The vote has been counted. A new future beckons. In fact, two futures beckon. There is the likely future. New powers. Politicians squabbling. Assets divided. Markets reacting. New institutions set up. Delays to delivery. Costs escalating. Or, we could use this as an opportunity to create a future where we have a form of government that citizens feel they deserve. They are clearly pissedd off by governments that are ‘too far away’ or full of too much heat and not enough light.
So what kind of underlying principles would give us a government we could trust? As I see it, it would do some or all of the following:
It would create policy based on evidence:
No nation is immune to global trends. There will be 11 billion people by 2100 bringing new stresses on the supply of energy, water and food and therefore pressure on the movement of people. What if the policies of government emerged from a regular and balanced annual analysis of the risks and opportunities facing the nation?
It would focus on outcomes:
What if governments focused on the achievement of social and environmental goals? The truth is that the same 17 outcomes are shared by all governments – issues such as water security, energy security, the reduction of poverty, a secure old age, manageable debt and a sustainable economy.
It would focus on the long-term:
The achievement of real change requires politicians to consider how they manage for the long-term. The current accepted form of government forces us to live purely in the present with annual financial targets. Elections every four or five years mean we have sound-bite democracy. Only when there is an immediate threat (say, of the lights going out) do governments consider the resilience of our infrastructure.
It would collaborate regularly and often:
The reality is that many contextual issues do not respect physical boundaries. Today technology, finance, climate change, innovation, culture, the threat of extremism are unburdened by geography. And if politicians are focusing on real change, governance may require cross-party action and may regularly draw on external expertise.
It would be continually open to learning from others:
Businessmen instinctively know that real change requires innovation. Innovation does not happen if we live in an echo chamber, where we only hear the views of people who think like us. What if politicians focused on ideas that work, not just ideas that echoed their narrow political convictions?
It would use a full-range of strategies:
And that may mean new and different strategies to achieve real change, not simply the use of the traditional armoury of new regulations, new laws, new institutions or new communications programmes. Strategies should naturally emerge from the evidence. Defining, for example, a private or public sector solution in advance is often a victory of prejudice over common sense.
It would share responsibility with citizens:
It would not assume that governments are always at their best when they do stuff for people. No long-term public policy change can be achieved without the action of citizens. We can’t assure a reliable supply of water without people acting to save water. We can’t assure a reliable supply of energy without people acting to save energy.
It would listen and engage:
There was nothing wrong with the Big Society idea except its name. But the underlying thought is that people should be actively engaged in owning problems, imaging solutions to them and implementing them. Surely this is the daily stuff of modern democracy?
It would be transparent and accountable:
An early idea of the Tony Blair government was the idea of an annual report from the government to its citizens. That’s a cracking idea for Scotland.
It would be fair:
In a BBC Horizon programme called “What makes us human?” two young kids collaborate to move levers and release sweeties. Then one got three and the other got one, their instant reaction was to share. People relish shared goals, shared processes and shared rewards.
It would be skilled:
Do we really invest in politicians that we can believe in? Does the role attract the right people with the right skills for the right reward? It’s time for a new generation of leaders.
Every nation is dependent and independent. There is stuff it controls, stuff it influences and stuff it simply needs to accept. We lack governments we can believe in. But surely the noise around the referendum and, before that, the European elections are loud enough to wake-up the sleepiest of politicians.
So what if we had national governments that focused on individual and collaborative action to achieve real change? As I see it, the time couldn’t be better to begin a public discussion on a fresh series of principles that should underpin our nation states. Radical? Nah. n
John Drummond is from Edinburgh. He is chairman of the Corporate Culture Group, a business behind several major public policy change programmes in health and the environment and advises leading businesses on sustainable business and behaviour change. He is the author of two recent reports – Reason; an executive guide to the probable future and Human; new insights on the human operating system.
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