Saturday, 28 June 2014

A conversation with Yes Scotland about job-creating powers


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The anatomy of an impossible conversation

So, this happened.


Handily, each tweet is numbered, which makes cross-reference easy. So:

  1. No it doesn't. Queer politics seeks to liberate queers from heteronormativity. I agree that women are indeed allowed to object to anything they want. Everyone is.
  2. Since the hypothesis in 1 is false, this conclusion is false. That's not to say there aren't people trying to gloss over sexism and misogyny. It's just not, generally, the people you try to blame in 1 and not, specifically, the people you blame by implication in 1.
  3. I asked you to stop referring to a female person as 'he'. Whatever she has said to you. Replying that you will continue to do so isn't so much an argument as a playground tantrum.
  4. Every instance of identity denial does damage, just as every instance of sexism and misogyny does damage. If you didn't think you were having an impact you wouldn't say anything.
  5. I didn't tell you what to do. I asserted that your behaviour was damaging, and I asked you to stop.
  6. The validity or otherwise of my opinion is not related to my gender. Thanks for the cartoon. The likeness is uncanny.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Scottish exports

This morning, the Yes campaign tweeted thusly:
I have no issue with their second sentence. I'm not one to make the "too poor, too wee, too stupid" argument. Indeed, it is only ever independence supporters who do.

But the first sentence gave me pause, because £73.6 billion is more than a quarter of total UK exports. I know Scotland punches above its weight as a benefit of the union, but this struck me as unlikely. So I went and found the Scottish Government's figures. Here we are:
"The total value of international exports from Scotland in 2012 (excluding oil and gas) is estimated at £26.0 billion, of which £15.4 billion was from the manufacturing sector and £8.7 billion from the services sector."
(Scottish Government website)
Okay, so what's going on here? Aah:
The total value of exports from Scotland to the rest of UK in 2012 (excluding oil and gas) is estimated at £47.6 billion, of which £25.3 billion was from the services sector and £12.7 billion from the manufacturing sector.
(Scottish Government website)
So the Yes campaign has added these two figures together to reach their £73.6 billion. Well that seems fair, doesn't it? Maybe? Perhaps?

UPDATE: Actually, no it doesn't. As a couple of people have pointed out since I wrote this, there's a well-documented phenomenon in international trade known as the "border effect" which says trade is inhibited by borders for a variety of reasons, and a pair of regions within a country tends to trade 10 to 20 times as much as an otherwise identical pair of regions in two different countries. So not only is this figure unreliable, there are also good reasons to think it will fall dramatically simply because a border is created.  You can read more here.

Let's have a look at where the data comes from first. It's derived from the Global Connections Survey (GCS), an annual exercise which asks companies to classify their own trade. Around 5,000 companies with operations in Scotland are sampled, and the government says around 2,000 respond, "including nil responses". So, fewer than 2,000 data points then, but we don't know by how much. They are asked to fill in a form which has precisely one question tracking Scotland versus rest of UK sales, and the fourth most common complaint by companies is that they can't separate out their "rest of UK trade" from their "Scottish trade". [page 8]

One can appreciate their difficulty. If the Tomatin distillery company (try their 30-year-old, it's a cracker) was estimating the percentage of its whisky sold into the rest of the UK, how would it classify its sales to Asda (head office Leeds)? How does Tunnocks divvy up its deliveries to Morrisons? What does a company supplying call centre services to Sky write down in the percentage box? Moreover, what motivation have they to take the time and effort to make this accurate? What's the easiest way of filling out the form?

Is this level of evidence a good basis on which to decide the future of our country? Does it make any sense whatsoever to pretend that companies doing business entirely within the UK, with goods often crossing the Scottish border more than once, are somehow involved in "export"? Do these companies even think of themselves as "exporters" as they operate in their home market? Does the "Rest of UK" figure have any meaning at all?

To be fair, the GCS does deliver a bit more detail. It tells us [page 10] that the largest industry sector by far in the "Rest of UK exports" is financial services, accounting for nearly £10 billion - more than 20% of the total. Indeed, according to Scottish Financial Enterprise that's 90% of the Scottish financial services industry's customers.

Unfortunately here's where the wheels really start to fall off.

The only reason many Scotland-based financial services companies can successfully sell into the rest of the UK at all, is that both supplier and customer are in the same country. This would of course stop being the case if Scotland became independent. What we're actually adding up here is the value of financial services business that Scotland stands to lose should we vote to separate from the UK.

ICAS has said that proposed transitional arrangements to resolve cross-border pension problems are "wholly insufficient"; that EU rules preclude regulatory sharing meaning that separate systems and therefore separate markets are an inevitable result of independence; and that the White Paper's assertion of a shared workplace pension protection fund is pretty much pie in the sky.

It's fair to say that classifying as an "export" the supply of a service that could not actually be supplied across a national border is a very considerable stretching of the truth.


I'm not an economist, and I'm open to the likelihood that I might have mis-stepped in this layman's analysis, but it seems to me that explicitly basing a call for a Yes vote on a set of figures which are at best a hurried guess - and at worst a dishonest representation of the potential for Scottish exports to the rest of UK should independence come - is pretty slippery.

And another thought creeps inexorably around my head. Most people aren't going to look this closely at the things the Yes campaign says. When it says a Yes vote will end child poverty, for example, a good number of people are going to take it at its word. And when someone like me takes issue with such assertions, I will be dismissed as a scaremongering tribalist/careerist/BritNat/whatever.

So perhaps this blog is just another straw in the wind. Perhaps the relentless battering of those expressing doubts over independence will sideline these questions just as it has sidelined others. Perhaps the key Yes argument - that everything will be fine just because we want it to be - will win out in the end.

It's a hell of a basis for dividing our country in two.

Friday, 6 June 2014

A doorstep tale

I knocked on a door the other day, with a pile of Better Together leaflets in my hand and a badge on my lapel. It was a sunny morning. A man answered the door. He looked to be in his sixties or seventies, and he was bare-chested. "Sorry for disturbing you" I said, thinking he was in the middle of getting dressed; then I saw the sunglasses perched on his head and realised he'd been sunbathing.

He looked at me, smiled, and said "I've been waiting for one of you lot to come round". Experience suggests that this isn't always the precursor to a friendly chat.

"I'm SNP." Here we go, I thought. "Aye, I've voted for them the last few times. But see this independence? I think that Salmond has overreached. I'm against it. And I'll tell you why."

"When we fought the 1914-1918 war, and when we fought the 1939-1945 war, we didn't do it as Scotland, and we didn't do it as England, or Wales, or Northern Ireland. We did it together, as Britain. And that's how we won. You ask any of the old yins, they'll tell you. And that's what I've been waiting to tell one of you. 'Better Together' is spot on. It's spot on. We are."

"And let me tell you something else. It's wise to stick together. Wise. Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England. You see? W-I-S-E. You can have that, son. Use that."

He smiled again. "So, aye, that's what I wanted to say. And I've said it. Best of luck, son. I'm voting no."

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Embracing negativity


I'm voting No on September 18th.

I'm saying No to the empty promises of the independence campaign. I'm saying No to the idea that independence is a magic solution to the scourge of child poverty. I'm saying No to the deliberately misleading argument that independence means we all always get the government we vote for. I'm saying No to the utterly disingenuous suggestion that independence means fairness and prosperity for all. I'm saying No to the flannel and the bluster and the dogged insistence that everything will be better despite a complete lack of evidence.

I'm voting No and then I'm voting Scottish Labour in 2015 and 2016. Because that's how we can really get back to the never-ending fight for fairness for everyone.

Monday, 2 June 2014

It's okay to disagree

Rhetoric is a powerful, persuasive thing, but we mustn't let it get in the way of friendship.

One of my best friends posted on Facebook about the independence referendum earlier, urging that Scots should "do the right thing". He's a Yes voter so for him the right thing is independence. He regularly posts blogs from Wings Over Scotland too.

Last week a conversation with other old friends saw one describing Scottish independence as "a step towards a positive inclusive future for all of Scotland's people", another telling me my view was that "the Scottish people can't be trusted", and a third saying that Scots had been "subjugated" by the English.

These are people I've known and loved for decades, and it can sometimes be painful to hear this sort of stuff from them. But it struck me later that my reaction wasn't really to do with their position on independence at all. I've never had particular problems maintaining relationships where there exist political disagreements. The world would be a boring place if we all only chose friends we agreed with.

No, the problem I have, I think, is with the rhetoric, not the opinion. And I say rhetoric rather than argument quite deliberately. "A step towards a positive inclusive future" isn't an argument. It's a conceit. And it's straight from the Scottish Government's PR handbook. "Things are bad; here is a change; we assert that it will be for the better." And if you point out it could easily be for the worse, you are dismissed as negative and fear-mongering.

The idea that Scots are "subjugated", that No voters don't think Scots can be "trusted", or indeed that there is a simple "right thing" to do in September - this is all rhetoric. And it is designed to sting - to jolt those on the receiving end into a change of view.

And that's politics, I guess; and we all do it, I guess.

But the main reason I felt the need to write this today was to make a promise, to myself more than to anyone else. I'm not going to lose any friendships over this referendum. I refuse to. I will see the rhetoric for what it is, and I will argue my case as best I can, but I won't risk something as important as friendship over something as unimportant as politics.

I love my friends, even the ones who are dead wrong. :-)