quarriers , Barnardos and the Salvation Army . It is the hallmark of a civilised society that food be made available to the public . The public purse is always subject to limits ; the third sector fills the voids . Finally , politicians are mainly to be found in government . The quality of our life depends mainly on the other six pillars – which are largely unaffected by the degree of political autonomy enjoyed by we Scots . Many third sector folk supported secession from Great Britain because they didn’t understand the damage that that would have done to the Scots economy – those in the private sector sure did !! Paul Pia

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