Scotland’s First Minister backs charities’ free speech

The First Minister of Scotland today said she didn’t want non-profit organisations written off as “irksome protestors”, in the wake of new UK government rules on lobbying.

In an impassioned speech at the launch of The Gathering – the annual charities conference organised by SCVO (Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations) – Nicola Sturgeon outlined her dedication to the sector.

“We [the Scottish Government] value you as partners, we value as friends,” she said to a packed hall of third sector representatives, including INSP.

“We recognise that at times that [relationship] will be critical. But I don’t want to ever see you, or the people you represent, written off as irksome protestors.”

Sturgeon’s speech criticised the UK government’s recent introduction of an anti-advocacy clause in charity grant agreements.

Announcing the new clause on 6 February, Matthew Hancock, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “Taxpayers’ money must be spent on improving people’s lives and spreading opportunities, not wasted on the farce of government lobbying government. The public sector never lobbies for lower taxes and less state spending, and it’s a zero sum game if Peter is robbed to pay Paul.

“These common sense rules will protect freedom of speech – but taxpayers won’t be made to foot the bill for political campaigning and political lobbying. This government is standing up for value for money, so we can keep taxes down and support better services that people can rely on.”

However Sturgeon told the assembled charity representatives: “Your contribution to how we develop policy in Scotland is vital to us and I believe strongly that your views should be sought and listened to, not silenced in any way.”