The past week and the upcoming referendum on Thursday has seen the debate between inners and outers twist and turn. On the same day as the appalling murder of Jo Cox MP we say the advert showing Migrants queuing up at the border with the caption ‘EU at breaking point’. True the language on both sides had become more vitriolic and splattered with half truths and suppositions. Then suddenly out of tragedy comes calls for a more benign less aggressive engagement of those in and on the outside of the debate, and indeed within politics generally. We should learn to respect if not love those whose views are very different from our own, and when all’s done and one side has succeeded and one side lost, we should continue this aurora of positive engagement as we are interdependent on each other – as families, communities, regions, nations and continents. Whilst I make no bones about my standing as an advocate for remaining in the EU, what can mediators learn from these runes.
I have over the years been following the conversation that Scottish mediator John Sturrock has had with his readers. Before and at the time of the Scottish referendum on independence the binary nature of the choices produced such diametrically opposing choices such that the rhetoric we see now in the current referendum became more viscous and disrespectful of each other. Given a choice of yes or no isn’t ideal; some of us thought that in the Scottish referendum a middle option of more devolved power outside outright independence would have romped home. Similarly realpolitik to me sounds as if in this debate there ought to be such a third option; Europe needs to reform itself to survive in the long term, and that needs the courage to change the status quo. But of course we don’t get that – binary questions refer to binary positional answers – in or out; yes or no. Doing deals behind smoke glass windows is what I imagine generates most executive decisions; essentially that’s undemocratic particularly where big choices in life are concerned. So a yes or no to Trident might be of immense importance to some, and to others it becomes something that governments get on and do, or undo whatever. Parliament provides the checks and balances here against the activities of the executive far more effectively than for instance Congress does in America.
So on Thursday we will get the opportunity to stay or leave the EU. This is such a big question effecting so much of our lives and those of our children the debate has generated more heat than at times genuine enlightenment. Had we in Europe all been able to work together to achieve the reforms that the EU needed we may well have never got here – back to doing deals in smoke filled rooms. Had the Syrian migrant crisis not broken as it did last summer, the pictures of thousands of would be new entrants to the EU wouldn’t be on our TV screens and on Farage’s adverts. It is apparent that migration has risen up fivefold in the list of priorities topping the financial arguments. Mass movement of people connotes visions of invasion, changing the national identity, of having to support the stranger in our midst and share valuable national resources. This encourages colourful language and exaggerated claims. My cousin stands for UKIP in the last elections; he’s a good chap and I get on well with him. But he uses language that is intended to shock like the EU as a ‘disaster zone’ and ‘getting our borders back’ (as if we had somehow lost them. Sadly similar language has been used by the Remainers as passions run high, and very healthy it is because it gets people engaged in the sort of debates that goodness knows the English haven’t really been used to. I bet that turnout will be 75-80% far more than with general elections. So engagement in argument is a plus; but losing the plot and using language intended to incite, or mislead, or set the fear of God in people listening to it – all that is a negative result. It is often the same in facilitation work where people are asked to state their case, and they are oft inclined to do so in such a way as to irritate their opponents who then respond with interest. So you can have a binary debate on very difficult questions, and still have it without the sting in the tail.
So where does the debate leave us. Obviously on Thursday some folk are going to be cock-a-hoop and others will be appalled. But the positive quality of the debate and level of engagement must be nurtured. That’s where the middle men can be extremely useful – the supporters of the Third way, there to facilitate a possible solution to any given problem. So in the current debate these may not be those making the extreme remarks; they might be politicians and administrators, bankers and businessmen who want certainty and a degree of finality whatever the result. Mediators are not prone to use the word ‘facilitator’ as often as they should. There are facilitators at all levels of society – in the workplace, in local government, in the civil service and indeed even amongst the politicians as when all is said and done and the banners are rolled away, the word bites forgotten, and the red lines blurred, those in authority need to get off their high horses, and sit around the table to agree mutually acceptable solutions whether that be reforms within Europe, or relationships determined outside Europe. We and indeed they must recognise that we are interdependent in making important decisions that affect all of us in the ways we conduct business between countries, in the way we run politics, fight international terrorism and crime, protect the environment, conduct wars and assist those affected by wars – the list goes on. There needs to be a massive cultural shift from narrow nationalism and independence to strategic partnerships and sustainable interdependence. The opportunities will be ginormous for anyone involved in the conflict resolution world. In this new world whatever it is, politics economics and social relations need respectful dialogue – listen, be genuinely informed or respectfully different, leading I hope to more holistic less partisan decisions. If the appalling murder of Jo Cox has a lasting legacy, this will be it.
21st June 2016.
With very best wishes
Anthony Glaister FCIArb
Mediator, arbitrator, and adjudicator
Hawk Creative Business Park
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