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"Arguing for Independence" [Apr. 27th, 2014|11:37 am]
Having read a sceptical book on Independence, it seemed only fair to try one that argues the case for change.  Arguing For Independence was written by the vice-chair of the SNP, Stephen Maxwell.  He sets out six cases for independence: Democratic, Economic, Social, International, Cultural and Environmental.  These are preceded by a good chapter on "Ways of Arguing" and followed by an FAQ-style wrap-up titled "Aye, but...".

Although the first two cases are well argued, I was surprised how weak the later chapters were.  The democratic case is quite strong and includes some items I hadn't really considered before, such as removing Scotland from anomalies such as the House of Lords  and moving us towards a written constitution.  I'd argue that a draft constitution should have been written before the referendum, as it was for devolution, but politically that may have been impossible.

The economic case is the longest chapter, as it should be.  Maxwell is quite open that there are risks, of the kind that worry me and that are outlined in Scotland's Choices.  His take is that these are short-term risks and have to be balanced against the long-term risks of an economy directed by and for the benefit of the South-East of England, which is an interesting angle to take.   He acknowledges that the currency question is uncertain.

Maxwell also outlines the history of other small North European countries and asks whether they would have been as successful if they had not gained their independence.  To which my response is that it would all depend on the success of the larger union involved.  If Denmark were part of Germany, it would probably be fine, whereas if Finland had remained part of Russia/the USSR it would probably have suffered.  Maxwell rather skips over Ireland and Iceland: those countries who were once the icons of the pro-independence movement, acknowledging briefly that there are risks as well as potential benefits to independence.

I was expecting a strong argument in favour of the social case but this short chapter boils down to saying that the economic benefits would allow better social support.  This is the flip side of my own concern, that the social benefits desired by several of my friends would be threatened if Scotland's economy does worse after independence: we could simply swap a Westminster-imposed austerity for one imposed from Holyrood.  The cultural and environmental cases were similarly weak.

The international case was particularly troubling to me.  Maxwell seemed to veer pretty close to the UKIP point of view (except on the important issue of immigration), in that he would be happy to consider leaving various international groups such as the EU, if they don't accede to the demands of an independent Scotland.  In this, he shares the underlying trend of nationalists everywhere, whatever they claim about being open to the rest of the world, I suspect that at heart they would not be concerned it more barriers existed between different countries.  In addition, Maxwell's arguments were full of the wishful thinking that characterises this aspect of the pro-independence movement; they seem to think that other countries will take the positions that match their personal hopes, with no actual evidence.   I remain highly sceptical; other countries will pursue realpolitik for their own ends, not for the goals of an independent Scotland.

Maxwell was particularly motivated by his anti-nuclear views: the removal not just of the Trident fleet but also of anything else that uses nuclear power, including power stations and ordinary submarines.  He was remarkably naive about the chances of this happening.  He argued that Scotland could become a non-nuclear member of NATO, analogous to Denmark, without acknowleding the key difference that Scotland, unlike Denmark, has the ideal base for NATO's nuclear weapons; NATO is unlikely to abandon this facility.   Recently, we have also see the pro-independence campaign jump at the suggestion that an independent Scotland could be admitted to a Sterling currency union in return for continuing to base the Trident fleet.  As with other examples, an independent Scotland would have less autonomy than its advocates are hoping for.

Overall, it was interesting to read arguments in favour of independence.  Maxwell takes a reasonably balanced view, acknowledging some of the risks and examining how arguments can be made in the face of uncertainty.  Some of his points in favour of independence were sound and well-made, particularly regarding the democratic case.  I appreciated the challenge to my scepticism from his arguments regarding the economy.  On the other hand, I was disappointed at the weakness of the remaining cases.
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"Scotland's Choices" [Feb. 2nd, 2014|11:36 am]
So, at our book club yesterday we discussed Scotland’s Choices: The Referendum and what happens afterwards.   This revealed a range of opinions on the independence question in our group, from “I’m British, not Scots, and I don’t want to split my country”, to “I want a country that isn’t chasing the USA model and independence seems the best way to attain this”.  One person wasn’t born in the UK and wondered whether they should vote at all.

The book looks at the question from a practical, administrative, viewpoint.  It considers matters such as how much control the Scottish government has and will have over various aspects of its finances, how welfare in Scotland relates to that in the UK as a whole, and how an independent Scotland will relate to various international bodies such as the EU and NATO.  It devotes a chapter to the impact of North Sea oil, the options that were missed (the Thatcher government could have set up a sovereign wealth fund but chose to spend the tax income on balancing the budget instead), and the choices that would face an independent Scotland as the income from oil reduces.

As well as independence, the book considers options for further devolution, starting with the implications of the 2012 Scotland Act, which will come into force in 2016 (if independence doesn’t make it redundant).  This gives useful context, for example comparing scenarios with more devolution “devo-plus” or “devo-max” against the most likely form of independence, constrained by a currency union with either the UK or the EU.  I wasn’t aware of the 2012 act and its implications, so this part of the book was particularly interesting.

As our discussion pointed out, the book doesn’t address broader concerns such as, what sort of society do we want?  Would we rather live in a more equal society even if the overall GDP per capita was less?  Are there benefits from having our political leaders closer to home where we can influence them and oversee them more directly, compared to a remote leadership in London?  Would an independent Scotland encourage our “best and brightest” to stay in Scotland rather than head to the major world city of London just 350 miles south?

Away from the main issues, the authors also spend some time discussing the various options for managing referendums, which seems a bit redundant given that the terms of the referendum are now set.  A review of voting methods was probably of no interest to many readers, while those of us who are interested in that topic were already familiar with the issues.  A chapter on the history of unions and independence movements in the UK was more interesting, especially concerning the history of Irish “home rule”, which I knew little about.

For me, the book reinforced my existing concerns about the independence “offer”.  The big question for me is what extra powers, will independence give us, compared to devolution, to allow Scotland to generate a more dynamic and still more successful economy?  The authors didn’t address this – perhaps because at the time they wrote it, the Yes campaign had not presented its case.  We did note that since the book was published, two of the authors have joined the “no” campaign, which seems unsurprising given the material presented in the book.  I’m not accusing them of setting out to write a biased book – it’s far more informative than most of the media chatter – but their analysis is consistent with a “no” conclusion and other analysts might reach different conclusions.
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FiL [Jul. 7th, 2013|10:17 pm]
[mood |irritatedirritated]

We witnessed a moment of insight today as FiL (who is visiting us) realised he might be a little deaf, because everyone else in the room heard what the man on the telly was saying.  When he can hear the TV clearly in our living room, we can hear it everywhere else in the flat.

It must be hard to recognise the symptoms when you live on your own, as you can just turn the telly up a little louder and no one complains. 
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Tenerife [May. 5th, 2013|10:45 am]
We went to Tenerife for Easter and I haven't had time to write about it until now. So, some memories below the cut.

Holiday ramblingsCollapse )

In many ways this was an ideal time of year for our holiday.  In particular, the weather was warm but not too hot.  It's a shame that M will be revising for exams this time next year (and the year after, and the year after that...)
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Let's join up the inner-tube map! [Mar. 10th, 2013|11:01 am]
[mood |optimisticoptimistic]

This is my response to Edinburgh council's survey on its local transport strategy:

The plan should do more to provide specific facilities for cycling, particularly for those people who are perhaps too nervous to cycle on busy roads.  The "issues" document says very little about cycling per se, except as an adjunct to other policies.  For example, it posits that cyclists will benefit from lower speed limits on cars but this is not the same as providing specific support for cycling.

Compare Boris Johnson's recent announcement for a network of cycle routes in London with the unconnected, patchwork, nature of current cycle routes in Edinburgh.

I would like to see the council "join up the inner tube map", for example by designating certain quiet residential streets as "cyclist priority routes".  These streets would be "access-only" for motor vehicles (i.e. for the people who live on the street) but through routes for cyclists.  They would have good quality surfaces (no cobbles or potholes!) and would form a network of routes around the city that even children could use.  They might be supplemented by light-controlled crossings where the routes cross busier roads.

An initiative along these lines could really make cycling in the city far more attractive.
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Merlin, series five [Jan. 2nd, 2013|12:53 pm]
The BBC's retelling of the King Arthur legend has now come to a close with the end of the fifth series.  Our family thought the story arc of this final series could have been better.

Spoilers under the cut...Collapse )
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Family xmas 2012 [Dec. 29th, 2012|10:35 pm]
My eldest brother clearly suffers from living-near-the-aged-parents syndrome.  Largely  because of this, my sister stayed with him in the week before xmas, then our family stayed over xmas itself.
Some more details, mainly FMORCollapse )
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End of the height wars [Dec. 20th, 2012|10:20 pm]
[mood |amusedamused]

Last year, I reported that M was the same height as Mrs HTC.  One year on, M has reached 5'6" (or 167cm in new money), which is a clear lead, much to the chagrin of the short member of the household.
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52,150 words [Nov. 30th, 2012|09:42 pm]
I'm rather impressed by M managing to write a 52,150 word novel over the last 30 days.  I've never managed any writing on that scale.

(Inter)National Novel Writing Month
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What does "Scottish secondary of the year" mean, really? [Nov. 17th, 2012|10:09 pm]
My first reaction on seeing that M's school has been named "Scottish Secondary of the Year" by the Sunday Times was to feel gratified and pleased that M is at a "good" school.  Then I read more closely and a couple of things seemed a bit strange.

The headline hid one details which is that Boroughmuir has been named Scottish State Secondary of the Year.  Well, it's fair enough in my book to have separate lists for state and private schools. But the award, if one can call it that, hid an odder detail, which is that Boroughmuir is only ninth in the Sunday Times list of state schools.  So why was it given this attention?  The article said that this was in part because it had risen from 12th place to 9th - so perhaps it is a recognition of the "most improved" school.  But my cynical mind suggests that perhaps the journalists needed a reason to write about a school they haven't written about before.  And this is the only Edinburgh state school to be in the top ten - Edinburgh being "blessed" with a ridiculous number of large private schools - so perhaps that is another journalistic "angle" on the story.

As you might be able to tell, I don't trust journalists.  And anyway, who are the Sunday Times to tell us which school is "best"?  I already know that the school is pretty good for our son, which is what matters most to me.

After a while, I remembered that I don't agree with league tables for schools anyway.  Usually they say more about the school's intake than about the school itself, although there are exceptions both good and bad.  (I don't feel quite the same about Uni league tables, but that is perhaps a topic for another time).   And a school that is right for one child might not be right for another.

So is this any more than a puff piece?  It still leaves me with a feeling of reassurance, despite my scepticism. It will probably give the staff some encouragement, which is good; it's always nice to be appreciated.  I guess it might persuade some parents not to waste their money on a private education when they can get an equivalent one for free, but the numbers will be tiny.  It will probably sell more newspapers.  So I am conflicted: my emotions say one thing while my mind says another.
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