Minority government is an opportunity to be seized. This was the key message from our most recent Meet the Researchers event at which SCVO’s Policy Officers Network met researchers from the Scottish Labour Party. The seven strong research team, led by Head of Policy, Michael Sharpe, highlighted that during periods of minority government parties in opposition and the third sector have new avenues through which to achieve their goals. As result change is often possible to a greater extent if parties in opposition can be encouraged to collaborate.

As policy colleagues across the third sector know, achieving change is often a numbers game. In recent years, parties in opposition in Scotland have increasingly recognised the value of working together to reach shared positions on a range of issues and achieve the numbers necessary to defeat the Scottish Government. Similarly, third sector organisations are increasingly working across all parties to achieve their aims. Collaboration on amendments during the Social Security (Scotland) Bill process, for example, led to several key changes . Such changes are often achieved by encouraging the Scottish Government to move on controversial issues to avoid defeat.

We asked our Scottish Labour guests for their thoughts on how the sector can both engage with Scottish Labour and seize the opportunities minority government presents.

Produce a good briefing.

The Scottish Labour research team, like researchers from all of the other parties, stressed that localise briefing are much sought after by MSPs and their teams. MSPs are most interested in data and statistics from their own constituencies. The team also stressed a need to ensure briefings get to the research team (time to up-date those mailing lists!), and to send them on earlier to ensure they get to the right place at the right time.

Engage with the manifesto process

Similar to briefings, manifestos can be a key influencing tool. The last few years have been an interesting time for political parties in Scotland. As a result, there is a feeling that at the next election, it’s all to play for. The Scottish political parties are on the hunt for fresh ideas that could translate into vote winners and Scottish Labour is no different. While Scottish Labour have an internal policy forum structured around the party’s links with trade unions and members, the party are also open to ideas from the third and other sectors when their manifesto process formally begins in October.

Use political parties’ manifestos as a tool to achieve change.

Opposition parties, and indeed government, often have shared views within their manifestos. The sector should look for consensus areas relevant to their aims and encourage collaboration between parties.

Encourage the opposition to work together

To encourage the opposition to work together early preparation is key. For bills, preparation must begin well in advance of Stage 1. Lobby both junior and senior spokespeople and where one party is a weak link in a collaboration find the evidence they need to engage them on the issue before approaching more committed parties.

Letters to Ministers can be a good tool through which to encourage collaboration between parties. Draft a letter from your organisation that spokespeople from other parties are signatories too and share with the Minister.

Approaching an MSPs researcher with a question you would like them to raise can also be a good tool to get a feel for a party’s position on an issue.

Private Members Bills

There is a maximum of 10 months remaining to push a Private Members Bill through Parliament.

Amendments

Approach the research team with amendments to bills as early as possible. Amendments don’t have to be perfect, researchers can tidy them up. Time to discuss the proposed change is key.

Getting an amendment into a bill is one of the strongest ways to make change as the amendment becomes law. This is also a key area for cross-party collaboration.

Other ways to engage with Scottish Labour

Colleagues in the third sector who wish to engage with Scottish Labour are encouraged to approach the relevant spokesperson directly. For more information on Scottish Labour’s policy positions and development visit their new website or the Red Robin blogsite. The party can also help organisations in the sector to engage with trade unions and people in the workplace through their affiliates.

Thanks to our Scottish Labour guests for sharing these tips.

If you are interested in finding out more about joining SCVO’s Policy Officers Network and our upcoming events email pon@scvo.org.uk