The deadline to register to vote in Scotland’s Independence Referendum was midnight last night.  With 17 days to go, we have now moved into the last leg of the longest political campaign in Scotland’s history. By coffee time on the 19 September, we will know the outcome of how Scotland’s voted, if not the full implications.

For many people across charities, public bodies and other ‘neutral’ organisations across Scotland, this is an extremely interesting but difficult time.  By the very nature of the work we’re in, people are (for the most part) politically-engaged, informed and opinionated, but must not and do not allow personal views to cloud or influence professional judgement.

Shelter Scotland is always politically neutral and the referendum is no exception.  While we recently ran a Voter Registration Campaign in partnership with the Electoral Commission, the aim of this was to ensure that everyone in Scotland – even if they are homeless or in temporary housing – could exercise their right to vote, regardless of how they choose to do so.

Our role is and always has been, to represent the rights, needs and views of our clients – those who are homeless and in bad housing.  The reality is that in itself, the referendum outcome will not improve material conditions for those people in the short term be it a Yes or a No vote.

Nothing makes me more certain of that than the near-total absence of housing as a campaign issue for either side as recently blogged about by CIH Scotland.  In addition, neither television debate between the two campaign leaders featured housing in any meaningful way.  As an organisation that sees daily the hardship caused by housing problems across Scotland for hundreds of thousands of people, it seems a missed opportunity to say the least. Especially when the referendum has touched on nearly every other major policy area in a degree of detail.

We know that good quality, safe, affordable housing is a basic necessity, without which the people of Scotland simply cannot flourish. Why when there are more than 150,000 people on council house waiting lists, 36,000 homeless people and a doubling of the number of families in private rented accommodation in the past 10 years – does housing remain a political footnote? Scottish housing budgets have taken disproportionate budget cuts in the past few years so whatever the referendum result, the sector must continue to lobby for a greater, more long-term commitment to housing from all of our politicians.

It is exciting to see so many people engaged and exercised by the referendum. Voter registration has increased in the past few months and the volume of debate has grown exponentially.  I, along with roughly 4,166,683 others in Scotland will cast my vote on 18 September and await the outcome of what will be one of the most significant political decisions in a generation.

So while Shelter Scotland rightly remains neutral on the outcome of the referendum, we most certainly are not neutral on the vital role that housing will play in Scotland after the vote. Whatever the result, what is most important is that we can come together as a nation on 19 September and continue delivering for the people of Scotland.

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