A few reflections on the Scottish Referendum

September 20, 2014

The Scottish Referendum ended with a win for the Better Together campaign and devastation for the devolutionists and its leader Alex Salmond. Here are a few unedited impressions of the end-game

September 18th 2014

An emotional roller-coaster of a final day of campaigning and a night waiting as the results were counted. The process is hailed as a template for democratic elections. The commitment was impressive, the over ninety percent registration, over eighty percent turn-out.

Hope and denial

Hope in bucketfuls from the Independent Scotland ranks. For that dreamed-for freedom.

Freedom from the auld enemy, reborn as ‘the politicians in Whitehall’. Denial in bucketfuls, too. Denial that Scottish leaders were of a similar moral standing and competence to Whitehall’s toffs and scoundrels. The anger of one old-school socialist brought memories of an earlier age of fire-breathing working-class Scottish Union leaders with a long rehearsed loathing of his class enemies.

The pain of loss

The expressions of a lost dream in which a free Scotland would have been free from Trident -that was often mentioned. Free from perceived unjust laws imposed from Whitehall. For some, free from fears of what might happen, for example to the NHS [National Health Service].

From under a duvet

A distraught and inconsolable young caller to a phone-in. Upset after campaigning all day, staying up all night. Polls show the Better Together win. More questioning. She is nineteen. Tearful. In bed. I imagine her curled up, foetal position, under a duvet, clutching her I-phone.

Whitehall. It’s politics as usual

Early morning. A prepared statement from David Cameron confirming concessions to Scotland but also to the other constitutive parts of the [still] United Kingdom. Seized on as an electioneering ploy.

The agony of Alex

Alex Salmond, indefatigable leader of the Yes campaign for two years. Final speech had been as confident as ever. Within hours of the result, he announces he will step down as first Minister of the Scottish Parliament. The mask of command had been wearily taken off.

World reaction

Excellent International review from BBC Scotland.

Local reaction

Just heard two Labour politicians in deeply-divided discussion [BBC Radio 5] much easier for the Better Together camp to seek reconciliation. Sad.

Cycling and Sporting Leadership: The resignation of Sir David Brailsford

April 11, 2014

Richard Crackett

Sir David Brailsford announces his retirement as performance director at British Cycling to focus on Team Sky. We publish a post which had been in preparation written by LWD subscriber Richard Crackett

As the sun set on the Champs Elysee, Chris Froome crossed the line, arms linked with his team mates, wearing the famous maillot jaune, in the 100th Tour de France. The story is replete with issues of distributed leadership and sporting ethics.

For a second consecutive year, Dave Brailsford’s Team Sky had won. This was the first tour since Lance Armstrong admitted to doping in winning all seven of his now rescinded titles. Brailsford hailed it as a victory for hard work and ‘the aggregation of marginal gains’, but the popping of champagne corks may have been drowned out by the cacophony of questions about doping.

The King is Dead, Long live the King!

The build-up to the Tour was dominated by the fact the top contender for the title, Froome and the current holder, Bradley Wiggins, rode for the same team. Froome had been picked as the team leader with Wiggins expected to ride in support of him. At first, Wiggins let the press know that he intended to ride as if the leader, with Froome dismissing this point.
Brailsford seemed not to back either rider, and Froome described Wiggins’ withdrawal through injury as a ‘relief’. Perhaps Brailsford thought that two competing leaders would lead to greater performance from each, with a greater chance of one winning. It seems serendipitous that W iggins pulled out through illness, as it could be argued that his involvement may have harmed Sky’s chance of winning.

Aggregation of Marginal Gains

Brailsford’s approach to sporting excellence involves the aggregation of marginal gains. He seeks to break down every process to its smallest component and attempting to improve on each one. The multitude small gains in performance will be significant. His track record in the Tour and Olympic cycling suggests his approach to be very successful.

‘Relativity applies to physics, not ethics’ – Albert Einstein

Even before the Lance Armstrong crisis, Cycling was mired in suspicion about doping. Brailsford brought in a zero-tolerance approach at Team Sky. Anyone with any history of doping was made to leave the team. When the suspicion didn’t go away, he offered the medical records on Froome’s historic performance to a newspaper, which confirmed it showed nothing untoward.

The zero tolerance approach was criticised by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for being too draconian, meaning people would be afraid to speak out damaging the efforts to catch more cheats. His effort to distance his team from doping, they argued, could actually hurt the more global fight against doping.

The exception

Brailsford’s zero to team member David Millar, an ex-doper for the 2012 Olympics. He also seems willing to ‘push the boundaries’ of competition and bend the rules in pursuit of marginal gains. In Olympic cycling, the equipment that the cyclists use must be commercially available. Brailsford developed the best bikes using many bespoke innovations, and made them ‘available’ commercially through British cycling at exorbitant fees .

Marginal Gains or Pushing the Boundaries?

Brailsford is a transformational leader for British cycling. He has produced incredible results, but we are left questioning his leadership. Did he really think Wiggins’ and Froome could work together? Does his law of marginal gains apply to the advantage he tries to squeeze out by bending the rules? It is no surprise that his willingness to push the boundaries has meant his reactive response to the doping issue has not been universally accepted as solely in the spirit of sporting competition.

Martin Johnson resigns. Another example of weak sporting governance?

November 17, 2011

Martin Johnson resigned as a scapegoat for England’s recent World Cup performances both on and off the field. But the Governance of the English Rugby Union leaves much to be desired

It is partly the culture within Rugby Union that appointments are made with more attention paid to heroic on-field exploits than to any job description of a manager or head coach. This partly explains the appointment of the Captain of England’s only successful World Cup campaign

At the time of his arrival as head coach, [April 2008] the English Press were largely enthusiastic about the appointment. The main criticism was that the incumbent, Brian Ashton, had been fired in unseemly haste to pave the way for Johnson.

An ill-judged appointment?

In a LWD post I was less convinced, noting that the appointment might be ill-judged. Johnson had no coaching experience, a fact glossed over in the reports of his appointment.


Martin Johnson was believed to bring the charisma and leadership on the field to a completely different type of leadership job as England manager.
Distributed leadership.

The Board wanted Clive Woodward back

It became clear that the Rugby authorities recognised the need for distributed leadership, hankering after Johnson’s own World Cup manager Clive Woodward. However, Woodwood had never been able to negotiate adequate powers to make he post a success, and remains a leader in waiting.

Rob Andrews

The chief executive role is held by Rob Andrews. Johnson departed with considerable dignity. Sharing a platform when Johnson announced his retirement, Andrews rejected enquiries whether he too should resign. Johnson departed with considerable dignity. Andrews has come under criticism for his role and his unwillingness to accept personal responsibility for shortcomings.

“No transactional advantage…” What did Liam Fox mean by that?

October 16, 2011

The phraseology “no transactional advantage” was used by Defence secretary Liam Fox this week in his address to the House of Commons. It caused much debate and puzzlement among commentators. We look at it from the perspectives of motivation and leadership theories

The political story in the UK this month [Oct 2011] has been that of a relationship between Liam Fox and his close personal friend Adam Werritty. The media and opposition politicians sensed inappropriate behaviour and possibly financial malpractices.

Fox attempted to deal with his critics by a statement to the House of Commons of less than crystal clarity. Mr Werritty, he stated, was “not dependent on any transactional behaviour to maintain his income

Bill and Monica?

For want of a better explanation, some critics connected it with Bill Clinton’s wriggling over his relationship with Monica Lewinski, and whether he had ‘had sex with that woman’. Fox, it was presumed, was selecting his words so cautiously because he was unable to give a straightforward answer to a straightforward question.

Or was it Business School speak?

Another reading is that Dr Fox had begun speaking in tongues, and particularly in Business School speak. As every MBA is taught, transactional behaviour is the posh term for a leadership style found when a leader operates mainly my simple arrangements involving economic expectations (“If you do that for me, I’ll do that for you”). A more popular term is carrot-and-stick leadership.

New leadership and its transformational style

A leader relying on transactional behaviour was found to severely limit the possibility for influencing others through motivating and inspiring them. That according to new leadership theory required a transformational style. So, Dr Fox might be interpreted as saying “Adam Werritty did what he did out of loyalty to me, influenced solely by my transformational leadership skills.

Transformational gambit or Lewinski defence?

So we have two ways of interpreting the mysterious statement made by Liam Fox. The one might be based the offering of the transformational gambit. The other is a variation on Bill Clinton’s Lewinski defence. “There were no financial exchanges between that man and me.”

Lewinski gambit accepted and refuted

A few days later, it was the Lewinski gambit which was accepted and refuted. The Telegraph account summarised what happened:

The Defence Secretary announced that he was resigning [15th Oct 2011] after disclosures showed Mr Werritty’s activities were funded by companies and individuals that potentially stood to benefit from Government decisions.
Within an hour of Dr Fox stepping down, the venture capitalist Jon Moulton, who provided money for Mr Werritty, said the Defence Secretary had asked him to give cash to his friend’s firm. It is understood that an investigation into Dr Fox’s dealings with Mr Werritty by Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, had concluded that his position was untenable.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Dr Fox repeated his belief that he had “mistakenly allowed the distinction between my personal interest and my Government activities to become blurred”.

Robert Quick resigns: A depressing leadership tale

April 10, 2009
Robert Quick

Robert Quick

Robert Quick resigns his role as head of counter-terrorism after details of a top secret document were filmed due to his casual way of handling his papers on the way to a meeting. The incident raises a depressing story of leadership and lack of it

The basic story is relatively simple to understand (although there are a few layers of political context which might also be worth considering). Bob Quick was until recently [9th April 2009] Deputy Commissioner with responsibilities for counter-terrorism at London’s metropolitan police force.

This week Commissioner Quick is filmed heading for a security briefing, holding a bundle of papers, in full view of the press, and maybe other surveillance cameras. The technology available revealed one document was exposing top secret information. This might have been a bit of a one-day story (tut tut, how careless, the man should be reprimanded). It turned out to have more significant implications.

Action against a major terrorist initiative was put at risk after enough details were revealed to the world’s press from the front page of the document which Quick was carrying as he entered No 10 Downing Street.

The action, allegedly against Al Qaida, was triggered prematurely to minimise damage which the security leak might have produced. Within 24 hours arrests were made in a coordinated action which seems to have achieved most of its goals. Damage limitation. Within another 24 hours Quick resigns over his security blunder.

Quite right too. Or was it?

Quite right too’ was the general reaction from press and public comment. ‘He had to go’. The case for the prosecution put pithily in the Sun (if you understand the Kwik-fit reference) with its front page shout You can’t quit quicker than a thick Quick quitter

Blundering police chief Bob Quick quit yesterday — in double-quick time. The anti-terror cop walked at 7.25am before he could be disciplined for compromising an operation to smash an al-Qaeda plot. It is thought fanatics were planning to cause carnage in Manchester within ten days.

A few dissenting voices were raised to the effect that he was a talented professional whose knowledge of terrorist threats to the country’s security was unparalleled. One letter to The Telegraph presented the minority contrary view

What a disaster to lose all those years of expertise because Bob Quick made one mistake, which I am sure he will never repeat. It once again shows the integrity of public servants and puts the politicians they serve in an even worse light. The Home Secretary should ask him to reconsider. By this resignation we are all much more vulnerable to the terrorists than as a result of the publication of a briefing document.

If this were a leadership exam ..

Tempting to see this as a suitable story for a leadership examination:

Complete this sentence drawing on your understanding of the resignation of counter-terrorist head Robert Quick

‘Bob Quick had to go because …’

Why the case is depressing me

Whipping off my black thinking hat and putting on a red emotional one I find the case a depressing one. Depressing because important leadership questions bothering me have been ignored. Depressing because in that respect the ‘story’ is like countless other leadership narratives, with focus on the immediate past and speculative commentary on the stupidity of the main characters and the potential enormity of the consequences of their actions.

So what’s missing?

Where to begin? On with a black professorial hat again, perhaps with a bit of green (for creative) trim. What’s missing is any evidence of leadership directed towards seeing this not as an isolated incident but as representative of a culture of sloppy security. What about action from home secretary Jacqui Smith? Maybe she is a bit distracted with recent personal problems, and maybe with the part played by the looming figure of London mayor Boris Johnson in the hiring and firing of police chiefs.

The Home Secretary (or maybe Gordon) would show welcome leadership with clear evidence of intent. It need not be more than a brief outline of action put in place (and not just another enquiry) to indicate what steps have been taken to protect sensitive information a bit better than as permitting a bundle of top secret papers to be ferried around in range of unwelcome cameras, and guarded only by a burly (about-to-be ex-) copper.


To Edward de Bono for his inspired little book on thinking hats, which he says he wrote on a long-haul plane journey.

To the kwik-fit ads which inspired the Sun headlines

David Davis and The Halls of Doom

June 12, 2008

David Davis resigns as MP and sets out on a dangerous mission. His actions bring to mind a fantasy adventure, complete with heroes, villains, and threats to the world as we know it

The breaking news lunchtime in the UK [Thursday 12th June 2008] was as dramatic as it was unexpected. David Davis announced his resignation as MP (and therefore as a leading member of The Shadow Cabinet). That would be news enough. Such a resignation suggests previously undisclosed personal reasons, or some scandal brewing.

But the story that emerged was even more astonishing.

The Midday News

I caught the news around midday, via a soundless news feed above a bustling coffee-shop. Pictures of Mr Davis and the feed appeared, with the running text below stating that he was resigning to oppose the impact of the Government’s policies on individual freedoms. Wow!

Then more images, of Mr Cameron in supporting role. The text reported that he fully endorsed the actions of his erstwhile shadow Home Secretary.

Brilliant, Barmy, Bizarre?

My initial reaction was one of astonishment, and I’ve reproduced here to the notes I scribbled at the time

Why? The Government’s popularity has never been lower. The next election is for the Conservatives to lose. Yesterday’s Pyrrhic victory in the 42 day detention vote seems only to have added future problems for Gordon Brown. Prospects over the medium-term are unlikely to get better.

What’s happening? One possibility is that David Davis has had an impulse to seize the moment, grasp an opportunity, a tide in the affairs of men. Possible but unlikely.

More likely, (but still bizarre) is that it is part of a fall-back plan of what would the Opposition do, if they lost the vote yesterday. It’s been suggested that David Davis has been more emotionally committed to opposing the 42-day proposals than his leader. Might a strategic discussion had taken place with Davis exclaiming: ‘We most oppose it. I feel strongly enough to resign over this”? Or something like that.

If that happened, I’m still baffled how the argument won the day over the view of more cautious souls arguing there was no need to rush the Government into defeat, just let it continue on its blunder-prone way. As it is, the Conservative Captains Courageous have engaged on an unexpected option.

A Risky Shift

[Thirty minutes later, still watching the mute screen] It took Nick Clegg all of a couple hours to make his mind up. His party would not take part in the proposed bye-election. Now that’s easier to call. Almost a win-win. Why risk being accused of wasting the electorate’s time and money when a seat from the sidelines will be more comfortable and risk-free.

So it’s over to Gordon. At least he has a chance to join battle outside Westminster, with a few strong weapons in his armoury. If David intends to fight with the sword of truth in defense of individual freedom, Gordon has (for the moment) the encouragement of popular support. It will be a fascinating battle.

A Few Hours Later

I reconnected with my PC to learn of the media’s wall-to-wall coverage of the story. Nick Robinson has got away to a flier with an insightful posting, and a monster number of intense comments. He argued that

This resignation is quite extraordinary and without precedent that I can think of in British politics… David Cameron has lost control of his strategy. This was not his decision. He was not asked for his agreement. He was informed late last night by David Davis that he was going to do this come what may. That he was going to resign and trigger this campaign. This is not a campaign that Mr Cameron wants, it is not part of his strategy and indeed, I am told by senior Tories who know Mr Cameron well, that this was David Davis’ personal decision and will be his personal campaign

By mid-afternoon David Davis had confirmed that he had contacted Nick Clegg after the vote last night, so that the Lib Dem reaction while swift, was not as speedy as I suspected.

The BBC quickly updated the story

[David Davis] told reporters outside the House of Commons he believed his move was a “noble endeavour” to stop the erosion of British civil liberties. He is one of the best-known opposition MPs and his resignation came as a complete surprise in Westminster. He told reporters outside the Commons: “I will argue in this by-election against the slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms by this government.”

The great number of comments to Nick Robinson’s post split in as curious a way as everything else about this episode. The majority were vehemently behind David Davis, and more than a bit hostile to Robinson. And most of the other comments were unprintable, (another surprise) and held up for clarification or rejection after moderation.

Brave Words and their Consequences

I rather accept the view that Mr Davis is taking a principled stand. However, I couldn’t help thinking of another speech some while ago, which ran along similar rousing lines:

“If it falls to me to start a fight …with the simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of fair play, so be it. I am ready for the fight.”

That was Jonathan Aitken, who later was found severely wanting. Brave words, but it does put a lot of pressure on the hero to maintain the deeply-principled standards for which he has chosen to fight.