Negotiation Skills 101

negotiation table photoNicola Sturgeon’s reaction to the Tories’ Internal Market Bill is instructive:

The Scottish Government – and the SNP at Westminster – will fiercely resist this attack on the powers of our national Parliament. We will fight tooth and nail against this shameless bid to reverse the devolution of power which was so overwhelmingly endorsed by the people of Scotland in the referendum of 1997. […]

And when an independence referendum comes – as it will – it will no longer be a choice between independence and the status quo, but between independence and a Tory regime which is intent on crippling Holyrood.

They way I read this is that the SNP will fight it through parliamentary speeches and perhaps by taking the UK Government to court, and that she’s hoping the Tories will agree to a Section 30 order during the 2021-26 Holyrood parliamentary term.

So in effect it’s more of the same. The Tories will ignore the SNP’s parliamentary interventions, the Supreme Court will uphold the primacy of the Houses of Commons, and no Section 30 order will be forthcoming.

What Nicola Sturgeon never says is what she’ll do if nothing changes. She keeps saying things along the lines of “trying to hold back the tide of popular opinion in Scotland didn’t work for the Tories when they argued against devolution in the 1990s – and it won’t work now”, completely forgetting that what happened in the 1990s was that Labour won the 1997 general election and soon afterwards called a referendum on creating the Scottish Parliament, so unless she convinces Labour to be in favour of a new independence referendum, the similarity ends there. (And last time I checked, there was no sign of that.)

She often acts as if something will happen if the Tories keep refusing a referendum, but she never actually says what exactly this is. Does she believe somebody will intervene? Who? The UN? The EU? Or will the people of Scotland rise? How? Will they take the family heirloom claymore down from the attic, will they stop paying council tax, or will they clap for independence once a week? Or will the Tories simply get kicked out at the next Westminster election and get replaced by a benevolent Labour government that will happily grant a Section 30 order with no strings attached?

Interestingly, Nicola Sturgeon never seems to negotiate with the Tories or Labour to bring them on board with regard to indyref2. She just states that it’s the right thing to do, so of course they’ll have to give in. It’s almost as if she doesn’t know how to negotiate with somebody who doesn’t deep down agree with her – for instance with people who don’t agree that Scotland is a country or that the Scottish people are sovereign. In effect, she seems to be saying this: “I know you don’t want a referendum, but you have to agree to one. By the way, I won’t pursue any other possibilities until you give in.”

As you learn in the first lesson of Negotiation Skills 101, you have to put yourself in your opponent’s shoes and figure out what they want and don’t want. In lesson two, you learn not to put all your cards on the table from the outset, but to keep the opponent guessing.

So she should both be working on convincing them that a referendum is in their interest, and she should also be hinting at what she might do if they don’t agree, and they should be in no doubt that they wouldn’t like these alternatives.

That’s exactly what Alex Salmond did. In effect, he said: “We’re going to hold an independence referendum – with or without you. Would you not prefer to help us organise it so that you can influence it?”

The real problem is that the Tories discovered a long time ago that Nicola Sturgeon won’t do anything other than demanding a new referendum. Let me quote what I wrote in early 2018:

It seems to me that Theresa May and her government have concluded that it isn’t possible for Scotland to do anything. That Nicola Sturgeon and the rest of the SNP will jump up and down and shout that Scotland won’t allow it, but that nothing will happen. That the Scottish Government won’t dare to call a referendum without Westminster’s approval, and that there aren’t any other options. It is therefore possible for them to treat Scotland with contempt and enact whatever kind of Brexit they like without any approval whatsoever from Holyrood.

Scotland needs a leader who is a master negotiator. Somebody who can convince the Tories and/or Labour that a new independence referendum is in their interest, and who can make them scared again of what Scotland might do if they don’t listen.

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