“The Scottish Government is inviting you to have your say on what a fairer Scotland should look like in 2030, and the steps that should be taken to make this vision a reality.” – This is the conversation that the Scottish Government is attempting to have with the Scottish people about the future direction of the Country. I’ve worked long enough in the Public and Voluntary Sector to know that, more often than not, “consultations” can appear staged and tokenistic. Last Thursday, however, I joined this particular conversation, and felt thoroughly inspired by it.
My colleague Tom Bishop and I attended the snappily titled “Social Security and Social Justice – Joint SCVO and Scottish Government Engagement Event” (or SSSJJSCVOSGEE as I preferred to call it) in order to be “consulted”, along with other third sector reps on how we could look to use the new powers coming to Scotland as a result of the Smith Commission process.
From the outset it was clear that regardless of whether the people in the room felt the new powers were enough or not, they were determined to use them to the best of their ability in order to establish a more humane social security system in Scotland to meet the needs of the population. In fact “humane” and “social security” appeared to be being used a lot in a deliberate attempt to avoid the stigma that exists at the moment around “benefits” and “welfare”. A good start.
Nothing was off the table. We were told that this was not about asking us to choose between 2 or 3 pre-determined options but that the government were open to ideas. Debates were had around whether certain benefits should be universal or targeted, whether we could use some differently or even scrap them altogether. More sensitive topics like tax rises/cuts and even a “citizen’s income” were all mentioned and all respected. This didn’t feel like those many MANY consultation events that I’ve attended. This felt different. More meaningful. More genuine.
There’s no time in this Blog to go in to detail about those discussions and this is only one small part of a wider conversation but I did come away with a sense that I had been listened to. The wider conversation is set to hear not only from professionals but also from the population in general. From the people who will most likely benefit from new social security powers. From the public and private sector as well as the voluntary sector and also from people who may disagree completely with the current direction of travel.
We were asked to spread the word about this current “national conversation” and encourage people to get involved. So at the end of this Blog I’ve left some links to the various channels through which you can have your say. We were assured that your opinion would be respected and listened to, and on this occasion I believe it. I guess I’ll have to wait 15 years to find out if I was right.
Blog by Ewan Masson, Citizen Advocacy Development Worker