The West Lothian Conundrum

When the three Amigos swooped into Scotland to offer substantial new powers delivered through a fast tracked timetable if there was a No vote, I said at the time it’d be a Pandora’s box for Westminster. Thanks to David Cameron’s opportunism in smacking Labour over the West Lothian Question at the same time, he’s just thrown another one into the hat.

Since Scotland got it’s devolved parliament in 1999, the idea that Scottish MPs shouldn’t be allowed to debate or vote on purely English matters should have been part of the deal. It’s a really basic principle. Labour rely on Scottish MPs in Westminster to give them an advantage in passing legislation. Labour gave us that devolved parliament. The SNP have a principle of not taking part in debates or votes on non Scottish matters.

There’s a problem however. Parliament not only decides what policies to adopt, it also decides the funding required to achieve them. These are interconnected. Westminster couldn’t for example introduce policies to build a new NHS super hospital in every major city, the budget wouldn’t cope with it. If England decide for example to entirely privatise the NHS in English constituencies, this reduces the English NHS budget to nothing. The amount Scotland gets to fund it’s NHS is reduced proportionally, forcing Holyrood to do the same.

Obviously that full privatisation is not going to happen, I’m making it extreme to illustrate a point. Even though the policies themselves don’t affect Scottish constituencies, the knock on effects for the budget will. While Westminster control the funding for any devolved powers, it affects us. From this viewpoint, I can see the Labour self interest in maintaining that anomaly, however undemocratic it is. There is no solution to this in a devolved situation. Independence, on the other hand, would have solved it.

Is Being A NewsHub Contributor Worth It?

I should begin this article with a disclaimer. I am writing this from my own perspective. I have in no way been solicited to write it from anyone at HewsHub. These are my views alone. Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s get on with the article.

You may or may not have noticed that I’ve been writing on the Scottish Independence Referendum on the NewsHub. The result has been announced. Although we lost, there are issues there, this is neither the time or place to go into any of them. I last contributed an article around a 3 weeks ago. It wasn’t because I had nothing left to write about, it was because I started to think about the deal on offer from the NewsHub for contributors. This isn’t unique to the NewsHub, it’s a general issue. I’m just looking at the NewsHub’s formula.

There used to be just one way services were funded. You do a job, you get paid money for that job. There’s some jobs where it’s paid in terms of revenue share, like actors getting a share of the profits. There’s some jobs where money is paid in shares in the company. This means that you’re invested in the company doing well, since your shares will go up. Let’s take this first currency, money.

The NewsHub is a start up. All start ups will haemorrhage cash for a while until they grow enough to break even, then start to show a profit. Owners usually take as little out as they can, to grow the company faster. The NewsHub is offering contributors $10USD per article in the top 10% of each category. Even if this was $10USD per article regardless of where it ranked, that’s a low figure. It takes me around an hour to write an article I deem worthy of earning money. At that rate, it’s $10USD per hour. Factor in the exchange rate, and it’s minimum wage.

It’s not minimum wage however. It’s only the top 10% in each category that are granted payment. That’s 1 in 10. The other 9 in 10 won’t get a bean for their work. Let’s assume that everyone contributing to the NewsHub is reasonably eloquent, original and can express themselves in an engaging way with the subjects they write about. It means that for every 10 articles we take time to write, with our knowledge, passion and understanding, only 1 of them will be paid. That $10USD is for all 10 articles. That’s $1USD per hour.

It could of course be that some of us will manage to get 2 in 10 paid, or 3 in 10. It could just as easily be that some of us get 0 in 10, or even a few months in a row at 0 in 10. It’s not because they’re not good articles, it’s just that they missed the cut. From a pure money perspective, it doesn’t sound like a great deal does it?

Of course, money for services is only one way the internet works. Kevin Smith and Ralf Garman do a weekly comedy gig in LA called Hollywood Babble-On. It’s a paying gig. They record each of those gigs and put them out as a free audio podcast download. Why? It’s free advertising. The more people who download the podcast, the more people will think “hey, we’re in LA next month, let’s make a point to go see them.” It’s also a marketing platform, where Kevin and Ralf can talk about their other projects, such as Kevin’s new movie Tusk.

This is about building your profile. The problem is that it only works with scale. Like online advertising, a tiny number of people who see an advert will click on it. This isn’t a problem when you have a huge number of people visiting the site. If 1 in 1,000 who hear Hollywood Babble-On buy a ticket to see it, that up scales when the download figures are in the millions.

On a site like NewsHub, our profile value comes from people who are drawn in by one article, read it, then decide they like us as a contributor, to then up the engagement with us. If 1 in 100 decides to follow us on Twitter, or comment on the article, that’s great, but when the site is just starting out, that 1 in 100 is about 1. I get 5 or 6x the hits on my blog for the same article as I do when I post it to the NewsHub. That 1 new Twitter follower a day doesn’t get noticed among the 20 or so others who follow me because of how I use Twitter.

If you’re a site like the Guardian, you have millions of hits per day. Of those millions, a decent number of them are have accounts are are logged in because they have a passion for at least one of the genres the Guardian do. You are going to get the benefit of that flood of people. In that 1 in 1,000 ratio, you’ll get comments very quickly developing into conversations. You’ll get your article shared across social networks within minutes of posting it, without you having to power it. You’ll get that same ratio of people comment to you about it on Twitter, some of whom will follow you. With scale, this is a great currency, without it, it’s worthless.

Scale is of course relative. If you have a platform where you regularly get a handful of readers, and the NewsHub gets you an average of 30, then it’s a good thing for you. If you have no platform or audience right now, then anything is an improvement. For me, I’m taking a substantial hit in terms of reach if I keep writing for the NewsHub. I’ll lay out some stats to demonstrate that. First I should explain how I write.

Previously I’d write a post for my blog, publish, then jump onto Twitter to post a link to that blog post. That’s it. I do no further promotion at all, anywhere. Since I joined NewsHub, I’d write that same post as usual, publish it on NewsHub and my blog at the same time, then jump onto Twitter and Google+ to post a link to the NewsHub version only. I don’t promote the version on my blog. These are the page view stats for the previous 5 articles I put on both NewsHub and my blog.

  • Was the Scottish Independence Referendum rigged? (Blog = 262, 8 comments) (NewsHub = 45 views, 0 comments)
  • What happens to conservative voters in the event of a Yes win? (Blog = 170 views, 4 comments) (NewsHub = 47 views, 0 comments)
  • Yes Scotland TV advert: a missed opportunity? (Blog = 213 views, 1 comment) (NewsHub = 44 views, 0 comments)
  • Scottish independence: The threat of independence (Blog = 295 views, 0 comments) (NewsHub = 30 views, 0 comments)
  • Scottish independence: the myth of being the world’s policemen (Blog = 232 views, 0 comments) (NewsHub = 27 views, 0 comments)

I get an average of 5x the views to the version on my blog, than the one on HewsHub. You could of course say that it’s a different audience, however, how many of those people arriving at the NewsHub version get there because they follow the link I give them on Twitter or Google+? They’d arrive at the version on my blog if I tweeted that instead. There may be a handful surfing NewsHub and see an interesting sounding article, but the effect is negligible. Remember that I don’t promote both versions of these articles. I only promoted the NewsHub versions. To give you an idea of what kinds of numbers I got before I joined NewsHub, when I only published in one place, and gave the link on Twitter and Google+ to my blog; here’s the last 5 articles I wrote before I started doubling up on NewsHub.

  • The UK Labour Con Trick (Blog = 952 views, 1 comments)
  • I’ve Noticed A Pattern (Blog = 461 views, 0 comments)
  • I’ve Never Felt Ashamed To Be British Before (Blog = 1480 views, 5 comments)
  • First Impressions Last (Blog = 364 views, 0 comments)
  • Sewing The Seeds (Blog = 375 views, 0 comments)

This is only the last 5 from each comparison, my average on my blog is around 600. As I said, everything is relative. Some contributors will look at my stats with envy, others with contempt. My point was to illustrate that in my case, I lose substantially by continuing to post to both.

The obvious caveat to those numbers is that the longer the article has been published, the more people will stumble onto it, so the higher it’s page view stats will be. If I return to posting only on my blog, I get substantially more views and more engagement than if I post to both. Page views aren’t everything however, that way lies clickbait.

I admire the attitude of the NewsHub, in aiming for proper, thought out, intelligent articles from unusual viewpoints. If you’re just judging by the stats, you have the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail don’t care why you click on their articles, they only care that you do click on them. If they write an explosive article that insults, offends and antagonises, plenty people who disagree with it will share it on social media just as much as those who agree and people will pile into the comments for a flame war. Those advert impressions count. They don’t care why you’re there. If you’re drawn into an argument with other commenters, you return over and over and over to respond. The advert impressions keep racking up. This is not quality journalism, it’s populist journalism that most people with sense don’t like.

Anything decided by stats alone can be manipulated. If you judge articles based on page views, plus or minus ones, comments etc that leads to Daily Mail style articles. If you write an algorithm to parse all of those stats in some way to determine which articles get paid, it leaves it open to the same thing search engines have to fight; SEO optimisation. If you do just decide by stats, those results can be scripted and delivered as soon as the calendar month ticks over. By waiting until the middle of the following month, it allows for more engagement in the comments. All of this leads back to the fact that it’s someone or a group of someones who decides whether an article deserves payment or not. This unwittingly introduces bias.

With the best will in the world, and while trying to be as fair as possible, if your role is to read every article on a subject you have no interest in, you don’t see the nuance. You can only judge it’s merits on a superficial way. You don’t know if you’re reading real insight, or if it’s rehashed from a number of other people before them. If you’re reading all of the articles on a subject that you are interested in, you’re going to be drawn more to those which broadly agree with your own views. This is natural. If you’re a contributor who happens to write on a subject or from a perspective that’s not shared by those reviewing, you may never see any of your articles deemed worthy of payment. I don’t for a second think this would be a conscious thing, I think it would be a subconscious one. Being aware of that, and trying to counter it, brings us into tokenism, where you get paid for an article because it’s been a few months since you last got paid, and if you continue to get nothing, you’ll likely stop contributing.

Even looking at the stats themselves as the starting point, all sites with votes have the issue of tribalism. The NewsHub is no different, it’s just smaller. If you write on a contentious issue, or take a position on something that others disagree with, they can easily down vote your article not on the article itself, but purely from the fact that they disagree with you. The same can happen in reverse too, where people who do agree with you can up vote you not on the quality of the article, but to back their team.

While I return to the point of only 10% of articles winning a $10USD payment, remember that every single article helps the NewsHub grow. Contributors only get value from 1 on 10, while NewsHub itself gets value from 10 in 10.

Another aspect that may be of value is being a founding contributor. If you’re there near the start, helping to build this new site and helping it become something, you’re a little snowball at the top of the mountain, gathering the sparse snowflakes there. You build some sort of brand recognition as one of the elders, new people will follow you quicker, they’ll see you have a large archive of content etc. The logic being that this is a delayed pay off. It will eventually start to pay off, but it won’t be for a while. For that to be of value, you have to assume that the NewsHub will grow into something substantial, and that you will be rewarded down the line. Even then, the articles we’re contributing are about events happening “now”. They have a shelf life before other news and events make them obsolete, so that archive of content won’t count for much. I’m very dubious that it will grow into anything substantial for one reason; the target path is mainstream.

When you start off as a little indie content producer, you want to be really niche to succeed. It’s completely realistic to aim to become the worldwide goto hub for fans of Swedish Death Metal. When you target the mainstream, you’re going up against the BBC, MSN, Daily Mail, Telegraph, Guardian and many, many more. These are billion pound FTSE100 corporations with many decades of loyal readers, listeners, viewers and subscribers. These outlets have TV, radio and newspaper distributions around the country, their audience have habits long engrained as to their goto place to find mainstream news about their interests.

It comes down to why you write, and what you want to achieve by it. For me, it was an insight into the Scottish Independence Referendum, and to campaign for those reading it to vote Yes. I held no illusions that anything I wrote would tip them over, but it’d simply be one drop in the bucket that made the difference. That meant reach. In that area, I’m substantially diminished if I write for the NewsHub. While the referendum is over, the fight for independence is not.

It’s worth pointing out that the internet being a platform that gives content away for free, means it limits the variety of ways to make money for content. If you can’t make much money, you can’t pay that to those who create the content. News organisations the world over have been struggling with this for years now.

I’ll finish by pointing out what you’ve no doubt spotted. It was an inevitable byproduct of this article, not the intent of it. By writing an article targeting all NewsHub contributors, it stimulates this article’s stats on the NewsHub, marking it one that will shoot through the rankings. It might simultaneously be the 1st article I get paid for, and the last one I contribute. This is an entirely personal view, but from where I sit, factoring in all of the above, I don’t see it as being worth contributing to the NewsHub. Do you?

Was The Scottish Independence Referendum Rigged?

As a Yes campaigner, I saw the impact of the 51% poll, in how it gave lots of people hope that we could actually do this. We saw a surge in Yes people on the streets, and in social media. The bias in the MSM ramped up to something akin to North Korean TV levels. The polls had to be wrong. They don’t match what we see on the ground. There was a huge surge in registrations from people who had disconnected with politics for years, or even decades. Logic dictated that they wouldn’t do that, just to vote for more of the same. This was why we were confident that we’d be in for a great night.

I saw the first two results come in, both going for No, before I went to bed. I awoke and checked the results to find that we’d lost. So what went wrong? I’m still processing what happened in my head now. MI5 exist to thwart threats to the UK state. Scottish independence, however peaceful and democratic would be a threat to the British state. They had to have rigged it somehow right? I then saw a video retweeted into my timeline showing that the vote had been rigged. At the time I agreed with those conclusions, but I think that was me still in the denial phase. Was it rigged? It may have been around the edges, but it wouldn’t have changed anything. We played an honest game and were beaten by an opponent willing to lie and deceive to win. Let’s take a look at the video to examine this evidence of vote rigging. It involves three clips.

The first clip shows a woman counting ballots, and moving votes from the Yes pile to the No pile. That could be exactly as claimed. It could also be that counting votes is a very repetitive task. Any time you do a repetitive task, your concentration does dip, leading to mistakes. She could easily have put a No vote on the Yes pile a few seconds before, then noticed it and corrected it. We’re all human.

The second clip is the one that raises the biggest question. It’s a Sky News screenshot of a bunch of ballot papers in piles on a table marked No. If you look closely you can see a couple of those ballots on top are Yes votes. We have no idea if that’s a pile of Yes votes, or just the ones visible on the top. It could also be a table full of uncounted votes and they had nowhere else to put them. It could also be a human error like the first clip, they are in the wrong pile and just happen to be on top of the piles and easily visible. It could of course be exactly as it’s claimed, that a pile of Yes votes have been counted as No’s.

The third clip shows a man appearing to mark ballot papers. I couldn’t make out if they were actually ballot papers, or if they were, what he was marking them as. Again that could be exactly as claimed and he was marking lots of No votes to add to the count, presumably having removed the same number of Yes votes so the totals tally up.

I’ve heard that several people did try to challenge these types of things at the time, and the officials ignored the complaints. That of course helps play into the conspiracy that it was rigged. I did watch the Better Together campaign break all sorts of rules during the campaign, and the Electoral Commission do nothing about it. Many people noted that Labour had “If you don’t know, vote No” leaflets with the design of the ballot on them scattered around the polling stations. This is against the rules, but again, no action from the officials.

It’s also worth noting that this is three short clips only. We have no idea how long the woman from the first clip was switching papers from one pile to the other, or if it was also in reverse too. We have no idea how long the man was marking what appeared to be ballot papers. We also have no idea if it’s just isolated to one polling station, or more widespread.

For me, I initially thought it was rigged, but if it was, it was around the edges and wouldn’t have made any difference. I’d back calls for a recount, but I don’t think it’d change the result. Westminster wanted a thumping win to shut the SNP up for good, and kill the idea of independence. They got a narrow win after a last minute scramble, and had to promise the Earth. They’ve exploded a Pandora’s box to get a conditional win. When they don’t deliver, we’ll see round two. This is merely the calm between the storms.

What Happens To Conservative Voters In The Event Of A Yes Win?

Earlier today I was in a Twitter conversation with a No voter, and something they said gave me the idea for this article. I was asked about what happens to the 420,000 Tory voters in Scotland if we go independent. I’d never given that any thought before. I recently discovered that Scotland’s voting population is around 4.1m. The Tories make up around 1/10th of that total. There’s symmetry with that figure. Scotland is around 1/10th of the population size of the UK.

My argument around democracy is summed up by the statement that England always gets the government that England votes for, while Scotland also always gets the government that England votes for. The counterpoint to that, is that it’s a UK election, and the UK gets the government it votes for. Scotland could vote Labour in every single constituency, if England wants a Tory government, we’re vastly outnumbered, and we get a Tory government.

As things stand, the Tories have pockets of support in Scotland. They have a larger share of the vote that I knew, but even then, they’re still a minority party in Scotland. Small ‘c’ conservatives have the fact that Westminster controls many of the powers concerning Scotland, and the budget for the devolved powers. They also have the fact that Labour are campaigning to their small ‘c’ conservative counterparts in English marginals. Either way, the upstream pipe is very conservative friendly. An SNP government in Holyrood is limited in how much it can differentiate Scotland. Independence changes all of that.

Imagine you’re someone who believes in small government, that taxes should be as low as possible, and that the markets are best suited to inject value for money into public services. Right now, your ideology is coming from Westminster, regardless of what Holyrood do. You’re a minority in Scotland, but your views are represented in places Holyrood can’t damage. If Scotland goes independent that upstream is disconnected. You’re on your own as a minority trying to swim against the tide to get your views represented.

There are of course many little areas where you could get some traction in legislation, but plenty of big ones where you have no hope. Not only are the vast majority of Scots passionate about keeping the NHS as a public service, owned by the public and ran for those who need it, the Yes Scotland plans are to enshrine that into the constitution. You have zero chance of building any campaign to privatise it, and even if you can win people round, it’s protected so you can’t do anything. The sentiment around keeping the NHS publicly owned, paid by the taxpayer and run for the benefit of the people is also extended to the whole social safety net.

Trident is another area of almost universal agreement among the people of Scotland. This is represented by many of our MSPs. A firm part of the Yes Scotland plans are that Trident is removed from Scotland’s waters and budgets, and the base refitted as a regular base. This is a one shot deal. After it’s gone and the base refitted, that submarine has literally sailed. You don’t have a chance of reversing it, or building a new replacement for Trident. Arguably, these are the only two areas where the people from all political hues are almost unanimous, both of which will go in a very left of centre way, and both are irreversible.

In some very key areas, Scotland will move very distinctly a few steps to the left. The majority of the politicians and voting public are behind that. As a minority group with no upstream, where do right of centre people go? Is Scotland going to be a place they can live in? I suspect some of them will see a Yes win as the end of an era, and prefer to move to rUK, while others will tough it out and try to win the minor battles.

I’ve never voted SNP, but I think that’s because I never actually looked at them. I came to political awareness at the end of the Thatcher era, where anything other than a Labour or Tory vote was a wasted vote; at least to my naive mind, in hoping to pick a winning party. After devolution I should have looked at them. I didn’t. That was my mistake. I keep hearing that the SNP are a right wing party. Their policies towards the poor and vulnerable are very left wing. Perhaps they’re more right wing in other areas, like big business friendly, I don’t know. Maybe right of centre people have something to stay for, with the SNP or Labour as winners of little battles.

Yes Scotland TV Advert: A Missed Opportunity?

Having just watched the latest Yes Scotland TV advert, I was drawn by two things, the first I expected, the other I did not. Having been part of the Yes movement for a few months, I’ve seen a tidal wave of positivity for the future. This was the focus of the advert, the desire for independence on a personal level, upscaled to that of your country. The part I didn’t expect, was that the Yes movement is a multi cultural movement. There are people who were born in Scotland, side by side with people born outside Scotland and who call Scotland their home. There are people with all sorts of accents, from all backgrounds and all skin colours; yet almost everyone in this advert is white with a Scottish accent.

I think what heightens that sense is the constant barrage from people who haven’t been to Scotland, and only know Scotland through the mainstream media who try to portray the SNP and the wider Yes movement as some racist, anti-English thing. Those of us who live here and experience it first hand know that’s complete rubbish. It’s just more of a missed opportunity than a criticism. It’d have been more powerful if that diversity had been shown in the advert. If they’re planning another one, I hope they take that into account.

The Threat Of Independence

We keep hearing from Better Together about guarantees in Westminster of X, Y or Z. Our grant to pay for our NHS is guaranteed, so to suggest staying in the Union puts it in any danger is ridiculous is just one example. Those guarantees are worthless in the long term. They are guaranteed for that election cycle only. They are guaranteed until the winner of the next General Election starts their first day in the job. Even if the Tories win with David Cameron as their leader, it’s the start of a new term. He is not beholden to any promises from the previous term. If it’s Ed Miliband who wins, he’s not beholden to guarantees David Cameron made. They could of course extend those guarantees voluntarily, but why would they? They simply tie the hands of that Westminster government.

Better Together point to various years of funding, to explain that Scotland hasn’t done too badly. We’ve had plenty of money allocated to us for different things, why would that change if we vote No? The thing is, there’s one vital part of the equation missing after we vote No; the threat of independence. While we’re part of the Union, Westminster have to pull their punches when dealing with us. They have to restrain themselves, even if their every instinct is to put us back in our place. For decades now the threat of independence has given us more and more; the biggest of those prizes was a parliament of our own and devolution. We were meant to be content with that but we weren’t. It gave the SNP a platform to create Scotland as a different and more socially democratic country than rUK. It gave the SNP the power to demand more and more. That only happens when they have the threat of independence hanging over them.

The Labour members of Better Together like to use the “Labour will get elected and do X” as their get out. It’s looking increasingly unlikely in the short term, but even if they did. What about it? This Labour party are just as right wing as the Tories that Scotland has rejected. That’s no respite. Even if they were a genuine respite, this is short term thinking. Within a decade at most, Labour will be voted out of Westminster and we’ll have another Tory government. A No vote guarantees that we’ll get a Tory government around half of the time, with respite coming from a lesser Tory government the other half.

All of the guarantees are valid until 2015. What about 2020? 2025? 2030? 2035? Ask any rUK chancellor details about their budget the day before they announce it, and they won’t tell you. How can Better Together guarantee funding indefinitely? They can’t. They can only guarantee it in the short term. This referendum is for life, not just the next few years. Only independence guarantees our funding.

Imagine what happens if Westminster decide that we’ve diversified too far and make them look bad. They cut back on our grants to various places and remove some of our devolved powers back to Westminster. That sends large swathes of the population, at least temporarily to the SNP. The SNP come into Holyrood with a pissed off population and a mandate for independence. If this happens while Holyrood are able to ask the people, they will. The starting point is around 50%. By the time the ballot comes, it’s an easy 75% in favour of Yes. Not only that, but the UK parties kill any chance that their Scottish regional departments will ever see government in Holyrood. They lose Scotland, and influence in Scotland.

The outcome is permanent. All of the Westminster parties have their own ideas on what powers they’re offering Scotland if we vote No. They all have one policy in common. The ability for Holyrood to call another independence referendum is removed. If we don’t take this chance to escape, that door is slammed shut. The threat of us escaping no longer exists. Why would Westminster still treat us as fair as Better Together say we have been treated up to this point? We’ve given up our only protection. They can decimate Scotland. There’s nothing we can do about it. In that same scenario as described above, Holyrood can’t do anything. So what if they lose Scotland to the SNP. Holyrood is impotent and we’re stuck with whatever we get.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Westminster have played the narrative that Scotland is being subsidised by the UK. In reality it’s the other way around. The public have been fed the idea that they are paying Scotland far too much, to subsidise things like free prescriptions in Scotland. There’s a large political mood for Scotland to be brought into line with other policies from rUK, by slashing our grants. Remember that the UK General Election is decided by Labour and the Tories concentrating all of their firepower into tempting voters in around one hundred marginals in England. The Westminster first past the post system means they can, and do ignore the rest of the country. Both parties will be looking to punish Scotland more, to appeal to those people.

Aside from parties, Westminster only allowed the referendum to take place at all because they thought it’d be a no brainer. They assumed it was a massive own goal by the SNP, that the people of Scotland would reject it, specially when Devo Max was left off the ballot paper at the insistence of the Westminster parties. From day one, momentum has been with Yes. It’s went from around 35% to almost 50% in just a couple of years. It forced Westminster to actually fight for a win where they thought they didn’t have to. They won’t just drift off happily without wanting to exact some revenge.

The Myth Of Being The World’s Policemen

There’s a difference in the world view among Yes and No supporters worth exploring. Yes supporters tend to see Scotland as being perfectly happy within it’s own borders, that we should become one nation of many contributing to diplomatic solutions. No supporters tend to see the UK as one of the world’s policemen, interfering in any country we see fit, to help destroy terrorists or help the oppressed. It’s a noble thing to do, to help others in need, and our duty as a superior country to do it. In the case of colonies, they see it almost as a parental duty.

When you stop to think that through, you’ll see it’s bogus. If we were acting as the world’s policemen for noble reasons, we’d get involved in every humanitarian situation that springs up. We don’t. We only ever get involved when those people are sitting on lots of oil, or it’s some strategic spot and some group we’ve helped to power in the past. We never intervene to achieve an outcome that the locals want. We always intervene to get an outcome that we want. That’s just trying to wrap Imperialism in some noble sounding sentiment.

The self aggrandising sentiment behind that self appointed world policemen title is incredible. Look at the government we have in the UK. Look at the UK establishment, Labour, Tories, LibDems, Lords and Monarchy. Its a government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich. They don’t even rule the UK in the interests of the people, and they do that without a military occupation muddying the waters.

So many of the world’s intractable problems come from the Imperial powers and their self serving decisions. Most of their power has decayed, but their thirst for control is unabated. They’ve bought into the mentality that they’re doing countries a favour by constantly meddling. Imagine how many long term conflicts would have a chance of fixing themselves if countries like the UK stopped thinking of themselves as the world policemen and just left?

If we weren’t hell bent on meddling for our own aims in other’s countries, they wouldn’t be as determined to train as terrorists to come to the UK to get revenge. Ask yourself what you’d do, if a foreign country from halfway around the world sent it’s troops into your country on the pretext of a humanitarian mission, and spend it’s occupying time and energy annexing your assets and propping up some dictator you and your people can’t stand? You watch the world news, and see that country’s media proudly discussing how they’re helping spread democracy, all the while you’re under occupation, and things like a wedding party being droned is just written of as accidental collateral damage.

From Westminster’s point of view, Scotland would be great if it weren’t for the Scots. They want to ensure an intervention that suits their needs, regardless of how it affects us. Put simply, they need our gas and oil. It doesn’t matter to them whether we have to suffer Westminster Tory governments, or the austerity they bring. It doesn’t matter if we’re in the blast radius of Trident, or that an increasing number of us rely on foodbanks. What we want is irrelevant. We are a lucrative revenue generating property.

It’s the difference between whether you believe the media cheerleaders of these policies, to think we’re a force for good in the world, or whether you look at the reality. The only people who think we are a force for good are those who gain from it. It helps them sleep at night, knowing the damage their greed wreaks around the planet. If the media showed the reality from our victim’s perspective, the public would not approve. Not only is this a problem morally, it’s costing us a fortune. Imagine if our military weren’t stationed in lots of countries acting as the world’s police.

When the US President gives his very weak backing to the Union, he’s not doing it because he gives a hoot about the people of Scotland. He’s doing it from the US’s own interests. The UK are partners in this world police beat with them. If Scotland goes independent, rUK loses Scotland’s oil and gas revenue to help fund their part of that beat.

It’s not only the UK with a disconnect. Look at how our media see Russia. They meddle, just as we do. Their political elites think just as ours do, that we’re the world’s policemen doing others a favour by helping out. They just have a different beat than we do. Look carefully at the media reporting of the damage they’re doing, undermining democracy, creating instability etc. Don’t delude yourself, we do the same stuff. We pretend we’re the good guy too.

Jar Jar Murphy

As a lifelong Star Wars fan, particularly the novels, I’ve built up an astonishing understanding of that universe; all of which amounts to nothing more than pub quiz value. As I was watching Jim Murphy being interviewed on Scotland Tonight, I suddenly made a connection between him and Jar Jar Binks. In Attack Of The Clones, the Supreme Chancellor gets his mandate to go to war, by convincing Jar Jar to use his position as a stand in Senator to call for “emergency powers” for the Supreme Chancellor. This is totally unspecified. What emergency powers? Not only that, but in the uproar, the Senate morphs into chants of “vote now”. In one scene Jar Jar proposes unspecified new powers, they vote, and Supreme Chancellor Palpatine commits the Republic to war.

Better Together have been trying the line that there are already extra powers agreed by all three Westminster parties. These will kick in after we vote No. No matter which party wins the General Election in 2015, those powers are guaranteed. In the same interview Jim Murphy said that Yes Scotland had to provide a plan B on the currency. It’s important to know what we’ll be spending before we vote in September. I’ve already said why I believe Yes Scotland’s claims, but we’ll set that side as it’s not relevant to this article.

When asked about “if there’s a Tory government in 2015 in Westminster, will he back a vote to bring more powers to Scotland”? He refused to even consider a plan B for that. He’s only working on the assumption of a Labour government in 2015 in Westminster. So “would he back a vote to bring more powers to Scotland from a Labour government in Westminster?” Well, no. That’s down to the six hundred or so MPs, and what they decide those powers are going to be. He wasn’t going to be tied down to backing a bill before it’s even been discussed or agreed on. That’s fine as far as it goes, however, what happened to those guaranteed powers that Better Together have assured us are agreed between the parties and will come regardless?

He’s down to individual parties and what they want to offer. So what about the Labour side of this plan? Well, that’s something to be announced when Labour announce their 2015 General Election campaign. So their plans won’t even be announced until next year. What was that about the people needing to know before they vote in September again Jim?

Jim Murphy has done the equivalent of Jar Jar Binks. He’s advocating more unspecified powers, and expecting people to vote blind. Jar Jar Binks is widely seen as an embarrassment among the Star Wars audience, so maybe Jim has more in common than just that. In fairness to Jim Murphy, he’s just one of the Better Together people who are trying this trick, and hoping people don’t notice. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Scottish Labour have retreated into their own little world, where they think they’re still a credible and respectable party, and that anyone pointing out logical flaws is just a nationalist out to get them.

Show Your Workings

Many years ago when I was in school, I remember sitting a maths exam. At the top of the paper it said ‘show your workings’. That way if you got the answer wrong, the people marking it could see if you understood how to get the answer, and just got one part of the calculation wrong. If so, you’d still get marks for it. This principle doesn’t just apply to maths exams. You can apply it to politics, and the Scottish Independence Referendum in particular.

I’ve seen a lot of Better Together people just repeating conclusions and claims, without showing their workings. To give you an example of what I mean, I’ll make the claim that “we need independence to protect the NHS from the ever creeping privatisation we see in England”. The NHS is a devolved power already, so why would the NHS be under threat if we reject independence? It’s meaningless on its own. It’s just a statement. To give it weight, I need to show my workings of how I got to that conclusion.

With devolution, we have the power to decide where to spend the money we get in some areas like the NHS, what we don’t have, is the ability to decide how much money that is. Every year the UK Chancellor does the UK budget. He or she decides what to spend money on, what to increase spending on, what to decrease spending on, and what to keep level with inflation. All of that is political by the party in power to help their own ideology.

A significant number of Westminster MPs have investments in private health firms, so it’s in their own personal interests if those firms expand with new contracts. While they’re competing with a publicly owned NHS run for the benefit of the people who rely on the service, their market is limited. If the NHS is run into the ground, so that the only medical options people have are private, it’s a simple monopoly situation. You don’t have to try to keep your customers happy or provide good value if you have no competition. Where are they going to go?

The SNP government in Holyrood has taken a stand to protect the NHS. They’ve even included it in the new Scottish Constitution, so that a Labour govt in Holyrood couldn’t undo that protection. Not only does this stance limit these companies ability to expand into Scotland, it provides a thriving alternative model that the people in rUK can see. It makes them ask the question “why can’t we do that too?” That’s very uncomfortable when you’re trying to sell the idea that the only way to do healthcare is privatisation. It’s in Westminster’s interest that the Scottish NHS fails.

How could Westminster make the Scottish NHS fail? It’s a devolved power. We can choose not to spend that money on private firms. All true, but we don’t have control over how much money we get. Imagine the budget gets slashed in half next year. We can’t provide the same amount of services the way they are now. We have no choice but to cut. That would deny those services to the people who are relying on them, in addition to lots of job loses. The alternative is that we’re forced to turn to private firms to run some services. That way people would still be treated, they’d just be treated by private firms instead of the NHS. What happens if the budget is slashed in half the year after? All we can do is rely on going back to Westminster with caps in hand, sucking up to the right people and begging for more of our money back to run our NHS.

This is my workings for the claim “we need independence to protect the NHS from the ever creeping privatisation we see in England”. You may agree or disagree with any part of that, but I’m showing you how I got to that conclusion. When you’re talking to people from both Yes and No camps, look to see their workings.

I’ve found that Better Together are very deficient in this area. They come to some conclusion that doesn’t add up when you explore how they got to that conclusion. They rely on some pretty wild assumptions, or very twisted interpretation of some quotes that don’t stand up to scrutiny. They often just repeat them without ever being asked how they get to that conclusion. It’s like they haven’t actually thought about it, and are little more than parrots repeating slogans.

This is a moment in Scotland’s history. It’s important that people think about what Scotland could become. Yes people have all given these things a great deal of thought. They can show their workings for any of their conclusions, and they’re happy to do so. It’s just up to you to listen.

Ask What You Already Know, To Find Out What You Don’t Know

Many years ago I used to work in a store selling electrical goods. The product lines would change all the time, with new models and ranges replacing old ones. Sometimes the models would change to a new specification and the only difference would be a letter or number tucked away on the box. As a salesperson, there’s limits on how well you can understand any one model. Unless it was a TV or a Hi-Fi, it would sit on display without ever being plugged in. Even when it was plugged in, you’d only ever demo the basic functions when speaking to a customer. You learn functions, instead of products. You also know that you can improvise around explaining those functions because the customer likely doesn’t know any better, and they’re trying to keep an eye on the big picture, that the little details will just pass over them.

Not only was it a question of having too many new products, it’s also about time spent on learning compared to sales lost with misinformation. It’s just not worth your time or hassle to try to scratch the surface of any particular product, specially as a minimum wage worker and customers are in the store to earn commission from.

You’re also the last person to ask for honest advice about the products. Sales people are on commission. They want to sell you what’s best for them. They always have sales targets. Those targets will be used in performance reviews, and could be the difference between an end of year bonus, and the sack. Sometimes they’ll give you misinformation because they’ve been misinformed. Stores sometimes offer their staff training on a subject, but it’s never written objectively for the customers benefit. It’s written to help sell more product. Sometimes they’ll do it because they don’t want to appear to have a lack of knowledge by asking someone else. Sometimes they want to steer you towards a product with an additional bonus commission, even if it’s not suitable for you. The bottom line is that they want to sell you a product, even if another store has a more suitable product for you.

Why does this have anything to do with the Scottish Independence Referendum I hear you ask. My time doing this gave me the insight of a salesperson. I took that away with me. I’m now painfully aware of that when I go into a store as a customer. I have no idea if I’m dealing with a salesperson who has general knowledge about all the products, but amounts to no more use than me comparing the price tickets and specs for myself, or whether I can actually ask questions and get honest answers. I’ve found a good way to test them.

I ask them questions I already know the answers to. If they give the answers I already know to be correct, or they excuse themselves to go ask another member of staff, then return with the correct answers, it tells me that I can ask them questions I don’t already know the answers to, and that I’m likely to get honest answers. If they give me answers I know to be wrong, I can push them to explain further. That gives a hint to whether they’re just improvising, or whether they’re mistaken but believe themselves to be telling the truth. The former means I end the conversation and walk out. The latter I can choose whether to give them another chance with a new question, push back, exposing myself as someone who does know the subject at hand, or walk out.

Keep the fact that you’re testing them to yourself. It’s up to you whether you push back or not. In public, they’re playing to the peanut gallery. By exposing the fact that you know they’ve lied, it could influence others nearby.

For people who are undecided in the referendum, try visiting a Yes Scotland and Better Together stalls in your area, visit both of their shops, or attend a debate. Ask questions you already know the answers to. Ask both sides. There is a lot of conflicting claims on the internet, so how do you know your answers are correct? That’s tricky. A more fool proof test is on voting records. All of that is a matter of public record. It’s also a binary yes or no. There’s no interpretation.

You don’t know why an MSP voted for or against a specific bill, only which way they voted. By checking their voting records on bills around the same genre you can see a pattern. You can also dig into transcripts to see what they’ve said during the negotiations for that bill. Look at what they’ve been arguing for or against. Look at who’s proposing it, or opposing it and why. All of that begins with the binary yes or no vote on each bill.

Try picking out a few of the contentious issues like the Iraq war, or the bedroom tax. Look at who voted for and against those. Pay attention to the SNP voting records as a party, and Alex Salmond’s in particular. He’s been an MP for four decades now, so his voting record goes back to the Thatcher era. Better Together have personalised their campaign around him, so it’s his record they’re trying to use. Now go ask both sides about it. Prepare your smartphone with screengrabs of voting records so you can fact check the claims on the spot. If one side tries to play on your ignorance by claiming a yes on a vote where they actually voted no, what else are they misleading you on? Can you trust them to be honest about anything?

For the past three weeks I’ve joined the Yes Scotland stand in my area. For the last two of those, there’s been a Better Together stand down the street. I’ve heard over and over from people who have been to the Better Together stand, and been told the SNP voted for the Iraq war among other things. If you don’t know the truth of those claims, you don’t know they’re flat out lying to you. If you do know, you can make that judgement.

I haven’t seen any Yes debate tactics around voting records. I’m standing with people who talk about issues and conclusions, by explaining how they come to those conclusions. You can only do that if you’ve examined the case and found it logically solid. If you haven’t examined your case, or it’s found wanting, you can’t use that to win people over. All you’re left with is trying to demonise the other side, by claiming they’re responsible for all the negative issues that people care about, and that they stand against all the positive things people want. The easiest way to do that, is claim wrongly that the SNP voted in ways they didn’t.

Arm yourselves with binary facts, and question both sides. It’s your country, your future and your vote counts.