The way the Jewish Community engages with Government, Parliament, local authorities, other communities, and Scottish civic society in general started a new chapter when SCoJeC and the Glasgow Jewish Rep Council held their 2023 AGMs back-to-back, and the members of both organisations voted unanimously to ratify the decision of their Executives to form a single organisation that would encompass both roles.
The Rep Council has represented Jewish people in Glasgow and the West of Scotland since it was set up in 1917 to protest the treatment of Jews in Tsarist Russia, while SCoJeC was established after the Devolution referendum in 1999 to provide a single umbrella serving the entire Jewish community of Scotland. By agreement, the Rep Council continued to speak on matters relating only to the West of Scotland, and deferred to SCoJeC on matters with a national aspect. Now, however, the demography of the community is changing, and for some time both organisations have felt they should work more closely together.
To demonstrate this close collaboration, each organisation decided to elect some office bearers from the other to their own Executive:
Both meetings agreed that the joint Executive team would form a working party to guide the next steps in the process.
Welcoming the agreement, Rep Council President Timothy Lovat said, “Both organisations have made massive contributions to improving the lives of Jewish people in Scotland. We have both achieved this through being active in politics, culture, and education and we have worked very closely together for many years where national issues have a local dimension or vice versa. However, there has inevitably been some overlap and duplication, and it will be much more effective and efficient when we speak with a single voice, since we share the same values and objectives, and both want to achieve the same benefits for Jewish people in Scotland.”
SCoJeC Chair Nicola Livingston commented, “I am delighted that there was unanimous support from the members of both SCoJeC and the GJRC for the plans to restructure our two organisations. I have enjoyed working with Timothy and his team over this last year. Our combined voices give us strength and increased visibility in the community and have enabled us to develop a new model for providing the services required to represent, support and connect Jewish people in Scotland even more effectively. Although the precise details of the new structure still have to be worked out, I am excited about what we will be able to achieve together."
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Following the AGM formalities, the joint meeting was addressed by Senior Public Sector Policy Adviser Robert Marshall, who was until recently head of the Scottish Government Connected Communities Division. Robert began by speaking about his upbringing in Nottingham where he had many Jewish friends, and his career in the civil service for 30 years as a prosecutor, a lawyer in the UK Government, and then head of a number of policy areas in the Scottish Government.
He commended the way in which faith communities came together during the pandemic, putting doctrinal differences aside for the common good during those very anxious and uncertain times. As head of the Scottish Government faith team, he saw first-hand how the various faiths and denominations now interact much more with one another and with government, and commented how much we all learn from each other. As a result, a ground-breaking strategy has been agreed for collective and bilateral engagement between faith communities and the Scottish Government.
Robert told the meeting that during the pandemic he had seen an opportunity to support faith communities outwith government by improving religious literacy in the public sector, and supporting the strategic leadership of faith communities to have greater impact, and he has now been seconded to develop that programme. He commented, “I have been warmly welcomed, not least by the Jewish community. It is an opportunity for a fresh pair of eyes to look over structures and see how well organisations are geared up for effective dialogue. So that is why being at the AGMs of SCoJeC and the GJRC was important for me. Creating an even stronger voice that represents as effectively what each has done so far separately, but at some point in the future together, will be very powerful. Change can be challenging and even painful, so if I can be of any help in supporting these changes, then I am happy to do so.