TWO weeks before the referendum, mediation and collaboration experts will meet in Edinburgh to talk about before and after, says John Sturrock
One of the joys of the work that I am privileged to do is that I come across all sorts of really interesting, innovative and thoughtful people in all sorts of circumstances. Being able to bring some of them together is also a privilege.
Under the banner of Collaborative Scotland, we are doing just that on 4 September, exactly two weeks before the independence referendum. A Day of Dialogue is an event which seeks to encourage people to reflect on how to handle the lead-up to the independence referendum, and to look ahead to the period afterwards – understanding the need to work collaboratively and with reconciliation in mind.
Among those lined up to participate are Douglas Alexander MP, shadow foreign secretary, Andrew Wilson, former SNP MSP and journalist, William Ury, world-leading conflict and mediation specialist from the USA, David Melding AM, deputy presiding officer of the Welsh Assembly, Conor Murphy, Sinn Fein MP and former member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Alastair McIntosh, ecologist and writer.
The purpose of the event is not to set out arguments for Yes or No. That is being done elsewhere. This is a more reflective day. We will have keynote conversations with some fascinating people, all of whom are committed to politics and decision-making in this country being done really well. Our theme is collaboration. Whatever the outcome of the referendum, this day will give us opportunities to reflect on how it has been conducted and, more importantly now, as we look forward, on some of the broader issues and how we can work together afterwards. In addition to the keynote conversations, there will be a series of workshops for participants to discuss and explore some of the things that really matter to them.
A real highlight for many of us will be William Ury’s video link from the USA. Many readers will remember that wonderful day in June 2009 when the Harvard professor and international negotiator, who is co-author of the biggest selling book on negotiation, Getting to Yes, and author of one of its follow-up texts, The Power of a Positive No, led a full day workshop in Edinburgh. It was certainly a highlight of my professional life.
William Ury’s books provide great titles for the conversation. As an adviser to presidents and governments and having been involved in some of the toughest negotiations around the world in the past three decades, his observations on how we handle Yes and No and what we might do to find solutions which are truly collaborative are likely to be welcome and precious.
Similarly, the recent book by the deputy presiding officer of the Welsh Assembly, David Melding, The Reformed Union: Britain as a Federation, provokes thought about different ways to deal with the constitutional aspirations of many people within the UK. His conversation, along with Conor Murphy, a Sinn Fein MP and a senior figure in the Northern Ireland peace talks, is likely to be fascinating.
Others will be attracted to the excellent breakfast session on Collaborating across Silos; Energising Scotland, and to the lunchtime conversation with Douglas Alexander and Andrew Wilson.
And, at the end of the Day of Dialogue, we will invite people to commit to reconciliation and respect after the referendum, with a formal signing in Greyfriars Kirk, where so much of Scottish history has been shaped.
A Midnight Vigil will conclude the day, as we anticipate the transition from 18 September to 19 September, whatever the outcome. It seems crucial that we prepare for afterwards, and how we can imaginatively handle differences of view, disappointments and any concerns which are a hangover from events in the lead-up to 18 September. These words by Richard Stengel in his book, Mandela’s Way, sum it up: “Shades of grey are not easy to articulate. Black-and-white is seductive because it is simple and absolute. It appears clear and decisive. Because of that, we will often gravitate toward yes or no answers when a “both” or a “maybe” is closer to the truth… if we cultivate the habit of considering both – or even several – sides of a question, we may see solutions that would not otherwise have occurred to us. This way of thinking is demanding… But the reward… is something that can fairly be described as wisdom.”
The event, to be held at the Grassmarket Community Centre in Edinburgh, is open to all. People can come and go and attend for as long as they wish.
Full details and registration at collaborativescotland.org/day-of-dialogue
• John Sturrock is chief executive of Core Solutions www.core-solutions.com