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Sunday, 17 July 2016

Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon, #indyref2, Brexit – the negotiating process

Yesterday’s blog covered the lead-up to the Brexit situation and the context in which our First Minister must operate to secure the best  interests of Scotland and while delivering on her three separate but related mandates.

Tomorrow, I’ll cover the negotiating dimensions and offer a negotiating analysis as I see the situation. I’ll approach this as I would have approached a negotiating analysis on behalf of an employer or a client in my long career in industry, commerce and in business for myself as an independent management consultant specialising in objective setting, performance management, industrial relations and negotiation and negotiating skills training.

N.B. Diplomatic negotiations have similarities to commercial and industrial relations negotiations - my area of expertise - but have  Byzantine complexities and democratic dynamics not present in the industrial and commercial arena.


My analysis will be as objective as I can make it, but I do have my own views of what I’d like to see, as a committed Scottish nationalist and SNP party member and supporter, so I’ll summarise them briefly as follows-

1. I want an independent Scotland with full EU membership.

2. I want a second independence referendum to be called at such time as The First Minister of Scotland and the SNP Government judge right to call it.

3. I want that judgement to be made by the FM based on all indicators that the time is right, and not driven solely by opinion polls, although I believe they have some relevance. I do not believe that we must be “certain that we can win” because no such certainty can ever exist.

4. I want Scotland to remain in the EU as a full member nation, and ideally as a full member state. Since Scotland can only be a full member state if independent, my interim second best is as a full member nation under the state of UK, i.e. Scotland with all existing EU rights undiluted, including representation by MEPs, but within a Brexited rUK within the United Kingdom.

(I would like Wales and  Northern Ireland to have the same status as Scotland, but that they must achieve for themselves. Nicola is consulting with them, and common cause may be made.)

5. I would be unhappy with a deal, achieved jointly with the UK Brexit negotiating team under David Davis that gave Scotland only some key rights, but without representation as a member nation. I would regard that as a deal-breaker, a breach of Scottish electoral mandates and a trigger for #indyref2

You can skip the last section  and wait for tomorrow’s blog, but you may have to refer back for a definition of terms and core ideas!


Political negotiations, part of diplomacy, differ in some aspects from commercial and  industrial negotiations, but in other key aspects, bear a close similarity to industrial and employee relations negotiations, notably that, in significant part, they are conducted in the full glare of media publicity and that they are accountable to multiple principals rather than to one principal or a single body, e.g. a board of directors. Notionally,  commercial and industrial relations negotiations are accountable to shareholders, but that accountability is rarely exercised fully.

The accountability of a political negotiator – to a Cabinet, to a Government, to party members and to the electorate – is often at its most challenging in the pre-negotiation stage. Witness the 2013/2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, which in one sense was one long prelude to negotiations that never actually took place – the ones that would have followed a YES vote.

Behaviour in the pre-negotiating stage is in itself a form of negotiation, and its essence is posturing and judicious evasion. Perhaps this was best exemplified by the Alex Salmond/George Osborne face-off in the currency union debates and pronouncements that immediately preceded the September 2014 referendum. We’ll never know now if George Osborne was bluffing – he’s yesterday’s man.

Negotiation is a behavioural technique to secure agreement between parties who require joint consent to a course of action where persuasion and/or compulsion or legal remedies have either failed, or are held in reserve, or are not considered acceptable options. (This is an incomplete definition, but it will serve for this analysis.)

The process of negotiation requires movement from best opening positions, and the mechanism for movement is progressive conditionality, e.g. “If you move from your position A, I may be prepared to move from my position B.” The ability to concede or withhold movement from positions is a vital component of the process. The degree of movement on opening positions to closing positions define the spectrum of bargaining, and constitute entry and exit points – from best to least acceptable. Elements in a negotiation – the points on which agreement is sought – may be defined on a scale of importance and urgency. Elements that must be achieved, and must be included in the final deal for a deal to be struck at all are crucial elementsdeal breakers. They are sometimes erroneously and inadequately called ‘red line’ issues.

If the exit point – the least acceptable point – on an non-crucial item is reached without agreement being possible, the item has to be either conceded or abandoned, but negotiation can continue on other items. If the exit point on a crucial element is reached, no overall deal can be reached and a partial deal on the remaining items cannot normally be made. (There are complex tactical and strategic options and mechanisms for dealing with this in certain situations, but they’re beyond the scope of this outline.)