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Charities, Scotland and Holyrood

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I congratulate Margaret Mitchell on bringing the debate to the chamber.

While uncertainty rages on around us, it is all the more important that we celebrate something as positive and constructive as volunteering. The work done by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and volunteers across Scotland is always worth highlighting. I am delighted that the SCVO has produced the book “Charities, Scotland & Holyrood: Twenty Years Delivering Change”—I, too, have a copy—in order to celebrate two decades of the wonderful volunteer sector that we have here in Scotland, which works in partnership with both local authorities and the Scottish Parliament.

I am even more thrilled to have been involved in some of the campaigns highlighted in the book, most notably the campaign for smoke-free public places. It is a topic that I campaigned on from the commencement of the first parliamentary session back in 1999, prior to the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition formally introducing the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Bill in 2005. I am sure that we all remember walking into a restaurant and being asked, “Smoking or non-smoking?”, or being asked that in cinemas, pubs or public transport. How long ago that now seems.

I am quoted in the SCVO’s book as saying:

“Smoking is still far too prevalent, but real progress has been made in reducing its acceptability, prevalence and health impact. It is now hard to believe that folk once smoked more or less everywhere and I am glad to have played a part in the radical culture change we have seen over the last 13 years.”

Those against the ban claimed that it would mean that places such as bars or restaurants would lose business, but the opposite was true and the public came out in overwhelming support of it. Thanks to their efforts, the health benefits and changes in attitudes to smoking have proven to have been significant. Of course, the Scottish National Party Government has continued with ambitious legislation in many areas towards the aim of creating a tobacco-free generation by 2034. That legislation includes banning the sale of tobacco and nicotine vapour products to under-18s, introducing statutory age-verification measures and banning smoking in cars where children are present.

I am delighted that the SCVO’s book also celebrates other important changes, such as the SNP Government’s abolition in 2008 of backdoor tuition fees for Scottish students and the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015, which Margaret Mitchell discussed in some detail. The bill that became the 2015 act was met with unanimous support by the Parliament and sought to

“consolidate and strengthen the existing ... law against human trafficking” and offer more robust support to victims.

As someone who led a members’ business debate on the issue in the first parliamentary session, I was delighted when the bill was passed.

Of course, Scotland’s voluntary sector is an integral part of not just our society but our economy. The sector has an annual income of more than £5.8 billion and 107,000 paid staff, and is comprised of more than 45,000 organisations. In my area of North Ayrshire alone, there are 335 third sector charities employing 701 people, and 27 per cent of adults volunteer in some capacity, from Garnock Valley Men’s Shed and North Ayrshire Foodbank, to Boyd Orr neighbourhood watch, to name just three.

The 20 key campaigns highlighted in the book touch on a number of issues, and it is clear that third sector engagement has resulted in not just some but much legislation being created for the benefit of the people of Scotland. Indeed, the third sector is a key consultee in virtually all legislation brought forward in this Parliament. The SCVO is often at the very heart of that.

I believe that this debate has affirmed that there is an important and special relationship between the third sector and the Scottish Parliament, working constructively to effect important and lasting change for our country. It is a pleasure to celebrate that wonderful history of volunteering and the Government’s continued co-operation with Scottish volunteering organisations to create such groundbreaking and inspirational legislation. I hope that we can continue that great partnership for another 20 years and beyond as we all seek to build a better Scotland. I thank Margaret Mitchell again for bringing forward this debate.