New leader, new opportunities for charities in Scotland?


New leader, new opportunities for charities in Scotland?

Following the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland's First Minister, what can we expect from the new leadership when it comes to how charities are involved in policy-making?

Peter Dawson

Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation as First Minister last month came as a surprise for many. Her tenure as leader has been defined by immense political success amidst wider political and economic turmoil throughout the UK. But it has offered an opportunity to reflect on a significant period in Scottish politics as well as consider what lies ahead in the Scottish political landscape. Specifically, what opportunities are there for charities working in Scotland and how might a change of leadership shift the policy agenda in their favour? 

Figure 1: MSPs favourite causes

Chart 1

 “When you think about your favourite charities, which category do they fall into?” Source: Scottish Charity Parliamentary Monitor, Sept 2022 - Jan 2023, nfpResearch | Base: 40 MSPs

When we asked MSPs what category their favourite charities fell into, 40% chose homelessness and social welfare. Cancer and mental health were the next most favoured causes at 38% and 35% respectively. While the commitment to social welfare perhaps reflects the left-leaning nature of Holyrood it is also reflective of some of the proactive and engaging work that charities like Shelter and Crisis have played in this area particularly in affordable housing. These are concerns that the Scottish Government have sought to address with the promise to deliver 110,000 affordable homes by 2032.

It is also noteworthy that mental health is a favoured cause, with over a third of MSPs favouring this type of charity. This is good news for the likes of SAMH and other leading mental health charities in Scotland as they campaign the government on better provision of mental health services throughout this parliament.

Many charities can be assured of a receptive environment at Holyrood. But how much influence they have will also depend upon what agenda and causes the new First Minister, whoever that is, chooses to pursue. 

Sturgeon’s premiership was marked by a commitment towards LGBTQ+ causes. This created space for charities such as Equality Network and Transgender Alliance to significantly influence the policy process. Of course, the role of the third sector in the Scottish policy process is well founded even back in the early years of devolution. The impact that charities such as ASH Scotland and the Scotland – Malawi Partnership had in health and global policy respectively paved the way for how vital charities would continue to be in influencing policy. But what role the sector has going forward, and what types of charities will get a look in, will depend on who wins the race to succeed Sturgeon. The three contenders - Kate Forbes, Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan – will each bring their own priorities and favourites to the fore.

Forbes has in the past demonstrated a commitment to furthering Scotland’s environmental responsibilities. Yousaf very much intends to continue the socially progressive agenda promoted by Sturgeon, while Regan has often been front and centre of key feminist movements in Scotland. Whoever wins out of those three will likely work well with their preferred charities, each giving a unique dynamic to the third sector’s role in the policy process. Going forward, it will be interesting to see what sort of opportunities wait for charities in Holyrood; does your charity feel confident about having its voice heard?

To learn more about our research in Scottish politics download a briefing pack below, or click here for more information on our political research in the devolved nations.

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