Scotland and England – a different value base for social entrepreneurship?

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Source: Ashoka

When I was visiting London recently from my home town, Edinburgh, someone asked me if Scotland and England were now completely different places?

The question was asked in the context of the angst created by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and the consequent political uncertainty which this has caused. It should be remembered that the winning margin for Leave was quite small and some commentators have argued that the country is now damagingly split 50:50. Except that this isn’t true in Scotland where every region voted in favour of remaining in the EU; sometimes by quite substantial majorities.

As discussions continue and the shrill media hyperbole intensifies, a new scenario emerges every week. At the time of writing, the Prime Minister has set out her position to begin the negotiations to leave the EU and this seems to have discounted the views of the devolved Scottish Government which demanded that the wishes of the Scottish people be recognised in these discussions.

This seems likely to mean that there will be another referendum on Scottish independence in 2018. But with the ever changing scenarios, who knows what the situation will be next week, let alone by 2018.

But in trying to answer the original question, and listening to the tenor of the debates and discussions which are going on north and south of the border, it does appear that sometimes the two countries have a completely different set of values. The media hysteria which seems to grow loudly any time the word immigration is mentioned in England just doesn’t seem to have any traction in Scotland.

Is it because Scotland has a very different set of basic values which have been honed over decades of political discussions and development, I ask myself? Words like “community” and “fairness” and “neighbourliness” are always present in Scotland when people are making assessments about new plans or making key decisions about local of national developments. It is in the DNA of Scots many would argue.

I am a social entrepreneur and I am relaxed living and working in Scotland. Social enterprises are springing up all over the place in what seems to be a very natural extension of the values which Scottish people aspire to. The notion that we can combine the concepts of business and charity together and make a difference to the wider community whilst also encompassing enterprise sits comfortably across the population.

At the end of last year, the Scottish Government launched “Scotland’s Social Enterprise Strategy 2016 – 2026” which is a comprehensive and ambitious policy for government which aims to grow and develop the social enterprise sector in Scotland. It has received widespread applause from all quarters and is probably one of the best government policy documents on social enterprise in the world.

Scotland does have a history in this area. The pioneering businessman, Robert Owen, the mill owner, created a successful business in the early 1800s whilst providing excellent conditions for his employees and supporting the surrounding community. The early fires of Fair Trade were lit in Scotland when campaigners from the Scottish Nicaraguan Solidarity Committee worked out that a impactful way of supporting exploited Nicaraguan farmers was to import their coffee. People will say that coffee didn’t taste so good and that the distribution was erratic but the values behind Fair Trade were born.

So, the Scottish Government’s strategy finds traction with the many social entrepreneurs who are busy trying to improve their communities in Scotland. They don’t necessarily have high profiles, caring more about the outcomes of their work compared with their own public persona. Rural communities have been regenerated because land has been bought from landowners and transformed into sustainable entities by social entrepreneurs and community leaders. There is lots to be proud of and lots more challenges to take on.

But where is England in the space? Earlier this month, John Bird of The Big Issue, one of the pioneer social enterprises; urged the UK Government to follow Scotland’s lead in developing an effective social enterprise policy.

In response to the Prime Minister speech on a “Shared Society” where Theresa May mentioned social enterprise a number of times, he said: “Unfortunately, the whole system is moving rather slowly. If you carry on at this rate, somewhere towards the end of this century we might be able to have a social enterprise industry that actually gets to the parts of society that big business cannot get to.

“Is it possible maybe to imitate the Scottish government’s idea of having a ten-year strategy to look at ways in which to do social enterprise in every conceivable way?”

John Bird will keep arguing the case but the impression you get is that England doesn’t really “get” social enterprise in the same way that Scotland does because both countries have a different value base.

Scotland will aim to get to a position where social enterprise becomes the standard way to do business in the future. It is a fascinating place to be at the moment, given these uncertain times, and yes I do think that Scotland and England are starting to become very different places to live in.

Mel Young is the founder of The Homeless World Cup and is an Ashoka fellow.