Out with the old ways of thinking, in with the new…..

john sturrock

As part of Indigo’s Mavericks & Teams series, we asked John Sturrock QC, a senior mediator and chief executive of Core Solutions, Scotland’s pre-eminent mediation business, to share his thoughts on collaboration and interdependence.

We are in a fascinating period in British politics. The old certainties are gone. Now is the time for new thinking, a break from the old paradigms. You don’t solve your problems by using the same thinking that got you into them, as Einstein would say.

Nor do we solve problems by maintaining the same linear or binary approach that has bedeviled British politics in recent years. The idea that we must choose between two opposites, a right position or a wrong position, “left” or “right”, “in” or “out”, indeed between “Yes” and “No”, must now be challenged. Most policy choices are more complex than that, and we need to apply more subtle, sophisticated thinking.

The idea that we are inextricably bound into a political model which has served us more or less well for 309 (or 43) years cannot easily be maintained. The idea that we can be completely separate from our closest neighbours, geographically, socially and economically, does not really work either. Our need for imaginative solutions to current challenges – political and societal – has never been greater.

Policy choices about economic direction, wealth and resource distribution, delivery of services, education, health care, pensions and so on may need radical re-appraisal. Just as Scotland’s relationship with England, Wales and Northern Ireland has come under intense scrutiny, our relationships with people outside these islands are being re-assessed – Europe, defence, climate change implications, immigration, engagement in other countries’ affairs.

“No man is an island,” wrote John Donne. We hear less frequently the fuller context: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…”. This is not to say that we cannot be individuals and organise ourselves in ways which differentiate one from another. It’s important to recognise diversity and difference – in aspirations, beliefs, purpose, values and understanding of the way to live. Each of us is unique with our own special characteristics and traits, and we can never be one monolithic whole.

However, unless we hermetically seal ourselves off from the “others”, we are not and cannot be truly independent of each other, whether as individuals or as groups.

What we really are is interdependent. We need to work with each other, as individuals and peoples. Anything else is futile and self-defeating. Only by collaborating to improve our individual and collective lot will we manage to navigate through the stormy waters of this century. Harvard Professor Martin Nowak writes in “Super Cooperators” that we need each other in order to succeed: “If we are to continue to thrive, we have but one option.…. We now have to refine and to extend our ability to cooperate. We must become familiar with the science of cooperation”.

His point is that, although we have much more in common than ever sets us apart, our species has tended to operate in tension, whether as individuals or as groups, with a selfish instinct leading at least in part to global problems such as climate change, environmental pollution, resource depletion, poverty, hunger and over-population. The only way to rectify this is to find what unites us, overcome differences and make sacrifices in order to optimise gains.

In fostering our interdependence and mutual reliance in a European context, we might recognise:

  • real opportunities to explore new options for the future political model for this continent;
  • common interests in finding the appropriate way to protect us from realistic physical or technological threats;
  • common challenges in managing the environment, using limited resources, creating and distributing “wealth”;
  • benefits for regions and local communities having greater control over decisions affecting their immediate areas.

Of course, each of these points is applicable in the UK and global context too. Useful for the next referendum perhaps.

In short, in a sophisticated and uncertain world, redolent with opportunity and threat, we need an “interdependence movement”.  This does not mean that either “independence” or “union”, “Remain” or “Brexit” – whatever these actually entail – are necessarily good or bad things.  It simply means that, in working these matters out, there is no us and them, only us.

John Sturrock QC is senior mediator and chief executive of Core Solutions, Scotland’s pre-eminent mediation business.


This month voters in the UK will go to the polls to decide whether we, as a country, prefer to stand alone outside the European or continue to try to lead the international agenda from within it.

In the run-up to the referendum we will be posting a series of blogs, client stories and interviews from across Indigo’s networks, taking a sideways look at whether we can balance the advantages of strong networks against the freedom to stand out from the crowd.

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