From Jan 6th, I Will No Longer Be Advocating Independence

No, I’m not going to be perhaps the first passionate Yes supporter to be enthralled by Better Together’s Project Fear.

On January 6th, we move to Sweden. And it’s because I remain true to my belief that only those in Scotland should decide what’s best for Scotland, I have to accept that I’m removing myself from that Demos. In doing so, I remove my right to influence the result, by argument or vote. Read more ›

Posted in Scotland, Sweden Tagged with:

Heja Världen/Hello World!

So we’ve landed in Sweden.

This site’s now back up (obviously), but sorry that it took a while. That’s because it lives on a wee Mac Mini, connected via our (now super fast) broadband connection. Getting all this up and running had some interesting dependencies, not least of which was me getting the time to do it.

SUPER Fast Broadband

SUPER Fast Broadband, both down and up. Remember the days when a whole university would share a 1Mb link?
I *could* have gone for an even faster connection – our fibre and provider handles up to 1Gb/s, but that would make our LAN kit the bottleneck as it tops out at 100Mb/s per port for wired connections and 300Mb/s shared between all WiFi devices (on 5GHz 802.11n)

But, yes, up and running now, including easyweb mail I should think. Hmm, must go test that.

Posted in Sweden Tagged with: , ,

No I Will Not Identify Myself For Security Purposes

So today, I received a call from a random (unrecognised by my phone’s addressbook anyway) 0845 number, claiming to be from $financialinstitution. Now it happens that I do indeed have an account with that institution, so I didn’t hang up on them right away.

Their opening gambit:

I have all your details here: can you please confirm your date of birth for our security purposes

No, I will not.

I will not provide identifying information to someone who calls me up out of the blue.

So I request that they confirm that they do indeed have my details by asking for the last bit of my postcode. Hard to guess, but not enough to identify me on its own so doesn’t provide much of an InfoSec risk.

No, we can’t provide that for data protection reasons

Excuse me? Whose data are we talking about? Mine. And for my data protection, I’m not giving anything to anyone who won’t positively identify themselves beyond a claim to be $financialinstitution.

So I try a different tack: can they please tell me the nature/category of the call to see if it matches with my knowledge of where my account currently is.

No, we can’t discuss the nature of the call with someone we can’t positively identify

Well, folks, the risk to you of doing so is small. But to me, it’s huge. So if you won’t talk to me, you need to understand that I’m even less likely to talk to you. And besides, you called me on a number that I provided with my application. Yes, JRandomPerson may have nicked my phone, but you know it’s the right number.

All right sir, if you won’t talk to me, you can call us right back. I can give you the number

If I don’t trust you when you call me, what the blithering fridge basis do you have to think I’m ever going to trust a number you give me?

Look, I’ve read enough phishing scams over the last few years. And they’re moving from the rediculous [sic – yes, they’re that bad] to really really plausible. I think we should move our method of ID&V to that used by spies – a shared protocol of mutual identification. I for one will not accept any future calls from commercial organisations until they are willing to identify themselves before I give them any identifying information on me.

Posted in Polemic

Who Cares if Labour Win in 2015?

So it’s silly season, the political heavyweights are on holiday, and the media are still playing the “All the news that fits” game. So of course, the party malcontents who normally struggle for the oxygen of publicity are getting their moment in the fresh air, without significant domestic competition.

Thus ’tis the traditional season for the combination of internal awkward squad and swivel eyed loons in the Labour Party to pop up and claim that the Party is directionless and on course to lose the next election, therefore Miliband Echo is failing and should reshuffle the Shadow Cabinet, and then probably resign.

Party Loyalists (Hi Duncan!) have been swift to point out that at 10 points up in the polls, it’s a strange kind of failing, and perhaps a bit more of it should be achieved.

However, this neglects a couple of key points:

Margin of Error

Experienced political psephologists know that any poll number is subject to an approx +/-3% margin of error. And comparing two figures doubles that to +/-6% (for more, see my previous article). So that 10 point lead could be as little as 4%. Or it could be as much as 16%. But if there’s a possibility of the lower figure, I wouldn’t be resting on any laurels if I were a strategist.

Regional Variation

Now John McAllion has gone to town on this, noting that the marginal seats in the South of England that Labour need to win to form a Westminster Government aren’t following the +10% narrative. So that number isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be in electoral terms. Now if we had a PR system of election to Westminster, that might be a little different, and we’ll leave discussing the extent of Labour’s own complicity in that situation for another day.

It Doesn’t Matter Anyway

Again, Labour “No” voting friends (again, Hi Duncan!) are quick to point out that Independence won’t save Scotland from Tory governments half as well as a Labour victory in 2015, so you should stop your petty discussions in the interests of helping in the main event. Such patronising guff assumes that a Labour victory will change the mean-minded policies that the Coalition Government have introduced.

But that won’t be the case. Yes, you can argue that in opposition, Labour doesn’t want to be held hostage on specific policies to what the situation may be in 2 years’ time. And that was more true when 2 years was 4 years. And you can argue that it wants to keep its campaigning powder dry. But that’s not how transformational elections are won.

Transformational elections such as our friends are promising happen when the mood of the country changes. When the nation’s collective political assumptions and analysis change. When the opposition of the day make the case that the fundamental strategy of the government is in the wrong direction.

But Labour haven’t made that case. Worse: they haven’t even argued that case. At best, they’ve quibbled about quite how much to screw the poor by. How aggressively to racially and gleefully target suspected illegal immigrants with demands for papers. How easily bankers should be let off any responsibility for the financial crisis. How condemnatory the rhetoric should be about benefits recipients.

What they haven’t done one bit of is provide a trenchant different political analysis, or challenge to the base narrative of austerity rather than growth. They’ve even  that the current financial crisis was caused by Labour overspending to become generally accepted as truth.

So it’s no wonder they’re 10 points up in the polls. Those who already liked them are persuaded that they’ll be the shining knight on the white charger, rescuing us all from the Tories. Those who didn’t particularly like them don’t see them as a threat at all.

When all you’re concerned with is winning, not actually doing something different with it, who cares if you win?

Posted in Polemic Tagged with:

Foreigners! Foreigners! FOREIGNERS!

Over the recent weeks and months, our chums over at UKOK have been girning and wailing (Oh Waly! Waly! Bang went saxpence! etc) that should Scotland dare to become independent, every single person in the UK will become some kind of foreigner (Oh Waly! Waly! The very Horror!), and that this alone is enough to make Scotland afraid enough to duck the responsibilities of nationhood.

Now obviously, it’s pure tosh, and very clearly cynically planned political rhetoric rather than reality — my sister is married to an Irish fella, but neither they nor their kids are in any shade foreign to me or my family. But what I find interesting is the whole notion that being foreign is in any way A Bad Thing. And something’s been nagging at my memory for weeks now about it.

I remembered today #proudface.

It’s this, from the great George Mikes’ ‘How to be an Alien’:

How to be an Alien

Some years ago I spent a lot of time with a young lady who was very proud and conscious of being English. Once she asked me — to my great surprise — whether I would marry her. “No,” I replied, “I will not. My mother would never agree to my marrying a foreigner.” She looked at me a little surprised and irritated, and retorted: “I, a foreigner? What a silly thing to say. I am English. You are the foreigner. And your mother, too.” I did not give in. “In Budapest, too?” I asked her. “Everywhere,” she declared with determination. “Truth does not depend on geography. What is true in England is also true in Hungary and in North Borneo and Venezuela and everywhere.”

I saw that this theory was as irrefutable as it was simple. I was startled and upset. Mainly because of my mother whom I loved and respected. Now, I suddenly learned what she really was.

It is a shame and bad taste to be an alien, and it is no use pretending otherwise. There is no way out of it. A criminal may improve and become a decent member of society. A foreigner cannot improve. Once a foreigner, always a foreigner. There is no way out for him.

Sadly, I realised how much the Unionist mentality has internalised the power structures of Imperial Englishness. To be British (yes, we’re conflating England and Britain again here) is to be normal, to be the great, unmoving reference point from which the rest of the world is viewed with disdain.

To our Unionist friends, Wogs apparently still start at Calais. It just wouldn’t do for them to start at Carlisle too.

Better off out of it, I reckon.

Posted in Scotland, Scrapbook

The Labour Party: More in Sorrow than Anger

I’ve spent many a blog post and a tweet critiquing the behaviour of the Labour party, tribalistically determined to cut off its own nose to spite its face, more focused on gaining power than what to do with it.

Yet all of this is because of a conviction of what the Labour Party should and could be. A power for good, for justice, for change. And a frustration that we’re not getting it.

We’re getting instead soundbites superficially opposing regressive government policy, but not a single idea of what the substantive alternative might be, or that the very question and assumption the Government posits are wrong. Or being dogmatic in the means without acknowledging the bigger game.

This quote summarises it well (emphasis mine):

And the thing is, I know that my personal and political journey (an SNP member living in England) might not be all that conventional, but I’m convinced that I’m far from alone in my attitude towards Labour: I want to support them. I want to vote for them. But I have no idea what difference to my life and the life of my community voting Labour will make, or even if it will make any difference at all. With no clear message, and, it would appear, no messengers in this part of the world save for a name on a ballot paper, I can’t make an informed judgement.

A message to the Labour Party: Get better soon…

We always criticise our friends more than our enemies, because we consider our friends
redeemable. But where we agree on the goals, let us be cordial in our disagreement on means, honestly accepting that there is no certainty that any specific course will achieve them.

Posted in Polemic Tagged with:

The Infinite Chocolate Is A Lie



Posted in Scrapbook

Independence is a Different Direction

The Burd has articulated it beautifully:

Labour reckons that to build a yes campaign by focusing on the differences in our identities and by suggesting that the only way to remove the threat of right wing Tory rule from our political lexicon is to opt for independence is unhelpful and disingenuous. It’s not.

What is disingenuous is to suggest that if we vote to stay in the Union, we will get the kind of Labour policies we want in a 2015 UK election. We won’t. What we will get is a right of centre Labour – Blairite Labour – because appealing to middle England, paring off the voters from the open arms of the likes of UKiP in constituencies in the south of England requires Labour to pitch itself differently

It’s long been clear to me that the kind of policies accepted as basic good sense in Scotland have been rejected by the Westminster parties as barriers to winning power. Now while I’ve criticised particularly the Labour Party for being willing to dump principle for a sniff of power (and haven’t even started on the LibDems), it is fair to seek power as the place you can best put principle into action.

But what has happened to government-aspiring parties of the Left in England is that they have been swept along with the rightward march of the Overton Window in the seats that make a difference (ie a small number of marginals), and as they try to not only win but retain power, have become what they previously simply aped for electoral purposes.

Thus in England, powered by the marginal seats, the national politic is drifting further and further from Scotland’s Overton Window. Because Scotland is relatively powerless by having a small number of Westminster seats, and almost none of them Left/Right marginal, we’re dragged along too.

I know that the same argument could be made for much of the North of England, and that – politically – the border is somewhat arbitrary. And that an effective system of PR would have mitigated the impact. And that a federal system or DevoMax might have helped too.

But we’re being offered none of those things. We’re being offered an opportunity to cut the line that drags us along with Westminster’s rightward drift and to set our own course.

What, you mean you’d rather achieve social justice in none of Great Britain?

Posted in Scotland

Technocracy and Democracy

Our old friend Duncan brings up an interesting point:

Democracy is for deciding between things; working out an unbiased question to ask requires expertise, not representation. #indyref
Duncan Hothersall

(Note for those not following: he’s arguing that the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014 be fought on a question set by the Electoral Commission, not one proposed by the Government of Scotland. And I’m pretty sure that at least part of that argument is from political standpoint that thinks the proposed question will deliver more ‘Yes’ votes than one he might set. Certainly his party’s rhetoric to date would suggest they’d like a question more akin to “Do you agree that Scotland should be cast out of the warmth of the UK, separate forever and alone in the world, without the nurturing generosity of Westminster?“)

And from first principles, he has a strong point. Regardless of my views on the outcome of the referendum, what I do want most strongly is that it accurately reflects the views of the people of Scotland. Thus in case of the outcome I’d like, no-one can argue with it.

However, there’s a process problem here: the UK tradition is not a technocratic one. In the UK, experts advise and government chooses. The Government is quite capable of entirely ignoring its expert advisers and any evidential basis for that advice. And in extremis, can even sack its advisers for daring to bring facts to the table that happen to be contrary to current government policy. Just ask Prof David Nutt, sacked by — yes, it’s true — a Labour Party Home Secretary for failing to fall into line with the simplistic “Drugs are Bad, mm’kay?” line.

So there are a couple of points coming out of this:

  1. While I don’t hold Duncan personally responsible for all the idiocy of his party, one might expect a modicum of consistency from the party overall about the respective roles of experts and politicians.
  2. This balance between roles varies in different countries — what we have is an established UK tradition. The UK isn’t going to change any time in the foreseeable future, but an independent Scotland could very well take a different path. And in the early days of our better nation, I think a number of historic UK traditions will be more open to remaking than at any other time in the lifetimes of anyone currently alive, past and future.

So Duncan, if you’d like our governments to be more respectful of the advice of experts, let’s have a country where we can make that change. Because from your own argument, it’s not Better Together.

Posted in Scotland Tagged with: ,

Metric or Imperial Thinking: Not a Binary Choice

I grew up and went to school in Britain in the 70s and 80s. Thus while I am entirely conversant with metric units and will use same for anything involving precise measurement and calculation, in general conversation and in my internal representation I use a complete mish-mash, depending on what is being measured.

Inspired by an entry on the sub-reddit /r/britishproblems, here’s how my brain works.


Measuring System Unit
Height of People Imperial Feet
Driving Distance Imperial Miles (also Miles/Gallon of fuel)
Height of Rooms Imperial Feet
Walking/Running Distances (up to 1 mile) Imperial or Metric Yards and Metres interchangeably
Size of Objects (up to 30 cm) Metric Centimetre
Paper Sizes and anything laid out on paper Metric Millimetres
Water Depth (Artificial bodies of water) Imperial Feet
Water Depth (Natural bodies of water) Metric Metre
Furniture Metric Metres & Centimetres
Thicknesses of furniture (relative to a larger surface) Imperial Inches
Thickness of drawn lines Metric Millimetres
Thickness of printed lines Imperial Points (= 1/72 of an inch)

Yards and Metres are always completely interchangeable


Measuring System Unit
People Imperial Stone and Pounds
People in a sport context Metric Kilogram
Ingredients for baking Metric Gram
Vegetables Imperial Pounds (rounded to nearest whole/half)
Sweets Imperial Quarter Pounds
Meat Metric Kilogram
Sausages Imperial Pounds (although more normally counted)
Bacon Imperial Pounds (although more normally counted in rashers)
Ham Metric Gram
Electronic devices Metric Gram
Furniture Imperial Pounds
Luggage Metric Kilogram
Large Animals (eg Elephants) Imperial Tons
Large Rocks Imperial Tons


Measuring System Unit
Beer Imperial Pints
Spirits Metric ml
Wine Metric ml
Milk Imperial Pints (except for Baking see above)
Petrol/Diesel Metric Litres (however it's Miles/Gallon)


Measuring System Unit
Cold Weather (below 10C) Metric Celcius
Warm Weather (around 60C) Imperial Farenheit
Hot Weather (above 20C) Metric Celcius
Very Hot Weather (above 100F) Imperial Farenheit
Very very cold temperatures nearing absolute zero Metric Kelvin
All other temperatures Metric Celcius

I expect I’ll be adding to this over time as I think of new examples, but please do feel free to add your own versions in comments.

Posted in Technology Tagged with:


Grumpy dad, musician, old school web geek; loves Apple stuff and Linux. Uses Windows only under duress. Supports peace, justice and organised compassion. Increasingly annoyed with politicians playing point scoring above making the country better. Not a member of any political party, but supports Scottish Independence.

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