Coincidence – or fate if you will – moves in strange ways. At the same time as we have the referendum result, a Westminster election has been announced, and vox populi interviews have started with potential voters asking what they would like to see from politicians.

Most of the initial interviews I saw had one common theme – voters wanted politicians to demonstrate that the electorate could trust those that they elect. This is hardly surprising given the recent scandals and disgraces that have dogged the UK political process. Is there any sign of any change amongst those who would seek our votes for Westminster? Time will tell. The initial shots on the election campaign certainly seem to be the usual “bread and circuses” fare, with no particular indication of any radical change of heart, and no particular sign that the concerns of the public regarding principle and honour (to use a terribly unfashionable word) have even been recognised.

What has this to do with the referendum? Perhaps quite a bit.

The referendum was a huge “wait a minute, let’s think about this” result. I’d bet there won’t be many Westminster seats decided upon with a 43% electoral turnout. The vote for or against ABS as a concept was almost evenly split, and the question posed presupposed a regulatory solution to the difficulties inherent in the ABS concept which has still not been satisfactorily identified despite years of analysis, debate, investigation and head scratching. What would the vote have been if there hadn’t been that huge assumption that ABS could be regulated?

The referendum result most certainly is not the clear mandate for change which Drumsheugh Gardens has been trumpeting since the proxy vote in 2008. Since then, the message we have had to put up with has been that the profession (that’s us) wants change, that change equals progress equals good, and that anyone standing in the way is an unrealistic stick in the mud doing the profession harm.

How wrong can a supposedly representative society be?

When one is proved wrong (for example by saying that the overwhelming majority of the profession supports ABS), then that affects people’s trust in one’s judgment, and the trust they may have had regarding the accuracy of what one says and the right of what one does. That trust then needs to be earned back. In this day and age (and rightly so), trust is not a right. Just because someone is important in the Law Society of Scotland doesn’t mean that they are entitled to expect that solicitors will trust them. In fact, significant numbers in the profession probably hold the exact opposite view. Trust has to be earned. Continually. Does the reaction from the President suggest any acceptance that his stance as a staunch advocate of change might be out of step with a hugely significant part of the profession he was elected to represent?

No. The difference of opinion expressed in the vote is classed as potentially “damaging” to the profession. Council will be “informed” by the result. The portrayal of the referendum result by Ian Smart could be seen by the disillusioned amongst us as being like a parent’s reaction to the inexplicable behaviour of a spoilt child who won’t listen to reason.

To be fair, these are only his initial reactions, but, then again, Ian presumably had the results before we did, and managed to get a little bit of time to prepare his statement. Why then, is there no acknowledgment of how far the Society’s policy has been out of step with what, it transpires, is the view of the significant part of the profession (probably the ones who, until now, have thought that ABS was a “big firm issue” and who therefore hadn’t put their heavy workloads to one side in order to find out for themselves how it did affect them)? Whatever is read into the referendum result, it most certainly cannot be ignored and, both on its own and in conjunction with the report from the only impartial authority to examine the issue to date (the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee) is a huge setback for the ABS steamroller. When the Society is so wrong about the strength of feeling in the profession, and when they seem to try to gloss over the evidence of that divergence, how can we (or anyone else) trust their judgment and what they say?

How can the Society earn back that trust and build on this level of engagement in a fundamental issue to the future of our profession?

Will the Society earn back that trust if they talk down the significance of the vote? No. Will they earn back that trust by tinkering around the edges then trying to spin the bill to us to make it more palatable to everyone? No. Will they earn back that trust by mounting a campaign to bulldoze opposition into the “fringes”? No. Will they earn that trust by saying to the profession: “Sorry, everyone. We’ve misjudged the way you feel about this. We got it wrong about how many of you think this is a bad idea, so we’ll go back to the Scottish Parliament and do everything we can to try to put the brakes on till we’ve heard the concerns, seen whether there’s anything can be done about them and worked out a policy”? Perhaps. Only time will tell, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Which course of action will they take? Which course of action does the profession trust them to take?

The President says we need to move forward together. But where? Will it be where the Society wants us to go, or where the profession wants to go?

Ranald Lindsay is principal of Lindsay, solicitors, Dumfries
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