Helen Martin: Charities’ voice not for the vote

Charities could lose out if the speak out over the vote. Picture: Sandy Young
Charities could lose out if the speak out over the vote. Picture: Sandy Young
Have your say

SCOTTISH charities seem to be celebrating a change in rules which means they now have the freedom, if they wish, to back a Yes or No vote in the independence referendum.

But there are times when “having a voice” isn’t necessarily a good thing. And I would venture to suggest that this is one of them.

The role of charities has changed drastically in my time. I’ve seen them go from minor players collecting pennies to large, national and international organisations which lead global news stories, make representation to governments, influence national policy, and take responsibility for roles that should arguably be carried out by governments, local authorities and national institutions.

They have become “non-government organisations” and “not-for- profit organisations” and while many fundraisers and charities are deeply committed to the cause they represent, charities have also become “a sector” in terms of business and employment, paying competitive salaries to attract top fundraising managers, communicators and executives.

They see themselves, quite rightly, as experts in their field, be it famine and aid or a medical research ­campaign and are rarely challenged, not least because their whole purpose is to do good.

Those who contribute to their coffers though, mainly do so out of emotional empathy, to help feed the hungry, get water to the drought-ridden, prevent cruelty, discover cures and treatments or find homes for cats and greyhounds.

They don’t see charity as part of the political arena. In fact, they’d like to think the charities they support are above politics altogether.

Presumably that is why charities haven’t made a habit of throwing their weight behind political parties and nailing their colours to a Tory, Labour, Liberal or SNP mast. Doing so would lose as many donations and as much support as it gained.

Some might argue the question of Scotland leaving the UK is different from party politics. But I’m not so sure it is.

Local fundraisers, contributors and supporters may be passionately for or against independence. But they may not be as wedded to the specific charity as those who work in it and are quite capable of finding another similar beneficiary that shares their Yes/No vote.

Impulse and occasional donors may also choose a charity identified with their own views on Scotland’s future.

And whatever the outcome, the charity will have to work with the government – or country – that emerges from the referendum . . . tough if you’ve spent the last year working against them.

The referendum debate so far has been a battle of negatives. It may get a lot worse but the political victors and losers will probably wind up with the same supporters they had at the beginning. Nationalists don’t stop being Nationalists because they’ve been beaten – if that were the case there would be no referendum next year. As for the Unionists, they haven’t been tested so recently but we can ­probably assume they wouldn’t embrace an independent Scotland overnight.

Charities, though, could sustain more casualties. They would be naive to think that any pro or anti argument they put forward wouldn’t be milked by Better Together or Yes Scotland.

They could come to seriously regret the day they stepped out of the safe shadows to “have their say” in the referendum.

Sauna crackdown is ill thought out

I HOPE there are contingency plans to deal with the effects of Police Scotland closing down Edinburgh saunas.

The trade will be pushed back on the streets, causing alarm and nuisance to residents, the working girls will be more at risk, the industry will retreat underground making trafficking and exploitation harder to detect and prevent, and the working relationship saunas currently have with the rozzers will be a distant memory. Rumour on the street – so to speak – suggests that shutting down the native businesses will simply open the doors to the Russian “mafia” and drug barons – thus creating a much bigger and nastier problem than we’ve ever had before.

It’s all in a royal name

NAME choices for baby kings are limited, but not foolproof. All the speculation over wee George suddenly made me realise that when Wills succeeds the throne he will certainly be known, in certain quarters at least, as King Billy – not really a unifying or welcome prospect, is it?

Council tree job was vandalism

YOU don’t need to be an arborist to recognise that Edinburgh City Council’s efforts to cut back trees and bushes on Blackford Glen Road was a hatchet job – just as you would expect from sending in a huge tractor equipped with a cutting arm. The branches were raggedly ripped limb from limb in an exercise that, committed by anyone else, would have been called an act of vandalism.

If there isn’t some means of having the damage inspected by an expert and the council charged with destruction of public property, there should be.

Gun law needs no explanation

THE British Association of Shooting and Conservation opposes Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s plans to demand licensing for air guns. Basc supporters describe shooting as a sport “ideal for families, women, the elderly and the disabled”. Clearly not for men, then.

They say the consultation responses (three-fifths from England and one-fifth from coupons in shooting magazines) showed 87 per cent were against.

Thankfully to most Scots of sound mind “should air guns be licensed?” is a rhetorical question that doesn’t even require a response.