What do we do about the Sharks?


by Peter Thomson

Like many people who run or ran their own business, when you know it is not going anywhere fast you look to others experiences to see if you can unblock the log jam and get the business moving forward again.

In early 1990 I was in this position. I knew there was something wrong with the business model I was following but in general I was being told by ‘business advisors’ that nothing was wrong and if I toughed it out it would be OK in a few years. Toughing it out basically meant sacking staff at a time when there were not many jobs around for them to go to.

Here we are 20 odd years on and still the ‘business advisors’ are telling governments and businesses to tough it out, it will come all right again, and yet as George Kervan’s humorous dissection of the latest Bank of England gobble-de-gook on inflation shows – the advice is based on rubbing Eddie George’s lucky rabbit foot, turning clockwise three times and shouting ‘I’m a banker’ very loudly.

Back in 1990 I thought that there had to be a better way than the standard economic poison pill, beloved of the Tories, UK Banks and the City of London, so I set out to look for it. What follows, I hope, will start folk thinking about what sort of Scotland we want versus the sort of Scotland that currently has been our lot. What I discovered changed my way of running a business for ever, but the concept behind it could be important in creating the Scotland that we want in the 21st Century so I am just going to keep to the basic ideas.

One book I read at that time alongside of the MBA texts and standard ‘How to be a great businessman’ pap was one book that made complete sense to me – The Strategy of the Dolphin by Lynch and Cordis (ISBN-13: 978-0449905296).

In its simplest form the authors argue that in most first world societies people either see themselves as sharks (there is not enough to go round so eat everything you can) or carp (maybe if we stay on the bottom we won’t be eaten by the sharks). This dynamic informs nearly all of first world societies’ actions and is the norm. Sometimes people who think they are sharks find out they are, in fact, carp, while in every pool of sharks only the biggest will survive because when there are no carp left they start on the smaller sharks.

Business calls this process ‘hostile takeovers’ or ‘aggressive mergers’ but is just really a bigger shark swallowing a smaller shark. In politics it is the equivalent of Westminster’s lemon shark considering itself in ‘control’ of the Scottish carp pool while all the time the EU ‘Great White’ is consuming  Westminster a bit at a time. The problem for all sharks is they turn their premise of there is not enough to go round into reality and then become extinct themselves. I currently view the fiscal disaster set in train by the initial run on the world banking system as one of these extinction cycles.

What has happened in Scotland is that Scots voters have had enough of being frightened carp and decided there has to be a better way. In terms of Lynch and Cordis’  book we Scots have discovered the third option, we are, in fact, dolphins.

Why dolphins?

In simplistic terms (if you want the full argument and thinking behind the whole concept – get the book) dolphins are social, highly-intelligent mammals who know how to handle both carp and sharks. They can play and live alongside with both but equally if they feel threatened or simply need to feed to survive they can be aggressive. Most of the time Dolphins work co-operatively and in a mutually beneficial way within their group. They are happy to combine with other pods of dolphins when mutually beneficial to all involved and happily go on their way at the end. They are highly intelligent mammals who understand that over use of their natural resources is not a sensible move and are also ready to protect those resources from sharks that will destroy any mutual benefit of the shared resource in their rush to have everything for themselves.

Dolphins are most certainly not a soft touch, are no ‘Flipper’, and at times of stress or threat will sacrifice the weaker members of the pod in defence of their core way of being, yet that is only as a last resort  and not, as in the case of the sharks, standard practice.

I do not know if the SNP’s strategists have read Lynch and Cordis’ book but I am left with a sense they have. I view Tony Blair’s attempt at the ‘Third Way’ when Labour first resumed power in 1997 as an attempt to create a ‘dolphin strategy’ but Blair’s problem was one of once a shark, always a shark. The great worry for the Labour shark is the Scots have found out they are not carp, are very much dolphins and are no longer frightened by them. The Scottish Dolphins have now given them and their pals the Tory Shark and Libdem dogfish such a doing over it is going to be difficult for the sharks to reassert their dominance for a while to come.

What we have to watch out for is the whether SNP dolphin is actually just another shark. Yet, if it is, the Scots know we can see them off as well. So far the SNP looks like a dolphin and acts like a dolphin – if the SNP proves to be a dolphin then Scottish autonomy and independence are assured, the Westminster shark pool cannot compete.

I personally hope the Euro Zone Great White has rendered itself extinct before Scotland gains autonomy. There is a very good chance it will as the people of Greece and Eire are also starting to act as dolphins – as are many people across the world from Libya to Nepal.

Maybe the day of the shark is over – we can but work hard for a better Scotland and make it so.