Indyref – The Final Mile

So, we’re nearly at the end of the indyref campaign period, and as folk queue outside polling stations these are the big things I’ve taken from the campaign:

  • Politics without politicians – despite the No campaign’s desperate efforts to characterise the debate as ‘The SNP vs. everyone’, the most encouraging thing about Yes is that is has garnered support from a remarkably wide section of society.

    It’s been said better a thousand times elsewhere, but this is A New Thing® for most people and is not going to go away, whatever the result of the referendum. It’s what happens when people feel they can actually make a difference. Contrast with the meagre and declining turnouts for general, local and – especially – European elections.

  • Is this what democracy looks like? All three (four?!) Westminster parties singing from the same hymnsheet, telling us what’s best for us? We should strive for an end to detached, prescriptive governance, designed to ensure compliance and suppress free will and political diversity.

    That politicians are seen to “jet in” to tell people how to vote before buggering off again says volumes. And they wonder why people are disengaged from politics? (but are oh so happy for them to continue being so)

  • Rash promises made without consultation or due process – playing sections of society off against each other, provoking those who would seek to pitch benevolent, generous English against ungrateful, sponging Scots.

    The frantic appeasement offered in the dying days of the campaign is an insult to the people of the UK (for all would be affected) and democracy in general.

  • Heart vs. head – The fact that the conventional wisdom that Yes would be led by the heart, appealing to base nationalistic instincts, all Braveheart and shortbread, with No the rational option, backed up with facts and figures, was completely turned on its head.

    While both campaigns put up various figures and illustrations to support their view, it was the No side that found theirs wanting on more occasions than not, and indeed the Yes argument was pretty robust for any willing to look beyond the accepted narrative as given by the media and establishment anyway.

    No also managed to contradict themselves in spectacular fashion, with Ian Wood’s much-trumpeted oil reserve figure of 16BBOE being a complete change from the UK Treasury’s standing assessment of 24BBOE, and indeed Mr Wood’s previously quoted figure of the same.

    Similarly, the No campaign would vigourously try to claim that an independent Scotland would be forced to use the Euro and/or join Schengen, whilst simultaneously claiming that entry to the EU would be impossible or take decades. Which is it? Again, anyone seriously looking into this would quickly see though the nonsense, but it seems a lot of people are happy accepting this level of BS, and our loyal media were not exactly falling over themselves to analyse and dismantle such nonsense.

    In the end it was No that resorted to the desperate, emotional appeals to ephemeral notions of ‘a family of nations’ and ‘best of both worlds’ as their main weapons in the days leading up to the 18th, while Yes were reduced to tirelessly restating the same rebuffs to the many falsehoods and half-truths that had been floating around for months, hoping that the media would actually pick up on them for once. Whodathunkit, eh?

And, in a nutshell, the three things I see as the most important to arise from a Yes vote:

Representation – the best chance of the people of Scotland receiving representative governance, built on the already fairer part-PR model of the Scottish Parliament, but to extend much further with constitutional rights and obligations enshrined in law.

Equality – the best chance of reversing the recent trend of concentrating wealth amongst the already wealthy, eradicating extreme poverty and bringing an end to the demonisation of the less fortunate. A big ask? Well, you can’t shoot for the moon if you’re sitting chained in the basement.

Nuclear proliferation – removal of the useless, wasteful hypocrisy that is Trident from Scottish territory (and potentially from the rUK), freeing up £billions and showing the world that responsibility and resolve need not mean the perpetual empty threat of the use of weapons of mass destruction.

All the rest (currency, EU, NATO etc.) are just procedural and technical issues.

Some recoil in horror at such statements and I’ve discussed as much with no voters who take the “How can you possibly be so flippant, these are important issues!” but the point of government and politics is to sort that kind of shit out, it’s not a job for a referendum. I assure you, as someone who had plenty time to consume everything and all about the referendum (read: I was unemployed for large stretches of the campaign!), I didn’t come to these conclusions lightly.

Nothing in these areas should scare sovereign nations with experienced and talented statemen and women, collaborating with other states as equals, and it’s all but inevitable that a great deal of uncertainty will fade away in the days and weeks following a Yes vote as rational thought and self-interest replace campaign rhetoric and political posturing.

Independence is a start, not the end. Here’s to the future.

Drink Peroni Nastro Azzurro? Read this.

Supermarket beer, particularly anything bottom-fermented that can be bought in volume for less than the price of a mid-sized BMW, is a pretty grim state of affairs. You’ve got the usual roster of Fosters, Carling, Beck’s, Budweiser, Kronenbourg, Stella, Carlsberg, Peroni, San Miguel and maybe stuff like Coors Light or Heineken. In Scotland you can add Tennents to that list. Whoopy-doo.

Now, although I like my beers I’m not such a snob that I’ll avoid fizzy piss as a keep-in session-type option. I actually prefer it to many ‘real’ ales which often don’t translate well to bottling. Besides, beer drank at home is often a refreshener after a long day, or a barbeque lubricator, so a nicely chilled pilsner is really what I’m after in those circumstances.

What I do have a problem with is spending my hard-earned on stuff that tastes like something you’ve just cooked rice in *looks at Budweiser*.

Discounting the obvious piss-from-an-over-hydrated-jakey stuff like Coors Light and Budweiser (Why? Why do people keep buying these?!), there are a few beers in that list that can be passable for the intended purpose. Most are brewed in industrial estates in Burton mind, but that’s not the point.

Added to this is the issue that some beers seem to cause my rosacea to flare up, a side-effect that took many, many months of careful experimentation to prove (or at least that’s how I justified excessive alcohol consumption to my GP). Lots of the mega-volume stuff was pretty bad in this regard actually and is studiously avoided for that reason.

So, many years ago now, the beer that I settled on as my ‘standard’ house lager was Peroni Nastro Azzurro. Blue Riband. Classy, eh?
4 x 330ml Peroni
By a weird coincidence this happens not only to be the most expensive option, but is also one of the few volume lagers that is actually imported from its homeland, and that generally doesn’t give a serious hangover. Strange, that…

I have since drank many, many bottles of this stuff (my recycling bin is a noisy embarrassment) and over time noted that its quality would vary from ‘excellent’ to ‘pretty poor indeed’. When it’s good it’s excellent, when it’s bad it’s a complete rip-off considering the inflated price.

In time, and with superhuman dedication to the cause, I started to notice a correlation between the beer’s quaffability and its point of origin. This was possible because Birra Peroni are kind enough to stamp each bottle with its source brewery, and I identified a distinct heirarchy amongst them.

From best to worst, it goes like this:

Padova/Napoli (the latter relatively rare in the UK currently it seems)
.
Bari
.
.
.
Roma

The taste gap between them is actually surprisingly large and also very consistent. If Nastro Azzurro from Padova or Napoli is a 1 then stuff from Bari would be a 3 or 4 and a Roma bottle a 6 or 7. If I plotted other supermarket lagers on the same scale I’d put Beck’s at about 4 and Budweiser at 10, so that gives you some idea of the spread of quality.

The bulk of the stuff you can buy in the off-trade nowadays seems to be Padova or Roma so there is merit in being fussy here. Bari is relatively common but Napoli stuff is only seen on occasion in my experience.

It’s gotten to the point that I will actually pass on Roma stuff nowadays, preferring to get something else entirely. Now this is easy of you’re buying the 4x330ml or 3x660ml packs as you can check the back label on one of the bottles, but what about the 12 or 18 cases?

Well, although I’m sure this wasn’t always the case, it turns out that the code on these now gives a source location too. It’s not as explicit as on the bottle, but there will be a three character code on the dot matrix print on the top of the box that tells you the producing site. This will be:

PL1 – Padova
NL1? – Napoli (to be confirmed, I’ve not seen one in the wild)
BL1? – Bari (also rare I think, can’t recall seeing one since I spotted this nomenclature)
RL1 – Roma

Quite often the same store will have Peroni from two or more sites, depending on the SKU, so IMHO it’s worth seeking out the Padova or Napoli stuff and paying the slight premium for the 4 packs if need be, or just getting something else.

So, the next time you’re drinking a Peroni and think “Hey, this is pretty good” or “WTF? This tastes like Carling” then check the label and see if my assessment stands, and do yourself a favour and seek out the good stuff where you can.

p.s. None of this applies to the draught Nastro Azzurro found in pubs which is, without exception, overpriced pish. Buy a real ale instead.

Indyref – An Apology

Sorry if I’ve been wittering on about the Scottish independence referendum too much. I appreciate it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, may be boring you by now or you just prefer not to be bombarded with snarky/pious/tiresome/preachy indyref information.

It is important to everyone in the UK though, and even though there are less that three weeks to the Big Day, I’m astounded by the apathy shown by some to what will be a momentous day in this island’s history.

That’s true particularly down here in the Home Counties where for many it continues to be viewed with an odd kind of detachment mixed in with varying amounts of amusement and/or annoyance, as if this is something those Scots should jolly well hurry up and get done with.

Speaking to such people, I really get the impression that, even now, many probably don’t grasp the enormity of the situation, regardless of whether the vote goes for Yes or No. As Jin said, “Everything’s going to change“.

Jin from Lost

To anyone who shares this view, don’t worry; it’ll be over soon and in the meantime if tweets about it annoy you I always try to squeeze in the #indyref hashtag which can easily be muted on most decent Twitter clients. Or mute/unfollow me, it’s all good.

Until 19 September then.

Modified indyref logos for Yes Scotland and Better Together

Hope or fear – Scotland’s choice

Adventures in gambling, part deux

In my previous post about betting on the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum showed my naiveté about gambling, let me now demonstrate the full force of my ignorance and pecuniary recklessness.

I’m hopefully in a “can’t lose” scenario here.

Although the odds are coming in and I should’ve taken my own advice and punted earlier, William Hill were (maybe still are) offering 7/2 on a Yes vote and a generous £22 cashback via Quidco for a new account with at least one £10 bet placed within a month. £22 placed at 7/2 returns £99, which isn’t too shabby.

Other bookies may offer better odds, but none were offering as large a cashback inducement.

So, in the event of a Yes I get my £99 winnings, plus the £22 cashback. Tidy.

Oh, and a brighter future for Scotland.

And a good laugh at this chap.

If it’s a No then I lose my £22 stake, but the cashback will cover that.

At least I’ll be no worse off, apart from a) knowing there’s some numpty in Surrey braying to his City pals about his “massive” win, and b) having to come to terms with the squandering of a wonderful opportunity for Scotland…for now, anyway.

And before you question the whole cashback thing, well yes, it’s not guaranteed, but a glance at my Quidco account stats should tell you why I’m fairly confident about getting it.

Table showing cashback

All the lovely lucre I’ve ever gotten from Quidco

Less than 3% declined, and most of that was from shysters like Marshall Ward or LaRedoute who I avoid nowadays since they are notoriously bad at everything, not just paying out cashback.

Plus I’ve already had this from them, showing it has tracked.

Cashback tracked

That was fast

Well then? What have you got to lose?

Self-fulfilling punting – Betting on the future?

Is there, I wonder, another way to work towards victory in the referendum?

There exists a section of society who place a great deal of trust in the ability of bookmakers to suss out the truth in a contest, to discern from afar the eventual victor. The kind of betting soul who understands the vernacular of accumulators, each-way and yankees and who will always trumpet the infrequent large wins whilst quietly ignoring the frequent small losses.

A great many more are probably swayed by this prescience, after all, bookies pretty much always make money so why not assume they have the inside track?

Ignoring the uniqueness of the Scottish independence referendum in such a crass, commercial context (there is no form, no history, no bloodlines to analyse, no cheats to throw things, no way to really get at what is going to happen on 18 September), many probably still look to the bookies as some kind of bellwether for predicting the outcome.

This is precisely what some on the No side are doing, pointing out the shorter odds on a No vote as proof that they simply must be on the winning side.

But what if we were to use this to our advantage? I may be entering choppy waters here as my knowledge of the mechanics of the betting industry might not stand up to scrutiny…

Currently, the bookies’ best guess is probably that the polls show a No vote as most likely so they’re going with that, although we know that there may well be issues with methodology there, it’s not as if the pollsters have gotten things hugely wrong in the past, is it?

However, odds change as bets are placed. What if there were a sufficient number of Yes bets placed in the next few weeks so as to bring the odds in a good bit? To match or even beat the No odds?

What would this do?

1) It would scare large parts of the No camp who for so long have pointed to the odds as gospel for what will happen on September 18.

2) It may make undecideds fed on MSM ‘facts’ believe that public opinion is shifting markedly towards a Yes vote, nudging them into following suit if they think, as many do, that others must know something they don’t

3) It would provide some good pro-Yes publicity, hard to spin

4) In the event of a Yes vote, we all stand to make a bit of cash!

Now the caveats. I’m not sure what the real effect thousands of small bets would make to the odds, or if the bookies’ own machinations/bias would simply cancel it out or negate it. Also, unless done in huge numbers, I guess any efforts would have to be focussed on a single bookmaker to be effective. What if a large chunk of Wings Over Scotland‘s readers could be persuaded to chuck a few quid at it though?

I’m pretty sure all bookies monitor each others’ odds to protect themselves so even focussing on one or two would probably still have an industry-wide effect, even if only a couple are doing most of the initial movement.

Any gambling industry experts able to tear this theory to shreds? As I said, all this may be nothing more than idle rambling.

Still, might be worth a shot? If you do, I would suggest a bookie that uses social media effectively, Paddypower or Betfair perhaps. Both are offering 9/2 at the moment. Stick a tenner on and you’ll be £45 up come September the 19th and may just help the campaign in other ways too.

Indyref – Beating me with experience

A few weeks ago I was with some of the other dads in the pub and the topic turned to Scottish independence. I’m getting used to that now and have my indyref cheat-sheet tattooed on the inside of my eyelids.

There followed a long discussion with people from around the world (only about 50% were English, the rest Scottish (me), Indian, South African, American and German) about the pros and cons of a Yes vote and in the main it was conducted from a position of curiosity and in good spirits. I admit I probably rabbited on a bit after the third or fourth IPA though…

There was however one chap though whose attitude puzzled me. An Englishman and a nice enough bloke, he was staunchly against independence but not for any real reason that would affect him, from what I could see. His argument basically went “You would be stupid to leave as Scotland can’t possibly survive on its own.”

And that was it, repeated ad nauseum with a teensy bit of discrimination and Salmond hatred mixed in from time to time.

Now, if he was well enough informed about the debate – even by the standards of the mainstream media – so as to be able to argue his point, then fair enough. As it was though he spent upwards of two hours talking about a ‘Yes’ vote to stay in the union and a ‘No’ vote to leave.

Hmmm…

Yet, despite having failed to understand even the most fundamental parts of the referendum debate (I got fed up reminding him that Scotland wasn’t choosing government on 18 September, and nor was it a commitment to a single government in perpetuity), he felt informed enough to lecture in a very condescending manner about Scotland basically imploding under a Nazi Salmond presidency without the financial and administrative support of England.

His political leanings became clear during the course of the conversation, and by the end it was obvious I was probably dealing with a specimen of Ukippus faragula and I had to beat a hasty retreat for the sake of my own sanity. Trying to explain it was about self-determination and the possibility of a fairer society was just burning calories, just not as quickly as I was consuming them, unfortunately.

A similar, albeit slightly more open minded conversation was had in the pub last weekend, but from these and other discussions it’s become clear that while people in Scotland may be being forced a diet of indyref fabrication and obfuscation from their TVs and papers, at least they’re getting something. Those with only a passing interest south of the border aren’t even getting that, it seems.

With only 80 days until the biggest constitutional decision taken on these isles in generations, it’s a curious position to be in where the bulk of 57 million people are effectively disengaged from the conversation. What does this perhaps tell us about the whole debate?

What has fracking ever done for us?

Fracking.

Seems to bring out strong emotions in people, doesn’t it? The word also lends itself to lazy punnage so is a favourite of tabloids and swivel-eyed pamphleteers alike, amplifying its use and ensuring the word is never far from the headlines.

Trouble is, most are comically uninformed about gas extraction techniques yet are prepared, eager even, to waffle on loudly and with authority about fracking and the problems it will cause.

Now observe as I waffle on loudly and with authority about fracking…

I’m no petroleum geology expert but even my 5 or 6 years in the offshore industry puts me at an immediate advantage to 99% of the population in terms of exposure to the concepts and realities of exploration and production drilling. I know that horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are not radical new things, that fracking has been carried out for decades – even onshore in the UK – and that many of the doom-laden prophecies are simply nonsense.

The geology of the UK simply doesn’t enable the kind of apocalyptic earthquakes that some predict will inevitably follow. Methane is already in groundwater at varying levels, and the physical distance between gas reservoirs and the aquifers and the geology involved (hint: if the caprock were permeable then the gas wouldn’t still be there – duh) means there is almost no chance of them being affected.

Yes, effective regulation and oversight is required to stop the excesses and abuse that rampant capitalism is wont to pursue, but fundamentally fracking is not a problem where the geology is suitable. Our trusty media seems a bit reticent about telling us this though, perhaps fearing the loss of the word from their punning arsenal?

So, as part of a balanced transitional energy supply mix, I’m happy with fracking.

Where I do have a problem though is with the exploitation rights. When a well is sunk halfway between Aberdeen and Stavanger no-one has any personal claim to the rights to the resources held below. This isn’t the case in the Home Counties though, or anywhere else onshore.

Bear with me here because my legal knowledge will never trouble Rumpole of the Bailey, but I’m aware that the definition what rights a freehold owner has to any resources below ground is somewhat fuzzy, with the traditional definition of solum extending to the Earth’s core nowadays being restricted to some definition of the Earth’s crust alone.

Not that this has any real influence in the fracking debate as the depths we’re talking about are wholly within the continental crust, human drilling technology currently being unable to get anywhere near the mantle. So, as a freehold owner I have rights to the mineral resources and any other treasure beneath my property. I don’t think that is in any doubt.

So when I hear that the Government is keen to reduce the red tape involved in getting onshore shale gas production going by streamlining the permissions required to drill beneath our homes I get a little worried. I’m still trying to get hold of authoritative information about this (more details are due to be released today), but it would seem to have good intentions in clearing the worst of the Nimbyist objections and potential legal trespass blockades out of the way, but as always the devil is in the detail.

Basically, assuming my home is to sit above or near some kind of fracking activity I’d be happy with the following:

  • Test well passes beneath my property – Notification and nominal one-off payment related to size of property with a minimum of, say, £100?
  • My property lies directly above a producing reservoir – Notification and you pay me a percentage of the money from the produced gas
  • Production well passes beneath my property – Notification and you pay me a (smaller) percentage of the money from the produced gas
  • Surface activity related to drilling near my property – Subject to normal planning and compensation legislation

Note that the payments and percentages involved might not be huge.

For a test well it might only be a few hundred pounds per property at most, meaning that even under built-up areas the compensation payments to landowners might only total ten or twenty thousand pounds.

For the production payments it would seem only fair to reserve a percentage of the production revenue for the people who, in effect, own the gas. Maybe 5 or 10% distributed across all affected landowners would be fair? Transit payments for wells passing beneath my shed would of course be much lower. There is precedent in the siting of wind turbines that have only been permitted with some community benefit being factored into the costs.

Note that production payments would need to be tied into gas production not profits, because even though we all know big corporations would never dream of setting up their tax and reporting regime to offset or obfuscate profit in one business unit to minimise their liabilities elsewhere, it’s probably best not to tempt them, eh?

Let’s not feel too sorry for the companies involved here. For test wells its unlikely to change the economics of their operations by any significant amount, but it might just make them think a bit more about sinking wells indiscriminately. For production it should simply be viewed as just compensation for exploitation of resources that we already own. Yes, the risk is with the energy company, but they will not be crying into their Frosties even after having to lose a little bit of their profits to pay us for our gas.

What about you?

Are you happy with the proposals?

Should we be forcing a fairer distribution of the wealth that will surely arise from the shale boom?

Should not we be asserting our rights more strongly?

Scottish Independence & Twitter – Like-minded souls?

My experiment with Twitter led me to think about the make-up of people I follow on Twitter, and those who follow me.

With no obvious pre-selected bias (I’ve been on Twitter for about six years and followed many of these people for much of that time) it appears that almost all of the Scots I follow on Twitter have turned out to be very much pro-Yes. Similarly, of those that follow me, the majority also appear to be Yes supporters. Not really sure why this is, other than the fact I am obviously a person of impeccable taste…

Seriously though, you curate your own Twitter and so most of the people I follow on Twitter are fairly liberal and share a similar world view on most things such as equality, fairness, self-determination, opportunity and privilege, is it any wonder then that the overwhelming majority subsequently turned out to be Yes supporters?

Probably not, given that continuing in the dysfunctional Westminster relationship offers very little hope of progression in many of the areas that seem to matter to them; dismantling of the NHS, staying out of unnecessary wars, stripping national assets in the name of short-term profit and transfer of wealth to City pals, the rise of neo-con politics/UKIP/anti-immigration feeling or the systematic dehumanising of those requiring state assistance (unless it’s a pension in which case you’re untouchable).

If I followed a lot of right-wing, libertarian, warmongering, ultra-capitalists would the consensus be for No? Probably.

Can we draw any conclusions about the general social attitudes of the Yes and No camps from this admittedly tiny and unscientific sample? Possibly.

As it is, I have, to my knowledge, only one active No follower. There may be others but they’re being very quiet about it if they are. Whether this is because they feel bullied and intimidated by the vocal Yes camp (as has been alleged by some) or whether they just lack the conviction to participate in the debate yet remain fundamentally opposed to independence, I do not know.

Similarly, I don’t see any real floating undecideds out there in my Twitter universe. Some were but quickly coalesced around the Yes side of the argument. Again, does this point to a trend for anyone seeking information with an open and inquisitive mind to quickly realise that the torrent of lies being perpetrated by the Better Together campaign requires very little effort to ignore?

Whatever. There are obviously plenty of vociferous No supporters on Twitter, but I haven’t yet been able to find many who I would consider following as they are either single-issue accounts who post about nothing except the referendum (no need to follow for that kind of stuff, I can get BBC News after all), or they leave a pretty foul taste in the mouth.

Yes and No – State of the Union debate Part 2

There are of course forces out to discredit and smear the Yes camp. The term ‘cybernats’ has become a bit of a running joke, as is the assertion that somehow the Yes campaign is centrally masterminded and funded and there are these thousands of sockpuppets manning stalls, changing avatars, handing out stickers, writing blogs and posting comments and generally spreading the positive Yes message. How can people genuinely believe this nonsense? No-one is funding or directing me, nor anyone I know of. It all smacks of paranoia and desperation.

What I do see is a massive resurgence in a politically active and engaged electorate, the kind I don’t recall since the days of the Poll Tax and, in a more broad sense, the early ’80s socialist movement (yes, I’m just about old enough to speak on this with authority!). People seem to have found a new vigour for politics through the referendum and I find this hugely encouraging. I hope that it offers a glimpse into Scotland’s future, a future where people feel empowered and able to stand up for what they believe in as it can make a real difference rather than resigning themselves to resentful apathy, as seems to be the current state of British political engagement, frothing ‘kippers excepted.

This is the antidote for the disenfranchisement that Westminster has engendered in the general public over many decades, and while the same feelings are being playing out south of the border in the guise of a regressive and insular UKIP freak show, the grassroots Yes movement – resolutely cross-party and inclusive despite the No camp’s protestations – shows Scotland prefers an altogether more progressive outlook.

It’s almost like we are a – whisper it – different country?

The Better Together position that all this is co-ordinated at Salmond’s behest is laughable, but sadly there appear to be many who swallow the ‘cybernats in your cupboard’ line and some display a breath-taking hatred towards Salmond and the SNP. This is despite the SNP, with yer man at the helm, having managed a largely successful and populist government since 2007. Where are the huge, party-crippling scandals? Where is the overt jobs-for-the-boys, ‘fuck you we’re the 1%’ sleaze? Where are the disowned manifestos and raft of broken promises?

Nowhere, yet many folk still seem to harbour a deep mistrust for the SNP and, by extension, Alex Salmond.

Anti-Salmond feeling seems to be basically “I don’t like the look of him”. Fattist? Linlithgowist? Jowlist? Whatever the prejudice, prejudice it is, yet it continues to cloud the thinking of many who conflate independence with eternal SNP rule with a presidential Salmond running Scotland like some tartan-clad Monty Burns.

Bizarre. But then logic is often left off the menu in politics it seems.

Anyway, in an independent Scotland I look forward to the truth and reconciliation process where people sheepishly admit that they were complicit in this nonsense out of nothing but genuine conviction (“My gran likes in Kent and I don’t want to feel like she will be a foreigner” etc.) and lack of credible alternative strategies given who their paymasters were at the time. We will do well to remember to be magnanimous in victory, accepting of their mistaken ways.

What all of this means is that there is precious little actual debate and a lot of shouting from the sidelines which is hardly helpful considering what is at stake and the sheer number of people who remain Don’t Knows.

I watched in disbelief last month as Yes Scotland tried to organise a ‘Big Indy Debate’ in Glasgow aimed primarily at undecideds, but struggled to find anyone to represent the No side of the debate. Despite being chaired by the neutral Electoral Reform Society Scotland, the line from Better Together was that this was a Yes event and no fair representation would be permitted. They then started to moan that the event was going to be one-sided because – wait for it – it wasn’t going to have anyone from the No side there…

Yes, they were complaining about a lack of representation at an event they themselves had refused to participate in! Who else was going to step in? Those blokes from Milli Vanilli?

In the event I watched some of the live stream and it was characterised by a lot of passionate and reasoned points being made by the Yes speakers (notably, none were SNP, how could this be? That bastard Salmond again, hiding behind the curtain, pulling all the strings!) and a fair stab by a couple of No speakers of convincing floating voters about the case for the union. Sadly, there was one chap who displayed all the bitterness and negativity that we’ve come to expect from unionists. The whole event seemed to work out reasonably well though and there was a significant swing to Yes.

Now, I have some sympathy for the Better Together position that this would not be a 100% neutral situation, but if you are so unsure of your argument and so lacking in confidence that you don’t feel you can properly rebuff and challenge a mildly (or even wholly) partisan audience, then what are you really doing in the fight in the first place? I’ve heard many stories of No events that are pre-screened or invite only – even ones where the venue was a secret (?!) – but it almost seems that you could swing a cat in most bits of Scotland and hit three or four Yes events. They are open to all, well publicised and easy to find, if you’ve a mind.

What is going on here? Why is No so afraid of open debate? I hear of a lot of anecdotal evidence of local debates showing large swings to Yes, as in the debate in Glasgow, but many of these are organised by Yes (that grassroots/orchestrated campaigning again!) so perhaps that is not surprising. There are a few No swings in open debates that are loudly trumpeted by the No camp, primarily in the posher tertiary education establishments (no surprise, lots of rich mummies and daddies with an understandable vested interest in the continuation of the union) and/or No strongholds like the North East, but where is the country-wide debate and discussion?

The obvious solution to this situation would seem to be a genuine debate platform from the BBC and/or STV. Watching from afar it appears that there is nothing of the sort though. Maybe I’m missing it or maybe the next few months will bring the viewers and listeners of Scotland something credible and worthwhile though, who knows?

They certainly deserve it.

Yes and No – State of the Union debate Part 1

Although not able to vote on account of my exile to the SE of England, in an attempt to fully equip myself with the facts about the referendum I have been actively seeking out views from the Yes and No camps, as well as from people who are firmly Don’t Know.

This hasn’t been easy.

While there is a huge and growing body of pro-independence material out there produced by ordinary Scots and which is generally well-considered, positive and progressive in its outlook, there appears to be a notable lack of anything similar from No supporters.

The No campaign has thus far been built upon negative campaigning (don’t think I’m being too contentious here, it’s almost a cliché at this point) and is, to these eyes, struggling under the uneasy truce between factions of Labour struggling to contain their contempt for the Tories who are the obvious ringleaders of the Better Together campaign. It has comprehensively failed to put across any single benefit of Scotland staying in the union, other than “It’s worked for 300 years”, which I would argue is debatable at best when looking at the last quarter of that period, and in that sense their tactics only really be viewed as a failure up until now.

They do, however, have almost all of the mainstream media in their pocket so why bother exerting themselves?

The reluctance of David Cameron or senior Govt. officials to enter the debate except to lob comments in from afar speaks volumes. They know the risks of entering the ring and have decided, on balance, that it’s best to be viewed as detached and cowardly rather than stir up any latent anti-Westminster, anti-coalition, anti-austerity, anti-Bullingdon feelings in the populace.

I think this will prove to be a grave mistake but who knows, they might yet emerge as inspiring leaders? Hmm…

That’s the No camp then, seemingly content from day one just to have the tame media convey all their messages to Scots voters, confident this is all that would be required to retain a considerable lead in the polls and secure a continuation of the union.

Arrogant and conceited, lacking any dignity or passion. Surely not?

What of the Yes campaign then?

Apart from typography (Yes Scotland’s use of a strong, tightly-kerned Helvetica which works in multiple colours trumps the staid and inflexible Better Together use of the frumpy Stag, and its dilution with the alternative UKOK brand), what does the Yes campaign have over its unionist rival?

Well, positivity in spades for a start, almost too much at times. Is that because of spellbound optimism or just a genuine conviction in the chance to shape Scotland’s destiny and a possibility of a future state where things are just a little better than today?

I watched with interest as Stuart Campbell, who I have been aware of for more than 20 years for his work in the games industry, announced his intention to set up a dedicated political blog at Wings Over Scotland and have dipped in from time to time to see how things were going. Recently however Wings has become a vital source of information as Campbell (and his occasional helpers – ‘we’ is very much ‘I’ in this case, but that has always been his style) has dismantled lie after fabrication after deceit emanating from the No camp and its media tendrils. In particular, its reach is advancing rapidly; as I write it seems poised to break into the top 90,000 websites globally according to Alexa, having been outside the top 100,000 only a few weeks previously.

WoS is not alone however, there are a large number of other worthy and well-written pro-independence blogs from the likes of Bella Caledonia, Business for Scotland and Newsnet Scotland, and the amazing thing is they are almost wholly focussed on providing readers with description, explanation, facts and figures to back up the case for a successful and just independent Scotland.

This is the kind of information that most undecideds say they need to make their mind up and, approached with an open mind, there is a lot of compelling evidence that should at least help balance the relentless tide of scare stories and downright misinformation coming from established outlets.

There’s a bit of pro-Yes bias of course (they are pro-independence sites, after all) and the odd shaky predication, but most of the content is remarkably well considered and generally avoids the kind of ad hominem attacks and haughty “nanny knows best” dismissal that characterises the majority of the No camp’s output.

I recently looked around for similar grassroots, bottom-up No blogs and found…nothing. A few frothing unionist scribbles (in the worst, West of Scotland fitba-related sense; all Union Jacks and barely-concealed sectarianism) and a fair bit of official Better Together stuff, but nothing of the quality, breadth or depth that is readily available from the Yes side.

Why is this? Surely those passionate about keeping the union together can be expected to make a convincing and reasoned case for its continuation? It didn’t appear so, so I asked my 500-odd followers on Twitter (bear in mind this probably includes 400+dormant/bot accounts!) for pro-union sites that were worthy of consideration.

And I waited.

And waited.

Eventually I received two replies. One was from a follower who I is, I think, English but lives in Scotland and who I knew to be very much pro-union and which basically stated that there were basically none because it was very hard to argue for the status quo and a lot easier for Yes supporters to be passionate about change. An odd position, but there’s a grain of truth in there somewhere, but nothing to my mind which could explain the dearth of No sites.

The other was from someone I don’t follow and who I don’t think follows me, but pointed me to two blogs. One was a little light on content and heavily on the polemic, the other seemed to have a bit more ‘weight’ behind it in thought. Neither was very positive, being restricted to the usual FUD, and neither had the scale or engagement that the Yes blogs seemed to have in terms of comments (often 200+ on a WoS article) and free sharing and dissection of ideas. Where then is the positive case for the union?

I began to feel that perhaps the winds were changing. OK, any genuine undecideds only aware of the mainstream media may understandably drift towards the safe harbour of a No position, but I became sure that anyone genuinely seeking to learn more about the debate online (such as it is) could not fail to come across a wealth of broad-based, well-researched and above all positive messages about independence that must surely inch them towards a Yes vote, or at least cast doubt on all the guff being fed to them by the mainstream media*.

The intelligence of the electorate cannot be dismissed, and many who may only be exposed to BBC/STV and the press must surely smell a rat when being presented with the relentless and increasingly desperate stories which fall apart under even light scrutiny (using the pound, oil reserves and revenue, pensions, nuclear cataclysm, alien invasion etc.).

With months of this to go and a likely ramp-up of the rhetoric to come, many will hopefully be prompted to look beyond the headlines and will realise that they are perhaps being sold a dummy.

The polls still show a (narrowing) lead for No, but they are only going one way and it is not looking great for Better Together. I am also sure that the polling methodology used is, at the very least, open to question as this is an unprecedented event in UK politics so no-one really knows how to ask the right questions (if they even try) or how to engage with the unique constituency (16-17 year olds, plummeting landline use in some sectors of the electorate etc.) without introducing untested and unverified weightings, and the wide spread of results yet aligning trends seem to bear this out.

The fact that the pollsters failed to detect the scale of the SNP victory in the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections also cannot be forgotten. What if similar forces are at work here and the largely London-based polling organisations are wide of the mark again?

I asked in my first post about independence if Salmond had been hasty and vainglorious in attempting to get a referendum though so quickly, but could Eck have pulled a blinder here?

*Since I wrote this a few weeks ago, the Sunday Herald has come out in support of Yes.