We have a problem with my mother.
She is a gregarious 90 year old, has successfully lived on her own
since my Dad died 10 years ago, she is full of life and bright as a
button, lots of friends, goes out to play cards five times a week.
Until three weeks ago. Her arthritic knees gave up, and she became
virtually immobile. She can hobble around her small apartment with
the aid of a 3-wheeled ‘walker’, but the stairs are impossible, and
she lives one floor up in a building without an elevator. She has
So she and the family have some decisions to make. Do we try to
find a ground floor flat, which would allow her to go out, at least
as far as a taxi which could take her to her friends and the shops?
Should we aim for a warden assisted flat, where there would be a
speedy rescue service if she fell over. Or should we find a
residential care home where she could make new friends and spend
the rest of her life (and we hope it will be a long one) being
The answer, to a large part, depends on whether we take a
shorter or longer view. Installing her in a more accessible flat
works as long as she has some mobility, but if that mobility goes
altogether we will then have to move her again, to a care
home. Or maybe we would then employ a carer who would come to
live in, in which case we need now to choose the new flat with
living accommodation for the carer, if we want to avoid the
upheaval of her having to move again.
Last week I asked her what her preference was. ‘I don’t know’
she said. ‘I have no experience of this situation and I don’t know
what is going to happen in the future, so how can I know what the
best decision will be?’
Last weekend David Cameron brought back a deal from his summit
with the leaders of the 27 other EU members, on the basis of which
he felt he could recommend to voters that Britain should stay in
the EU. As predicted a number of his cabinet colleagues, and many
others, came out publically with the opposite recommendation. The
electorate will vote In or Out in a referendum on June
23rd, and until then both sides will batter us with
facts and figures about the dangers of taking the opposite position
to their own.
They need to start thinking like my mother.
A classic example of woolly thinking about the EU came from Theo
Paphitis, a well-known UK businessman talking on the Question
Time programme on BBC TV last Thursday. Answering a question about
whether David Cameron has done enough to persuade the public to
vote to stay in the EU he said ‘At the moment I just have not got a
(clue) which side to go on……….When will we be told the facts? Not
scaremongering that the earth is flat and that if we leave the EU
we will fall off the edge, or that Brexit is the best thing since
sliced bread………There have been no facts.’
Sorry to disappoint you Theo, but there are no facts, because
this decision is about a future event, and unless you are a
registered clairvoyant the best you can do is form an opinion based
on a mixture of historical facts (of which there are too many to
assimilate, not too few) and hypothesis. What might be best for
Britain, and for the EU depends on so many unknowns. What if the UK
economy collapses? What if Russia invades Ukraine proper? What if
the Eurozone disintegrates? What if Donald Trump is the next US
So those politicians who are categorical about what will happen
in terms of sovereignty, our ability to re-renegotiate, the legal
status of the deal before treaty changes and so on if we stay In or
vote to Leave are talking through their bottom halves. Like my
mother they have no experience of a scenario like this, nor of
which of their hypotheses will actually play out. Scotwork’s
experience of watching thousands of negotiations every year is that
however many ‘What Ifs’ you plan for, what actually happens is
likely to be something you didn’t see coming! That doesn’t mean
that planning is a waste of time, but it does mean that retaining
flexibility of approach is all-important.
And one more comparison with my mother’s situation. She knows
that the decision she has to make is affected by the time frame.
The best decision for the next 2 years, whilst she still has some
mobility, might become a poor decision if she then has to go
through a second upheaval because she subsequently cannot continue
to live on her own. Similarly what is best for Britain has to be
measured against a time line – are we talking best for the next 5
years, 15 years or 50 years?
Politicians on both sides need to wise up and take advice from
my mother. She has the humility to know that’s she doesn’t know the
right answer to everything but that she does know how to go about
thinking things through. She won’t pay any special heed to family
members who take dogmatic positions, instead she will carefully
evaluate the opinions she hears and then quietly make her own mind
We should not be surprised. In the words of comedian Peter Kay
‘If it’s not one thing it’s your mother’.