Civic Nationalism and the Voluntary Sector

I have a long way to go before I fully understand Lockean notions of individual sovereignty and related concepts, but the more I see the more I feel comfortable with it.

One catchword which has entered Scottish political debate is “civic nationalism”, which the SNP-led minority administration is keen to claim as its central ethos; free from all the baggage of ethno-nationalism and in which all members of a society pitch in on equal terms.

As I am on a prolonged leave of absence from employment thanks to the policies of Mr G Brown, I also see the benefits of voluntary work… both to keep my mind from atrophying and to provide me with a sense that I am involved in my local area. None of that “political activism” in which one imagines one is at the high tables of international diplomacy: this is simply the local community.

Although I am not part of it, what better example of local community work than the WRVS? In addition to their central ethos of charitable aid for older people, Wurvies are known in hospitals up hill and down dale as the volunteer workers at convenience shops or cafes.

WRVS coffee shop

In Scotland alone, the Wurvies run over 70 hospital cafes, so I am not sure what to make of current schemes to investigate the viability of bringing such schemes entirely in house. In February 2009, the Scottish Executive reported that Health Minister, Shona Robinson, had opened the first NHS-run Aroma Café at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

It is important to stress that this is not intended as a privately-run endeavour (especially as there are several such coffee-houses with similar names in the UK). Furthermore, as the above press release states, all Aroma staff are NHS employees and all profits will be returned to the relevant NHS trust. I can also appreciate that individual NHS trusts should have a reasonable expectation of choosing who performs which tasks within their properties.

With 70 much-respected years behind them, however, I have difficulty seeing why the Wurvies would not fit this bill. It was stated that Aroma Cafés would aim to provide healthier food, but nor can I see any suggestion that the Wurvies were preparing the equivalent of 1980s school-dinners. There is also the benefit of there being little wages to pay.

It is also surely disingenuous to suggest that Aroma Cafés would be the first to gift profits, as the Wurvies already do so; such as £280,000 recently gifted to the Newcastle NHS Trust.

The press release I linked to above states that four other schemes were planned in the Greater Glasgow area, and two in the Highland Region. I know that one is due to open at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness shortly, and assume one of the others for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde was to be the 36 year old presence League of Hospital Friends at Inverclyde Royal Hospital in Greenock.

This arose considerable local opposition, with a petition and campaign started, to which West of Scotland MSP and old-school Liberal, Ross Finnie lent his support. With eventual success, it appears.

As our apocryphal grandmothers told us, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I do not doubt that initiatives such as Aroma Cafés would work and be beneficial, but also have difficulty seeing the benefit of doing away with such opportunities for local residents to feel connected to their areas.


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