Scotland & where we’re heading – the people’s choice

As this is my first blog, please excuse any errors, omissions or typo’s. I’ve included a lot of links (highlighted words – please just click them), but clearly there isn’t space for everything although it is a lot longer than I had envisaged! More of an essay than a blog….

First, a brief introduction. I am a headhunter and people specialist and run a niche Executive Search & Consultancy business based in Scotland. I also do a lot of work with organisations and people involved in helping youth employment, and am proud to be part of making the lives of many young people better. I am also a graduate of Scottish History (Glasgow University) and a former professional sportsman.

I work with businesses, large (global) and small (from start-up) all over the world to help them identify, find, attract, develop and then retain the key thing needed for their business – the right people. I have worked with companies and organisations across Scotland, the UK and the world in financial services, manufacturing, energy, life sciences, technology, oil & gas, chemical, hospitality & tourism, professional services, general services, automobile, agriculture & food, charity / third sector, property, retail & the public sector – in fact, I’m lucky to have worked with businesses across pretty much the entire economy.  As a consequence, I have the amazing & fortunate opportunity to learn a huge amount about how many, many organisations and sectors of the economy actually work. Without that knowledge, I couldn’t do what I do….or certainly not the way I do it.  For me, it’s vital to understand as much as possible about the context of the work I do.  In that way, I can give genuine, valuable advice to the people I work with.

Doing a job like mine, however, leads you to be expert in only a small number of things, but with a very broad (& reasonably deep) understanding of a lot.  Fortunately, one of the things I do have expertise in is people.

Scotland’s People

One of the main things I have learned is a very well established fact: with the right people, in the right team, pretty much anything is possible.

Which brings me neatly to the core of my article and the key role people have to play in it.  As most who might read this will know, Scotland is going through an unprecedented constitutional conversation right now.  On the 18th September 2014 the people of Scotland will vote in a referendum to decide whether to move forward with the responsibilities and full powers of independence or whether to remain as a part of the UK under a devolved settlement.

The Declaration of Independence and the YesScotland movement was launched more than 2 years ago now.  Since then, over 1 million people have signed the declaration, with many more voting Yes who have not.

There are a huge number of issues at play to consider at this pivotal moment in the history of Scotland. Once you consider them all, however, it is relatively straightforward: is Scotland a nation and should it make the decisions that affect it the most?  I would argue that the key thing that underpins both elements to that question is: do we have the people and the skills to make this work?

For me, the answer to both is equally straightforward: Yes.

  • The people bit first

Having worked with so many people and so many businesses across the world, my view is that the people we have here are not better than anywhere else in the world, but we are certainly just as good and just as capable. What does make us unique are things we are lucky to have, such as a phenomenal landscape (great for agriculture & production as well as living, playing and working in) & amazing natural resources (from oil & gas to wind, wave and other renewable energy potential to the most important one of all – people).

It really is straightforward – We have the people so we should acknowledge the rights and responsibilities such ability bestows upon us: to make this corner of the planet the best it can be and to play as full a part as possible in helping the world through its’ journey.

We do have a hugely well-educated workforce, some really inspiring and tremendous people and a general approach to developing ourselves that is a great basis for tackling the challenges ahead

The question of whether we should tackle those challenges ahead making the decisions for ourselves, or continuing to rely on Westminster to make most of them for us, is also clear. As we have the talent to do so, I believe it is our responsibility to take the decisions we want in the name of ourselves, our children, families & communities and not leave them to other people. This also means, incidentally, that we will work with those in Government at Westminster and further afield to deliver what’s best for both Scotland, the rest of the UK and where our International Partners are where it is in everyone’s interests.

There genuinely isn’t enormous enmity towards everything that Westminster does, but I think it is simply unfair to expect decisions that impact upon people’s day-to-day lives to be made by people with no connection or deep understanding of the issues.

A brief example from my own experience; if this were a company it would be like a Head Office function telling another business that it owned precisely how to operate within every part of its’ business, despite there being a perfectly capable management team and despite the Head Office operating in a different sector and dealing with different issues itself. In the corporate world, such situations would most likely lead to a management buy-out as the management team became increasingly frustrated at having decisions imposed and too many restrictions put upon them despite far superior knowledge of their own business and their own sector. They would say “Enough. We can flourish far better in the market without your input. Let’s agree a deal upon which we can move forward separately but where we retain a good working relationship”. As an aside, some on the “No” side do appear to feel aggrieved that this referendum is even happening – that is a hangover from the kind of mentality that does imply ownership by Westminster….not a healthy place to be.

Back in the real world, this means taking responsibility for all that we do.

  • The other part of the question was: is Scotland a nation and should it make the decisions that affect it the most?

Scotland is, in fact, one of the oldest nations in the world. In its current shape it has remained largely unchanged as a recognised nation for the last 1300+ years.  As has been said a number of times, notably in The Wee Blue Book: “The referendum hinges on whether you think Scotland is a country or a region of one. It can’t be both.”

As a nation with such a rich history and culture – including a world-beating Educational approach (with 5 of the top 200 Universities in the world right now, the highest per capita ratio in the world) – , I think it’s a moral imperative to take matters into our own hands.

Democracy is based upon nation states, and we should finally practice what we (across Western civilisation) spend a lot of time preaching to other parts of the world; namely, that self-determination is a universal right as stated in the founding principles of the United Nations itself. What logically follows from that is that the decisions affecting that nation should be taken by the people of that nation. As Winnie Ewing famously said:”Stop the World, we want to get on”.

Some other things to consider

In furthering this debate, we also need to examine things like poverty especially amongst our children. There has understandably been a lot of questions thrown towards the Yes movement for the last two years, but for me, one of the key questions remains this: if people believe we are better together, then why are we the only nation in the world to find oil and now see foodbank use grow exponentially?

As stated in a recent Scottish Government report on the rise of foodbank use:

“1.15 Reasons for demand – Providers who participated in the study were in agreement that welfare reform, benefit delays, benefit sanctions and falling incomes have been the main factors driving the recent trend observed of increased demand for food aid.”

In addition, wealth inequality in the whole UK is increasing at an alarming rate. Much work has been done on this from a wide range of respected organisations, and many reports produced including from Oxfam and the High Pay Centre.

Inequality such as this does nothing but hinder the overall productivity of nations, and is not good for anyone.  Our current Westminster system of Government seems entirely incapable of, and unwilling to, find a solution to such systemic flaws. An example of the outcome of such a system is the increasing privatisation of the NHS in England & Wales. Equally, the inability of Westminster to even reform the House of Lords, never mind address fundamental questions like whether we should establish a written constitution (which, vitally, would give the people the power to challenge Government decisions other than at the ballot box), says everything.

What this does in Scotland is help inform us of the “direction of travel” of the current UK and how it is set-up. So, we have a choice – do we remain hitched to a vehicle that has been set on the same course, the same “direction of travel” for the last 35 years (irrespective of Labour or Tory Government at Westminster inequality has risen at an alarmingly fast rate), or do we take the opportunity to say that we want to take a different route, one that does provide a more prosperous, a more productive and a more equal society?

Again, a lot of work has been done here, notably by The Common Weal on how a new Scotland could flourish and the steps actually required.

Conclusion

Whilst most people in Scotland would agree on the aim of a more equal and fairer society, it is very clear that this is simply not possible while Westminster remains in charge.  Even with some vague promises about “extra powers” (if they were serious about that they would have included it on the ballot paper on September 18th), Westminster would still hold all the aces with regard to the major domestic and international policies.  I have seen nothing to suggest that Scotland would not be capable of managing its own affairs internationally – in fact, I’m sure Scotland would do a great job of that. This is also the view of many eminent professionals like the UK’s most recent ambassador to NATO, Dame Mariot Leslie.

On the other hand, Westminster has proven over the last 35 years that it is entirely incapable of moving towards a more equal, more redistributive system of government. The only way to achieve that for Scotland is to take matters into its own, highly capable, hands and vote Yes on September 18th.

Along with many others, like Billy Bragg, I also believe that voting Yes in Scotland is the best way to produce the kind of shift in power at Westminster that the rest of the UK so badly needs.  So we will vote Yes to make Scotland better, but also to help prove to everyone else in the UK that there is a better way. Ironically, it will also prove to be good for those running Government in the rest of the UK as I believe it will force the kind of change required. No-one has ever said it will be easy, but the outcome will be worth working really hard to achieve.

So, to protect what people in Scotland hold dear, like a publicly owned National Health Service, to create a written constitution, to develop a fit-for-purpose platform for economic growth and prosperity for all, to rid our nation of weapons of mass destruction and the horrendous costs of them, and the continued development of Scotland and its people by playing a full and active part in international affairs, we must be positive and start to take take responsibility for ourselves.

It is time for Scotland to join the world. We have the most vital element in abundance – the people.

It is time to put all of us first.

It is time to vote Yes.

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