The Act of Union, 1707, still nailed in my head from school history. Three centuries on, could we be about to tear it up? My personal choice would be to stay together, but just think about the party celebrations if Scotland votes ‘Yes’, it’d be a right old knees-up that would go on for weeks.
One of the most interesting conversations I’ve had on the subject was on the Glasgow train out of Euston on the way to Manchester last week. A young Scottish bloke, partially obscured by a ziggurat of lager cans, held forth on how Scotland, he said, was literally on the rise. It was an interesting encounter, before finishing his cans around Macclesfield, calling us English all bastards and falling asleep.
Those of us who live in the north of England look south and see the same thing as the Scots – an England effectively shrunk to the London agenda within the invisible force-field of the M25. Much of it is owned and managed remotely by billionaires on the other side of the planet, capitalism’s own geography creates archipelagos of conspicuous wealth, but the North is not on their map of the world.
And who presides over England, this dichotomy of breadline and bunga-bunga? Why, those quintessential Englishmen from Bullingdon. Food banks have proliferated during the course of Cameron’s administration, and we have a chancellor with a sheepdog’s haircut.
I propose a referendum for the North of England. I’m thinking the Scottish border is a marker, and we slam the door at Stockport to create a tense, cold war-like Berlin Wall of the North. OK, it gets a bit hazy. Berwick belongs in England, and we’d want Whitby, but I’d let New Scotland have Leeds. I think there’d have to be a separate vote for the North East to be honest. Feelings could be volatile and the last thing we need is a Geordie Balkans.
People of the North, it’s time to choose. Here’s a shibboleth for you – the word ‘supper’. If it suggests an informal meal in someone’s kitchen involving salad, white wine and moaning about school fees, you’re not in my gang. If it suggests something battered with chips and gravy, you’re North of English.
At this point the outcome looks like a tossup, although I can’t see any substance to chief agitator Salmond’s position on any aspect of his economic, business or monetary manifesto. The risks of going it alone are huge. They may think that Scotland can become another Canada, but it’s more likely that it would end up becoming Spain without the sunshine.
Everything that has happened in Europe since 2009 with the Euro demonstrates that sharing a currency without sharing a government is dangerous, fiscal and banking integration are essential elements of economic stability. An independent Scotland using sterling would be in even worse shape than Euro countries, which at least have a say in how the European Central Bank is run.
I don’t think independence a daft notion or some kind of fatuous affectation, I think there is a reasonable case for it. It matters even if you accept that the Scottish government’s prospectus for life after independence is only one of many possible futures, none of which can be decided until independence is achieved.
But if you are to vote on independence it should be done on the basis of a moderately honest prospectus with clear statements of facts, not emotional cries of Braveheart ‘Freedom’. The independence conversation has been sustained and animated, but no clear economic prospectus is offered by the Scottish government. A lot of people are voting on the vision of a cuddly Brigadoon Scotland, on a deeply cynical and meretricious set of promises that simply cannot, not even when assisted by great dollops of wishful thinking, be delivered.
It is not possible to spend more, borrow less and tax the same despite Salmond’s ‘optimism strategy’. That, however, is what the SNP propose. Lower borrowing rates, 3% annual increases in public spending and no changes to the overall level of taxation. It is incredible. It supposes that voters must be easily gulled to swallow anything, no matter how fanciful. A nonsense wrapped in a distortion inside a whopping great lie. Do the maths!
Sure, many of the details could be worked out and it’s certainly possible that after an initial period of difficulty Scotland could emerge as a stable and contented country. It needn’t be a disaster. Nevertheless, the growing pains would be acute and I think it best to recognise this reality. I know politicians can never say they don’t know the answer to something but there are times when pretending you have all the answers is worse than admitting the obvious truth that you don’t.
So I think of E Pluribus Unum and I think that’s a motto that applies to the UK too, and so does its opposite: within one, many. I like that at Waterloo the Scots Greys, part of the Union Brigade, charged into the French lines to the cry of ‘Scotland Forever’. Perhaps this is romantic and sentimental, but here’s the thing: Scotland is different from England but it is not separate from it. It’s stirring emotions, no more so than Gordon Brown who came close to tears in a passionate speech rallying against the SNP’s healthcare ‘lie’.
But if any part of the UK is deserving of separate status, it is the North of England as I suggest earlier. We’re a world apart from those Home Counties types who glance at the Times crossword on the commute home, who keep Buckinghamshire’s wine bars in business, the golf clubs ticking over, and the personal trainers – who Mrs G’n’T utilises between school drop off and teeth-whitening sessions – keeps busy.
The North is closer to heaven than it is to London. Bounded by the sea on both sides, it has its own dialect, cuisine, ales, customs, sports and wildlife. All it is lacking is independent governance. Where would you rather be, in the smog, shuffling elbowing Boris Johnson in the crowds at Chelsea Flower show, or breathing in the clean, pure, damp air on Lancashire moors? Ah, Lancashire, you beautiful beast! Your rolling, rugged hills, magnificent moors and stunning, jagged coastline, your luscious landscape. I’m suddenly wondering why we didn’t put up border controls decades ago.
The seat of the Industrial Revolution, the county that made Britain great, and we still have plenty of industry to keep us going today, plus great football teams and music – and those who protest that Liverpool and Manchester don’t count, Lancashire’s boundaries used to encompass both cities and as a new North we would seek to correct the ‘historical mistake’, as Mr Putin would say, of allowing them to be stolen from us in the Metropolitan Reshuffle Scandal of 1971. Lancashire is the county upon which Britain’s cultural pillars have been built – factories, pubs and football. Not only that, but the people are warm and honest too.
In contrast and fundamentally, warmth and honesty are missing from both sides of the referendum debate. Much of the argument has been profoundly dispiriting and depressing tit-for-tat from both sides. I waited to hear someone convey something energising and optimistic about their proposal, but nothing, not even a bat-squeak of warmth. Both sides have the demeanor of an undertaker telling you bad news.
Both sides deliver their cases to the bleak tattoo of a single drum: we can’t, we can’t, we can’t; the risks, the risks, the risks; they’re wrong, they’re wrong, they’re wrong. It was like listening to a seven-year-old who doesn’t want to go to school in the morning. By the end, I had an urge to hug my dog and tell her everything is going to be ok really.
Convincing voters to ‘Yes’ in the referendum is like when you’ve come up with a fantastic idea for a new product. Now you need to convince everyone to support it against other products, so, how can you get everyone onside? Influencing others is challenging, which is why it’s worth understanding the psychological principles behind the influencing process. This is where it’s useful to consider Robert Cialdini’s ‘Six Principles of Influence’ model.
The ‘Six Principles of Influence’ were created by Robert Cialdini, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University. He published them in his respected 1984 book ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’. Cialdini identified the six principles through experimental studies of what he called ‘compliance professionals’ – salespeople, fund raisers, recruiters, advertisers – people skilled in the art of convincing and influencing others.
The six principles are as follows:
1. Reciprocity We generally aim to return favours, pay back debts, and treat others as they treat us. According to the idea of reciprocity, this can lead us to feel obliged to offer concessions to others if they have offered them to us because we’re uncomfortable with feeling indebted to them. For example, if a colleague helps you when you’re busy with a project, you might feel obliged to support her ideas for improving team processes.
To use reciprocity to influence others, you’ll need to identify your objectives, and think about what you want from the other person. You then need to identify what you can give to them in return i.e. where is the ‘win-win’.
2. Commitment (and Consistency) We have a deep desire to be consistent. For this reason, once we’ve committed to something, we’re more inclined to go through with it. For instance, you’d probably be more likely to support a colleague’s project proposal if you had been invited into the initial dialogue.
If you’re selling a new product, sell a very small quantity, a ‘taster’, which makes it easy for people to change their mind once they’ve bought it. Buying the product is the early commitment, making it a small transaction removes risk and makes the decision easier in the first place.
3. Social Proof This principle relies on our sense of ‘safety in numbers’. We assume that if other people are doing something, then it must be OK. We’re particularly susceptible to this principle when we’re feeling uncertain, and more likely to be influenced if the people we see seem to be similar to us. That’s why commercials often use mothers rather than celebrities.
You can use this principle by creating a buzz around your idea or product highlight the number of people using it, use testimonials, encourage people to talk about it using social media, and publish case studies with current customers to demonstrate its success.
4. Liking We’re more likely to be influenced by people we like. Likability comes in many forms – people might be similar or familiar to us, or we may just simply trust them. People are more likely to buy from people like themselves, from people they know and respect.
When pitching a new product and persuading the market, ensure that you put in time and effort to build trust and rapport with customers and people you work with, and with consistency. Develop your emotional intelligence and active listening skills, and remember that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach when it comes to relating to others.
5. Authority We feel a sense of duty or obligation to people in positions of authority, this is why advertisers of pharmaceutical products employ doctors to front their campaigns, and why most of us will do most things that our manager requests, even when we don’t agree with them.
You can use both your own authority, and the authority of others, as influencers. To use authority, get support from influential and informed people, and ask for their help in backing your product. For marketing, highlight well-known and respected customers, use comments from industry experts and research results.
6. Scarcity This principle says that things are more attractive when their availability is limited, or when we stand to lose the opportunity to acquire them on favourable terms. For instance, we might buy something immediately if we’re told that it’s the last one, or that a special offer will soon expire.
With this principle, people need to know that they’re missing out if they don’t act quickly – limit the availability of stock, set a closing date for the offer, or create special editions of products.
The name of the game in the business world is persuasion, the goal of any business is to find, win and keep customers. You can use these principles whenever you want to influence or persuade new or existing customers. Some 90% of selling is conviction, 10% persuasion; don’t raise your voice, improve your argument. The most important persuasion tool you have in your armoury is your integrity. I’m not sure either side in the Scotland debate has really thought about how to structure their points of view to create genuine influence
In three days’ time Alex Salmond could do what Thomas Jefferson said he always preferred to do – begin the future of his country rather than just dream about its past. Has he done enough to persuade and influence, has he done enough to pass the ‘Renton test’? Salmond has the cunning and ability to whip up populist fervour when it comes to portraying Scotland as the wronged party in an unhappy relationship, but for me his hectoring style carries no charm, guile or charisma – and has no influence on me nor any persuasion – yet he wants divorce and he wants to keep the joint bank account!