Article for TFN on 10 years of TFN

TFNThe world has changed dramatically for voluntary organisations over the last 10 years, but voluntary organisations have also had great successes in changing the world for the better.

Perhaps one of the greatest changes in Scotland over the last decade has been the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. Voluntary organisations played a central role in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, making the case for a different kind of parliament. Many of the innovations supported by the voluntary sector that have made the Scottish Parliament more effective at listening to people’s concerns, such as the Petitions Committee, are now being copied by other Parliaments.

The passing of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act of 2002 is another example of a victory for the voluntary sector. Thanks to pressure from the sector, and effective lobbying of Holyrood, Scotland ended up with a significantly stronger freedom of information regime than England and Wales.

In terms of policy changes, the ban on smoking in public places in 2006 was a major victory for a range of health charities and another example of Scotland taking a lead over England and Wales.

Possibly the biggest voluntary sector campaign in the last 10 years was ‘Make Poverty History’, the UK element of the Global Call to Action against Poverty. A highlight was the massive demonstration in Edinburgh during the G8 Summit at Gleneagles where around a quarter of million people took to the streets to demand action on trade, aid and debt. However, the promises made at Gleneagles, partly in response to the unprecedented level of global concern, have been largely broken or watered down.

Many of the organisations active on trade justice around Gleneagles have now come together on the need to tackle climate change. As an issue this has moved from being primarily of concern to environmental groups to having everyone from the Church of Scotland to Unison and SAMH involved. The Climate Change Bill currently before the Scottish Parliament will be a real test of whether even this very wide coalition of civil society will be enough to overcome the vested interests who oppose significant action on climate change.

Not only have the issues we campaign on changed, but also the way we campaign has changed. Who can now imagine a campaign without at least a website and email list, if not a blog and facebook group?

One thing is clear, even from a brief survey of voluntary organisation campaigns: the most successful campaigns are those that can build a wide coalition of groups. Third Force News remains one of the best ways to build those coalitions and to let the rest of the sector know what issues your organisation is currently working on.

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