History is unlikely to judge David Cameron altogether favourably, but in his championing of the “big society” the former prime minister hit on an idea potentially years ahead of its time.
Dismissed as a political gimmick when first launched in 2010, the aspiration behind the plan was for smaller government and local communities taking a bigger role in the provision of services.
While undeniably Tory in spirit, it was nevertheless a departure for a party whose leader once famously announced there was “no such thing as society”.
With an ageing population and a NHS seemingly in the midst of a crisis, a version of the big society is now less a political ideal and more an everyday necessity.
According to research published yesterday by the Royal Voluntary Service, a charity for older people, more than 432,000 people over the age of 55 will volunteer in Scotland this year.
Regardless of the reason for this altruism – research suggests it is simply retirees seeking to do something positive with their increased spare time – the contribution of volunteers is not only to be welcomed but actively encouraged.
As people live longer, many of us will find ourselves volunteering to help elderly relatives whether we like it or not.
The goodwill of volunteers is not a substitute for the work of trained medical professionals – nor should it be used to plug the gaping holes in our public services.
But if we are to believe the warning from the British Medical Association that Scotland’s NHS is now at “breaking point”, then we must surely welcome all the help we can get.