The UK is leaving the EU. UK citizens and organisations risk losing access to all of the progressive policy initiatives and social advances that have been hard-won over decades of EU membership. What can we do mitigate the risk?

That was the question at the forefront of our minds when, as a group of Scottish third sector organisations, we visited the European Commission in Brussels last week. What could we do, in amongst all of the political negotiations, to safeguard the links and benefits the Scottish third sector has enjoyed as an integral part of European civil society for such a long time?

Over the three days of the visit the answer became abundantly clear – it’s all about relationships.

One of the major strengths of the third sector is the emphasis and the value that we place on people and relationships. It is at the core of all that we do and it’s arguably one of the things we do best. The people we met from the Commission have devoted their careers to building unifying relationships across Europe in pursuit of many of the rights that the Scottish third sector has been advocating for decades; workers’ rights, citizens’ rights, the rights of vulnerable and excluded groups, and the protection of the environment and its inhabitants. Their passions were largely aligned with ours and with the many European organisations and institutions we partner with across our national borders in pursuit of our common causes.

If we wish to preserve the benefits of EU membership that accrue to our sector, our organisations and most importantly the people we are all called to serve in Scotland, then the main lesson for me from the visit to Brussels is to build the relationships on which those benefits depend.

I was reminded of the words of the serenity prayer used by Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other recovery groups: “God, grant us serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can and wisdom to know the difference.”

There are many things related to Brexit that we in the third sector will have absolutely no influence or capacity to change; things that will be settled between the EU and the Westminster Government. We need the serenity to leave those alone.

There are however a great many things we can do to change the outcome of Brexit, by virtue of the relationships we have and the relationships we can build over the next two years. Over the course of the visit we witnessed so many strong and strengthening relationships:

  • among people within the Scottish Third Sector
  • between the Scottish Third Sector and the Scottish Government
  • between the Scottish Third sector and MEP’s from across Europe
  • between the Scottish Third Sector and Third Sector groups from across Europe
  • between the Scottish Third sector and the European Commission
  • across areas of activity – children, environment, health & wellbeing, young people.

All of these are critical to advancing the interests of those our sector represents, often the most vulnerable and excluded people who rely on our relationships to bring hope into very challenging situations. Do we have the courage to build those relationships in the interests of our beneficiaries, despite what may be happening politically?

Relationships were evident in Brussels. Relationships are what we, as a sector are good at. Relationships are key to preserving the best of EU membership for the people who will benefit most; the people we represent.

If relationships are what we can use to bring beneficial change to the outcome of Brexit, then God grant us the courage to build lasting and flourishing relationships across Europe.

It’s all about relationships.