If you don’t like how the table is set, turn over the table

Like most people who work in politics, I have spent the last few days, weeks and months trying to figure out if Theresa May has any kind of long-term strategy for how to handle Brexit and, if she does, what that might be.

Orbit Communications - Graeme Downie 03
Graeme Downie, Director. @graemedownie

Also like a lot of people who work in politics, I tend to find myself reaching for some kind of comparison for political drama or documentary to explain what I think.  That is often West Wing or Yes Minister.

In this case, however, it is the new version of House of Cards with Kevin Spacey.  In that show there is a recurring line which Frank Underwood uses to explain why he takes what at first glance seems like illogical or risky actions – “If you don’t like how the table is set, turn over the table.”

That is the closest I have come so far to trying to explain what Theresa May might be up to.  Here is Prime Minister, previously regarded by many as a steady, safe pair of hands – winning the Conservative Party leadership by virtue of being the only candidate not to make a stupid mistake.

And yet, her approach to the upcoming Brexit negotiations and her dealings over a possible second Scottish independence referendum have seemed more the actions of a spoilt teenager, taking intractable black or white positions.  This has often seemed unreasonable and surely doomed to fail, afterall where is the famous British strength of negotiation and compromise, something Brussels diplomats will genuinely miss when the country exits the EU?

On Brexit, the Prime Minister is smart enough to know that in a traditional negotiation she has a very weak hand indeed.  One country versus 27 who are angry, have self-preservation at the core and, crucially, control many of the timescales.  No one would realistically expect to walk in to that kind of fight and not come out more bloodied that the opponents.  However, her actions, right from her decision to delay the triggering of Article 50, despite initial howls from the EU top brass, through to the way she has managed the furore about EU nationals is not what might be thought of as the traditional “British” way of handling diplomacy.

In her dealings with Nicola Sturgeon as well, the Mrs. May has been extreme – starting off with a “No” when questioned about whether Brexit was a sufficient material change to justify a second independence referendum and sticking to that hard line this week with a brisk “now is not the time” response to the First Minister’s demands for new constitutional vote.  This didn’t seem like simply a negotiating position, this was seemed pretty definitive and with a hint of dismissiveness.

Hardly the Marquess of Queensberry rules here from the PM either then– no negotiation, no discussion, no pleasantries.  Just no, in fact.

The response of many in Scotland this week has been to dismiss this approach as a Prime Minister who doesn’t understand Scotland or just flat out doesn’t care as she is beholden to the right wing of her own party.

This may well be the case but perhaps Theresa May just doesn’t like the way the traditional table of British negotiation is set and knows the meal will end badly unless she upends the table and at least tries to improve the setting from disasterous to at least just bad.

Firms should give Modern Apprentices a chance


Tony March
Tony March, Business Development Manager, Anglian Water Business

Photo courtesy of Skills Development Scotland

This year’s Scottish Apprenticeship Week (6th to 10th March) provides a unique opportunity to draw attention to and recognise the important role Modern Apprentices play in the businesses and other organisations in which they work.

Modern Apprenticeships give people across Scotland the opportunity to combine learning with real business experience, all while earning a living. The Scottish Government’s commitment to having 30,000 Modern Apprenticeship starts by 2020 will ensure that more young people have the opportunity to follow career paths that may not have been open to them previously.

Organised by Skills Development Scotland (SDS), Scottish Apprenticeship Week highlights the commitment of businesses, like our own, who have decided to invest in the skills of their workforce. The theme this year is ‘Apprenticeships are Changing’ and during this week hundreds of activities and events take place throughout the country, encouraging more employers to take on apprentices and inspiring countless young people to think about apprenticeships for their future.

There are over 80 different types of Modern Apprenticeships on offer, from traditional industries such as construction and engineering through to marketing and digital media.

Recruiting a Modern Apprentice enables employers to fill the skills gaps that exist within their current workforce as apprentices begin to learn sector specific skills from day one, developing specialist knowledge that will positively affect the bottom line.

In addition to eager, motivated staff who are committed to on the job training and development, industry research has highlighted numerous direct and indirect benefits of Apprenticeships for both recruiting new apprentices and for training the workforce. These include a significant increase in employee retention, the delivery of a more competitive organisation and a more motivated and satisfied workforce, as well as delivering the skilled workers needed for the future. Indeed, according to Skills Development Scotland, 97 per cent of Modern Apprentices would recommend a Modern Apprenticeship to their peers.

As a company we recognise that our Apprentices play a major part in our continued success and aim to provide an environment where their commitment and our high standards offer unique career opportunities.

We currently employ two Modern Apprentices, both based at our Edinburgh office. Nineteen year old Owen, the first Modern Apprentice we took on and a former youth professional footballer, joined us last August to train as a mechanical engineer and splits his time between office-based and on-site activity as well as completing his studies at Fife College. Two months later Jamie Palmer, who is the same age and who had left school unsure of what to do next, joined us to train and work in our customer support team.

Since joining both Owen and Jamie have thrived, demonstrating the value of Modern Apprenticeships, not just to the individual but to us as a company as well. They bring passion, skills, dedication and drive to the workplace and we feel lucky to have them both.

Tackling Scotland’s skills gap is a priority for the current Scottish Government. A Modern Apprenticeship is undeniably a great way for young people to enter the workforce, offering them the chance to develop vital skills while providing them with a paying job, leading to an industry-approved qualification.

While it is encouraging to note that in the previous financial year, Scottish businesses employed a record 25,500 Modern Apprentices, with four out of five apprenticeships taken up by 16 to 24-year-olds, we would like to take this opportunity to encourage more businesses to take on a Modern Apprentice, as we have.

As highlighted already the benefits can be immense, to both the individual and the organisation, leading to improved productivity, morale, staff retention, quality of service, and assistance in meeting specific industry needs. Plus, businesses get help with training, funding and recruitment and apprentices often help to up skill existing staff.

There really is no better time to recognise the valuable job all of Scotland’s Modern Apprentices do and the vital role they play in so many businesses.

We must protect our history

David Watt - Arts & Business Scotland
David Watt, CEO, Arts & Business Scotlan

The history of Scotland is undoubtedly rich and complex. From the earliest Stone Age hunter gatherers of 12,000 BC, to the arrival of Roman legions in AD 71 and the Viking invasions from AD 793, early Scottish life underwent rapid change. Our more recent history encompasses the cultural, intellectual and artistic renaissance of the mid-15th century and the dramatic industrial advances of the 1800s. All of this and much, much more make up Scotland’s magnificent and renowned ancestry.

Scotland boasts six UNESCO World Heritage Sites: St. Kilda, Edinburgh Old Town and New Town, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, New Lanark, the Antonine Wall and the Forth Bridge. Scotland ranks 12th out of an index of 50 developed and developing nations, based on its reputation for being rich in cultural heritage. The most recent Historic Environment Audit (SHEA) found that the historic environment contributed in excess of £2.3 billion to Scotland’s economy in 2015/16, accounts for 1.3% of Scotland’s total employment and attracts over 14.6 million visitors a year.

As our heritage informs our modern way of life, it seems appropriate that 2017 has been defined as the official year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, providing us with a unique opportunity to celebrate all that Scotland’s rich past has to offer and the people who work tirelessly to protect it. The significant contribution heritage makes to Scotland is due to the hard work of a wide variety of groups and individuals throughout the country who campaign tirelessly to ensure our heritage sites are preserved, protected and promoted.

The importance of our historical environment in our daily lives should not be underestimated. A recent survey found that 89% of adults agree that “it’s important to me that heritage buildings and places are well looked after” (SHEA 2016). Not only that, SHEA 2016 found that those who visited a historic site were over 50% more likely to report a high level of health and wellbeing.

In an evolving public funding landscape, where financial resources are scarce, it is important to support those groups and individuals who are the custodians of our heritage. To this end, we established Resourcing Scotland’s Heritage, a training and capacity building programme. Running since 2014, it has trained more than 600 individuals from over 400 organisations, helping them to develop their fundraising skills to maintain and develop our rich heritage for the people of Scotland.

As this training programme enters its fourth year in what is the year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, we want to encourage even more people, to take part and benefit from this vital training programme. We also wish to use this unique moment in time to encourage all to remember and celebrate the hard work and dedication of those who have a passion and responsibility for our heritage, ensuring that it can be enjoyed by generations to come.

David Watt, CEO, Arts & Business Scotland

On behalf of the Resourcing Scotland’s Heritage project partners: Archaeology Scotland; Built Environment Forum Scotland, Greenspace Scotland & Museums Galleries Scotland