Much of the work I do involves trying to move people beyond the normal organisational pre-occupations with process. Whether I’m helping them develop a voice for their organisation, tell its story, or explore where it might be going, the challenge is to get them to set aside the How of what they do and try instead to consider the Why.
The closer we get to that true sense of purpose, the more people’s feelings come into play and the more we start to gnaw away at the myth of objectivity that tends to associate itself with process. Organisations like certainty. They like to think that their Hows are predicated on the exercise of pristine reasoning and logic. But the reality is that we are emotional creatures and people can no more stop bringing their feelings to work than they can their minds. Unacknowledged, those emotions compete with reason and that’s where decision-making gets messy. Properly recognised, they’re powerful engines of change and progress and creativity.
I can’t help noticing the parallels with the independence ‘debate’ – which is entirely dominated at the moment by the discussion of process. Would we keep the pound, would we join Europe, would we have border controls, how much North Sea oil would we own, and so on? These are questions to which no one, on either side, has hard answers at present. They’re the mechanical issues, the Hows, of separation. Should we wake up on 19 September to find the vote has gone in favour of independence, they will simply have to be dealt with. It’s inconceivable that they wouldn’t be, and equally inconceivable that there wouldn’t be horses for courses: Scotland would gain on some issues and lose on others.
Nevertheless, the battle-lines remain drawn on the basis of process, as if the Scottish electorate are all super-rational, perfectly objective beings, and that all everyone’s waiting for is someone to come up with conclusive proof that we will or won’t be allowed to keep the pound, for example, for the whole matter to be neatly sewn up.
It’s convenient, certainly for the Better Together campaign, to keep the debate going on this superficial level, because it means that there’s no danger of anyone digging, publicly at any rate, into the much deeper issue of what people actually feel about it. And make no mistake (as politicians love to say), people bring to the issue very deep feelings indeed: feelings about identity and belonging, about loss and gain, about fairness and equality, about possibility and creativity, about culture and wellbeing, about prosperity and sustainability, about the kind of society they want to live in – all of which seem at present to be sidelined by an obsessive focus on economic and fiscal considerations. Yet how many of us who have married, and perhaps divorced, each time facing a huge change in our lives, have made those choices on the basis of income potential or tax status?
The How focus is convenient for the media too, because a declaration of Why tends to be an unarguable truth which doesn’t bring much to the cockpit of debate, whereas speculation about the mechanics of separation can continue happily and argumentatively ad nauseam. I watched the BBC debate from Greenock last week and raised a silent cheer when at last a young woman spoke up briefly about culture and society and possibility, before the chair closed her down and moved the discussion back to the talking heads with their interminable batting back and forth of unanswerable economic and constitutional propositions.
All of which leaves me longing to see the focus shift from How to Why. It might result in less of the so-called debate, but surely everyone would find it more enlightening to learn why some people, as I do, feel so strongly, so viscerally in favour of independence while others are so powerfully opposed to it. It would certainly call for a greater degree of honesty than we have so far seen if we had to answer questions like: what’s the sense of purpose that drives you if you’re in favour, and the anxiety that motivates you if you’re not?
It’s these things, I believe, that will determine how most people will vote in the end of the day. I don’t see how it can be otherwise since an entirely rational, objective decision is impossible in any circumstances, and doubly so in the absence of a set of certainties that no future event can ever offer. It may be stating the obvious to say that a No vote will represent a preference for the status quo, while a Yes vote will of necessity be an act of faith, however well informed the voter may feel. But if we can be honest about where we find our intentions, rather than clinging to the figleaf of process and the myth of objectivity, we might at least end up understanding each other a little better, whatever the result on 18 September.
Yes. You’ve nailed it. The How is a massive distraction from the meat of the Why. And the Why is the one that gets people fired-up, passionate and, ultimately upset. Which is probably the reason for giving it as wide a berth as possible. When questioned about where my vote will go in September ( mainly by Left-wing colleagues from outwith Scotland) I have noted that we rapidly go off-topic from the Why and on to the nuts and bolts of the reasons for How Scotland cannot possibly afford to go it alone.
Which of course makes me want to try to do so.
Wonderful post, Jamie: thoughtful, measured, humane and honest. Whichever side of the debate people are on – or if they are stuck in the middle, not yet sure (and perhaps when people vote one way or the other they still won’t be sure of the reasons for their choice) – we really need this kind of input. It’s an amazing and rare thing for an entire population to have the opportunity to discuss what kind of country they want to live in, and that discussion must not remain the property of the professional politicians. Let’s talk about WHY much more. That’s the question that energises and enthuses ordinary people. HOW is for the politicians and administrators to work out in the aftermath of the vote, whichever way it goes.
Interesting start to deepening this discussion. However, it seems to me that the why is also seeped in unconscious, and mostly very strangely deeply historic reasons, that have no place here either. There was an interesting editorial this week in the guardian, which I admit that I did not fully read. But it compared this to a marriage, which might have it’s odd nuances and subtle accommodations, and built up resentments. But if separation takes place, it is usually never good, ending up with extremes of animosity and divides…. More food for thought? And no one has given me a really good reason for separation yet…. I hear the ‘we don’t want to live under Tory and London politics anymore’ ….. Ok, but that can change!! ‘Yes they say, but Scotland has never voted conservative’, but…. It won’t stay the status quote either. The snp could very easily turn into a Nationalist party, with the scary aspects of nationalism, instead of just the pride side (what other nationalist party do folk like, BNP?). I believe there is a more recent historical perspective on this too…. Scotland is known for it’s anti-English feeling stretching way back. It may feel more tolerant now, but…… Politics can swing so easily!!! Till the next vote!! Or threat!! Or crisis!!
The vote will be about the Why. The debate has, really, to be about the How. It is, after all, a question of the rational vs the emotional. Alex Salmond is being at best disingenuous in many of his ‘process’ statements. It is essential that Scotland knows in advance what currency it would be dealing in, otherwise chaos would descend very quickly. The rest of it, you’re right, can be worked out later. But the currency cannot. Still, at the ballot box, my guess is that it will be 80% about the Why. My guess also is that the No vote will win and then we will have to come to terms with Devolution Max. I still don’t understand the motivation for political independence in a Europe tied by the Euro. If Scotland keeps sterling as its currency, what kind of independence is that? Still, I’m 75% Irish, so what do I know!
I listened with avid interest to Mark Carney’s speech this week. For two reasons. I lived in Scotland (Forres, Morayshire) for 8 years and have special feelings for the place and the people. I worked at the FSA in 2011 to figure out how it could be split into the FCA and the PRA which went to the Bank of England and which Mark Carney inherited when he became the Governor of the Bank of England. I was head of process design.
I was thrilled to hear Mark talk about the different ‘how’s’, and the tangle the definition of similarity creates when deciding whether to hav a common currency or not. He laid out the implications, the ways it could/could not work. I was delighted when he would not be drawn into saying why a common currency was a good idea or not – for anybody, not just Scotland. “I’m a technocrat,” he said. “Whatever you decide, we will implement.” He was telling Scotland that it’s your decision. The why , the reasons for independence, the definitions of independence, you need to figure out.
While at the FSA (as with any client) I ached to know ‘why’. The reasons given were technical, but most I felt were motivated by anger and a sense of shame at having failed to spot chronic, systemic corruption. But in the end I knew that I was hired to be a technocrat, to figure out a simple, efficient, unobtrusive how to a decision already made. To misquote Tennyson in The Charge of The Light Brigade: “Ours was not to reason why. Ours was but to do or die.”
Scottish Independence is a glorious debate. It’s an opportunity for the Scottish diaspora to reflect on their reasons why, why they left, why they still feel so Scottish. I know Canadian Scots talk of little else over their whisky aperitifs and digestifs (such a versatile drink!). And then, of course, the conversation moves on, diluted by now, to the European Union, to the eternal Canadian/US cultural divide… Canajun-eh?
BTW – I loved the recent suggestion, on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, that Scotland might re-join Scandinavia.
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