Friday, 19 September 2014

Weekly Wrap Up: Scottish Referendum

Scotland has voted “no” to independence.

Was this is a shocking result? Well, when compared to the state of the “Yes” vote this time a year ago it is at least surprising if not shocking, as over the past few months the “Yes” vote has managed to sneak its way to almost drawing with the “No” vote. With a final percentage split of 44.7% “Yes” and 55.3% “No”, it was certainly a close call.

As with any political debate, this referendum was a ballroom dance for the political players involved. With the “marriage” metaphor continually dragged up in the media, some could say that watching the Scottish referendum unfold was like watching a particularly colourful divorce between independence seeking Alex Salmond and wounded but loyal Alistair Darling. Each had their teams behind them, as a divorcing couple might have their lawyers, and the statements emitted from both the couple in question and their “lawyers” were almost more interesting than the referendum itself.

What these comments had in common was the conviction in which they were delivered. Each party was absolutely certain that their line of thinking was the right one, and that the alternative would be disastrous for both Scotland and the UK. SNP Party Leader, and leader of the “Yes” campaign, Alex Salmond remained steadfast in his opinion that it was the only way to secure Scotland’s victory, and that "The 'Yes' campaign is the most positive and empowering campaign in recent political history”. Scotland’s first lady Nicola Sturgeon (really the SNP’s Deputy First Minister for Scotland) stood by her “client” with her belief that “local government is a central element to good government, and the interests of people who receive services from local government are best served by a Yes vote”.

On the other side of the divorse table, “there’s no going back if we decide to go,” said Darling, leader of the “Better Together” campaign. In a similar vein, President of the market research firm YouGov Peter Kellner told Sky news “I can’t see No losing this now. At the obvious risk of looking like complete prat in eight hours' time, I would say it is a 99% certainty of a No victory."

The conviction of both parties and controversial statements is something that the City will have been able to recognise from its dealings with business leaders and CEOs. With the number of on-going debates in business and politics, CEOs and business leaders are well accustomed to making controversial statements and predictions about topics that may not conclude in their favour. Whilst this obviously puts those in question at the risk of coming out “looking like a completely prat”, it can be guaranteed that they will still have an impact.

One impact that could result from these statements is that they could influence the end result. The minds of the voting population are notoriously changeable and easily swayed by the comments of those influential leaders that are (or at least, appear to be) speaking with more knowledge than the population themselves possess.

Another impact is just that: impact. If a business leader makes a statement or prediction that turns out to be wrong, he has still positioned himself as a knowledgeable spokesperson on the topic, a man in the “know”, and one to refer to on this and similar debates in the future. It not only raises the profile of his knowledge and expertise in that field, but also the profile of himself, his business and even his business partners.

This was the certainly the case with the celebrities’ open letter to Scotland in August 2014, where more than 200 public figures wrote an open letter to the people of Scotland, urging them vote no to independence. Not only did these celebrities take part in a cause that they obviously believed in, but they had their names splashed across many of the UK and international headlines in the days following.

In the world of communications, positioning a CEO or business leader as an expert for comment is an oft used method of raising a person or company’s profile within the media. In times of political debate, journalists are often looking for experts to pass their judgement on the future or outcome of a particular situation, which is when they turn to PR’s to provide this comment.

The danger here, however, is that PRs will position leaders that actually don’t actually have that much knowledge on the topic but are simply keen to grab a headline. The result of this is that they can often speak out of turn and probably incorrectly. In this new age of social media and accountability, CEOs and business leaders who put out controversial statements just for the sake of it are often called out and up to account, therefore making the exercise more damaging to the person / Company than had they not spoken at all.

The lesson for communicators and businesses is therefore to approach these debates with caution and consideration. Yes, if you are or you represent a leader that is genuinely connected with, knowledgeable about or will be affected by a national debate, then offer them to media with conviction. If, on the other hand, their link to the debate is tenuous and could fall apart under cross-inspection, remove the draft “expert for comment” email from your inbox and wait for someone else to speak out and play the fool.

For now, we can only envisage how the result of the Scottish referendum will affect the future of Scotland at the UK. What we can be certain of, however, is that the predictions and statements of one set of business leaders will be wrong or at least out of tune with the majority. Whilst this won’t be damaging for those truly positioned business leaders that didn’t end up sitting on the winning side of the table, it may well be for those that unjustly threw themselves into the spotlight, and so the firing line of the referendum debate.

Michael Campbell has joined Northland Capital Partners as a research analyst. He was previously a senior analyst of Daniel Stewart. Linklater has appointed Stuart Bedford to head its London corporate practice. Stuart was previously head of Linklater’s Asia corporate practice. Bradley Phillips has joined PWC as the asset management tax director from Herbert Smith Freehills, where he was a tax partner.

The summer may be coming to a close but don’t feel the need to turn your back on the world of BBQs just yet! In Camden this Saturday there is a celebration of one of the BBQs greatest conquests; Brisket! If you like ‘em low and slow then we suggest heading to the Camden Town Brewery Bar to indulge!

If you want to enjoy some of London’s finest architectural marvels, then this weekend celebrates the annual Open House London where hundreds of buildings that are not normally accessible to the general public are opened up for your viewing pleasure. Paperworks.

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