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If you thought creating reassuring messages to a divided workforce in the rest of the UK was tough, spare a thought for internal communicators in Scotland.

Scottish voters opted 60:40 for Remain in the Brexit referendum, just a short while after being split 51:49 in the poll to stay in the UK.

“The Brexit vote being such a close split across the UK has added fuel to the independence argument, which was also very close,” explains Alastair Scott, Director of IoIC Scotland. “And that, in turn, has caused concern especially for companies that cross borders within the UK or are pan-European.
“The Brexit vote has just lit a fire under the independence argument again. People suddenly see that there’s a possibility that Scotland could be out of the UK and in Europe – that’s a massive dynamic change…massive.
“It’s also possible that we could stay part of the UK and leave the EU, or even stand alone if we’re not allowed to join the EU as a separate nation…It’s all possible within about five years, which is quite scary.”
It’s a worrying time in Scotland and Alastair, who is also MD at 20/20 Productions, adds: “Internal communicators are as worried as anyone. What they see, especially in bigger organisations, is the possibility of their head office being moved into Europe or maybe to England. It could be chaos.”
He works across Scotland with companies like Heineken, Standard Life, Tesco Bank, and ExxonMobil and says mostly they have stuck to business-as-usual comms and tried to reassure employees. However, the unique situation in Scotland means that often the message can sound unconvincing.
“You can try and be as reassuring as you like, but every man and woman on the street knows that we are now in a waiting game,” he says. It’s a tough time for comms people because there’s no real message to deliver.
“That’s the real difficulty. There’s not a story to tell because we just don’t know and it’s twice as confusing here than it is in the rest of the UK because of the underlying independence debate.
“It’s the worst kind of comms situation because the people you’re communicating with probably know as much as you do.”
Despite this, Alastair says it’s vital to keep comms channels open, be honest, and – as a Brexit voter himself – essential to put personal political feelings aside.
“It would be crazy to try and stifle debate,” he says. “There may be no story to tell yet but leaving channels there for discussion is absolutely vital. If we start stifling discussion about one of the biggest decisions the nation will ever take, there’s something wrong.
“Also, you can’t be seen to come down on either side of the fence because the vote was so close. In Scotland, there’s a double split between Remainers and Leavers, and then again between pro-independence and those who aren’t – and within that there are people of all persuasions.  Many Brexit voters are pro UK, and many Remainers support independence.
“I think it’s healthy to talk about it, although there has to be a limit on how fiery you allow the debate to get. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but in the end we have to get on with our work knowing we have differing political views – that’s part and parcel of living in a democracy.
“I spoke to a colleague in one of the banks here and she was a Remainer who was really upset about the result but she said ‘I have to respect the vote and get on with it, I can’t sit in my office crying about it’.”
Alastair sums up: “The main thing for internal communicators is to be honest about the fact that no-one knows what’s going to happen – and keep up regular communication as the Brexit story develops, even if there is still not much more to say. This will help quash any unfounded rumours about job losses or offices relocating.”
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