Morethanprofitman Blog

Posted: 11 May 2015, in Blog

The UK election and opportunities for Scottish social enterprise

Morethanprofitman likes symmetry. The last blog was written the day that the election was announced – this one is being written bleary-eyed the day after. We know the result – the ramifications are not yet clear, but extraordinary things have happened. And they are extraordinary. For this generation 2015 will have all the resonance of 1997 for the previous generation, and 1979 for the generation before that. MTPM can even remember the disruptive joy of 1964 with Harold Wilson winning after the long ‘13 wasted years’ (his words) of Tory government. Step changes in politics are not new. They happen every generation.

MTPM can offer comfort to those who didn’t see this coming (i.e. everyone except John Curtice, and it really is beginning to look as though we could save ourselves a great deal of time and money if we were to just leave it to him – all we need to do is get him to tell us what the outcome will be, and just get on with life. He’s usually right). It might not be what you wanted, either in Scotland or the UK, but all things pass, and the outlook for social enterprise is not necessarily bad.

Paradoxically, the scenario facing the movement is promising – though there’s an important moral and philosophical dilemma in there. Much of the policy framework for the sector in Scotland is already in our own hands, and that even more of the levers that so amuse MTPM will pass north when the Smith Commission proposals come forward, which will now happen quickly. Nicola will push for Smith+, and even more will pass to Holyrood. We know that our Scottish Government is well disposed towards our sector, and this isn’t going to change. Indeed, now that the politicians can get back to business, the movement is going to find that the modest changes in the Community Empowerment Bill, and the tectonic changes (as Nicola would say) in the promised land reform legislation, will tilt the table even further in the sector’s favour. There are interesting times ahead, and the sector will continue to grow, to grow strongly, and – MTPM’s core theme, if he has one – evolve.

At the UK level, remember, Mr Cameron in his very earliest days, was a big and vocal fan of social enterprise and he seemed to understand it. It all went horribly wrong when he handed it over to his civil servants, which is what usually happens. Social enterprise, like the broader community movement of which it is a part, is all about giving away power and that’s something the civil service is congenitally unable to do. Once the politicians have said their piece they leave it to the bureaucrats and then turn their attention elsewhere, and the bureaucrats do what they always do, or don’t, as the case may be. It happened to Mr Blair, whose now largely forgotten ‘third way’ had a strong element in it that was conducive to the social economy. Who now, though, remembers much about the blue-eyed days of the Community Action Network and it’s founder Andrew Mawson, later Lord Mawson? Anyone who doubts MTPM’s reservations about the civil service should read Mawson’s sort-of-autobiography The Social Entrepreneur: Making Communities Work. By the time he published it in 2008 he was thoroughly exhausted and disillusioned by his endless struggles with the bureaucrats.

In Scotland we’re luckier – for now. We have a committed and attentive third sector team, and ministers – particularly the consistently dedicated Mr Swinney – who don’t turn their attention away. But that can change. Don’t be complacent.

So here’s the dilemma. The other reason for being cheerful is that social enterprise flourishes in hard times. It shouldn’t have to, but it does. Disadvantage and injustice are morally repugnant and not to be welcomed. The social enterprises that emerge and grow to redress them are. Many of our very best social enterprises, as now defined, appeared as a response to tough times, going right back to the grotesque inequality of the Victorian era. And the best survive, and even when times are better they’re the best way of delivering social good. Just imagine a society where social enterprise is the preferred way of running things – most things. Feels good, eh? It’s not just about the hard times.


NOTE: This independent opinion piece blog does not necessarily reflect the views or beliefs of Social Enterprise Scotland.