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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. http://www.scotwork.com.

13 September 2016

Broadband

I am happy to see this past week the focus that the Scottish Government will take during this session of Parliament. The key continues to be investment. Investment in our young people, in our transportation, investment in whatever it takes to allow Scotland to thrive. It is necessary in the face of uncertain times that we have a robust economic policy. Crucially, the Scottish Government is clear and practical about what that means.

Since 2007 investment has been at the heart of SNP policy and thankfully it continues to be. Rural communities have massive potential to create growth through upgrades in technology and infrastructure, growth that will benefit everyone.

The most obvious place to begin is digital infrastructure. There is a combination of benefits that emerge from this transition in technology. The clearest change would be the enhanced capacity of businesses. Access to high-speed internet changes relationships to communication, marketing, cash flow, knowledge and information. Translation: large gains in efficiency.

But it doesn't stop there. Young people gain access to a formidable learning tool. Many highly paid and highly skilled jobs are intimately linked to computer and internet technology. Access to the internet is access to the world. You can video chat with your family. You can find out what's trending on social media. The possibilities are endless, the opportunities vast. Investment in broadband for rural communities is a win-win.

The Scottish Government is keenly aware of this and has been massively ambitious with fibre broadband - committing to providing 100% of premises in Scotland with access by 2021. At the moment we are already on track to deliver 95% by the end of 2017, after having delivered our target of 85% 6 months ahead of schedule.

That doesn't mean there aren't challenges, especially in rural communities like parts of the North-east where we have an unusually high number of the diffcult to connect “exchange only” lines. I know, mine is one. There is work to be done but much has been accomplished. About 7,500km of cable has been laid down and 2,500 fibre street cabinets have been put in. That is no small achievement.

For the hurdles that remain ahead of us it is critical that we understand them. In order to tackle some of these, the Scottish Government has created an additional £9 million funding through the Scottish Rural Development Programme. This funding is being released to set up community organisations similar to GigaPlus Argyll; an organisation that will operate wirelessly and establish an extensive rural network covering areas that otherwise wouldn’t be covered by commercial services.

We know there is work to be done and know personally how important this issue is to the local community. It is for this reason that I continue to champion the deployment of digital infrastructure in the North-east. I am proud to be part of an ambitious government and a government that sees the huge value in our rural communities. Only by working together that we will be able to overcome whatever difficulties emerge.

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