As 2014 heads for September, Scotland thinks of itself as at the centre of a political maelstrom. In truth, some Europeans are following the independence debate with interest, but the rest of the world could not, it seems, care a jot. Never mind; for those of us who live in Scotland – an important distinction as only those resident in Scotland in September will have a vote – it is providing politicians with a chance to strut their stuff and to ally themselves with people and parties who are normally their sworn enemies. Thus, we have the former prime minister, Gordon Brown speaking out on behalf of the “Better Together” campaign – a campaign for which his arch-enemy the current prime minister, David Cameron, has also spoken.
On the one hand, those in favour of independence have their campaign coordinated by the Scottish National Party (SNP). They are disciplined and their arguments are well-rehearsed; they have had plenty of practice – they have been arguing their case for over fifty years. For the most part, their message has fallen on deaf ears but during the last twenty years their popularity has grown to the extent that they ousted the incumbent labour party from power in 2007, forming a minority government and followed that up with a majority victory in 2011. This victory set the scene for the 2014 independence referendum.
On the other hand, the three major UK parties, the conservatives, the liberal democrats and the labour parties, have formed an uneasy alliance, called “Better Together”, in order to fight against independence. They are normally sworn enemies (though the liberal democrats and conservatives did form an alliance after the 2010 UK general election), so it has been a difficult partnership; they find themselves on the defensive, protecting the status quo, where the single-voiced SNP are on the offensive, proposing change. Although polls have consistently demonstrated that the majority of Scots prefer being part of the union, they are also showing that the gap is narrowing, so much so that there is now a real prospect that Scotland could very well vote for independence – an unthinkable prospect even three years ago.
There are a number of negotiating parallels that can be drawn and lessons that can be learned.
All of this serves to demonstrate that politics and negotiating skills are not natural bedfellows. What works in a negotiation does not necessarily translate well into the political scene.
So where does Scotwork sit? Well, needless to say that some of my colleagues are pro-independence and others against. Many of my English colleagues bemoan the fact that they will not have a vote and will therefore have no say either way. Some of them want an independent England, for heaven’s sake! Where will it all end?
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