Thursday, 18 September 2014

A Caledonian Prediction

The eve-of-voting polls are remarkably consistent pointing to 48-52, with 5-10% undecided, in favour of no, so this is going to be the baseline of my prediction prediction. But the pollsters are not at all confident of their weighting methodology.


  • 'Don't knows' typically break for the status quo in such referendums. 
  • There are an unusually large number of people refusing to talk to pollsters. If these break one way or the other, this can make a mockery of polling.
  • One side is much noisier and more enthused than the other and there has been intimidation. This can lead to an under-reporting of one side
  • There are a lot of people who're voting for the first time and for whom no previous elections can be used to compare.
So, as a keen amateur psephologist, I thought I'd have a go at a prediction taking into account the factors above.
  1. Baseline 48-52 for 'No'.
  2. Don't knows at 5% breaking 2-1 for 'No' gives 47 1/4% to 52 3/4% for no.
  3. It's simply impossible to know how the Silent voters will vote, but in my experience as a teller, they tend to be older, male, and well educated. Older lean 'no', male leans 'yes' and education is a weak predictor of 'no'.
  4. I suspect 'No' voters are less likely to take part in online surveys, and be keener to avoid letting on they vote no, for fear of Nationalist flash mobs. I suspect there is a shy 'no' vote nudging it a couple of percent, or possibly more.
  5. First time voters, and newly registered voters are likely to be under weighted in pollsters methodology, especially if the turnout is very high. It may be this is sufficient to outweigh the 'shy nos'.
Given the above my SWAG (scientific wild-arsed guess) is No 53% Yes 47%. I'd be more surprised by a 'Yes' than I would by a bigger 'No' win. I think most Scots, even some who voted 'Yes' will be relieved by a 'No' vote.




Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Scotland

Let's get the identity thing out the way: I'm British. My Mother is Scottish, with Ginger hair and Gaelic-speaking parents, a fear of sunshine and everything. My Father is mostly English, with a Welsh grandparent and an Irish surname. So as far as I can work it out, I'm half Scots, 3/8 English 1/8 Welsh and there's some Irish in there too somewhere, but I'm buggered if I can find it. As a result I have brown hair, but some ginger in the beard, and I too get sunburn at a fireworks display, and cannot stand direct sunlight. That's the genetics. Then there's the Identity. I was Born in Northampton, Schooled in Leicestershire, and went to University in Edinburgh for whom I played Shinty. I have ALWAYS regarded myself as British, Scottish (whom I support at football), English (whom I support at Rugby) and a citizen of the world.

My Late Grandfather was a fearsome Scottish Nationalist, despite having spent almost all his working life outside Scotland, serving Britain - in the Merchant marine, and the Diplomatic Wireless Service. I've enjoyed arguing 'no' all my life with him, and if Scots vote 'yes' I will take a crumb of comfort from the fact it'd make the old rogue happy. I learned to love the rough and tumble of political debate over my Grandparents' table in Inverness. The Scots are a warm, friendly, resolute and resourceful nation of people, who have achieved, like my Grandfather, great things all over the world, but the political culture is utterly vile. It was in Edinburgh I discovered the swamp of bitterness and hatred that is Scottish politics. I've never seen anything quite as unpleasant, and I've some experience of Northern Ireland. The principle emotions expressed are resentment, and a particularly toxic brand of zero-sum socialism: what's bad for the English must be good for me and Vice-versa. And this has been encouraged by the Scottish political establishment which is hard-left Labour, and often Harder left SNP, who have found the English, Tory boogeyman a handy catch-all on whom to blame all failures.

And some of Scotland is an abject failure. East Glasgow contains some of the poorest people in Europe, with some of the lowest life-expectancy in the developed world. This in a vibrant, powerful, wealthy city with arts and culture galore, represents a shocking failure of Glasgow's labour Political establishment. These people, living in schemes where the men are unlikely to live much beyond their 50th birthday, have been told that it's all "Thatcher" who closed the shipyards and steelworks, and the "Tories" who don't care, shifting the blame from a Scottish Parliament and Labour Government in Westminster who've had over a decade to do something about it. But it's easier to make people hate 'the other', than it is to rebuild such failed communities.

And the poor bits of Glasgow are the bits most strongly in favour of Scottish independence. Unsurprising, really, they do have the least to lose. Labour is reaping what it sowed.

So we come to the referendum. They've given votes to children, hoping they can be enthused by the Braveheart myth; not put what is BY FAR the most popular option - Devolution Max - on the ballot paper, allowed the Secessionists the 'yes' answer - the question could have been, "should Scotland stay in the United Kingdom?"; and there is no supermajority needed to destroy the UK, all at the behest of Alex Salmond. If he cannot, under these circumstances persuade people to leap into the Abyss, then the issue should be settled for at least a generation. The SNP got more or less everything it asked for in the negotiations over the referendum. To bleat about BBC bias, and "Westminster stooges" under these circumstances is rather pathetic.

Abyss? Scotland has the potential to be an extraordinarily vibrant place. The land of Smith an Hume, the Edinburgh enlightenment, whose ideas underpinned the USA, industrial engineers, soldiers and statesmen who built then dismantled the greatest Empire the world has ever seen. Many small countries do well. Scotland the second richest bit of the UK after London & the South east, and Aberdeen its second or third richest city after London and Bath, so it's not clear to me the Status Quo is broken. The Scots population is sparse and so they get more state spending per head and also contribute more tax per head. English Nationalists (whom I despise too) focus on the former, Scottish Nationalists, the latter. The simple fact is any independent Scotland will be running a big primary deficit, but will lack the ability to finance it. Salmond's plan to not take a share of the debt will make this deficit utterly unsustainable, as no-one will lend. Austerity? You ain't seen nothing yet.

So I come back to the toxic political culture, and fear that it would rapidly become Venezuela, if the likes of Jim Sillars gets his way. The blood letting that would accompany a recession costing 4% of GDP, which is what happened to Czechoslovakia on its split, whose economies were much less integrated, would be terrible. Scotland's independence teething troubles could be worse than Czech Republic and Slovakia's velvet split - 70% of Scots GDP is "exports" to the rest of the UK. The deeply ingrained habit of Scottish politicians is to blame "Westminster" or "the Tories" mean Scotland would be ripe for the kind of "stab in the back, betrayal" narrative that encourages even more extreme nationalism, should it all go wrong. The yes campaign have encouraged their supporters to project all their hopes onto independence, and deserve credit that theirs is a civic, rather than 'blood and soil' nationalism, but there will be a lot of disappointment that it's a lot, lot harder than they thought it was. The nationalist genie is out of the bottle, and it's going to be hard to put it back, which ever way the vote goes.

Several companies, and plenty of people have said they'd leave Scotland if she votes 'Yes'. Scotland will find it harder to attract companies without being part of the UK. No companies and few people have said they'd move to Scotland in the event of a yes vote. Not even Vivienne Westwood.

Of course a 'Yes' vote could see a resurgence of the Centre right in Scotland. Ooh Look.

But the forlorn hope that Scottish politics becomes sane on independence, is to deny the greatness of what Scotland and the rest of the UK have achieved TOGETHER: one of the richest, freest, most powerful and influential countries on earth. A leader in world trade, and leading member of many international clubs. And we're forgetting what the rest of the UK provides Scotland. Scotland would have suffered horribly had it been independent in 2008, probably worse than Ireland as Scotland was even more over-banked than was Ireland in 2007. Bigger economies can sustain deficits and have internationally-traded currencies have virtually unlimited chequebooks in a crisis. Sterling is an internationally-traded currency. Small countries don't have this advantage. And the UK is not a small country by any measure. We (together) have the 6th (or so...) largest economy on earth, the world's third most powerful military with global reach, aircraft carriers (and planes too in three years' time...) and nuclear weapons. That is a lot of insurance against unknown future threats. Small countries aren't richer or poorer than large ones, but they are more volatile and less able to defend themselves against the likes of Putin or assert influence in the great councils of the world. Scots benefit from the UK's heft.

Do you really think anyone in Brussels will care what Scotland, a nation of 5 million people, thinks? Denmark and Ireland have little influence, and the Experience of Ireland shows just how far from decision making the needs of peripheral economies are to the EU project. Scotland's economy will not be aligned to the core, as Denmark's is. It will be aligned to the UK, as Ireland's is. And Scotland's concerns will not matter. The EU power-brokers DO, on the other hand care what the UK thinks, even if the UK is a "surly lodger", to purloin Salmond's phrase, who has eschewed the Euro, it is a major one at least equal to France.

Scots though they desire to have no influence in the EU, have been told they have no influence in the UK. That's palpable, hairy bollocks, swinging under a kilt. Blair and Brown owe all but their 1997 majority to Scottish MPs. The last PM was a Scot. And the current one has Scottish Family. And Blair was educated in Scotland too. It's about "running your own affairs" you say? But you want to participate fully (uncritically, with little influence) in the EU. Is that not hypocrisy? And in any case, you have significant, and soon to be total, devolution of health, education, some taxation and social policy. Scots are over-represented in Westminster. Scots ALREADY run their own affairs. And I hear a lot of Scottish burrs at the top of politics, business, media out of all proportion to the population. It was a Scottish king who took the English crown and Scots have been running Britain rather well ever since.

Who, elsewhere in the world favours Scottish independence? Kim Jong Un, and Vladimir Putin. That's about it. For the Union, we have Barak Obama, the EU, NATO, the OECD.... (has anyone asked the Pope or the Dalai Lama?) The practical part of me thinks independence and a 'yes' vote would throw out all the benefits of being part of the UK, at enormous long-term cost, and for few additional benefits. The last thing the world needs is another Border, or indeed a smaller, weaker United Kingdom.

But that's not what this referendum is about. It's about the emotional appeal to the Scottish soul. Are you Scottish? Are you British? How much of each? There are an enormous number of us in the UK who are British and English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish (not to mention Australian, Indian, Pakistani, Jamaican, Nigerian...) too. "British" is an inclusive identity, and as a result Britain greater by far than the sum of its parts. And for many of us, a 'Yes' vote would feel like having a limb sliced off. Think about your family and friends down south. Think about your future in a deeply uncertain world. Think about the collective strength of the nations of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Think about how desperately sad many people who love Scotland both in Scotland and elsewhere, would feel if you vote for independence. Vote with your head, AND your heart, to stay Scottish within a great and powerful United Kingdom.

Vote No.



Sunday, 14 September 2014

On Representative Democracy

An individual is generally a pretty competent judge of his or her interests. We are pretty efficient at judging what's best for friends and family too. And in certain cases, distributed decision-making is better than individuals, because a market price for example is the distilled wisdom of everyone's knowledge. But democratic decision making is not like this. The questions asked are usually binary, but about issues that aren't binary. Neither of the propositions makes any sense. Scotland's independence referendum, or the referendum UKIP and Tory loons wanted so, so badly on the EU, but about which they are getting cold feet because they know they'll lose.


Many Tories, and libertarians, like Douglas Carswell are attracted direct democracy, attracted by the idea of the wisdom of crowds. But they don't take into account the extent to which the processes of such direct democracy tend to be in practice controlled by party machines, for whom politics is a profession, the art of the possible.

the route campaigns have taken over the years is 1) persuade a major party to discuss, then adopt a proposal 2) consider exactly what legislation would be necessary to get a proposal into law 3) find time in the legislative programme not taken up by rubber stamping minutiae, to get it through both houses of parliament. Because the demands are vague, everyone "passionately caring" about a given issue will have their own patchwork of loyalties and only sometimes will even complete acceptance of a group's demands induce satisfaction.

The route now is to take up the anti-establishment cudgels, and demand politicians do 1, 2 and 3, immediately. There's little engagement with the process which enables ideas to become legislation. This is the motive behind the rise of anti-establishment parties - and UKIP and the SNP use similar tactics. First play on people's sense of entitlement. We live in a market economy in which everyone expects their demands to be met, and do not consider what is possible. This creates a sense of grievance. This is then exploited by expert demagogues who direct it at some 'other'. UKIP have the EU, the SNP have cleverly turned the vicious anti-English hatred which burns in the hearts of many Scots into 'anti-Westminster' sentiment. 

Having persuaded the people an amorphous THEY is doing every bad thing to YOU, the Farage/Salmond present a simple solution, independence from THEM will enable YOU to realise your dreams. The people are persuaded, by this simple manipulation to equate THEM with everything bad, and the achievement of getting rid of THEM will create nirvarna. It's a simple, attractive message, but ultimately guarantees dissapointment. No-one's thinking about steps 2 & 3 and is unwilling to do the work. This school of demagoguery is also practiced by Labour: the rich, the bankers, the fat cats who're profiteering at your expense. The Tories are guilty of holding benefits recipients to account for the deficit.

The problem is one of unreasonable expectations of an electorate which wants a government which does everything, but is unwilling to pay the necessary taxes. Just as the electorate expects democracy to work like a consumer business, they expect government services to do so. And here, the kind of solutions which are applicable through politics are not as efficient as those of the market. But with a single-funder, the market is unlikely to arise organically for healthcare services, so politicians still have a role in sorting out how the market should operate. Successfully in the example of utilities (fancy arguing I'm wrong, don't bother, I'll delete your comment) less so in the example of rail. But there is no doubt market solutions work better than state dirigisme, because of the wisdom of crowds.

Unlike market solutions, political solutions are manipulated by political parties into two competing sub-optimal camps, from which people must choose a mix of things they like and things they don't. This is not a subtle decision-making and resource allocating process, and given the toxic iconoclasm pervading politics at the moment, it's a recipe for disaster.

The solution isn't more veto points, more layers of government all coming up with sub-optimal solutions to problems that may or may not be best out of government control. The solution is to devolve more power to individuals, whose decision-making process is not political. Decisions should be moved to the appropriate level of government. Usually this will mean moving it down.

Ultimately government should be made up of people to whom we outsource the management of dreary tasks like road-building, waste collection and dropping bombs on uncooperative foreigners. Because people aren't by and large traffic-engineers, waste logisticians or in the military, we are not qualified to comment, but we can offer oversight, voting out people whose judgement on these issues we trust no more. It's possible the Police and crime commissioners may become such a single-issue go-to for public concern. And in a representative democracy, they will have to learn to say 'no' to the electorate from time to time. Political processes cannot please all the people, all the time.

Ultimately the logic of devolution if it has any merit, ends up with individualism. And the best way for individuals to be able to balance the competing demands of modern life is for Government to get out of the way of his or her preferences through the action of markets. Government's role is to regulate and oversee those markets. It's difficult to see to what practical problem "leave the EU" or "Break up the UK" is a solution. But these are presented as solutions to people who don't understand what's wrong or how to fix it, and who frankly, have more important things to worry about, so we elect people to oversee the experts we hire to do the dirty work.

Constitutional change is political masturbation. It's enjoyable for political wonks to talk about. But the people the demagogues have enthused, UKIPpers and YES voters will feel let down when the thing they desire doesn't deliver their promised land. And a new bunch of political obsessives will find another issue to make political decision-making more opaque and less efficient when the solution is devolution of power to existing structures: local democracy and individual decision making through markets. The institutions of the UK work pretty well, and the unwritten constitution is remarkably flexible. There are structures which are best dealt with supranationally, nationally, regionally, locally and individually. Generally, decisions should be delegated down so 'devo-max' seems appropriate, but there's little need for big changes, just Government that's a bit smaller, more local, and less expensive. 

Politicians lie: governing parties lie by obfuscation because they can't reveal their impotence in the face of democratic checks and balances. But parties which invite to point blame on "them". Well we saw where that could lead 70 years ago.

If I was Scots (which I am, half, but no vote...) I'd still rather be part of a nation capable of putting a top-flight aircraft carrier or two to sea. And little England will find much less influence outside the EU than in. We cant escape the trade rules. I may be a libertarian in wanting people, not politicians to have power. That's not in UKIP or the SNPs offer. I am also a conservative. I see no reason to make radical changes to solve problems that barely exist.



There was an error in this gadget