Thursday, May 29, 2014

No Borders - new depths

Here's an email from Great Ormond Street Hospital about one of the cinema adverts run by the weird, sinister and creepy "Vote No Borders" organisation, about which Great Ormond Street had to complain and which was then pulled. I'm sure it's ok. I'm sure Great Ormond Street Hospital didn't have anything better to do that day.

If you are forcing both Great Ormond Street Hospital and the London School of Economics to take time away from their normal business to complain about you misrepresenting them, might you not benefit from pausing and taking a long, hard look at yourself in the mirror?

Full story at Wings, here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Direction of travel

Reading and comprehension: 
Paper 1
Question 1

The following is an extract from a police interview. The speaker is a witness to events immediately preceding a road trafffic accident in which someone was seriously injured. Please read the extract and then answer the question at the end, giving reasons for your answer:

"I was stopped at some traffic lights. The lights turned to green and I started to move off. As I did so, this coked-up boy racer came zooming past me. He was already doing about 50 and looked like he had his foot down. He just missed some pedestrians. He was laughing like a maniac and didn't seem to know where he was or what he was doing. I was terrified. I remember thinking 'Jesus! He's going to hit someone!' I carried on for a bit and sure enough a few minutes later when I caught up with him I saw he'd collided with that bus."
What, do you think, the police will feel are the crucial bits of this account? What is the most important and relevant information that it contains?

1. The witness was travelling in the same direction as the other car.
2. Something else.

Monday, May 26, 2014

"...I've awaited your coming and dreaded it"


George Taylor: Oh my God. I'm back. I'm home. All the time, it was... We finally really did it.
George Taylor:
You Maniacs! ...Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!
Earlier today, UKIP came first in the European elections in the UK as a whole, becoming the first party other than Labour or the Tories to win a UK-wide election in a century. In Scotland, it came fourth. In the rest of the UK, it got nearly a third of the vote. In Scotland, it got around a tenth. Its result in Scotland is far behind its worst result in England. Throughout the UK, it got the largest number of MEPS of any party: 23. In Scotland, it got the lowest possible number of MEPs, other than no MEPS at all: one. Of UKIP's current 393 elected representatives, Scotland is responsible for a total of precisely one. 96.79% of  UKIP's 4,351,204 votes were cast outside Scotland. Even if every single one of those who voted for UKIP in Scotland had not done so, and even if every single one of them had actually voted for a different party, UKIP would still have won.

More votes were cast outside Scotland for UKIP than there are electors in the whole of Scotland.

Early this morning, Professor Vernon Bogdanor told David Dimbleby on the BBC's Vote 2014 programme that in his view there is a 50/50 chance that in five years time Britain will not be in the European Union. Earlier in the same programme, Tory MEP Daniel Hannan predicted to Dimbleby that there will be joint UKIP/Tory candidates for the UK general election in 2015, in eleven months time, with the intention of ensuring that the right-wing, anti-EU vote is maximised. Professor Bogdanor said there will be de facto pacts between the Tories and UKIP to ensure that the anti-EU vote is not split. Between them, UKIP and the Tories took 51.44% of the UK-wide vote. Labour took less than half of that: 25.40%.

50/50. 51.44%. Less than half. Eleven months time. It's soon going to be too late.

Vote Yes.

Friday, May 23, 2014

"What will it take to be too much? When is enough enough?"

Carolyn Leckie in simply breathtaking, stunning form. (Click here if the video above is not viewable, to see it on YouTube)

Anyone who views themselves as at all left of centre and who is swithering about which way to vote: watch this. Watch this and after you have stopped applauding pass the link on to anyone you can think of.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The process of doing ourselves proud

First off: a confession and declaration of interest. I'm in favour of Scottish independence and, from the start, have been optimistic that we'll get a Yes vote. The reasoning is simple enough. I genuinely and sincerely believe that the facts, the economic facts, are on our side. But just as important to the argument, I believe that most people are unaware of these facts. Why would they not be? I was, until I decided to read up and investigate. Until the SNP came to office, it's not been in the interests of anyone in a position to do so to publicise or highlight them, to argue against the presumption that we are a basket case of subsidy junkies. That's why suddenly opponents were falling over themselves to claim no-one was saying we couldn't afford to be independent. That's precisely what they've been saying (or at the very least a belief they have been happy not to dispel) for most of my life. So, I think most people don't know that Scotland's GDP per head is higher than the UK's, that we've paid more tax per head than the UK in each of the last 30 years and more, that that excess greatly exceeds the extra public spending per head that we get back, that we're one of the wealthiest countries in the world and so on. I think that when they learn the true position, they'll want to vote for independence.

But I'm not an idiot. I know that of course that's not enough.They need to decide they want to find all this out. If enough people still don't know the facts come the vote, we'll lose. They'll need to believe my side to some extent, or they won't bother. They won't believe that there's anything worth finding out, that what they have always assumed to be true might, even just might, not be. And you would, wouldn't you, expect that people, jaded by and inured to political scandal after political scandal, would turn off and either not vote at all or refuse to engage in the debate and, so, never hear from people like me, asking them to look at the facts and consider the evidence? That's been Better Together's big bet. I'd suggest it explains their reluctance to take part in debate at all (with every meeting I've read about where a before and after vote has been taken recording substantial movement to Yes). But I always thought this wouldn't, in the end, work. What made me confident that Better Together were underestimating the electorate?

Punching above our weight

What, as Wings asked this morning, do Better Together actually have left?:
"No currency union: gone.
Your pensions at risk: gone.
High cost of borrowing: gone."
Well, to be fair, a couple of things. Primarily, it seems, maudlin, sentimental (though increasingly belligerent) paeans to an imagined but never-actually-existed-and-certainly-won't-now Britain about which increasingly desperate, far-fetched and outlandish claims are made. (Did we really give the world "Christian civilisation"? When?).

But anyway, there's another trope they bang on about: international influence. "We punch above our weight". Now, there's not enough room on the internet to do justice to all the fascinating psychological implications of equating "influence" with looking for big people to hit to demonstrate to everyone that you're not small at all oh no there that showed them do you want some too do you do you? And there are most certainly limits to what comprises permissible, or sensible, punching. But in any event, is it punching that gives you influence in today's world? How do small countries who don't punch people get on? Countries who don't threaten to punch people, don't want to punch people? Can they have no ambition to play any part, in concert with others, in creating a better, more stable world? Does realpolitik condemn a nation of, say, five and a half million people to choose either to opt out of world affairs altogether, to be buffeted around by the disturbances created by others, or hook itself up with a belligerent partner and go on a spree punching? Well let's see. Let's pick on someone smaller than us.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Eat. Sleep. Vote "No". Repeat

"It will open a way for all parties to explore together a lasting alternative arrangement which can enjoy the support of the whole British people."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Truths, inconvenient truths and statistics

Scepticism is good. Healthy. However. There's a kind of self-regarding method of argument that involves everything you say being countered by "So you say. How do I know that's true? Prove it." Each time you present a supporting argument, offer some bit of evidence, the veracity or accuracy of that evidence is questioned. What evidence do you have for the evidence? And so on and so, ultimately unproductively, on.

In the context of the independence debate, from the very earliest days, there's been a clamour from some for "the facts". Actually, usually "just the facts". As if there was a small number of bits of crucial information whose existence was known to the politicians on both sides but which they were choosing to keep secret.

Well, actually, there is.


Over 100 academics put their names to a letter reported in the Herald today which was, in short, supportive of Scottish independence and positive about the opportunities it would bring to academia. And how did the Herald choose to report that fact? Under the headline "Academics divided on impact of a Yes vote" it said:
"ACADEMICS are split over the impact of independence on university research after more than 100 of them warned the real threat to Scotland's future comes from remaining part of the United Kingdom."
Is that not, on any view, a bizarrely misleading way to approach things? I don't remember any report of the views expressed by the No equivalent, "Academics Together", as starting off with the observation that the academic community was not unanimously united in its views. But the Herald has form here.
It has been breathtaking to watch over the last couple of years as campaigners and commentators have created an atmosphere where not only is it rendered respectable to articulate as a reason for voting No that you "hate Alex Salmond" but where No campaigners perfectly happily cite that as one of the two main reasons given to them by their own supporters:

Wings Over Scotland recently summarised things thus:

A good day to bury good news

Philip Clarke, Chief Executive Officer of Tesco plc was on Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland this morning and was asked, of course, about his company's reaction in the event of Scottish independence. His response was:
"We're the biggest retailer in Scotland. Our bank's headquartered there. Umm...we're going to be in Scotland if it's independent or not".
Martin Gilbert, Chief Executive of Aberdeen Asset Management, Europe's largest independent asset manager with funds of £324.5 billion under management as at 31 March 2014, was on the same programme and was asked, of course, about his company's reaction in the event of Scottish independence. His response was:
"we will remain neutral on the subject because it is a decision for the Scottish people...we have no plans to move our headquarters out of Aberdeen....Let the people decide in September...We already operate in 30 countries round the world so one more's not going to make any difference"
This'll be all over the press and the broadcast media.

Won't it?