Published on January 21, 2016

A milestone event in the journey towards a Fairer Scotland


By Kaela Scott

Kaela Scott is Head of Democratic Innovation at Involve. She is an experienced facilitator and public engagement practitioner with a keen interest in developing and promoting participatory decision making: in the interests of social justice, democratic accountability and, fundamentally, to deliver better, more credible governance.

On the 14th January staff from Involve, working alongside colleagues from DemSoc, hosted a stakeholder event for the Scottish Government’s Fairer Scotland programme.

Launched in June last year the Fairer Scotland programme is, in essence, a nationwide civic conversation initiated by the Scottish Government to inform the development of Scotland’s Social Justice Action Plan, due for publication in spring 2016. Over the course of the last 6 months over 7000 people have taken part in more than 200 conversations which, while ranging from informal coffee mornings in local communities to more structured deliberative events, all aimed to identify what mattered most to the people of Scotland in the pursuit of a fairer, more equal society by 2030.

Billed as a milestone in the Fairer Scotland process, this event was designed to mark the transition point between the information gathering that has taken place through the conversations and the production of the Fairer Scotland Action Plan. As such it sought to bring together a broad cross-section of people who had been involved in different aspects of the process to date to:

  • give them an insight into what the Government has heard about the key issues needing to be addressed in order to create a Fairer Scotland;
  • seek their comments on the importance of the main themes emerging from the discussions so far; and
  • explore how civil society can continue to be involved in the next stages of the programme – as the Action Plan is written, launched and, ultimately, implemented.

January Fairer Scotland… and it certainly was a diverse group that assembled in the fine surroundings of Edinburgh’s Royal College of Physicians that frosty Thursday morning – with participants bringing with them a rich array of experience relating to the needs of people with disabilities, showmen travellers, ex-prisoners, rural and isolated communities, older people, black and minority ethnic groups and impoverished neighbourhoods to name but a few. What struck me however was that, despite the varying interests they had come to represent, the experience of inequality was a very real thing to them individually. This personal connection to the issues under discussion appeared to not only provide their motivation for investing their time and creativity into working towards a Fairer Scotland, but also seemed to foster an openness to the need to improve outcomes for people facing disadvantage in any form. Combined this led to some very lively and heartfelt conversations taking place throughout the day as we explored what success would look like and the role civil society wanted to play in delivering this.

While the report from this event is still being written two things were abundantly clear to everyone present by the end of the day:

  1. that there is a lot of hope pinned on the Fairer Scotland process to deliver real change – with one participant seeming to sum up the aspirations of the room when she described success as meaning that ‘a 2017 baby wouldn’t need luck’ to experience a fair and just society;
  2. that there is a clear appetite among communities and civil society groups to stay involved in the Fairer Scotland process in a meaningful way throughout its implementation, including playing an ongoing role in helping to evaluate its success.

The next step for the Scottish Government will be the publication of the Action Plan in spring and we, alongside participants in this recent stakeholder event and the countless others who have contributed along the way, look forward to seeing how the Scottish Government will rise to these challenges.

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