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Updated guidance for Scottish charities on campaigning about political issues

23 May 2024

We have recently updated the guidance available on our website about charities and campaigning on political issues. 

The guidance takes the form of frequently asked questions, and includes helpful information about relevant topics including: 

  • how can charities engage with political parties and politicians? 
  • can charities take part in joint or local political campaigns? 
  • what do charities in Scotland need to do to comply with electoral and charity law? 

What are the main changes to the guidance for Scottish charities campaigning on political issues? 

The update reflects changes in electoral law since the guidance was last written and has been prepared with the help of the Electoral Commission. We have also added a new section on local campaigns which will be of particular relevance to community-based charities. 

Otherwise, the guidance remains relatively unchanged and should be familiar to charity trustees who are involved in any kind of political campaigning, including lobbying of members of the Scottish Parliament or Scottish Government officials.

What does Scottish charity law say about campaigning on political issues? 

It cannot be the purpose of a charity to support a political party, but charities may campaign on political issues where it is consistent with their charitable purposes. 

Scottish charities can campaign on political issues to advance their charitable purposes, including during election periods, as long as the requirements of charity law and, where necessary, electoral law are met. 

For example, a charity whose purpose is to provide sports training for young people may want to lead or get involved in a campaign to save the local sports centre which has been threatened with closure. This may involve engaging with local politicians, lobbying members of the Scottish Parliament or organising a petition. 

Charity trustees must always act in the interests of the charity, including being mindful of how campaigning might affect the reputation of their charity. 

Martin Tyson, OSCR’s Head of Regulation & Improvement, said:

“Political campaigning – for example taking a position for or against a change in policy or legislation, or campaigning on a specific local issue – is a legitimate way for many charities to achieve what they were set up for, their charitable purposes. 

“If a charity intends to campaign on political issues at any time, whether those are local issues, national campaigns or during election periods, it’s really important for trustees to be aware of the rules and legal requirements around political campaigning for charities.” 

Read the full guidance here: Charities and campaigning on political issues