Notes on A Dialogue on the Future of Scotland, by Ben Kemp

Notes and reflections on some of the ideas which emerged from group discussions and facilitated conversations about Scotland’s future. The event was hosted by Collaborative Scotland on 21 May 2014.

• There was a shared sense of both the importance of the decision which the Scottish people are being asked to take, but at the same time a sense of frustration and disappointment at the quality of the public debate which had taken place to date.

• There was a sense of frustration directed at the politicians, but at the same time an understanding of their role in essentially marketing particular causes and positions.

• The sense of frustration had manifested itself in a thirst for knowledge – for information and, perhaps, underlying this need, a search for objectivity; for real insight.

• A sense also however that the quest for knowledge, and information, might only be one part of the answer. Just as important was the right sort of information, in the right quality and quantity (there was a significant risk in information overload and misinformation).

• Moreover, there was potentially a risk in assuming that information of itself would provide insight; the acquisition of information was not a substitute for the exercise of effective judgement and decision making.

• Drawing some of these threads together, it was unclear how people would go about exercising the decision they were being asked to make in the autumn of this year, or indeed how one should go about that decision, responsibly, in a way that did justice to the importance of the question.

• While there was an attractiveness to an evidence-based approach, this could not ultimately remove the inherent uncertainty which surrounded any decision of this sort, or indeed life in general. The important point was in trying to find a mechanism by which, individually and collectively, we could arrive at a decision which would allow us to move forward positively from the current discussion.

• This is where, it was perceived, the role of respectful dialogue would be critical. The emphasis on ‘dialogue’, as opposed to ‘debate’ is deliberate; the latter having a ‘harder’ more adversarial edge which leant itself more to a positional approach and potentially to the exclusion of relevant interests and stakeholders.

• It was important to listen and to seek to understand the perspective and interests of different groups, individuals and stakeholders. There was a power in really trying to put oneself in the shoes of that other individual, group or stakeholder.

• Debate and adversarial process did not naturally lend themselves to this kind of understanding and empathy. The world is not as black and white as this; there will be a range of legitimate and understandable different perspectives, and interests. There is uncertainty. Very little, if anything is actually clear cut.

• Some considerable importance was attached to the roles and interests of those who are in effect disenfranchised by this vote. A number of examples of these people were considered; including children, people living in England, or other parts of Europe or of the World, and those both unable to vote and/or to articulate themselves in a way which might naturally tend to give them a voice in the discussion. Their perspective, interests and voice were nonetheless important. Emphasis was placed in particular on the importance of the insight and interests of children, whose futures will be impacted by the decision we are about to make.

• There was a need for clear leadership, but not necessarily in the traditional sense, in which that term is associated with strength and assertiveness. Modern leadership might come through the clear facilitation of effective dialogue.

• There is a danger in evoking emotive language; the importance of remaining calm and seeking to be ‘measured’ in the course of the discussion.

• A sense, finally, both of the importance of the decision, but also of the way in which it is arrived at; the importance of the process, and of the agreement of process, in establishing parameters within which the discussion will take place. This is important, both in fostering the quality of the discussion, and the quality (and perhaps longevity) of the outcome.

• We must not be complacent about the risk of arriving at a decision in a way – whichever way the vote goes – which causes damage to communities both within and outside Scotland.

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