I have been watching the conflict in Ukraine and even though I am a mediator I have been finding it difficult to see how a peaceful solution can come about and what’s needed for it to happen. The dynamics of the conflict are very different to the ones I deal with day to day and even imagining how the dialogue and negotiation might take place is challenging. That said, many seemingly intractable situations are eventually resolved through mediation and I hope a sustainable solution can be found for Ukraine.
It got me thinking about what we could do in Scotland to support the efforts to build a lasting peace. There are mediators in Scotland operating via a number of different organisations, some based in Scotland, some internationally, but at present we don’t gather that experience to share and learn. There has been discussion in the past about the idea of a Scottish Peace Institute and perhaps that could provide a framework for Scotland to develop it’s expertise and to provide support in conflicts across the world.
At the time of the most recent election it struck me that if such an initiative were to be taken forward it needs to be supported by the development of mediative skills across all areas of Scottish public life.
So, where can we make a positive impact? Via Scottish Mediation’s Young Talk initiative we have recently restarted our work in schools. We’ve been working across Fife in conjunction with the Our Minds Matter programme training teachers and school students in the skills of mediation. This is a way of preparing young people for life. These are skills that they will have for the rest of their lives whether that be in their families, in education, in the workplace and eventually in the relationships they establish with their future families. This is important for a peaceful Scotland.
Just like any other skills, if we don’t use them, they can become rusty and, for me, re-skilling people in further and higher education would be an ideal opportunity both to refresh skills for those previously trained and also to reach those who may have missed out earlier.
Having the skills is one thing but their widespread use is important too. That’s why it is helpful for public bodies to take the lead in using mediation and developing its use in organisations. This isn’t just restricted to how we resolve disputes in the workplace (even that would help) but also in using mediation and peacebuilding techniques in the way we resolve conflict in Scottish society and how we approach the discussion on the difficult issues facing us such as climate change, health and poverty.
The final way we as a country could demonstrate how we support peace building would be in the public discourse around politics. That involves how we speak about each other, how we respect each other’s points of view and how we recognise the complexity of issues we face whilst resisting boiling everything down into a simple “yes or no” “for us or against us” proposition.