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The Hitchhikers’ Guide To Scottish Independence (Part 1)

June 10, 2014

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think smartphones are a pretty neat idea.

In the north of the western hemisphere of this planet is a small nation with a big decision to make. They are part of a union known as the UK. This union has, or rather had, a problem, which was this: most of the people living in it were unhappy for pretty much of the time.

Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper which were unhappy.

And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with smartphones.

Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move and that no one should ever have left the oceans.

And then, one Thursday in September…

OK, listen up people, here’s what’s going to happen. This is intended to be a continuing blog (hence the ‘Part 1’) dealing with all of the most important issues in the Scottish independence debate. For weeks I’ve been staring at this headline and wondering what to tackle first, which aspect of the independence issue should I cover in ‘Part 1?’ Events are unfolding thick and fast, stories are proliferating daily. And with each story the stakes seem to be raised. Hence what started as just another piece of so-called ‘uncertainty,’ another ‘doubt,’ – what arrangements will be made for defence in an independent Scotland? – became, by the time George Robertson took it to the US, a story about how Scottish independence would be a ‘cataclysmic’ event, releasing the ‘forces of darkness,’ and could bring down the entire western world! So where to start?

Then it became clear. Part 1 would have to be about sorting out this information overload. Sorting through the mountain of commentary and analysis, and of course distraction, with which the public has been bombarded, selecting the important bits and putting them into some kind of order. Now, as I said way back in my first ever blog post, the purpose of a babel fish is to translate. But I don’t translate from one language to another. No, nothing like so simple or straightforward. There are plenty of people who can do that, and even some computer programs, although their translations are often apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate. No, what I have attempted to do is to translate for people who ostensibly speak the same language, but don’t understand each other at all. One of the reasons this happens is that some subjects, economics for instance, are normally discussed in jargon. Language that makes sense only in terms of itself, and is generally understood only by people who share that particular speciality.

Now I can translate this kind of information into a language that most people can understand, that’s my job. But first we need to establish a few ground rules, because otherwise this could take a very long time indeed.

1. I don’t take my readers for fools.

I don’t, for example, assume that my blog is the only thing you’ve ever read. How would you have found it? My stats show that the majority of readers have clicked on a link somewhere. Usually it’s Facebook or Twitter, but not always. Sometimes readers will place links to my articles elsewhere. Just recently I’ve been getting some traffic from links placed in discussion threads on the BBC and Guardian websites. So my default assumption is that my readers will be familiar with major developments and recent news. Now this will save quite a lot of time, but if it leads me to assume that you know something you don’t in fact know then please don’t be afraid to ask.

2. Source citation – sometimes I’m the source.

In order to provide my babel fish translations it is necessary for me to understand subjects like the aforesaid economics well enough to reach my own conclusions based on my own interpretation of the data. This is particularly the case when different protagonists are contradicting each other on matters of fact. This happens quite a lot. Politicians (it’s mainly politicians who are guilty of this) often assume that because most people don’t understand economics, it’s alright for them to tell you whatever they like. In other words, they lie. How would you know? It may well be that the other guy is telling the truth, but all you know is that you’ve heard two contradictory figures. Which one to believe? Who knows? This leads to the low esteem in which politicians are held these days. Of course not all politicians lie all the time, but enough of them lie enough of the time to lead people to assume that they are all lying all the time. It seems the safest way to go.

That’s no good for a babel fish though. I need to be able to tell you which one is telling the truth, otherwise I wouldn’t be much use, would I? Now sometimes I am able to determine that by reference to a neutral source, in which case I will cite that source. Other times I am able to determine which it is by reference to reason, logic and what I already know. Having long been a commentator on other websites I am often asked to provide sources for statements I make. n one occasion, for instance, it happened, on Twitter, in relation to a statement by the credit ratings agency Standard and Poors. Or to be more precise, an assertion someone had made on the basis of that statement. I told him he was talking nonsense. Because he was. But because he’d cited the S&P document, via a magazine article, I was obliged to spend valuable time reading his source, and his source’s source. Only to have him ask me for yet another source to justify my reservations about the S&P report.

So then I was left having to try to explain, on Twitter, that I was the source, that I had read his source, and his source’s source, found where the single sentence he’d seized on had been cherry-picked from, contextualised it within the entire document, and worked out why it drew an erroneous conclusion, based on a false assumption, and what that false assumption was. That is not an explanation that lends itself to the discipline of 140 characters. What I didn’t have to do was to change my conclusion at all. Having read his initial contention, I was already able to identify exactly what was wrong with it without the benefit of the source. I understand why people do this – on the internet it is sometimes extremely difficult to judge the quality of the information you are getting, anyone can say anything. But the reaction seems to me to be an abdication of responsibility. I do not need a ‘source’ to tell me if you are talking nonsense. And if you are, the fact that you got it from a ‘source,’ or have found one that agrees with you in your error, doesn’t alter that fact. If I tell you it’s nonsense, it’s not because I’ve found another ‘source’ that I prefer (presumably because it tells me what I want to hear). No, if I tell you it’s nonsense it’s because I’ve listened to it, understood it, and I know it’s nonsense. I don’t need an external source for stuff I learned in Economics 101, 30-odd years ago.

3. Trust

So should you trust me? Well, it depends on the depth of your commitment to finding out for yourself really. I wouldn’t advocate, as a matter of principle, that you trust anyone. But if I can find something out, so can you. The information is out there. What I generally do, if I’m reading someone I’m not overly familiar with, is to check anything I consider contentious, at least the first few times. Once I’ve established their reliability I tend to be somewhat less assiduous about checking their every utterance. So I invite you to check for yourself anything you wish to check and at all times subject anything I tell you, or anything anyone tells you for that matter, to your own faculties of reason and logic. I will attempt to assist you in this endeavour by differentiating between absolute statements (things I know to be true) and qualified statements (maybe, perhaps, possibly, what if, etc – things which may be true, but I am unable to say with 100% certainty).

4. I don’t recognise anachronistic titles.

Just a piece of housekeeping really. I have a philosophical view that all people are of equal value and equal worth, so I can’t bring myself to use outmoded forms of address based on a hierarchical class structure. Lord, Lady, Sir, etc. Never have, never will. If I ever call you ‘Sir’ you’ll know I’m extremely annoyed with you. That’s the only time I ever use it. So the likes of George Robertson will stay plain George Robertson on this blog. Sorry George.

5. Parts in the series

So I will have to divide this into sections, I’m thinking four or five. But firstly (if I was a TV chef, this would be the point at which I said, “And here’s one I prepared earlier.”) I have already ruled out a number of subjects, and explained why, in a blog called:

Scottish Independence – What It’s Not About

Here are the subject headings I have in mind:

History

What role, if any, does history play in the debate? Is it all about the future, or must we reconcile ourselves with the past first? What can we learn from it? Or is any reference to history, as some have suggested, an appeal to the emotions, to romanticism? And if it is, is that a bad thing?

Economics

For some, it’s all about the economics. For others that is a base consideration which shouldn’t matter. And today Alistair Darling, the wooden spitfire, has declared the economic argument won. This despite his almost complete lack of serious engagement in the debate, and a number of proven falsehoods from UK government sources. So what do we know? Will we be better or worse off? And what are the economic consequences of a ‘No’ vote?

Politics

How do your political views, or the political party you support, affect your position on independence? What political issues at play in the debate? What are the differences between the electorates of Scotland and the UK as a whole, and what would the politics of an independent Scotland look like?

Identity

Who do we think we are, and why does it matter? What constitutes a nation, and what does not? Is there such a thing as a British identity, and what would become of Scottish identity in event of a ‘Yes’ and in the event of a ‘No?’

Why Scotland?

This is a category I haven’t fully thought through yet, but which will probably be a summing up, and tying together of the previous instalments. And in conclusion, the big questions. Why is this happening and what does it all mean?

So there are the subjects, six parts (including this one), of the journey I hope you will take with me over the coming weeks. But not necessarily in that order. Also I may have to add one on the media, if that isn’t adequately covered under the other subject headings. But I have decided to make the one on history the next one, as it makes sense to publish it to coincide with the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.

There are those who think we should ignore this anniversary, but I don’t intend to. Commemorations at the site, as some of you may know, have long been planned for this weekend. However more recently Westminster has announced Stirling as the setting for their Armed Forces Day, which celebrates (though why anyone would want to celebrate it remains unclear) the 100th anniversary of the commencement of hostilities in WWI. This will involve a very large military display. I’m not clear on the exact details, but hey, sending a large, predominantly English military force to Stirling in June – what could possibly go wrong?

Bannockburn3

 

See here for the next article in the series:

The Hitchhikers’ Guide To Scottish Independence (Part 2 – History)

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