Friday, April 26, 2013

Black holes and white lies

Another day, another "black hole" (though I see the online version is a lot more restrained). Surely the No side will have to start upping their game on the astro-physical-metaphor front. Plans for defence found full of anti-matter particles, or not to contain any Higgs bosons, maybe.

Anyway, here's what ICAS actually said.

And here's their (pretty bemused sounding) executive director, David Wood, on Good Morning Scotland (links last a week, I think) (2.09.00 onwards) . He said the biggest problem would be if no-one thought about pensions, at all, before the referendum. Forgot about them altogether. I'm sure that would be a problem but I don't think it's one he suggested was likely. The other problem (and the one about which the Scotsman was dissembling) was that, on independence, "pan-UK" pension schemes would become cross-border schemes and subject to the EU cross border rules. No, me neither but he was asked whether there were not lots of existing cross border schemes. Turns out that, yes, of course, there are. Then, this exchange:

"Q: But wouldn't it be as simple as splitting the pension fund into two bits, one for Scotland and one for the rest of the UK, and just carrying on as before....?

A: Yup. That is...that is exactly right."

He then said that there should be some planning for that, by companies, in advance, before September next year and ICAS were just trying to highlight that so companies weren't taken by surprise.

So, an important administrative task but one of the most puzzled sounding interviewees I've ever heard. And "black hole" is just, simply...inaccurate.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Minding the Gap

Glenn Campbell has a strange job, doesn't he? He seems to have been appointed to roam the globe and conduct as many partial, misleading interviews with as many foreign dignatories as will speak to him, ask them a few leading questions, report the bits of their answers he likes, ignore the rest, then move on. The subtext is that those he is speaking to are disinterested bystanders to the referendum debate. So, if they can't say for certain that X is true, why that awful Alex Salmond must be lying when he says he believes that it is. So, this morning in his interview with Kurt Volker, the former US ambassador to Nato, it was quietly accepted that NATO would have enormous goodwill to an independent Scotland. However, the fact that its members would have to agree to admit us as members, after a Yes vote, was juxtaposed with Salmond's stated "certainty" that they would do so, in such a way as to suggest that he was being misleading. The unspoken assumption is that if we don't know, with absolute certainty, that X is true then we must assume X to be false.

But that is, frankly, bunkum. We're adults. We're used to dealing with something less than absolute certainty. This goes all the way back to the difference between deductive and inductive reasoning. I cannot be certain that the sun will rise tomorrow but I would be an idiot if I structured my affairs, each day, assuming there was a realistic chance it wasn't going to. A clever primary school child, finding its intellectual feet, might think it a clever argument to ask "Yes, but how do you know X to be true?" As adults, we ought to be past that stage, particularly if we are going to be permitted to vote.

It is on one view a curse of geography that Scotland lies at the southern end of a naval choke point. The Iceland Gap is the link between the countries of northern Europe and the Atlantic Ocean. The clue is in the name. The idea that the "North Atlantic Treaty Organisation" would refuse an application for membership from the nation sitting to the south of the Iceland Gap is preposterously ridiculous. A fair, balanced item would have involved Glenn asking someone versed in international relations what their view of things was, not repeating sonorously that "all" members of NATO would have to decide whether to admit us or not, as if there was the slightest chance that they would not. As Salmond, said, NATO's concern would be if we were not members.

Our strategic position is precisely the reason why we could never hope, even if we wanted, to follow Ireland's example of neutrality. We would only be neutral like Iceland was in the Second World War: nominally and briefly, before swift occupation.

And I've always liked Ken Macdonald's imagining of Salmond's response to the postulated snub from the NATO representative. Salmond pauses. He says "I see. OK. Can you hang on while I make a quick call". He dials, then says: "Hello. Is that the Chinese premier?"