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I shall vote YES – the vote for Scottish Independence

August 27th, 2014 |  Published in Serendipity

As usual in August, I’ve been in Edinburgh for the Festival.  This year there’s been the added frisson of the debate about Scotland’s vote for independence. However, debate seems to be the wrong word.  The vote that could result in Scotland becoming independent from the United Kingdom seems to centre around a very limited number of unsubstantiated claims from either side, with almost no critical analysis of what it might mean for the future of the nation.

The proposal put forward by the SNP is that Scotland will control its own destiny, funded by a belief that tax revenue from North Sea oil will grow.  It’s a bit like an established company saying that it is about to embrace a fundamentally different business model, for example M&S announcing to the City that they’re going to stop selling food and revert to just being an underwear retailer. If that happened it would come with a strict warning that future performance could go down as well as up.  The independence debate has no such caveat for Scotland’s populace, seeing only a future upside.  So it seemed appropriate to update Christopher Logue’s poem “I shall vote Labour” to help the undecided:

 I shall vote YES

I shall vote yes because
I believe in wind farms.
I shall vote yes because
Tartan is my favourite colour
I shall vote yes because
I’ll have had my tea before I get a chance to vote.
I shall vote yes because
Alex Salmond kissed my sister Mary’s baby.
AND
I shall vote yes because
My hairdresser told me to.
I shall vote yes because
My Jamie found an image of Sean Connery in his deep-fried Mars bar.
I shall vote yes because
I love Edinburgh’s trams.
I shall vote yes because
I believe Greggs can solve Scotland’s obesity problem.
I shall vote yes because
I want my pension and my children’s pensions to be paid for by oil taxes, and
Alex has promised that oil will be $150 a barrel by Christmas;
I shall vote yes
Even though my milkman thinks the oil will run out;
AND
I shall vote yes because
I believe in saving the NHS.
I shall vote yes because
Peter Capaldi is the best Doctor Who.
I shall vote yes because
I think Scotland should keep the pound, but mostly
I shall vote yes because
Deep in my heart
I want to be English.

It is deeply worrying that there appears to be so little debate about the options.  This is a decision for the people of Scotland to make and I’m not a Scot.  However, for several years I’ve been using a set of graphics from the Scottish Government to illustrate the changing demographic and the effect this will have on healthcare and pensions.  These show how the age and gender of the population has changed over the years.

Each blue and brown bar represents the number of people of a certain age who were alive, depicted in five year bands.  In 1911, few people survived past the age of 65.  Child mortality was high, but the majority of the population were of working age (which started for many at 14).

scotdemographics

By 2001 the shape of the population is markedly different.  Better health meant smaller families and greater life expectancy, particularly for women.  Further education meant fewer children joined the workforce until they were in their twenties, whilst the number retired had grown significantly.

The projection for 2031, just seventeen years into the brave new world envisaged by the independence movement, shows the distribution change from the pyramid of the early twentieth century to a mushroom cloud, where the proportion of the population in work and paying taxes is overtaken by those retired and in full time education.

In any normal economy, it’s difficult to see how this can be sustained.  Few nations have ever managed to have a total tax income which exceeds around 36% of GDP.  Governments in Western countries are currently spending around 50% of GDP to maintain their commitments, which is why national debts are growing.  Scandinavian countries have persuaded their voters to accept taxation above 50%, but I don’t see promises of higher tax rates in any of the independence speeches.

Instead, oil revenues are seen as the golden egg.  There is growing debate as to how big oil reserves actually are, but even the pessimistic predictions ignore the underlying value of oil (much like the whole of the UK energy policy).  They assume that the price of a barrel of oil will remain stable or rise.  In other words, it’s an isolationist policy which assumes that only the things its supporters want to change will change.

Fracking may prove to put the lie to that.  In the US, fracking has reduced the cost of gas to the point where energy costs are falling.  There are already predictions that the US will soon reach a point where it no longer needs to import oil, which is one of the main reasons for its lack of interest in what’s currently happening in the Middle East – it no longer matters to them.  If more countries can repeat that experience, then the price of oil could plummet, making it uneconomic to extract most of what is left under the North Sea.  That not only robs Scotland of its projected income, but leaves it with uneconomic renewable energy, which will require massive taxpayer subsidies, robbing the coffers of any money that might support the independence dream.

I’d expected to see the media reporting this.  Instead it seemed to be concentrating on personalities, most of whom seemed to be stumbling through poorly constructed scripts.  One of the best shows I saw at Edinburgh this year was Valentijn Dhaenens’ Bigmouth – an exploration of the power of oratory which stitched together speeches from history’s greatest orators from Pericles to the present, showing that those who pick their words well can turn the weakest argument into the strongest.  The test is well worth reading.  A side-effect of the production was that it highlighted how in recent years, personal conviction has been usurped by the anodyne art of the political speech-writer, castrating politicians and turning them into mealy-mouthed, passionless performers.  It’s sad that in an issue as important as Scottish independence public opinion can be determined by whether a party leader has allowed themselves to have a bucket of iced water thrown over them.  When Christopher Logue wrote “I shall vote Labour” I believe it was intended as a piece of satire.  Today its sentiment seems to be much closer to a statement of reality.

In the interest of impartiality, I’m also offering an update for the opposing camp:

I shall vote No because

I shall vote No because
YES has the same number of letters as SNP.
I shall vote No because
NO doesn’t.
It has the same number of letters as UK.

(Since posting this I’ve discovered I’m not the first to see the parallels with Christopher Logue’s seminal poem. Others got there first, including A.R. Frith with a separate take on No and Yes.  Ian Gent takes the Yes approach, whilst the Parodies Lost site provides a more patriotic “I shall vote Aye“.)

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About Creative Connectivity

Creative Connectivity is Nick Hunn's blog on aspects and applications of wireless connectivity. Having worked with wireless for over twenty years I've seen the best and worst of it and despair at how little of its potential is exploited.

I hope that's about to change, as the demands of healthcare, energy and transport apply pressure to use wireless more intelligently for consumer health devices, smart metering and telematics. These are my views on the subject - please let me know yours.

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