What if the voters say No?

19 07 2013

In about 14 months time I’ll be able to vote on whether or not I want the Scottish Parliament to separate from the English Parliament. I won’t be just me, of course, millions of Scots will have the same chance. If you are in England you won’t get that opportunity. It’s not like a marriage where both sides goes to relationship counselling and together decide on a separation. It’s more like us in Scotland deciding whether to leave you or not.

I might vote yes, as I tend to feel that decisions should be taken as close as possible to the people who are affected by those decisions. I might vote no if I can be persuaded that the Scottish economy wouldn’t be sufficiently robust on its own. If I see many more comments on facebook like this one,”The majority of the yes bunch are morons that don’t have a clue. Majority are a bunch of racist muppets that don’t want to be associated with England”, I might just move to Canada.

I’m English, so it feels a bit odd to be voting on the future of Scotland. But since I have lived here for the past 25 years and have a Scottish son and intend to live out my days here, moving to Canada notwithstanding, it is actually a vote about my future and the way in which I wish to be governed and not about nationality.

One of the things that has emerged, particularly from those who don’t want independence for Scotland, is the feeling that October 2014 will look just the same for Scotland as August 2014.  It won’t. Nothing will stay the same, whether the vote is yes or no.  The very fact of holding the referendum is like beating egg whites. They are still egg whites at the end of the beating but they look a whole lot different. Scotland will still be Scotland but it will be a whole lot different.

In some ways considering the landscape is easier after a yes vote. All powers will be transferred to the Scottish Parliament. There will be discussions to be made, on Trident and the Pound amongst others, and agreements to be signed, but government will be from Holyrood and power will rest in Edinburgh.

But what if the vote is no. It will not mean carrying on with things in just the same way as we do now. Further powers will, in all likelihood, be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish MPs will still be elected to seats in the Westminster Parliament. Earlier this year the McKay Committee report concluded that MPs from Scottish constituencies should not be allowed to vote in Westminster Parliament on issues that affect only England and Wales. For example, Scottish MPs should not be allowed to vote on matters affecting English Schools as the education systems are separate, and control over education in Scotland is already in powers devolved to Holyrood. This change would be supported by over 80% of English voters so it will be hard for the coalition, or any future Westminster Government to refuse it in the long-term.

On the face of it, fair enough, since English MPs cannot vote in Holyrood and, therefore, cannot have a say in how Scottish Schools are run why should Scottish MPs have an influence in matters concerning the English education system? But how will this change be handled and what effect will it have? The coalition is suggesting that any Bill that affects only England and Wales will have an extra reading. All MPs will be able to engage in the first three stages but in the final vote Scottish MPs will be excluded.

Again, this seems reasonable and fair at first glance but it will have the effect of creating two different types of MP. Since Scottish MPs would not have the right to vote on all Bills passing through Westminster they would become a second-class member and, since they would be unable to vote on all key issues, it would be unlikely that they could sit at the political top table, the Cabinet. And it also raises the question of who decides which pieces of legislation have impact in England only? Not every issue will be as clear-cut as education or the NHS.

And what about the Labour Party. It relies on the large number of Scottish Labour members that are returned to Westminster to form a majority government. It may very well be that Ed Milliband or his successor could become Prime Minister and have a majority of Labour members of parliament. But if the Scottish members were, in effect, non-voting members any changes he wanted to make could be blocked by English MPs. For example, imagine the Labour Party is elected with a decent majority in the house of some 40 MPs. Now imagine that they want to bring forward a Bill to reverse some of the education measures introduced by Michael Gove. Taken that in a majority Labour government there are likely to be over 50 Scottish MPs, none voting MPs when it comes to education issues, the overall majority of 40 is actually a working majority of -10. Labour will find its English legislation impossible to pass.

When I visit my parents in Cheshire they happily express the opinion, mainly as it is repeated endlessly in the Daily Mail, that England pays too much towards the upkeep of Scotland. My mum firmly believes that her taxes paid in England pay for my free prescriptions in Scotland. When they came up from England to meet me in Edinburgh at the end of a charity walk I completed there it was fun to point out on our way back to my home in Crieff that, thanks to her taxes, there is no longer a toll on the Forth Road Bridge.  Setting aside the vexed question of whether this is true or not, these perceptions mean that English voters are already tending towards the view that Scottish spending should come solely from taxes raised in Scotland.  But it is unlikely that it will go this far, rather that some sort of formula will remain in place to allocate monies to Scotland based upon UK Treasury spend. So the amount that the UK treasury decides to spend will still have an impact in Scotland.

I read a good explanation of how this works and it goes something like this; lets pretend that Holyrood is responsible for just three things and  treasury decides to cut funding for all three of these areas in England by 10%. In this instance the block grant to Scotland for provision of these services will be cut by 10%. If the treasury decides to cut just one of the areas by 10%, leaving the others unaltered, the block grant falls by 3.3%.  In each case it is up to the Holyrood parliament then decides whether to cut the service by an amount equal to the reduction in the block grant or to spread the deficit across the services or to make up the shortfall from elsewhere. This is the way the devolved administration works under a block grant system. The point here though is to see that decisions made in Westminster do affect services in Scotland. To put names to services, imagine they are NHS, education and policing. All devolved services. The treasury will put forward proposals for spending in these areas for England. Westminster MPs will debate the issue but Scottish MPs will be unable to vote as they are English matters. But these English matters do affect Scotland in terms of the allocation of block grant. Do you see the problem here? The relationship between England and Scotland will change from one where we pool our resources then ALL MPs decide how the spending is allocated to one where only English MPs decide on these key issues.

And surely it wouldn’t be too long before the parliament in Westminster started to wonder just what use these second-class Scottish MPs really were? Westminster will be acting as an English Parliament with Scotland having representation but no voting rights.  Perhaps at that point England would be looking to sever relations?

The situation post referendum will not be as it is now, in Scotland or in England. There is a lot of talk about what Scotland might look like after a Yes vote but the debate needs to widen so that there is a better understanding of how the political and constitutional landscape will change should the voters say No.

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All in it together?

17 07 2013

So, how’s the coalition’s austerity programme working out for you then?

Chances are, if you are a woman, that the answer is ‘not well’.
Women have been hit hardest by the austerity measures that have been introduced as a response to the meltdown of our financial institutions and subsequent recession.

Women are most disadvantaged by the continued withdrawal of public services, including fewer refuges and refuge places and reductions in support services.

Changes to benefits and tax credits cost women more than twice as much as they cost men, widening the gap between men and women’s income and pushing more women into poverty

Women in low paid jobs and lone-parents, on the whole lone parents are single mums not single dads, bear the brunt of the government’s welfare reforms. Cuts to childcare and reduction of help with childcare costs may push women out of the labour market while cuts to adult social care will increase the burden on unpaid carers. As with lone parents, these unpaid carers are mainly women.

And, like the poor, some things are always with us. Like the persistance of the gender pay gap. In Scotland it is 14% for full-time workers while women in part-time work will be paid a massive 35% less than men.

Women’s jobs have been lost in increasing numbers, primarily as the public sector continues to shrink. Data published by the Local Government Association earlier this month showed that the number of women working in the sector had fallen by 253,600 to 1.43m, while the number of men in local government has fallen by 104,700 to 452,300. Here in Scotland the level of female unemployment is the highest it has been in 24 years. While there may be early signs that growth is returning to some sectors of the economy the jobs lost in the public sector, largely women’s jobs, are likely gone forever.

The shrinking of the public sector is a double whammy for women as it impacts women as workers, and women as service users.

Let’s take as an example the issue of domestic violence, where services for women facing violence are under threat

  • The police and crown prosecution service are both facing budget cuts which may reduce the support available to victims and survivors.
  • Cuts in the police service may lead to even fewer successful investigations and prosecutions
  • The NHS is facing budget cuts which may reduce the level of support available to victims of violence, with more on-going mental, physical and sexual health problems for women
  • Cuts to legal aid reduce the ability of women suffering violence to get the legal help and support they need. Almost two thirds of all legal aid claims are made by women.
  • Cuts to housing benefit make it harder for some women to move area to get away from their attacker, leaving more women trapped in violent relationships

And women are not benefitting fro job creation measures. The proportion of unemployed men is down by 0.5% to 8.2% while the number of women without employment has risen by 0.4% to 7.3% since the coalition government came to power in 2010.

In so many ways the hard won gains for women’s equality are in danger of unravelling. We can argue about the causes of the current economic climate; bankers, hedge funds, reckless lending, but whatever the cause one thing is certain. Women did not cause this crisis but we are paying a disproportionately high price.





Change the system not the women

16 07 2013

“For a woman to get half as much credit as a man she has to work twice as hard and be twice as smart. Fortunately this isn’t difficult.”

We’ll have all heard that saying, and probably most women had a smug smile or snigger of recognition when they first heard it.

Many successful women have even been heard to use it to imply that they must be much better than their male colleagues to be in a similar position of power and influence.

But put the quotation another way, that if a woman and a man are equally smart and work equally hard then the man will enjoy four times the success, it isn’t quite so funny.

And here is a problem with the hero entrepreneur, or the “shero”, a term that is gaining currency amongst this type of entrepreneur; it encourages us to focus on what women need to do and how they need to be to succeed in the current system when what we should be doing is focussing on structural inequalities. Focussing on women who have achieved great things fortifies the illusion that all women could succeed if only they tried harder, stayed later in the office, were more confident.

Last year I was on a discussion panel which followed a presentation of the book, “Beyond The Boys Club” by it’s author. I had agreed to sit on the panel as the meeting was to discuss the vexed question of increasing the numbers of women on corporate boards. I have to confess that I only read the book on the day of the event or I probably would have declined the invitation. That said, the panel debate was excellent but the book itself promulgates the very worst aspects of the current system. It perports to teaching women how to beat the men at their own game when we should be changing the game. The rules of this particular game, enforced by the boys club, led to the near total collapse of the western economy. We need new rules not just a different gender to play the same game.  Maybe we even need a different game altogether.

There is a parallel here with the very worthwhile aim of keeping women safe. It focusses on how to dress, where it is safe to go and places to avoid, times to be on the streets and times to be tucked up in bed.I would hope that the vast majority of people would want women to be unharmed but my point is that we need to focus on creating safe societies, making structural changes,  not just keeping women safe by restricting freedoms. Far better to teach men not to rape than to teach women how to avoid being raped.

We all want to believe that we are living in a fair world, one in which everyone is able to succeed solely on their own merits but we are not.

When women like Sheryl Sandberg stand up and talk about how women can achieve the kind of success she has had she enjoyed she is not addressing all women. She is talking to the very few women who can chose where, and for how long, they work each day. Most women, indeed most men, do not have this luxury. Her experience, as shared in talks and now in her book, may help with tricks and tips to succeed and may smooth the path of a very, very small number of women who wish to follow in her footsteps. But hers is a particular, priveledged journey that very few women, or men, are able to take.

By encouraging the, “if she can do it then I can do it” attitude we fail to address the deficiencies of the system.  Accepting that because one person can do something must somehow demonstrate that the system is OK is wrong.

We are not living in a fair world. Helping a few more women, or men, to struggle to the top of mountain is not the answer. Doing something to change the landscape is.





Diversity – leading by example

3 06 2013

The3rdimagazine is a magazine that, historically, has looked at business issues from a woman’s perspective. While the focus has widened to include co-operative, social and collaborative enterprises and to examine alternative business and economic models it is entirely appropriate that the main issue when we consider diversity here to look at issues such as the representation of women on boards.

However an issue that needs addressing, and quickly, is the lack of diversity at the very top of government in the UK.

A government report published by former Labour Minister Alan Milburn found that while fee paying schools educate just 7% of pupils in the UK they account for;

  • 59% of cabinet ministers
  • 35% of MP’s
  • 45% of senior civil servants
  • 80% of Supreme Court Judges
  • 43% of barristers
  • 54% of leading journalists.

While children of wealthy families have far greater access to opportunity than children from poor families, in everything from gap year internships to ski-ing holidays, education is supposed to be a great leveller. It is supposed to work in allowing children from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed and to compete with their more advantaged peers. It is supposed to create a level playing field. Yet what we now see is the ability to reach the top dictated by what Warren Buffet has called, ‘The Lucky Sperm Club’. Put less prosaically, a society where who your parents are, and then the school they can afford to send you to, is the critical factor in determining your future success.

The lack of diversity amongst our decision makers, with the Prime Minister, Mayor of London, Chief Whip and even the Archbishop of Canterbury, to name but a few, being former pupils of Eton College not only impairs social mobility and perpetuates inequality, it mitigates against diversity due, not least, to confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs. We all do it. I read newspaper articles and facebook posts and watch documentaries that are in line with my existing beliefs and opinions. Even when we do expose ourselves to alternative points of view, that too may be a form of confirmation bias; in that we seek to confirm that the opposition is, indeed, wrong.

Confirmation bias leads us when interviewing to chose candidates that are most like we are. Men are more likely to favour male candidates in the boardroom. This, not poor quality candidates or insufficient number of applicants, is the most likely factor that mitigates against getting more women into these senior positions. It is not necessary for confirmation bias to be conscious for it to work!

In her book, Willful Blindness, Margaret Heffernan argues that the biggest threats and dangers we face are the ones we don’t see – not because they’re secret or invisible, but because we’re willfully blind. We turn a blind eye in order to feel safe, to avoid conflict, to reduce anxiety and to protect prestige.

Both these phenomenon mitigate against increases in diversity. We chose to operate in ways which confirm our existing prejudices and we fail to see that which we choose not to see.

We know that confirmation bias exists so we must do what we can to work against our unconscious or subconscious prejudices. We know that we have a tendency to ignore issues that have the potential to cause conflict or unrest so we must do more to challenge existing structures and systems.

We must all lead by example when it comes to increasing diversity. In our businesses we need diversity. Board diversity helps provide balance to the maverick, testosterone fuelled decision-making processes that brought down the big four banks and other financial institutions. Employee engagement at all levels of the company, and yes at board level, would also be a major positive influence. What we need to create is an environment of rich cultural, gender and social diversity.

And what is true in businesses is just as true in our government. We need a more representative legislature; more women, more individuals who have experience in areas other than just politics and a very good place to start would be by employing fewer public schoolboys.





What is being said is more important than the way it is being said

27 06 2011

As often happens with my blog, two things come together to make me think about a topic.

This week I read a piece in The Guardian that suggested that women “are held back from reaching the very highest levels in business because of the difficulties they find in striking the right tone of language during high pressure meetings.” and last night I watched the latest episode of The Apprentice.

I don’t really like The Apprentice but I am an addict, partly because I tweet, and viewing and dismantling the programme later on line is compulsory, but also because of morbid curiosity – it’s like watching someone walk into a lamp-post or ride their cycle into a bush. You don’t really want to watch but you can’t take your eyes off the impeding crash and can’t help laughing. Last night a young woman, I don’t know her name but she wears too much make-up and a permanent sneer, was in the boardroom with two men; the tecky one and the toffy one as it happens. She hadn’t done very well in the task, she made a few sales and spoke French, a useful but non-essential skill in Paris, but her overall performance was poor.

Her performance in the boardroom was the usual mix of petulance and finger-pointing, both literally and metaphorically, but it was Lord Sugar’s comments that made me sit up and take notice.  He commended her for being ruthless, for being prepared to eat people and spit people them out for breakfast, for being prepared to walk all over people. And Karen Brady said she had put the boys to shame.

So it would appear that the attributes more closely associated with men, aggression and ruthlessness, are what Lord Sugar is looking for.

To return to The Guardian article for a moment, women were seen to use phrases like  “I am probably speaking out of turn, but…” and “sorry to cut across you like that but…” but self-deprecation can lead to women appearing defensive and weak.

But surely it’s not about behaving as men do but about being  assertive without being confrontational.

My contention in the debate that continues about getting more women into the boardroom is that it is not about gender, it is about attitude. If we appoint women who act like men then we may as well just choose men! Even if we adopt a quota system to address the difference in numbers of men and women in the boardroom if the attitudes of the board memebers is just the same as each other then we haven’t truly tackled diversity.

What we need is a society  where what is being said is more important than the way it is being said.





Leadership …. hmmm

6 06 2011

My focus for the past 6 months has been on leadership – of finding and  supporting the authentic voice of women leaders. This quest will  culminate in the Inspiring Women Leaders launch event on 15th June in Edinburgh.

However I’ve always been more interested in where we are heading rather than who is leading so I thought it would be interesting to take a sideways look at leadership.

If we are all heading to the promised land, and we could all clearly see the promised land ahead, I’m pretty sure we could all get there without a leader. The problem, as Moses discovered, comes when the destination isn’t reached quickly enough, or if others think there is a better promised land in a different direction, or if some people move towards the promised land more quickly than others or if people decide that they can’t be bothered going to the promised land after all. And what if the promised land isn’t full of milk and honey when you get there?

Leaders are needed when the destination is distant, unclear, disputed or unattractive.

So, if I wanted to take you somewhere you didn’t want to go, how might I do it? How could I lead you there?

I could extol the virtues of the destination. Believing that the streets are paved with gold has taken many a poor person to London. If the promised land held riches beyond the dreams of avarice most people wouldn’t take much leading! Promise of 72 virgins in heaven can even lead some to kill themselves and others. The problem with this “it will be worth it when we get there” model of leadership is what happens when the destination isn’t as it was published in the brochure?

I could pay you to go there. Isn’t this what happens to most people most of the time? The company needs to reach a destination, a profit target perhaps, and people are paid to get there. In this situation people often don’t even know the destination, they are just rewarded for taking small steps in the right direction each day. This isn’t really leadership, more like crowd management.

I could exagerrate the proximity of the destination. Just like when you take small children on a car trip to the seaside and spend most of the journey saying “not long now, we’re almost there.” The problem here is it is difficult to sustain. How many corners need to be turned without seeing the sea for the lie to be uncovered? And what of the next journey? Even very young children will not believe that Blackpool is 5minutes from Congleton more than once.

I could force you to go – by bullying, threatening and pushing. People can be forced to do the most awful things for fear of what might happen if they refuse. And pushing really isn’t leading is it? And it seems an unlikely option in the 21st century but in practice when we feel that there is no other option open to us we will often take a path that we would otherwise never follow. We are easily, if reluctantly, led.

I could go there myself and bring back stories of my travels. If I also bring back great wealth that would help to attract followers too. The “I can do it, you can do it” school of leadership can inspire many to follow; the magical combination of a charismatic adventurer and increased personal wealth beloved of so many leadership gurus.

I could stay just one step ahead, like Good King Wenceslas with the Page following in his masters steps. The final destination might never be known to the follower. The page never sees the big picture but rather has faith that the King is a good man and will not lead him astray. This messianic mode of leadership is a favourite of big auditorium gurus. But, like Brian, what if they are not the son of Christ? And if you only ever look at the backside of the leader you’ll never glimpse the promised land.And if you intend to lead in this way it is surely micromanagement rather than leadership?

All of these, and probably more, are ways of getting people to go where you want them to, even if they hadn’t thought of going there themselves. The thing about an effective leader is that you are never really sure which of these techniques is being used to make sure that you follow! And an effective leader will make you think that you chose the destination and that you wanted to go there anyway!





Have we learned nothing?

7 04 2011

Have we learned nothing?

We are in the midst of cuts to our public services, falling standards of living and increases in unemployment thanks to the massive recession caused not by ordinary folk like you and me  but, primarily, caused by the greed of bankers.

In all likelihood, they didn’t intend to cause such damage. In fact there was probably no thought for the consequences to anyone other than themselves at all. Their single focus on making money for themselves, earning huge bonuses from taking risks with other peoples money, was what drove them on.

So where did this greed come from?

I’m a child of the eighties. I grew up at a time when Margaret Thatcher had us believe that there was no such thing as society. We were encouraged to earn more and to look out for ourselves, first and foremost. I was not immune and was as guilty as anyone of chasing the extra pound in my pay packet.

Over the years I have come to realise that there is more to life than fast cars but, as a society, we do not appear to have learned that lesson.

I can’t imagine that anyone viewing the car advert, above, would be anything other than disgusted. In a year that has already seen natural disasters, wars, uprisings and conflict across the world we do all know that there is more to life than sexy cars, don’t we?  Yet Volvo, a huge multinational company with a marketing department staffed with highly skilled personell and with a massive advertising budget at their disposal came up with this advertising strategy. They wouldn’t have done so unless they thought that this message would sell them cars. They are certain that enough of us are not disgusted by this call to put cars above all else.

So while most of us do know that there is more to life than cars we just don’t care. Or rather that we don’t care enough.

When I saw the Volvo ad in Waverley Station I was so angry that ……. what? So angry that I took the photograph and wrote this article.

When we read about bankers bonuses and hear their complete indifference to the plight of the rest of the country we are so angry that   ….. what? Why aren’t more of us on the streets to protest about bankers bonuses or the closure of libraries? We do care ….. but not enough.

Despite David Cameron’s assertions to the contrary, we are not all in this together. But we should be. We are all connected. It is very difficult to continue to support the idea that we can have more without someone else having less. At the risk of over-simplifying, cheap chicken comes at the cost of poor animal welfare and cheap trainers come at the cost of child labour.

We know these things but do we care enough to do anything about it?

This month we have asked our regular columnists to look at Women in the Wider World. Read their articles. Read the story of the inspirational Dr Beryl D’souza who is leading the campaign to improve the lives of India’s Dalit population. Find out what is going on in your community and get involved.

At the very least, don’t buy a Volvo.