The final item of business this evening is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2384, in the name of Linda Fabiani, on the Scottish Civic Forum. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament notes the concerns raised about the financing of the Scottish Civic Forum; further notes that the forum was set up to help fulfil the founding principles of the Parliament and, in particular, the engagement of Scotland's people in the new democracy; considers that all those who have an interest in the open democracy heralded in 1999 should act to ensure a continued and healthy future for the forum, and believes that the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body should investigate the possibility of funding the forum directly.
This Parliament was founded on four principles. The principle of openness means that our deliberations here in the chamber and in committee should be as widely seen as possible, with no one having difficulty in finding out about them. The principle of accountability means that this Parliament belongs to the people of Scotland and should have to report to the people of Scotland for the actions that it undertakes. Similarly, that principle means that the Executive should be accountable to the Parliament and, thereby, to all of Scotland. The principle of equal opportunities means that we should strive to ensure that everyone has a chance to work with and in their Parliament to advance Scotland, and that there should be no equivocation as a result of differences. Finally, the principle of engagement with the Scottish people means that the Parliament belongs to all of us, not just to the politicians who work here for a short time, and we should always remember that.
Those are precious and valuable principles on which the electorate voted to create, or recreate, this Parliament in 1997, and they should underpin our democracy now and in the future. We should all be looking to protect and expand the opportunities that exist for people to become involved, driving those principles forward just as they should be driving us forward. There should be no reversing and no cutting back on the very foundations of the institution that we are privileged to work in.
The work done by the Scottish Civic Forum has adhered to those principles, ensuring that our Parliament does in fact belong properly to us all. I point to the forum's work in ensuring that briefings on the work of the Parliament are available to all, pushing forward the openness part of the agenda.
The same is true when it comes to providing briefings on the legislation that is being proposed. The forum encourages groups and individuals to engage with the legislative process, and its network of local co-ordinators has been highly successful in my area and in other areas. The forum actively encourages responses to consultations, allowing those with an interest to have their voices heard.
In other words, the Scottish Civic Forum is driving the public engagement that we keep hearing that all politicians want. Perhaps, indeed, it is engagement with the political process, rather than the party-political process, that will drive voter turnout back up. Perhaps the Scottish Civic Forum, properly resourced, could be the vehicle that helps to reignite the spark of public political debate and enthusiasm here in Scotland. For example, the forum's discussion on discrimination has been so successful in terms of participation that it now has its own website. How often do we say that we want to encourage public participation and how often do we actually manage to get a response? How much does the Executive spend on its consultations and what are the general response rates there?
There is no doubt that the Scottish Civic Forum has been determined in its efforts to drive forward the founding principles of the Parliament. The model is so successful that Ken Livingstone's London Administration has copied it. I do not always agree with Ken Livingstone, and he has not had his troubles to seek recently, but there are times when he makes the right decisions, and this is one of them.
There has also been interest in the work of the forum from around the world. Like many others, at meetings in Europe and further afield I have expounded with pride on the Parliament's power-sharing principles—the Public Petitions Committee, the Scottish Youth Parliament and the Civic Forum.
My most recent overseas visitor was Wilbert Rozas, a municipal mayor from the Andes in Peru. The Civic Forum met him at length and explained in detail the work that it does. He was astounded. He has gone back to Cusco and will show our model of public participation all over his region of Peru.
The plenary sessions of the Civic Forum, which we should host regularly and encourage, have allowed individuals and groups that are active in civic society to use the Parliament to debate the issues that are most important to them. I remember well the Civic Forum debate in the chamber on the Mound on the first anniversary of the Parliament.
We should expand the activities of the forum to
Why does the Civic Forum face a cut in funding from its major funder? I do not believe that ministers want the forum to be quiet and go away. We may be political rivals, but I have a bit more respect for members of the Executive than that. I do not believe that it would be more comfortable for ministers if the Civic Forum was not there and I do not believe that the forum has made life overly difficult for any minister. In fact, some people have suggested that the forum works for ministers. Of course, I believe nothing of the sort but I can understand how that perception could come about when the forum is, in large part, funded by the Government.
I appreciate that some people think that the forum should stand on its own feet but, unless someone can show me where the funding can come from to replace central Government funding, I say that we would be sold short. To expect the forum to bid for work in order to stay afloat compromises its neutrality and impartiality. Democracy does not come cheap; nor does mass participation in democracy. If we believe in democracy we must also believe in paying for it.
I believe that the Parliament should take over the funding of the forum. That would take it out of the realm of party politics and make it far more a part of Scotland's civic life. We have a duty to everyone in Scotland to ensure that that is done and that the vision that we started with back in 1997 is kept alive. We should strengthen and extend the work of the forum and expand its funding and its functions. To do that, we have to put its funding beyond doubt: for me, the Parliament has that responsibility. I know that, at the time, Scottish Office lawyers said that that would not be allowed under the Scotland Act 1998, but I am not convinced. We must remember that the Scotland Act 1998 works the other way round: what is not expressly prohibited is allowed. It is interesting that schedule 2, paragraph 4(1) states that
"the corporation"— that is, the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body—
"may do anything which appears to it to be necessary or expedient for the purpose of or in connection with the discharge of its functions."
My argument today is that it is our responsibility to ensure that the work of the Civic Forum is carried on and closely aligned with the work of the Parliament. If that is our responsibility, it is
I hope that when we leave the Parliament, whether through defeat or retirement, we want to leave a legacy behind us—something that we have achieved. I would say that strengthening civic Scotland to ensure that it can work alongside Scotland's Parliament is a pretty good legacy to leave behind and that we should work towards that.
I thank Linda Fabiani for bringing this important debate to Parliament this evening.
The Scottish Civic Forum was set up in 2000 to carry forward the spirit of the broadly based campaign for a Scottish Parliament into a new era of Scottish politics. Its aim was to increase civic participation and implement a vision of a stronger relationship, based on a principle of on-going dialogue, between people who live in Scotland, politicians and policy makers.
The forum is a network of more than 700 organisations and individuals across Scotland—I understand that the figure has increased by 70 per cent over the past year. It is committed to encouraging and enabling citizens to play their role in realising the four principles on which the Scottish Parliament was founded: access; accountability; equality; and power sharing with the people of Scotland.
I participated in many of the early meetings in the run-up to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. The aims then were as they are now: to promote wider knowledge and understanding of how Government and the parliamentary process work, so that people know how to have a direct input; and to provide a safe space in which differing opinions can be expressed, allowing an opportunity to map the range of views and to tease out the relative priorities.
The work of the Civic Forum is as much about the process as the outcome. It is about getting people together, enabling them to speak and to find ways of making progress, facilitating their participation in the political process and involving them in policy development. The forum has carried out successful consultations—far too many to list—on issues such as water charges, charity law, prostitution tolerance zones, the sexual health strategy and building civic media. It is quite obvious from that list that the forum does not choose easy options. Those are difficult topics that communities must have an opportunity to discuss.
The forum has a participation fund from Shell to ensure that there are signers and translation
I disagree with Linda Fabiani on one point: I believe that the forum should be independent. However, it is appropriate that the forum should receive funding from the Scottish Executive and others. I worked in community development for a long time and I understand the dynamics when organisations feel that they can do something themselves or when they appear to be threatened. I understand what it is like for an organisation to depend on the very funders that they may sometimes be trying to feed information into—we used to call that "golden handcuffs". However, that funding is vital to the democratic process.
Scotland has, and should continue to have—
I am sorry to interrupt Cathy Peattie in full flow but I think that she has slightly misunderstood what I said. I certainly think that the forum's funding should be public but it should come from the Parliament. It should be top-sliced from the Parliament's budget, so that the funding for the forum is seen to be impartial and completely neutral of the Government of the day.
Scotland has, and should continue to have, the Civic Forum—working at local and national level and enhancing our democratic process. I ask the Executive to reconsider the funding of this very important organisation. Core funding is vital. It is not enough to expect the organisation to seek project funding. Without core funding, the organisation cannot do the rest of its work.
I again thank Linda Fabiani for securing this debate, and I thank the Scottish Civic Forum for all its information and for the support that it has given me in the work that I do at local level.
I thank Linda Fabiani for securing this debate. It is only a few weeks since I met representatives of the Scottish Civic Forum and was able to understand better than before the forum's role and how I could engage with it. For the sake of democracy in Scotland, we have to ensure that we fund the forum appropriately and that we keep it independent. The Parliament has a
We should not do anything to undermine the engagement of Scottish people in the democratic process. Their input should be highly valued. People should be encouraged to engage with the Parliament and to understand its workings.
Sometimes, too few people go out and vote. The turnout in the most recent elections to the Scottish Parliament was disappointing to us all. It is incumbent on us all to encourage the forum to get the message across to communities so that people understand our role.
The forum has a crucial role in promoting wider knowledge and understanding of how Government and Parliament work and in engaging with the Scottish people through informing and consulting them. Participative consultations have taken place in more than 30 locations in Scotland. The Scottish Civic Forum provides accessible local opportunities for people to engage in the democratic process.
The forum has many invaluable roles. It engages not only with people in communities but with professionals, businesses, trade unions, organisations and small community groups right across the whole spectrum of Scottish society. We need to ensure that we safeguard that work.
The forum is also a key partner in many Executive consultations, the most recent of which was the consultation on a ban on smoking in public places. No one should feel that those activities are not valuable—of course they are. If people participate in the Parliament, it makes them feel that the Parliament belongs to them.
The debate is welcome. It is a sad state of affairs that so few members are in the chamber, however. Although that is unfortunate, the absence of members should not give out the message that members are not interested in the Scottish Civic Forum. Everyone that I speak to—whether they are a member or not—agrees that the forum plays a valuable role. It is up to the members who are in the chamber to go out and support the idea in Linda Fabiani's motion of core funding being provided for the forum.
I want to quote from the valuable briefing paper that the forum provided for the debate:
"The Forum not only works with communities to help them participate but also explains government processes to participants, encouraging them to value good process and to understand more clearly how decision-making processes work. This helps to diffuse some of the misunderstanding and cynicism that sometimes exists in relation to consultations and other initiatives."
That little paragraph sums up the role of the Civic Forum and the value that we should attach to
I welcome the debate. The Scottish Civic Forum or something like it must be part of public life in Scotland. We can debate whether it should be funded by the Executive, the Parliament or both.
As I understand it, two issues are involved. The first is what sort of organisation we want. Is the Civic Forum the right sort of organisation, or do we want something different? The Executive seems to be going for one-off consultation exercises. If I am wrong about that, no doubt the minister will put me right. Although it may be right in some cases to do so, it is the wrong approach to take. We need an organisation that consults and involves people in a general way and does not consult them only on specific issues.
For example, the Civic Forum organises conferences that people do not have to pay an arm and a leg to attend. All of us receive numerous invitations to attend conferences that are organised by some professional conference-organising outfit or another. The depressing tendency is for those conferences to cost a huge amount of money. Only people whose place can be paid for by an organisation, enthusiasts for the conference subject or nutcases will pay to attend them. We need to get real, ordinary people to attend, but that is difficult and expensive to do. Although the issue is complex, we need an organisation like the forum to do that sort of work.
The second issue is what follows on from the decision to have an organisation such as the forum. The question is whether the current forum has delivered and that needs to be explored. The forum claims that whenever it has been set a target, it has met or exceeded it. I do not know whether that is correct but, if it is, it seems a bit hard for the forum to be penalised.
The forum also states that in its first four years of operation, it was supervised—or whatever—by five successive sets of civil servants. That suggests that the civil servants involved cannot have had a real depth of knowledge of the forum. With all due respect, civil servants are not the right people to judge the effectiveness of civic participation bodies. It is a difficult enough job for people who think that they have some understanding of democracy to make that judgment. For Government officials to try to do so is difficult indeed. I would not rely on their judgment.
There may be the view that the Civic Forum is expensive and has not delivered, but I think that it has achieved quite a lot. As has been mentioned,
I agree with Donald Gorrie that it is to the Scottish Civic Forum's great credit that it has met all its targets and continued to do its work when confronted with changing targets and different sets of officials overseeing its functions.
I warmly congratulate Linda Fabiani on her success in securing the debate. We have all received representations. I hold in my hand a letter from Edinburgh west end churches together, which is signed by the chairman and rector of St John's, who writes:
"We view it as a retrograde step for this independent body, which offers impartial non-partisan support to a host of small civic organisations who cannot afford political or lobbying consultants, to be undermined and probably fatally jeopardised through lack of core public funding, which in our view should be increased and guaranteed."
The effectiveness of the Civic Forum is to be measured not by its usefulness to the Executive or the Parliament, whose resources are far greater, but by its usefulness to ordinary people and organised groups throughout the land. In our view, the funding for the forum should be increased to enable it to grow fully into its role and to discharge that role more effectively. The Executive and the Parliament should not be seen in effect to be eliminating an independent enabler.
My colleagues in the Scottish Conservative group and I support the Civic Forum and the work that it does. We are committed to better government in Scotland, and the empowerment of communities and people, which includes improving the way that the Parliament works and the real devolution of decision making and power from politicians to the individuals, families and local institutions that make up our society. The forum has a relevant part to play in that process, so Linda Fabiani's motion should be considered sympathetically today. We share her concerns about the future of the funding of the forum. I hope that the minister will approach the matter this evening with an open mind.
Cathy Peattie mentioned some of the aims of the Parliament, which are reflected in the four words on the mace—justice, integrity, wisdom and compassion. The key to realising those aims lies in participation. That theme was echoed by Rosemary Byrne. Having been a minister in the past, I appreciate that some decisions can have far-reaching consequences. Speaking for myself, I think that it would be unfortunate if any irrevocable steps were taken by the Executive to reduce the role of participative democracy.
The decision to cut the funding of the Scottish Civic Forum as a prelude to removing it all together is an attack on the consultative steering group, the work of which brought us all here, and on the founding principles of this Parliament. It is aimed at eliminating the leading independent commentator in Scotland and the leading independent forum for civic society to discuss and inform policy. According to the Civic Forum's convener, Joyce McMillan, its role is
"to defend democracy. We have to be the guerrilla fighters for the idea of democracy itself".
Will the Executive not continue to fund that principle?
The Civic Forum's founding principle states that it exists
"to promote a new way of doing politics in Scotland based on the principles set out by the Consultative Steering Group ... We support the move to a participative democracy believing that there is more to democracy than casting a vote every four or five years."
What is the minister's objection to that? The Civic Forum has always preferred to concentrate on building up networks as a neutral enabler, avoiding the populist, adversarial and media-centric nature of much of politics. Does the minister not support that?
The Civic Forum's coverage of Scotland might be patchy, because of its current underfunding, but it has delivered. In my experience, the forum's initiatives in Dumfries and Galloway, led by its able representative there, John Dowson, are well attended, well informed, inclusive, helpful and well organised. There is no reason for the Executive's decision.
The survival of MSPs of all parties depends on democracy and public involvement with politics. At a time when public opprobrium of the Scottish Parliament is high and ordinary people feel that there is no way for them to get involved in democracy, we need bodies such as the Scottish Civic Forum. I say to the minister—in a sense this is also a response to Donald Gorrie's comments—that it is not up to the Executive to dictate the sort of forum that it wants; that is up to the public and the forum.
There are two issues for us to address. One is the importance of the organisation, on which every speaker has commented, and the other is the mechanism for funding it. The reason why Linda Fabiani indicated her disagreement with Mr Ballance is that the SNP in particular acknowledges that not only is the forum a worthy organisation but its funding should be independent. That is why we wish its funding to be removed from the Executive because, unfortunately, we live in a society in which he who pays the piper calls the tune. It would be better if the funding did not come from the Executive. Even if we have no doubt that the Executive has not leaned on and would not lean on the Civic Forum—
On that basis I will happily withdraw and read Mr Ballance's motion in greater detail.
The importance of the forum is that, as members have said, it goes to the root of democracy and the founding principles of the Parliament. To an extent, we all take democracy for granted. We might bandy around phrases—or not, depending on whom we believe—about whether we are fascistic or otherwise, but we have not lived under a totalitarian regime for centuries and not for generations have we had to fight for the right to vote and live in a free society. We simply assume that we live in such a society and take democracy for granted.
We acknowledge that, to an extent, democracy is in difficulties, given voter turnout, which Rosemary Byrne and others mentioned. It is clear that there are difficulties, but democracy is not simply about voting in elections. That is important and we have to address difficulties in that regard,
It is understandable that people are frustrated as society evolves and becomes globalised and life becomes more complex, because it seems that voting at the ballot box does not necessarily change circumstances significantly. That is all the more reason why we have to have a participatory democracy that works from the grass roots up and is about people interacting not just with the Parliament but at all levels in a variety of ways.
That is the importance of the Civic Forum. It has delivered in difficult circumstances with limited funding and it is clear that it must remain. Linda Fabiani has called on us to ensure that the funding is not simply adequate but independent.
I support Linda Fabiani's motion and congratulate her on securing the debate.
I am concerned about the situation in which the Scottish Civic Forum finds itself. The forum should be one of the cornerstones of our new Scottish politics and I hope that we are serious about supporting the concept of participation and promoting and facilitating public engagement with the work of the Parliament. The Scottish Civic Forum has done just that since 2000. I have to say that it has done so with what it believes was an extremely tight budget and, over the years, with conflicting messages from the Executive with regard to what was required of it and differing views on outcomes achieved.
The member referred to the Scottish Civic Forum becoming one of the cornerstones of our new politics. I submit that it is already one of the cornerstones of our politics; it is part of the Parliament in an important way and the Parliament would be damaged if we undermined the Scottish Civic Forum.
I did not say that the Scottish Civic Forum was becoming a cornerstone of our new politics, but that it should be one.
We should be under no illusions about the fact that the vast majority of the Scottish people have little interest in, or do not understand, how the Parliament works or how they can take part in its
I was pleased to be asked to open the first civic participation centre outside Edinburgh last December, which is based in the MacPhail centre in Ullapool High School. The civic participation centre is a joint project with Highland Council's library service and the Scottish Parliament's education outreach service. The centre has been heartily welcomed by the community and the large number of people who turned up at the event were enthusiastic and pleased to have that point of contact with the Parliament. I had hoped that similar facilities would be rolled out in other rural areas and urban communities across Scotland and was, therefore, extremely disturbed to discover that the Executive had put a question mark over the continuing funding for the Scottish Civic Forum.
Although I have not had a reply to the letter that I wrote to the Deputy Minister for Finance and Public Service Reform on this subject, I saw an Executive press release, wherein it congratulated itself on awarding the Scottish Civic Forum £100,000; that sum, of course, is half of the forum's current funding.
I understand that the Executive has concerns that the Scottish Civic Forum is not delivering in the way that the Executive wants it to. I also appreciate that if an organisation is totally funded by a body, that body might take a proprietary interest in how the organisation conducts its affairs.
I do not have time.
That is why I agree with the suggestion in Linda Fabiani's motion that the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body should consider funding the Scottish Civic Forum. Frankly, the forum has no one else to turn to. It provides a valuable service to the Parliament, not to the Executive. Let the SPCB sit down with the Scottish Civic Forum to work out a way forward. It is up to parliamentarians to decide what the forum's role is, not the Executive. I do not want to lose what has been put in place or the chance to roll out the
I welcome the tone of the debate and the constructive motion that Linda Fabiani has presented. I also bear with her through this time in which she is feeling, as Kenny MacAskill put it, under the weather.
The matter that we are discussing is important. Although the term "civic participation" is probably not widely understood by people who are not in our walk of life, the role of ensuring that people properly understand government; of explaining the principles and processes of government, as Rosemary Byrne put it; and of reaching real, ordinary people, as Donald Gorrie put it, is important. Similarly, I concur absolutely with Cathy Peattie's assessment that the Scottish Civic Forum has considered difficult options in relation to difficult legislative areas. In terms of its work overall, the Civic Forum has had an extremely important role in the first five years of devolution and will continue to have an extraordinarily important role in the future.
The Executive is not suggesting that the Civic Forum will cease, and I would not have taken that point had it been made. The Executive is firmly of the view that the remarks of Linda Fabiani, Kenny MacAskill and Maureen Macmillan about the separation of responsibilities between Government and Parliament mark an appropriate way forward and I certainly support the general tenet of Linda Fabiani's motion that Parliament has considered this evening.
I have a number of observations in relation to specific points that have been made by members this evening. First, I will deal with Linda Fabiani's legal point. Her interpretation concurs with the way in which I consider the issue. Indeed, I wrote to the Presiding Officer last February about the ability of the corporate body to consider its position in relation to financing the Civic Forum. The legal interpretation suggests that that can be achieved. It is not for me, any minister or the Government to tell the corporate body how to pursue the issue, but I believe that the option is available to it were it to embark on that route.
It is important to recognise that we have provided the Civic Forum with pump-priming funding of £880,000 since 1999-2000. That funding is supplemented by the cost of providing several Executive secondees to the organisation.
I take the point that was made by Maureen Macmillan and Donald Gorrie with regard to changes in officials. When Margaret Curran and I
On 1 June 2000, the then Minister for Finance, Jack McConnell made it clear that the Civic Forum should not rely exclusively on Executive funding. He said:
"Its success will be measured by the credibility that it develops in civic Scotland, and by the funding that it attracts to replace the pump-priming support from the Executive."—[Official Report, 1 June 2000; Vol 6, c 1205.]
I gently suggest to colleagues that our approach—far from being an immediate step—has been clear for five years and, dare I say it, that the issue had to be dealt with at some stage. Last year was a year of transitional funding. That was made absolutely crystal clear; I assure colleagues that there was no question of any mixed message about the way in which we sought to engage with the Civic Forum on that issue. At this time, we consider that it is important for the body to move on in the way in which we have suggested. I believe that Linda Fabiani's motion is entirely consistent with that approach.
The Civic Forum will be invited to tender for specific projects or pieces of work. I take Cathy Peattie's point about core funding of the voluntary sector; I know that she knows a lot about that subject and understands the principles. However, the separation argument that has been made by many colleagues is an appropriate way to go. It would be better if the Government provided funding through specific projects or pieces of work, and that is very much our intention as we go through the next financial year. That is entirely sensible and consistent with developing the forum's independence, which I strongly believe is a principle with which we are all in accord. I was pleased to hear that the Green party accepted Kenny MacAskill's point.
I do not believe that any member suggests that there is just one body that either cares about or progresses civic participation. The chamber will be familiar with several Government initiatives in relation to such work, one or two of which I will mention. The education for citizenship programme is now one of the five national priorities for education. I am a parent with children at primary school and secondary school. When I was at school, I believed strongly in modern studies and, as a result, I believe that there is much to be gained by that core principle in education.
The work of the new and—I would argue—ground-breaking Centre for Confidence and Well-being in Glasgow in developing international research on education, social work and mental health work will be supported by the Executive. That is a clear example of the development of civic
Consultation activity is important. The Scottish Civic Forum has contributed to the Executive's legislative proposals, not least those on smoking in public places, which have already been mentioned. The fact that 37 per cent of the adult population of Scotland claimed to be aware of the consultation on that issue and that more than 53,000 responses were received is a tribute not only to the forum, but to the people of Scotland. That is a direct answer to the important point that Kenny MacAskill made. When politicians in Parliament and in Government produce proposals on matters that are of genuine concern to people throughout Scotland, people will respond. That is our experience as parliamentarians, in relation to the proposals on smoking in public places, the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Bill and the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. It is important to remember that the bill on land reform that emerged from the consultation process was a very different beast to the bill that was consulted on. That was a direct result of points that were made by the citizens of Scotland and by many groups and organisations across the country.
The Executive agrees that the relationship between the Scottish Civic Forum and Parliament is vital to the work of developing and promoting a participative democracy. As Lord James Douglas-Hamilton said, the fact that some of the forum's most successful work has been done in partnership with the Parliament would seem to be very much in tune with the principles and vision of the consultative steering group. The Executive strongly supports the motion, which suggests that the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body should investigate the possibility of funding the forum.
Meeting closed at 18:02.