Your say / Politics

What we can learn from Scottish referendum

By Karen White, Wednesday Sep 24, 2014

By Karen White 

This comment article is written by Karen White, Vice Chair of the Bristol Institute of Directors @karenwhite03

A week after what could have been one of the biggest constitutional upheavals in decades, what have we learned from the Scottish Referendum and how can those lessons be applied to business?

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Stop sleepwalking

Whichever way you voted, Alex Salmond taking the Union to the brink turned politics on its head. For the first time, perhaps in my lifetime at least, we saw cross-party panic and unification in equal measures. Ironically, Gordon Brown’s transformation into a human lightning bolt kept prime minister David Cameron in a job. Too often in business, we ignore a whisper that grows into a roar. Take action early on, don’t drift towards dissent.

Don’t disenfranchise

Much has been said, not least by me, about the decision to only allow those living in Scotland to vote, excluding the thousands of born and bred Scots living in England. It’s important to listen to everyone in the business, whatever level; don’t restrict the big decisions to the people sitting round the boardroom table. By not providing an ‘open door’, you are creating resentment amongst those very individuals who could help get you where you need to be faster.

Don’t stamp out the enthusiasm of the young and supposedly less experienced

Too many boards act in isolation from the rest of the company. Yes, you’re on the board because supposedly you’ve got more ‘grey hairs’. But there is never a time when you should stop listening to, and learning from, those who are new to the business. Offering the vote to 16-year-olds fired up Scotland’s youth who felt included, listened to, and that their opinions were worth something. If only we could have that level of enthusiasm amongt the young in every election.

Accept change

We all know that throwing the policy book in the air is tough. Whatever happens in the Union going forward, politics in the UK will never be the same again. Scotland will have enhanced devolution, there will be some hard decisions to be made about how to implement those powers and budgets and some will resent this increased autonomy. There will be jockeying for position. But a fresh approach to strategic direction and different views on it can be a strength, not a problem. Disagreement is not the same as conflict. Disagreement should lead to debate not battle, and can make your business more informed, enabled, empowered and resilient in the long run.

Honour your commitments: don’t move the goalposts

It might have been difficult and you may have had to make compromises, but to retain respect, you have to do what you said you’d do and not renege on your commitments. Westminster is going to have a rocky road over the next few months as we come into the next election, but it needs to demonstrate that, despite the vote being grasped back from the edge, there is no longer complacency, because that is the devil that creeps up on all of us.

Picture from Shuttershock

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