Scotland looks to her future

The independence referendum: facing change and uncertainty

Peter Sheal
Sheila James
David McAra

Change, uncertainty and learning

At AMED we are preoccupied with the education and development of managers and with learning for people and organisations.  How do we come together to combine our efforts and talents to accomplish shared aims?  How can we understand our situation more fully and improve it?  How can we live more fulfilling lives together, with all our shared values and our differences?  This edition of e-O&P reflects on a large scale experiment in organisational change,

In less than three months, people living in Scotland will vote on whether to remain within a three centuries-old political union or to separate from the rest of the UK and become an independent country. The battle between the Better Together and the Yes to Independence campaigns is heating up.  Radical change is afoot.  The air is thick with conflicting assertions of certainty. 

 As professionals and individuals concerned with personal, management and organisational development, what do we see?  Where are the opportunities in the uncertainty?  Have we the courage to put our beliefs about change and risk to the test?

Opportunities and threats

In the context created by the imminent referendum, our articles discuss some of the big ideas at work in organisations – the meaning of money, how to make a deal, where people fit – and explore some of the assumptions of doubtful validity which are often accepted, unexamined, as the way things are. 

In language which is both logically sound and poetic, Louie Gardiner questions the usefulness of a binary choice in a situation of considerable complexity and sets out to clarify what we know and what we don’t know.  Without providing much insight into her own opinions she makes it clear that the imminent prospect of the Referendum is already having significant effects and that those seeking to persuade us of the good and bad outcomes of either result may be underestimating the complexity. 

Bob MacKenzie offers a personal perspective on how it feels to be an expatriate Scot looking in on the debate from the sidelines.  By the characteristically thoughtful expression in his photo, he leaves us pondering whether the somewhat illusory concept of the nation state is a helpful model at all.  As a native Scot, he describes his nationality as Scottish-European and finds himself disenfranchised from participating in the Referendum in his present English home. 

John Carlisle describes his own journey of learning, from the sharp end of striking deals with his research into the behaviour of negotiators, through his representation of the complex system underlying the eventual transaction, to a deeper insight into what is really happening.  He discusses a variety of examples including the surrender of Singapore in 1942, large engineering projects and a comparison between the contrasting experience of the Olympic Games in Atlanta and Sydney. 

Tony Miller writes in a very personal way about aspects of the human spirit which are barely recognised in the prevailing management paradigm.  Although we are keenly sensitive to the emotions in play at any time, they are excluded from consideration, ‘out of bounds’ at work even though the costs are significant, as the example of the Japanese train crash tragically illustrates. 

Adrian Furnham writes with great authority about the psychology of money and identifies many inconsistencies between our unspoken assumptions about how it works and what the research shows.  We already know, somehow, that it can’t buy us happiness, and yet we are trapped in a society which tends to believe it’s the only reason for going to work.  Perhaps we should be encouraged that the research backs up what we already know. 

Mark Douglas has been interviewing leaders in Scotland about the characteristics of effective leadership.  Again, he discovers something we might well realise we already knew – that there is no ‘best way’ – and yet the gap between what we know in our hearts and what we experience in the world is considerable. 

Finally, Bob MacKenzie reviews Morgen Witzel’s Management from the Masters. From Confucius to Warren Buffet. Bob outlines Witzel’s 20 Laws of Management and, for this issue of e-O&P, Witzel’s first law, the Law of Entropy (Time’s Arrow) seems particularly relevant: ‘There is no such thing as steady state, only growth or decay.’

Thanks to Robert Kerr for the photograph in our cover picture (reproduced in full below) and to Tony Scott his photographic model, who offered the following thoughts on the scene:

“There is something very apt about Scotland’s future and a picture of some of the oldest rocks on the planet. In case you didn’t know, the “flat bits” are a basement of Lewisian Gneiss about 3.2 Billion years old and the mountains are of Torridonian Sandstone around 1 to 1.2 Billion years old. We are better connected in geological terms to Greenland, Canada and Norway than we have ever been to England, physical separation is unlikely but the sooner we end the 300 year old love/hate relationship the better.”

So … the future …

The Scottish Referendum is happening.  A referendum on the future shape of the EU is in prospect. Nationalist parties (some of which have been called ‘separatist’ or ‘anti-immigration’ movements) are on the move throughout Europe.  Our times are surely ‘interesting’ and uncertain and perhaps there may be exciting opportunities for progress in new thinking about organisations and management.  

What do you think?

To explore their own position, our Editorial team have posed six questions about the Referendum and their response to change and uncertainty in particular and in general.  Their answers are peppered throughout the journal.  Perhaps you’d like to join in.  You can share your thoughts on our Discussion Forum if you like. 

The Scottish Referendum: facing change and uncertainty

The Scottish Referendum offers what many people see as a once in a lifetime opportunity to change radically the political, social and economic landscape of Scotland.  What are your views on what is potentially a momentous change?

  1. Do you see change more as an opportunity or as a threat?  How does this affect your response to the Scottish Referendum?
  2. Has your attitude towards change changed as you’ve got older?
  3. Do you see nationalism as a largely positive or largely negative force?
  4. Change and disruption often provide a catalyst for learning.  What opportunities would be generated by Scottish Independence and the break-up of the Union?
  5. If Scotland becomes independent, what new knowledge would we need to learn?
  6. If the outcome is not full independence, what benefits do you think might have accrued nonetheless from the Referendum?

Finally, in the last few pages of this issue, you’ll find the usual Invitations and Notices, and information about AMED and about our journal e-O&P.  We’d welcome any offers of help: writing, producing or marketing future editions. 


We would like to extend our warm thanks to all our authors for generously sharing their thoughts and patiently submitting to our processes. 

Special thanks to Bob MacKenzie, member of the e-O&P editorial board and champion of the original concept of a Scottish Edition, for tireless editorial support and encouragement.  Two and a half years ago, in November 2011 Bob led a co-inquiry with the North East Scotland AMED Group in Aberdeen which was the genesis of this edition. 

So thank you also to everyone who came to that meeting and so contributed to our Journal.  It has gone through a long gestation period, and we now await the outcome of the vote on 18 September with bated breath.

About the guest editors

Peter Sheal is a writer and training consultant with MDT International and delivers management development courses for the international oil and gas industry. He is the author of How To Develop & Present Staff Training Courses and the Staff Development Handbook published by Kogan Page.

Peter was born in Manchester of Scottish ancestors who took advantage of the opportunities afforded by the United Kingdom to move between Ireland, Scotland and England in pursuit of peronal and family prosperity.  He describes himself as British and has lived in Aberdeenshire for over 30 years. 

Peter can be contacted at:

Sheila James is preparing to step down from paid work when she hits the magic age next year, after a portfolio career (or more accurately a succession of jobs) mainly in learning and organisational development.  She’s considering how she’ll fill her days post retirement, but is reassured by the number of retired friends and relatives who tell her they don’t know how they used to find the time to go to work.

She was born in Scotland (of English parents) and returned there with an English partner some 28 years ago after a spell in London.  Her three daughters all consider themselves Aberdonians, but only one still lives in Scotland.  She’s drawn towards voting for independence but the household is not united.  How the majority will vote is still uncertain.

Sheila can be contacted at:

David McAra is in his fourth decade of disappointment at the slow uptake of the transformational ideas he was first introduced to as an adviser with the Engineering Industry Training Board.  He is not yet ready to give up and perseveres as a member of AMED Council and of the e-O&P editorial board and as a director of the Deming Learning Network. 

He was born in Singapore of mixed Scottish/English parentage and gives his nationality as British.  He has lived in Aberdeen for longer than anywhere else.  While he finds some appeal in the idea of Scottishness he doesn’t warm to its manifestation in the Scottish National Party. 

He feels awkward writing about himself in the third person and may be contacted at:

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