11 October 2016

Pizza or Politics?

These days most things are convenient. When you want a pizza– all you need to do is pick up a phone. You want coffee? Push a button – coffee. Instant, convenient, effortless. Today, technology makes so many things easy. Politics, however, doesn’t work in quite the same way.

Democracy, voting, equality, representation – these have all taken centuries to evolve. In ancient Athens, only adult male landowners, who had qualified as citizens could vote. Very few had a direct say in the future of the state and society.

Yet here we are, over two thousand years later with universal suffrage. Everyone gets a vote. Everyone has that essential tool to shape their community. Voting is one of the few measures that can equalise the disparities of wealth and education. It may also be the most direct route for people to steer their society. Indeed, it allows us to affirm our commitment to and a role in creating a better society. Those rights took centuries to secure.

History rarely bends to the will of one person. If it does bend, it is often a question of timing – for the rest of us we have to be persistent. Politics as a shaping force is no different. You can’t just press a button to fix everything. Change and improvement require time, effort and vision. Anyone who says otherwise is probably selling snake oil.

On the other hand, destruction can be initiated in an instant. Destruction need not be precise. If you want to hammer something to pieces, you just need to hit hard enough. No measurement, no timing, just smack ­– bang! Broken.

We just need to look around to see this philosophy in action. People like Donald Trump and Nigel Farage pretend that a single vote can fix everything. An instant fix. It’s the pizza delivery of politics. They offer the hammer – break it and everything will be fine. No vision, nothing.

Not only do they fail to offer any real solution, they jeopardize everything we’ve accomplished for at least the last five decades. These people will leave us picking up the pieces and they won’t bat an eyelid.

This pizza delivery of political philosophy seems to be gaining popularity and many on the right particularly champion it. Next time you hear someone rattling off how simple something is; consider whether they’re a pizza delivery political philosopher. Are they promising an instant fix or over simplifying? This is salesmanship and the salesman has little regard for the quality of their product.

Not only does this behaviour hinder positive social change but it threatens what is already accomplished. This is a world where the ignorance of Trump and Farage dominates. We do not have to let that dominate us. I hope those of us here in Scotland can remember that we reap what we sow. Voting works but social progress doesn’t come instantly – and certainly not without vision and persistence.

27 September 2016

If you Brexit, then we’ll Brexit

In the Scottish Parliament we are having a series of debates on the threats and opportunities of Brexit. This week it is on rural issues. And last week was on the economy.

Curiously, for the Conservatives, the one issue they don’t want to talk about is the result of the EU referendum. Not because the result doesn’t suit them – and to be fair most Tory MSPs campaigned to remain in the EU – but because after several months we are no clearer what the UK’s negotiating position is going to be.

So their MSPs’ contributions to a debate on Brexit are dominated by references to an unplanned future independence referendum – 15 such on 20th September alone.

But light has to be shone into the dark corners on UK government policy planning for Brexit.

When all these years ago I participated in business negotiations we used a method devised by the leaders in the training of people like me. They happened to be a Scottish firm called Scotwork.

It was based on two simple constructs. The first was that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed. That meant that one always said; “If you will agree to my (list of requirements), then I will agree to your list.”

The second, and the more important, was the construction of a list of outcomes being sought. It was called the LIMit list. But it was really three lists.

The “L” list was a long list of things which our side would “Like” to achieve. Things of value to our position but of little cost to our opponents.

The “I” list was what we “Intend” to get from the negotiation. We would need to get a decent proportion of this list if we wanted to claim victory.

The most critical list, the “M” list is the things we “Must” achieve. Without these we walk away from any deal.

The negotiation has to start by our revealing an initial list of “asks” which would contain all of our “Musts” and most of our “Intends”.

Our opponents would counter by rejecting items from our list and making their own demands. Our response would continue to demand all our “Musts” but substitute some of our “Likes” for a smaller number of our “Intends”.

In big business negotiations this could go on for a very long time. And some of the planned demands cannot be disclosed at the outset.

But no negotiation can proceed without the side starting the whole discussion laying out a list of demands.

I can lay out some of my “Musts” - for example getting our fish catching industry out of the EU Common Fisheries Policy and keeping the free movement of people so vital to fish processing – but it is the UK Government who got us here and it is time for us to see their initial list.

In 500 or so words I can describe a process and suggest some outcomes.

It’s surely time we heard some words from the UK Government.

Perhaps they should start by having words with that Scottish firm.

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