2007 - 2022

The Maybes

When I first heard Nicola Sturgeon’s Speech on the 31st January my initial feeling was one of deflation. I wanted to be fired up! Ready to go! Then I reflected on why? I was both these things, I had been ever since 2014. What did I expect from her? A confirmed Referendum date? All that would have done is frightened off the maybe’s, panicked the regular Independence supporters and revved up the impatient Yessers who do not need revving up.

I thought about some of the things she had said that actually resonated with me; firstly,

“There are many people who voted No in 2014 now thinking about independence differ-ently in light of Brexit……..We must show that we understand the complexity of the is-sues they grapple with and that for many emotions will be mixed.”

For me these are the Maybe’s, the very people we need to engage with; secondly,

”Open and frank discussion about what the people across our country want for them-selves, their families and communities, and how best to achieve it …That is the task of every pro-independence activist around the country.”

We have to step outside our Yes bubbles and start talking to those people who might be thinking differently but haven’t quite made the move. For myself, and my fellow co-ordinators in Imagine Scotland (our project) we recognise it will involve employing empathic listening. This means listening to people with a view to understanding them. Most people ‘listen with the intent to reply’. They do not quieten their own minds enough to actually hear what the other person is saying. They listen to them through the filter of their own life experience and have already prepared an answer before the other person has finished speaking.

Empathic listening requires switching off all our preconceptions, the voices inside our head and simply listening to what the person in front of us is saying. This is not easy to do and we all struggle, particularly with someone whose views seem diametrically opposed to ours. What we have to remember is whilst we think Independence is the only choice, not everyone sees it that way. Their point of view is as valid to them as ours is to us.

It is not within our right to mock it. This is not a game.

Yes, we are hoping to re-frame their take on Scotland’s future, but ultimately we are respecting them as individuals and ensuring they feel validated as such. We are seeking their thoughts on Scotland, what they want for it and hopefully looking to achieve common ground through reframing.

Sometimes even the process of just listening, the realisation, for them, that they are comfortable with us, is enough to open the door to future conversations. I have had people say it was so good to have a conversation about Scotland without having politics rammed down their throat. The other positive is that we grow to understand what it is they are concerned about and can ensure we provide the information to help ameliorate this. In all of this we must remind ourselves that there are those whom we will not change and simply accept this. Life would be boring if there was no political opposition after all!

Clearly empathic listening and reframing involve a range of skills such as active listening, awareness of body language and tone of voice, which is why, at this point, honesty has to come to the fore. There are some people who cannot do this. Their political passion is too strong and they would find it difficult not to proffer their own opinion, hide how they feel or get angry. As Fabian Zuleeg, the chief executive of the EPC, said in a social media post last week, when welcoming Nicola Sturgeon to Brussels “To many of those who responded to this tweet: I don’t care what side you are on but abuse is not an argument, vitriol is not witty and prejudice simply discredits anything you are saying.”

There are people who are unaware of how they present to others and do not understand how their facial expressions, tone of voice and conduct are not conducive to empathic conversation. This is where the groups, of whom we are all members, are so important. Everyone has their skills within these groups and it is about recognising them. Only those who are able to be empathic should speak to the maybe’s, otherwise we frighten them away and end up with the wrong reputation. We need to be seen as accepting of all and open to discussion.

This also refers to our discourse on social media which can become very vitriolic. It is so easy, when you are not face to face with someone, to let loose. Again we need to remember that we are, in effect, ambassadors for our country here as much as anywhere. Recently a friend and I were talking to each other about this and frantically casting our minds back to recent online conversations! Did we let the occasional swear word out!! It is so hard sometimes not to feel your emotions rise and to tell someone exactly what you think in no uncertain terms. Just remember, you have no idea who they are. Keep practising the empathic discourse if you can. Use the polite words. You never know when there might be a ‘maybe’ out there just waiting for a safe place to land.


Image credit: Rosie Balyuzi


Comments (19)

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  1. John M Bryden says:

    Good post, and very good points.

  2. Derek Cameron says:

    We need more of this kind of thinking. Listen to the people we know who may be wavering and help them do their own research.
    They can make the leap themselves when weight of evidence is irresistible .Thank you.

  3. Daniel Raphael says:

    Wisdom and good advice that extend far beyond the issue of Scottish independence, and indeed beyond only politics; “empathic listening” is valuable when relating to all but the ideologue and those who merely bellow.

  4. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    A sensible posting.

    When circumstances change, sensible people reconsider their approaches. We have had Brexit (as far as it goes at present), we have had a UK GE which gave a large majority to the Conservatives in England, and, hence, the UK. The SNP won a very high percentage of the vote in Scotland and more than 80% of the seats. In Northern Ireland, for the first time ever the unionist parties won only a minority of seats and pro-independence parties won a majority, in the Irish Republic, SF obtained the largest share of first preference votes and has the second largest number of seats, in the UK, Labour is still struggling, not just to find a new leader, but also a set of coherent policies, we have had three opinion polls showing small majorities for independence in Scotland and a majority in favour of a second independence referendum (although no majority on a particular time scale, there has been a Westminster Government reshuffle, with a major resignation, there has not been a UK budget, the SG Finance Minister behaved stupidly, etc.

    Therefore it is reasonable to reappraise how we deal with advancing the case for independence. There are. already some welcome signs of constructive thinking such as Commonweal’s suggestions, there is the possibility of taking the ‘legality’ of the SG calling a referendum to the courts, there is renewed discussion about ways in which the 1707 union Act can be used to facilitate independence.

    I know a number of people whose pro-union stance of 2014 is now shakier. These are thoughtful individuals and, like all of us, have a degree of ego-involvement, in their previous stance, and so a helpful, encouraging and non-condescending strategy is needed.

  5. SleepingDog says:

    This is presumably how marketing people sell a product, anyway. I am not sure I like empathic listening described as a means to a narrow political objective.

    “Life would be boring if there was no political opposition after all!” I think life would be *totalitarian* if there was no political opposition at all. I wouldn’t even joke about such things in selling Independence. It gives a creepy vibe, as if you would much prefer a totalitarian Scotland to whatever-the-hell the British Empire is dressed up as today.

    I was reading a science fiction novel recently, and there is a point where a government spook has to convince a liberal student spy-conscript to back the cause of a surveillance-state that was only nominally democratic. The spook takes the student (literally) out of her world, and shows her compelling evidence of an enemy and threat that she had never been aware of. In some ways it is done as a trick. Yet essentially it is about giving someone more information to expand their worldview, identify the real enemies and gravest threats, and let them make up their own minds where their loyalties lie. (the novel is more complex, but the basic abstract idea stands)

    So instead of pushing the ‘solution’ of Independence, I would give people more accurate information, convey that asking better questions is the essence of an independent mindset, show (demonstrating some critical thinking) but do not tell the nature of the enemy and threat, and let them make up their own minds. If they think similarly, they may come to the conclusion that Independence is the best way forward, not to end a political discussion, but to make political discussion (how we arrange to live in groups large enough to contain strangers) thrive (or as Lesley Riddoch put it, Blossom).

    1. Valentine Scarlett says:

      Hi, essentially this is what I am saying but in order to start the conversation one has to engage in active listening. Accept the individual from where they are at. You can have all the ‘accurate information’ you like and be as non-threatening as possible but until you engage with them in their ‘frame’ and empathise with where they are then they probably will not listen.I do not see empathy as about ‘narrowing political objectives’ but actually broadening them, both yours and the person you are speaking to. They have a view of the world that is different to yours but perhaps not that different if they are in the ‘hovering’ between Yes and No vote. What you are gaining is an added understanding of another perspective and then they may well seek out more information either from you or other sources.
      My comment re life with out political oppisition etc was tongue in cheek!

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Valentine Scarlett, I think people might be less willing to engage with activists they view as zealots. If they feel you are out to persuade them without yourself being persuadable, this is an unequal partnership in discussion, a power imbalance, not friendly chat. Any random person you meet may have vast or little political experience. If you are interested in politics, you should be making the most of such learning opportunities and not just to exploit them for victory at the polls.

        Anyway, the last point is not frivolous. I know people who have lived under ‘totalitarian’ regimes, and I value their political insight, which seems sharper to me than the average Briton’s, and their outsider views on British politics are often full of useful insights. The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) and postwar Japan may have had different systems, but the outcome was much the same: an extended period of one-party rule. The people who may embrace Scottish Independence in theory may be concerned that it may become a Parliamentary one-party state under the SNP. I do not think that is likely, by the way, unless the SNP has significant outside support, from a foreign power (like the USAmerican Empire, say) or corporate sponsorship (George Kerevan’s article on SEPA is highly relevant here) or a neoliberal EU, or the like. If that is a concern for people, they need to have good reasons (not the promises of current or past SNP leaders) that the SNP will not be able to dominate post-Independence Scottish politics. That is not a simple task. Many independence campaigners are invested in projecting a strong, popular image of the SNP in order to will Scottish elections and thereafter a winnable referendum. The point is to show that SNP strength will be temporary, and if their party is shown to have become corrupted by power, it will be swept away after Independence. A future Scottish Constitution will be of significant use here, which is as good as reason to suggest Scots need to get turned on to politics as any.

        1. Valentine Scarlett says:

          I would not see post Independence as being totalitarian ie SNP dominated. In fact once Independence was established I would imagine there would be no need for the SNP as such. I would hope that a number of reasonable parties would emerge that would enable healthy debate and growth within the country. At this point apart from the Green party I am not too sure what party would develop that would attract me! Time will tell. Your point in regards to turning people onto politics is a good one. That is something that Imagine Scotland try to do. Whether they vote for Independence or not is immaterial, it is their right to choose. Hence the value of open discussion.

          1. John B Dick says:

            Maybe it isn’t Scotland that needs independence so much as the branch offices of the UK parties.

            That’s going to be an instant result of an Indyref2 YES vote.

  6. Dougie Harrison says:

    A most timely and important contribution. I made similar points in a recent contribution to a discussion about the welcome moves towards us, eventually, by many of my former comrades in the Scottish trades union and labour movement. Some are just tentative baby steps; unions and Labour party figures endorsing the democratic inevitability of indyref2 does NOT mean that they (yet) support independence. But these are welcome moves, abandoning the reactionary unionist hegemony of Gordon Brown. Over the years since 1999, and Blair’s subsequent illegal Iraq invasion, numbers of previous Labour supporters, myself included, have switched to independence. We need more.

    I remember how long it took in the 1960s and 1970s to win trades unions, and eventually even the Labour party in Scotland, to support devolution… although the betrayal of the first devolution referendum meant we had to wait another two decades for it. Sometimes organisations can take much longer than individuals to alter long-held sclerotic policy positions. But the majority of trades union members are our friends, not our enemies.

    And after we finally win independence, it’s not impossible that a truly Scottish labour party will emerge… and may eventually become the party of government in an independent Scotland.

    Oh, and no: I was never personally a member of Labour. But I know who my potential political friends are.

    Dougie Harrison

    1. John B Dick says:

      Between 1951-52 and 1956-57 (that’s before Tony Blair was born), I was told in great detail .about the “official [Scottish?] Labour party policy” for a Home Rule parliament for Scotland “to be enacted by the next Labour government.”

      Over four decades later, my informant became the first First Minister in the parliament exactly as he had described it to me.

      I think it likely that some of the work on Regional Lists, Constituencies, population etc. was done in the 1940’s or even before 1939 for the 1950 plebiscite.

      If not every trade unionist and labour supporter was well informed about Founding Principles and the seating arrangements in the chamber, I can understand that they might not have had the expert tuition I had in such things,

  7. john leggett says:

    nice to be nice

  8. John Gourlay says:

    Aye. Listening is extremely important. While I will always support Independence for all natioons even the English.
    I have a deep interest in why people would actually vote to be subservient a different government.
    The Labour party say they have been LISTENING for years.
    But they do not even now accept Scotland’s right to have an Independence referendum except Rebecca Long Bailey.
    She does not wish to see Scotland or England to become 2 separate countries fine, that is her choice.
    The other 2 up for the leadership of the Labour party simply have not listened to the voices of many of the Scottish people.
    Not necessarily the majority but many 45 % or more.
    So if you are a Unionist then you vote for a Unionist party.
    Therefore a Unionist Socialist in Scotland will vote for the Tories quite sensibly
    and I would say rightly if Rebecca Long Bailey does not become the next Labour leader.
    If you support Brexit then the job has been done by Boris.
    Brexit seems to be the main reason people many Labour voters in the North of England voted Tory last December.
    Sure everyone in the UK had been victims of a prolonged Fascist campaign against Mr Corbyn because he was a Socialist.
    They same type of propanganda that Geobells used.
    It is extremely suspicious some people in the UK did not point this out on the UK media.
    However the point I wish to make is about Listening.
    Labour lost,in my opinion, simply because they have not listened to the Scottish people or the people of the North of England.
    Both essentially have a great percentage of voters who eclipse any nomal Westminster result.
    So if you stop listenig to people you get what you deserve.

    1. Dougie Harrison says:

      I am afraid, John Gourlay, that your lack of understanding about how people change, and how they eventually change the parties of which they are members, is clearly displayed here.

      It’s not just Rebecca Long Bailey of the current UK Labour leadership candidates; Starmer has also refused to rule out a Labour government accepting that the Scots Parliament should have the right to determine whether or not we have another indy referendum. (Refusing to rule it out means he 99% supports the policy; he’s just
      being careful; he IS a lawyer after all.)

      Other significant figures in, or heavily influencing, the Labour Party in Scotland by making similar recent public statements include Monica Lennon MSP, former Springburn MP Paul Sweeney, the Scottish leadership of public sector union Unison, and the retiring General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, my old comrade Grahame Smith.

      Perhaps you have to have deep personal experience of how the labour and trades union movement works, or be an accomplished historian, to understand this; but the brave wee expressions of support for democracy (all the above have called for is for the Scottish Government to be allowed to organise a legal referendum; not for a YES vote) mean that opinion is indeed shifting towards a yes vote. In this they are merely accepting the reality that significant numbers of Labour members and previous Labour voters, have supported independence since at least the 2014 referendum.

      Resorting to slagging those who don’t yet agree with you Is NOT going to win them to support independence. Maybe some will not be convinced by seeing huge AUOB demonstrations either, although I am sure such demos do help. Engaging people in discussion and using logical (and sometimes emotional!) argument are how we move from about 50% supporting independence now (and remember it was below 30% when Salmond won Cameron to supporting the 2014 referendum), to the 60% and more which makes the outcome of the next referendum inevitable.

      The quickest way to move from about 50% now, to 60% and more in the near future, is to talk to those Labour-voting socialists who do not yet support independence. They usually at least profess to be democrats, which is more than can be said for many right-wingers.

      Dougie Harrison

      1. Jo says:

        RLB didn’t dismiss Scotland making its own decision. The other two did. RLB isn’t for Scottish independence but she’s of the view that the people of Scotland should decide on that, not a Westminster Government.

        Nandy is another kettle of fish altogether! She favoured Spain’s way of dealing with “nationalism”.

        1. Jo says:

          I meant to mention Starmer too. I found him shifty on the subject of Scotland. Very shifty. RLB, although unlikely to win because the media dubbed her “continuity Corbyn” from the off, has been clear that she believes Scotland’s future is for Scotland to decide.

  9. Bob Kirk says:

    I have always found the best way to bring someone around to your way of thinking is to gently question them about their beliefs. This will make them feel that you care what they think. As each point is made by them, nod wisely, put on a sympathetic face and say, “But what about…” or “But don’t you think…”
    This way you can make it seem like the new thoughts that appear are entirely their own and not forced on them.

    Try it. And try imagining yourself in their position. Think what things need changed (there will always be something).

    If you wan’t to befriend a wild animal (no compariaon intended) you place the food closer to it than to yourself. That lets them learn to trust you.
    Let the ideas flow from them…softly. That way any conversion will be real and lasting.

    1. DAVID SMART says:

      Words of wisdom indeed Bob.
      After nearly two decades of living a vegetarian life, I chose to become fully vegan.
      I can feel the meat eaters hackles rising already at the mention of that word. Think Nationalist to Union supporting folk, then ramp it up.
      Entering my new lifestyle with an evangelical zeal and getting involved in animal rights activism, I took every opportunity to “educate” friends, family, work colleagues and the general public of slaughter house practices, the fur trade and why living a plant based life would be better for them and the planet.
      No matter what the facts and figures, it mainly fell on deaf ears. Friends avoided me, family berated me and I couldn’t understand why they chose to ignore the suffering and cruelty.
      The way to hearts and minds is, as you have described Bob, asking questions.
      Why do think….? How do you feel when you see…? What would you change to make things better?
      Self determination and veganism. Kindred spirits. There’s food for thought.

  10. Hamish Kirk says:

    When I hear the word “reframing”, I head for the nearest Exit.

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