In An Interdependent World There Is No Them And Us, Only Us

We have entered a fascinating period in British politics.

The old certainties are gone. The disruption caused by the General Election result will inevitably cause instability – and opportunity. 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 bedevilled British politics. The idea that we must choose between two opposites, a right position or a wrong position, “left” or “right”, indeed between “Yes” and “No”, can 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 300 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.

Domestic 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 comes under intense scrutiny, our relationships with people outside these islands must be carefully 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 that 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.

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 the stormy waters of this century. Harvard Professor Martin Nowak writes in Super Co-operators 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 co-operation.”

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 to optimise gains.

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

  • Real opportunities to explore new options for the future political model for these islands, perhaps including the Republic of Ireland.

  • Common interests in finding the appropriate way to protect these islands 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 European 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”, regardless of what they entail, is necessarily good or bad. It simply means that, in working these matters out, there is no us and them, only us.


John Sturrock

John Sturrock is the founder and senior mediator at Core Solutions, Scotland's pre-eminent provider of commercial mediation services. As a pioneer of mediation throughout the UK and elsewhere, his work extends to the commercial, professional, sports, public sector, policy and political fields. He is a Distinguished Fellow of the international… MORE >

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