Margo MacDonald: Charities must start the debate

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In an intelligent move, the Carnegie UK Trust surveyed 164 of the Scottish charities that operate under the umbrella of the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator. The trust wanted to discover the state of readiness amongst charities should Scotland vote to be independent.

A sensible decision, because Scotland’s Third Sector is a very important thread of the many that are woven together to deliver much of our public services, protect and promote our natural and built heritage, offer training and work experience to people who can be over-looked by other agencies and employers . . . the list of the tasks undertaken by the charities is endless. It would be impossible to put a value on them, they are so much a part of our society and social wage.

But just how do you go about doing the things you do, when all around you might be changing? Inevitably, and quite rightly, all of us will decide to vote Yes or No because, as individuals, we will work out what’s best for us. So, in their role as employers, for example, charity conveners, or lord and lady chairmen have a duty to explain the situation. Employees of charities, many of whom are wedded to their job, have every right to expect their management to lay out information on how independence might affect their work, or the charities’ rights and responsibilities. It might transpire that nothing will change as regards the delivery of service, but the way in which charities are taxed, or not, may change depending on which party becomes the Scottish Government after people have voted for independence, if they do so.

Or, the big question for the charity might be whether to stay as the Scottish end of a UK charity. People helped by the organisation, volunteers and employees, after weighing up all the available information, may decide that they’d prefer to keep the one, cross-border charity. Also, everyone associated with the charity must determine their own answer. Depending on the nature of the charity itself, its board or executive may ask employees and volunteers to vote Yes or No so that a policy can be drawn up for the charity should we vote for independence, but the decision on how to vote can only be made by the individual employee or volunteer.

As there are already different legal systems on each side of the Border, there shouldn’t be any great difficulty in charities complying with these, even if the Scottish end of the charity was to be taxed differently from the English and Welsh end. Naturally there would have to be give and take and mutual support between the two parts of a cross-border charity, but this should be the template for co-operation in other spheres.

A long time ago, I headed up one of Scotland’s leading charities. It was also an all-UK organisation with a board that met in London. Sometimes we had common campaigns, sometimes they differed on each side of the Border. It worked, because the London-based management left us to do our own thing. The only thing that rankled in the ranks was the division of the donated money.

So my advice to any charity starting to think about how independence might impact on its organisation is to look at how the income is processed. After everyone understands this, it’s time to move to the big questions. This process could do a favour for the people who’ll form the negotiating teams if we vote for independence.

Far from worrying about the effect the campaigns could have on how donors judge the charities, they should confidently map out the contingency plans for both eventualities and rebuff any attempt to claim their support whether from the Yes or No camps. If they decide to work like this, they’ll raise the standards of the entire operation.

More fool EU

WHEN is the SNP high command going to get the big EU picture? There wasn’t a cat’s chance in hell of the EU’s puffed-up, ultra-conservative and self-serving Commission putting out the welcome mat for Scotland. All Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond have succeeded in doing is to diminish the SNP Government’s reputation for good judgment.

Scots are, at best, pulling back from the enthusiasm they displayed for the EU before its enlargement and the centralising edicts of the Lisbon Treaty.

One-time fans of the EU, are now more agnostic while opponents are no longer disguised by the term ”sceptic”. They’re happy to be described as they are . . . opposed to the EU as it stands, and like Boris Johnstone, believe that if the UK opted out, no great harm would be done.

Any conversations with the EU should be private and non-binding and European free trade area governments should also be asked for meetings. Pleading should stop.