Are we close to a deal?

18 September 2017 - by Quintin Oliver

At Stratagem, we are often asked about ‘big’ politics by organisations navigating their daily challenges in the regulatory, bureaucratic and fiscal fields.

Some are concerned, asking: “How can you survive in your domain, with no government or ministers to lobby?

Others seek reassurances that a brighter future is around this dark corner. They ask what it was like in the run-up to the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement, in which we participated, before forming Stratagem two decades ago. They surmise that we must be frustrated and impatient with the elected politicians to whom we passed the baton of hope and expectation in the June 1998 Assembly elections, after the triumphant 72 per cent May referendum success for Yes.

Here are our five reasons to be fearful:

  • Unionism and nationalism seem stuck in an eternal ‘prisoner’s dilemma’– how to collaborate in power-sharing without losing momentum towards bigger aspirations;

  • Brexit has shattered the working consensus and modus operandi of both pursuing a common goal, while nursing a longer-term ambition, since the complex challenges of separate market rules seem almost insurmountable in the short term;

  • Our economic outlook is not positive, as a ‘branch line’ outpost of larger corporations, with limited entrepreneurial growth;

  • Our public sector is solid and reliable, but starved of investment and innovation by continuing austerity;

  • Many local communities and the families within are restless, sullen, fearful and apprehensive about the future.

Nevertheless, we also offer five reasons to be cheerful:

  • We have survived and thrived to a degree, in the grindingly slow and painful transition from a nasty, hateful civil war, to an uneasy, pre-post-conflict peace;

  • For comparison, and to observe others’ current intractable conflicts, just cast one’s eye to Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo or Myanmar;

  • Local government still functions, without boycott or gridlock; the 11-council model seems to have worked – community planning is taking root;

  • Our communities are also demonstrating resilience, cohesion and confidence in coping strategies for the downtimes;

  • The political class carries both the carrot and the stick – the memories and scars of conflict alongside the irresistible lure of influence and delivery for their voters. They have nowhere else to go, no other solution than power-sharing, under the principle of consent – they will reach agreement as before.

As for Stratagem, we find that smart organisations are vigorously pursuing decision-makers wherever they now are (whether at lower levels than Stormont, or higher). They are using the current period for planning, strategising – that’s how our name derives, after all – training and developing robust evidence-based policies for change and improvement.