A referendum blog by Mary Shaw

I am by no means alone in having spent the past few weeks wondering where the  people of Scotland and the UK would be now in relation to “The Vote” had the question on the referendum ballot paper been worded differently.

The single question is “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”  This allows for only a Yes or a No answer. Had the ballot paper nodded in the direction of the Clash and asked a question more akin to “Should I stay or should I go?” would that have changed the content and the tone of the debate?  I think it probably would.

How we frame the issues which come between us shapes our discussions.  The way in which somebody describes or defines a problem, a dilemma or a conflict is known as “framing.”

If the question had been reframed before the campaigning started might voters not respond differently in the polling station?  The word “Yes” carries a smile, a thumbs up.  The word “No” sounds closed down, and (obviously) far from positive, perhaps ranging from glum to angry – and there is no “third way” option on the ballot paper.A recent piece in the Aberdeen Press and Journal reports that the majority of Scottish north east businesses believes that there should have been a third option on the ballot paper of more powers for Holyrood.

The issues are not so different when one of a couple decides that they no longer want to be part of their personal union.  How they and their lawyers then frame the issues that they have to manage and the areas where they may not see eye to eye, or have a direct conflict, can impact on the direction of travel for their negotiation process. In a conventional legal process lawyers are led into a gladiatorial role by the court rules of engagement, defending their client’s position, whether this be in negotiations by letter (a process about as effective of trying to eat blended soup with a fork, in my view), or in litigation where lawyers frame their clients’ positions in preparation for a contested final hearing.

In “around the table” conversational processes such as collaborative law and mediation, the professionals working with the couple in their chosen process will take time and care to reframe the couple’s stories, their hurts and fears, hopes and dreams, both for themselves and for their children and their wider family.

Reframing is a process of changing the way information and questions and feelings are presented so that the fundamental meaning is maintained but the context, setting and view point are changed to open up, for each, a different and a more helpful way of viewing exactly the same situation.

To quote the great Lisa Parkinson positive reframing “puts a word or statement in a different way: a particular facet is turned to catch a different light.  The intention is to clarify and ease the communication between the two parties……”

Through reframing couples can move away from “Yes No”, “Did Didn’t” and “Good Bad” and gain a clearer understanding of where they really are in relation to each other and how they can put in place arrangements which will be liveable with to create a resolution which will allow them to move into a positive, separated co-parenting relationship.

One can only hope that over the coming weeks and months there will be people on hand to help both  the people of Scotland and the politicians in Edinburgh and Westminster reframe the situation, otherwise we all as the children of the Union are likely to suffer for a long time to come.

Mary Shaw is a collaborative lawyer and family mediator and is head of the Family Law team, ranked Tier 1 in Chambers & Partners and Legal 500 national legal directories.

If you think we may be able to help you or you would like more information about mediation or collaborative law please email Mary direct or, alternatively, contact Louise Law at louise.law@davidgray.co.uk, telephone 0191 232 9547 or Chat Live on our website.