The Electoral Reform Society Scotland has welcomed the fact that charities and voluntary groups will be free to campaign actively in next year’s independence referendum.
The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) has given voluntary sector organisations the green light for campaigning on either side of the referendum question, provided it is in line with the pursuit of their own objectives. ERS Scotland has been advocating this reform on the basis that it will improve the quality of the debate around independence.
Willie Sullivan, director of ERS Scotland, said:
“Allowing charities to campaign in the independence referendum will make all the difference to the quality of the debate.
“The danger with referendums is that the public is not provided with the space for an informed and constructive debate. Research suggests that people, when faced with conflicting referendum campaigns dominated by political parties, tend to take their cue from the parties they support rather than vote on the question itself. And the effect of partisanship and negativity on both sides of a referendum campaign can make it hard for people to access high-quality information and argument.
“Now that charities have been given the go-ahead to enter the fray, Scottish people should expect a much higher standard of debate. What’s more, this decision should help to increase voter engagement and turnout. Voluntary organisations in Scotland have thousands of members, many of whom will be brought into the debate through charities’ involvement.
The independence referendum is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Scottish people to engage with questions around the future of Scottish democracy. The OSCR’s decision improves the chances that the referendum debate will be as high-quality and inclusive as the independence question deserves.”