Building “The UK We Want”

@Quaynotes Choir are now adding U2’s “With or Without You” to our rapidly expanding repertoire. As ever music is one of the prompts that gets me thinking.

Bono may well have sung “With or Without You” relating it to himself and his relationship and tension with rock star celebrity life or it may be it is about Christianity and about living “With or Without You” in terms of the love of Jesus. Only Bono knows what it meant to him. However for me it offers insight into what we have all been going through particularly over the final stages of the Scottish referendum debates and vote i.e. confronting what it is like living “with or without you” [Scotland] and for those in Scotland confronting what it would be like living with or without the UK.

At the end of a truly momentous campaign and week for Scotland and for the UK as a whole it seems to me that the Westminster Senior Leadership Team had simply not worked out that a core issue for resolution was that they [as leaders of the UK] were simply not able to live “With or Without You” under the current arrangements with each of its devolved Nations, not just with Scotland. Living “with” creates loads of complications (like one of those Nations wanting one of their own particular agenda items  really listened to) and living “without” an impossible hole to fill and even the thought of “living without” was really scary.

In essence I believe the Westminster Senior Leadership team had simply not really paid attention to how the other nations have been growing in maturity, capability and confidence and that the one certainty they [Westminster] must act on was change. Complacent maybe in thinking that if they just let the Scots have a referendum then it would all simply go away? Or maybe just imperfect human beings (like the rest of us)? Does it really matter which? We are where we are now with eyes opened big time to the reality of our time and that is what really matters. So now it is all about going forward.

I personally do firmly believe that we are “better together” but also firmly believe we need to bring about open and transparent fairness and justice in every respect for each of our 4 UK Nations. Every nation’s voice needs to be fairly heard and to be a voice of influence. Every Nation and individual within the UK has a right to fair economic national settlements, fair taxation, welfare benefits, employment, pensions etc. As the UK we have simply not kept up in terms of the right “ground rules” needed to ensure fairness, inclusion and true equality for all 4 nations and their individuals; the UK has not been really keeping in touch with its individual members or properly and consistently engaged in continuous learning & improvement and constitutional development.

Alex Salmond as a leader has determinedly and with great passion outlined and pursued his vision, his dream over his political lifetime; he has absolutely always “nailed his colours to the mast”; even in his resignation speech yesterday he said “It’s not about me” and this has always been a core value of his i.e. it never has been about him but always about Scotland and its people about which he cares with palpable passion. He and the people of Scotland have challenged and confronted the constitutional status quo in a professional and democratic way with absolute passion. It has been a fantastic demonstration of confrontation, challenge and building the necessary influence and resultant change to Scotland and to make the UK constitutionally fit for purpose in the 21st century. It has not involved military weapons or force but has absolutely engaged the people (individually and as a nation) in real democracy. (A world lesson here as well?)

Alex may not (in his eyes) have achieved his vision however in my eyes (and I believe in most people’s) he has achieved so much more. He has united a nation in engaging and participating in political debate, brought about active voting at a level not seen since 1951, has brought about what will prove to be major constitutional change on the biggest scale possible in the UK, major constitutional change in Scotland, ensured that not only Scotland’s voice was heard but also that Scotland’s influence has been felt in waves across the whole of the 4 nations of the UK and even more widely across Europe and beyond. It has also, it seems, given England a voice. It has given engagement in a democratic processes new life.

Alex as a person and a leader has grown in stature in my eyes too; matured yet stayed true to his vision that he was passionate about and true to his people that he is equally passionate about; as a leader he has also had the courage and judgement to assess that it is the right time to hand over the baton (we guess to Nicola Sturgeon in reality) and has done so in a dignified and appropriate manner with no “toys being thrown out of prams”. I am sure he feels deep personal disappointment; I am hoping sincerely he will soon leave that behind and be rightfully proud of what he has achieved as a leader. He has indeed been transformational to Scotland and to the UK.

So what can we learn and ensure we achieve in Wales? I am English but definitely Wales is my adopted country of choice and I do these days feel that I am far more Welsh than English; I also feel that Wales and its people have adopted me as one of theirs; I very much share Welsh values; however I am definitely also British and believe we should stay “better and stronger together” because I believe united in collaboration and partnership is so much stronger than being on our own.

It is too easy to say that Westminster has become an elite-led entity that has been controlling the other Nations. If we take David Cameron’s phrase from Friday morning in which he referred to us all as “a family of nations” then I think the family metaphor is a great help to us in understanding why we are where we are and most importantly how we move forward. We do indeed have to move forward at a pace; slow change here is not an option (IMO) but we also need to get it right.

Westminster has perhaps been like a parent who has not really noticed that its teenage children have developed into adults with their own opinions, strengths, ambitions, skills and need for independent living of their own lives and are each building their own “self-mastery”. Instead it [Westminster] has continued to be sort of over-parental in its relationships with them. In parent mode Westminster rule has sort of done the equivalent of relaxing the “evening curfew time” with its Celtic Nations (with Devolution in its different forms) but not truly accepted that they are fully grown and mature “adults” who need to find their own ways forward. That they need to be in control of their individual destinies and in their own individual ways; part of this is about being free to make & learn from their own mistakes. Importantly whilst they are in control of their own lives and nations they also still remain and contribute to the family as a whole, which is the UK, and need to be recognised and acknowledged as an adult voice rather than that of a young child or teenager or junior partner. It seemed that it was only in the last few weeks that suddenly the Westminster senior leaders realised that their “teenage children” had grown up and could not be “told what to do” any more, that the Scottish referendum was not just a kids’ game but was serious adult stuff and that they needed to move into working and communicating and discussing as “adult to adult” to negotiate significant, fair and just constitutional change – together!

Admittedly some of the stuff that has been “offered” so rapidly is bit like quick notes on the back of a “fag packet” but I do believe the offerings are sincere (if not exactly robust at this stage!) and not simply a sap. Westminster has indeed had its light bulb moment and change is here. Individually we all now have to speak up, contribute to the debate and engage politically to ensure that the right (fair and just) way forward is properly worked through for all. I do believe we can together do this. (I believe also that the voice of business that recently spoke up was not about scaremongering or threatening – it was about the pragmatic, harsh economic reality. It is businesses that “bring in our bacon” to allow us to build our civic society and they need to be able to show their leadership by sharing their economic concerns.)

Wales? May I challenge my adopted country? I believe it is time we accept that we too have “grown up” and have become adult and need to accept all the accompanying responsibility that comes with that. Time to stop complaining about Westminster and Barnett Formula and that we are “badly done by” by others and actually learn from Alex Salmond and Scotland that we can also grasp with both hands our opportunity to forge forward and renegotiate our place, including our financial standing and funding within the UK. As a strong nation we really can engage all of our proud Welsh people in creating the “Wales We Want” and also be an equal partner in bringing about the “UK We Want” by being a properly grown up family member [nation] whose voice is heard within that family. (“The Wales We Want by 2050” is a National Conversation contributing to the formulation of the Well Being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill)

Talk of a Welsh independence referendum, should Plaid Cymru come into power in Wales, is totally impractical and unrealistic nonsense IMO (sorry Plaid) but being properly adult and grown up, accountable for what is ours and a strong voice in our UK family, while loving and celebrating our own culture, language, context and opportunities is where we are at. Let’s get our serious passion and “hywl” back and grasp once and for all our in-house issues that we need to resolve and are essential if we are to build the “Wales We Want” with pace and energy. At the same time we must be a proper grown up family member of the UK and actively part of the “UK We Want”.

“The UK We Want”:

From the last weeks of campaigning, passion, engagement and confrontation of the status quo lets all sign into our newly defined value that we have learnt together as 4 individual Nations i.e. that “we can’t live without each other” and dispose of the tired old elephant in the room which was issues relating to not being able to live “with or without you”.

We now need to be 100% united in finding the best way of how we all do live together (as well as being individual nations growing into what is right for each of us); “The UK We Want” must surely be a grown up family of all 4 Nations who are woven together interdependently.

Stephen Covey’s 7 habits of highly effective people give us and our political leaders a great model to use in order to create our paradigm shift in moving to “The UK We Want”:

The first 3 habits of

  1. Being proactive,
  2. Begin with the end in mind and
  3. Put first things first

takes the individual nations from dependence to self-mastery, which is a great word I believe and so much better than using the word “independence”. The next 3 habits help us to work together better and to be interdependent:

4. Think win-win

5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood and

6. Synergize

and the final habit is to:

7. Sharpen the saw i.e. the habit of continuous improvement in both the personal and interpersonal spheres of influence.

It is essential that great management and leadership are both utilised to the full to build “The UK We Want” – we won’t get there without using them!

The Wales We Want is all about engaging people in Wales in democratic processes. OK we’ve not cracked the level of engagement that the Scots have but we’ve got a great process and made an effective start in engagement through conversations. However put the learning from both countries’ debates together then that learning can help shape the new campaign and movement that is needed to create “The UK We Want”.

Creating “The UK We Want” needs us to be transactional and transformational as leaders – and that means all of us (as the people of Scotland showed). Leadership is everywhere – not just at the top. #getengagedinthedebate

(I just love Scala & Kolacny Brothers version of U2’s “With or Without You”

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