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Why our Manifesto for 2021-26 must be more about renewal than recovery

Head of Policy, Projects & Participation Amy Woodhouse on how we're developing our Manifesto for the next Scottish Parliament and the challenges of representing the children’s sector in the face of an unknowable future.

It’s mid-May and we should be far on in the writing phase of Children in Scotland’s Manifesto for the Holyrood elections in 2021.

We started thinking ahead to our new Manifesto last summer. It should outline the changes Children in Scotland thinks are necessary for the Scottish Government to make over the timescale of the next parliament to improve outcomes for children and young people living in Scotland, and their families.

It should inform our strategic plan and our policy and influencing priorities over the next five-year period. It should also reflect the priorities of our members and be something they can align themselves to. To say it’s an important document for us is something of an understatement.

We agreed that we wanted to take a really thoughtful and inclusive approach to developing the Manifesto. Over the latter part of 2019 we facilitated discussions with members through our Voices Forum, held a (Lego!) workshop at our annual conference, ran a members’ survey and held a variety of discussions with our children and young people’s advisory group Changing our World, our staff team and our Board.

We analysed our report recommendations and consultation responses from across the last five years and reflected on evidence from other important sources, including what children and young people have said. As a researcher by trade, I’ve been proud of the approach we’ve taken, particularly considering the limited capacity we have had as a team and as an organisation to do this work.

But then COVID-19 hit and we found ourselves in a very different world from the one we started this work in.  It has forced me and colleagues to stop and think: Is our work on the Manifesto up to this point irrelevant now?

Has Scotland changed so irrevocably that we have to think about everything from this point onwards in response to the impact of the coronavirus?

This truth is that it’s very difficult to say at this point. We know many families have faced considerable hardship through the lockdown period, and that as a country, we’ll experience the financial impact of this crisis for many years to come.

We also know that other previous priorities, such as the climate crisis or Brexit are still pressing but have fallen down the agenda as we respond to the real and immediate needs directly in front of us.

This Manifesto needs to look forward to a future that feels unknowable.

But, to badly paraphrase Joe Strummer, if the future is unknowable, it is also unwritten, and therefore open to the potential for positive change.

In that respect, while the current crisis we find ourselves in is unprecedented, our approach to the Manifesto remains the same. We think about the future we want for children and young people, and agree the steps that are necessary to get us there, based on the evidence of what we know works and what children and young people say themselves.

Rights, poverty, health and wellbeing, learning, equalities – COVID 19 has shone a different light on all these issues, and in many cases has exacerbated existing problems further, by increasing inequalities and challenges we face as a society. But the big issues remain largely the same – it’s the level of the problem that has increased.

This is why many people are talking renewal and not recovery, when conceptualising a post-crisis Scotland.

We don’t want to go back to where we were before, because in many ways it really wasn’t good enough.

The important thing is how we build back better.

It’s mid-May, and yes, we are a bit behind schedule on our Manifesto writing. But we’re persevering and will be reaching out to members again soon to help us shape the final calls.

We’re able to continue like this because our work builds on what we and the wider children’s sector have long known and believed is necessary to improve the lives of children and young people. It will need to reflect our current times but it should be a Manifesto for an ambitious future and not simply a crisis response.

Our next Voices Forum is scheduled as a video meeting on the morning of Thursday 25 June. Please get in touch if you are a Children in Scotland member and would like to take part.

Contact Amy at



Policy, Projects & Participation (PPP)

Amy is head of Children in Scotland's PPP department

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Members' forums

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Strengthening the children's sector

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Manifesto for the new UK Government

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Confronting the crisis

Jacqueline Cassidy discusses the third sector response to Covid-19

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