James 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.