Scottish spun-GERS

Update, 26/09/2020: The joke at the foot of this post, the pseudo-graph from pseudo Kevin Hague, has been picked up and republished by Munguin’s Republic, a lovely site with stunning nature pics, a strong but unencumbering commitment to Scottish independence, and jokes. Thanks, Tris, and best wishes in the ongoing struggle.

IT’S TIME for a brief look at GERS, the “Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland” report. The usual narrative is:

• Scotland has a deficit, because it spends more on public services than it raises in taxes.

• The UK funds that deficit by giving money to the Scottish Government (the “fiscal transfer”). This means that Scotland sponges on the UK.

• An independent Scotland couldn’t fund that difference.

All nice and clear, then – and all nice and falsely spun. Let’s look at those falsehoods.

Firstly, deficits are normal: all countries in the world have deficits, bar a handful of tax havens. What matters is whether a country’s deficit is “sustainable”. Having a deficit means that a country has to borrow money to spend on public services, and that means paying loan-interest. So it needs to generate enough revenue to cover the loan-interest. If it can do that, its deficit is “sustainable”. If it can’t, it isn’t.

The UK deficit goes up and down on a ten-year cycle, becoming a surplus in one or two years in each ten. Its economy generates enough revenue to meet its interest payments, so its deficit is sustainable. Virtually every country in the developed world has a sustainable deficit, unless its government is very silly. Scotland’s deficit too will be sustainable.

Secondly, it says above, the UK funds Scotland’s deficit by giving money to the Scottish Government, in a fiscal transfer. No, it doesn’t. There is no “fiscal transfer”, and no money changes hands. Scotland gets a block grant. But that “block grant” isn’t a grant at all: it’s simply the amount of Scottish Government spending that the UK will underwrite. The Scottish Government doesn’t have to spend it all, and in past years it hasn’t always; but if it spends more than the laid-down amount, Scottish ministers go to jail. The UK calls it a grant, but in fact it’s a cap.

Thirdly, Scotland covers its deficit by notionally borrowing money from the UK, and pays interest on that loan. Here is the line from GERS that tells us it’s a loan:

gers-2019-2020

“Public sector debt interest” is the interest on the UK’s national debt, which is all the money that it’s borrowed since ever, less whatever it’s paid back up till now; this line shows Scotland’s share of that interest. Wrapped inside it is the interest Scotland is paying to fund its deficit (i.e. its shortfall for the current year). So the UK borrows money to fund Scottish public spending, and charges Scotland interest on the loan that the UK has taken out. This is normal and fair, and it means that the UK doesn’t pay for Scotland’s deficit. If the UK did pay for Scotland’s deficit, Scotland would be getting a free lunch, and free lunches don’t exist.

Scotland has no money of its own: all its tax revenues go directly to the UK, and the UK underwrites all its expenditure. Further, it has no borrowing powers: it “borrows” only from the UK. The Scottish economy, in short, is wholly controlled by the UK. Which leads us to:

Fourthly, why, after 300 years of economic integration, is Scotland so poor? Maybe it’s because its people are ineducable blockheads, whose only contribution to cultural life has been the work of Adam Smith, Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, James Watt, John Logie Baird and Alexander Broadie and the creation of four world-class universities. Or maybe it’s because the ineducable blockheads have recklessly wasted their natural resources, leaving Scotland, per head of population, with only one-and-a-half times as many farm animals as the rest of the UK, two-and-a-half times as much timber, twice as much cereal, six times the renewable energy (wind, wave and solar), and nine times as much hydroelectic energy. (Who could make a living out of that?) Or there again, it may just be 300 years of exploitation, under-investment and false accounting.

Let’s wrap this up with a graphic, so that it can be understood by even a prolix and repetitive blogger who nobody takes seriously any more:

scottish-deficit-2019-2020
A – Amount of Scottish deficit.
B – Amount that Scotland “borrows” from the UK, standing on a scaffold with both hands tied behind its back and its head in a noose.
C – Amount that an independent Scotland could borrow on the open market, so that it could elect the government of its choice, run its economy how it thought fit, and prosper like a normal country.

Holes in Alex’s trial

No, not that Alex. Alex Prentice, of course, the prosecutor in the Craig Murray contempt-of-court case.

Craig is proposing to bring forward individual witnesses who say they couldn’t identify any anonymised witnesses from reading Craig’s blog. The prosecutor wants to rule this evidence inadmissible, on the grounds that the individuals are too few to make a difference: “…the state of knowledge of a limited number of individuals cannot assist in the central issue [of ‘likelihood’]…”. This is an unfortunate argument for the prosecutor to have used, because it concedes the point that likelihood is measurable: if these individuals are too few, there must be a number that is not too few.

Further, Alex Prentice has to decide what that number is, because he’s going to need it. He’s going to need it to deal with the second implication of his argument, which is his presumption of guilt: these numbers are too few, he implies, to show Craig’s innocence. But Craig doesn’t have to show his innocence; the prosecution has to show his guilt, and by their own argument they can only do that by presenting numerical evidence of individuals to whom Craig’s blog has revealed the secret identities. Arguing that such numerical evidence is inadmissible doesn’t seem to be the brightest step to have taken. (If they’d had numerical evidence that lots of people had learned identities from Craig’s blog, they’d have tried to rule that out, too, wouldn’t they? Surely? WOULDN’T THEY?)

The prosecution’s only way out of this mish-mash is to argue that ‘likelihood’ is not measurable, is not statistically based, and exists only in the mind of the beholder. Like hell it does.

 

“Likely”

Craig Murray is facing trial for publishing information “likely to disclose the identity” of persons involved in the Alex Salmond trial (they have statutory anonymity for life). What a can of worms that word “likely” is! Longman’s dictionary defines it as “can reasonably be expected [to happen]”. Reasonably, that’s the word.

Craig wants to bring in two pieces of evidence: first, evidence from people who read the mainstream-media accounts of the trial, and were able to tell from those accounts who the anonymised persons were; and second, parallel evidence from people who read Craig’s blog and were not able to tell who the anonymised persons were. The prosecutor has asked the Court to disallow these two sets of evidence, but the reasons he gives don’t meet the point. Moreover it seems clear that he’s intentionally missed the point, so that he can muddy the waters. He can’t be so thick as to have merely got it wrong.

Likelihood – as Longman’s dictionary tells us – depends on ‘reasonable expectations’, and that depends on knowledge. I believe that I’ll get lung cancer if I smoke like a chimney, because the data says so. I can express a hunch that I won’t get lung cancer – “I think I’ll be OK. I’ve got good lungs” – but the data says that that belief is mince. Likelihood is like that: it’s the same as probability, and probability is based on evidence. Craig’s two sets of evidence show that mainstream media leaked the identities, and that his blog didn’t. That means that his blog was not likely to have leaked the identities.

The prosecutor fudges the issue here. He pretends that Craig is bringing this evidence to show that other media have committed the same offence as he’s charged with, and that he’s therefore innocent, and that won’t do: “The question of whether other commentators have breached the order cannot be a defence to the Respondent,” he rightly says. But Craig isn’t bringing this evidence to show that others have committed the same offence. He’s bringing it to show that, since the identities had already been leaked, his blog couldn’t have aided identification. The prosecutor is intentionally misrepresenting Craig’s point here, in order to muddy the waters and get Craig’s evidence ruled inadmissible.

On Craig’s second set of evidence – that people who had read his blog had not been able to identify the anonymised persons – the prosecutor says that there aren’t enough of them to be useful: “Evidence based on the state of knowledge of a limited number of individuals cannot assist in the central issue [of ‘likelihood’],” he says. No, prosecutor, you’re categorically wrong there: “likelihood” is measurable, and an assessment of likelihood that doesn’t take account of available measurements can’t be said to be “reasonable”. Since Craig’s witnesses constitute the only measurable evidence that has surfaced so far in this affair, they matter. Let’s run a thought-experiment:

You contract a rare disease, and are “likely” to die unless they cut your arm off. “How likely?” you ask.

• “We don’t know. We believe that many people have had this disease, but we only have records of five cases.”
• “Ok,” you say. “What happened to them?”
• “Oh, don’t worry about them,” they say. “There are too few of them to be relevant.”
• “There may not be many of them, but they’re the only evidence we have. What happened to them?”
• “No, really. That information isn’t useful. Evidence based on the outcome for a limited number of individuals cannot assist in the central issue of whether to cut your arm off or not.”
• “But they’re the only thing we can base a decision on! Without these five cases we’re just waving our fingers in the air! Tell me what happened to them!”
• “Oh, they all died.”

You probably want them to cut your arm off now.

I do hope the judges give proper weight to the fact that “likelihood” is measurable, and that without that dimension any judgement is mere prejudice. If they go for muddle-headed intuitions like “His blog must have probably enabled a lot of people to work it out,” or “If it happened even once, then it must have been likely“, that will be perverse.

 

They came for the protestors, but I wasn’t a protestor….

As immediate fall-out from the Alex Salmond trial stitch-up, the commentator Craig Murray is being prosecuted for saying that the Alex Salmond trial was a stitch-up. The grounds for the prosecution are that, by saying that the Alex Salmond trial was a stitch-up, he committed contempt of court. Contempt-of-court cases are heard not by a jury, but only by judges, and carry a possible sentence of two years in prison.

The first step is a procedural hearing, scheduled for Wednesday 10th June at 10:00 a.m. This hearing will be on line, and therefore open to anybody with an internet connection. But you need to apply for access. Please do so – it’s important that as many people as possible know what was actually said in court, because the mainstream media and the judiciary will try to stamp on anything they see as threatening, and what Craig Murray has to say undoubtedly fits that bill.

You can apply for access by emailing judicialcomms@scotcourts.gov.uk. And please circulate this to friends, and post it on any internet forum you have access to, so that there’s more public observation of these proceedings.

POSTTHOUGHT: The amount of effort that the authorities are putting in to suppress allegations that the Salmond trial was a fit-up does suggest that it was.

Where it’s *really* at

My last post has been met with incredulous hostility by some commentators, hostile incredulity by others (all in personal communications), so I need to flesh it out a bit. To provide continuity with the previous post, I thought of heading this one “Where it’s really at, asshole”, but since the skeptics were my friends I’ve forborne to do this.

The first point in my previous post – that Nicola Sturgeon would either commit or not commit to an indyref this year – was not controversial (how could it be? – it covered all possibilities). In the event, NS’s response contained many fine words and high aspirations, but you should always listen to the small print. What she actually said was, “it is still my hope [that we can get an indyref in 2020]”. That doesn’t sound like commitment to me.

My second point – that SNP policy is based on the belief that indyref without a Section 30 order would create too much hatred and division to be sustainable – attracted no adverse comment. Looking at it again now, I’m not sure that it’s true, but that question needs a separate post.

My third point – that the SNP doesn’t want independence, it just wants to stay in power for ever – is the one where my skeptical friends thought I’d lost my grip on reality. However, there are plenty of pointers in the SNP’s conduct over the last six years:

– The only actions the SNP have taken to further independence is Ian Blackford saying repeatedly and untruthfully that Scotland won’t be taken out of the EU against its will (it has been), and Nicola Sturgeon saying repeatedly that Scotland’s right to a referendum will be recognised (it won’t);

– They’ve mounted no legal challenge to the need for a Section 30 order, their refutation of mainstream media lies is non-existent, and they have not moved the opinion polls by any noticeable amount;

– The Scottish political scene is glacial, with the SNP running a straightforward social-democratic programme, and the opposition ineffective beyond belief. But with independence, that will change. After the honeymoon period, the growth of better-formulated dissenting views on how run a country will mean that they’ll have to work for their living;

– Their record in government has seen some ill-prepared legislation put forward – the Offensive Behaviour (Football) Act, the Named Persons Scheme, the Gender Recognition Act. They’re good at managing money, but poor at managing public opinion. So the return of normal politics is a threat to them;

– Their finances won’t cover a second indyref. They have £400,000 cash-in-hand, membership has halved since 2014, and indy will mean losing their £1.5m per annum share of the ‘Short money’ gifted by the UK Government to opposition parties.

More on the SNP’s true policy below.

On my fourth point – that the Salmond trial is a stitch-up and Sturgeon helped bring it about – the skeptics really had a field-day; “About as realistic as eating fish and chips on Mars,” was one comment. But my analysis is not unrealistic: my information comes from Craig Murray, the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan who was hounded out of office for showing that Britain relied on intelligence obtained from torture. You can read what he has to say here, and it’s very disturbing. By “at the heart of Holyrood” Craig means, of course, in the heads of Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell, Chief Executive of the SNP. And as a coda to this, let’s note that the name of Alex Salmond is not now to be found anywhere on the SNP’s website. Here is everything the SNP has to say on the 2014 referendum:

The 2014 independence referendum was Scotland’s greatest ever democratic event. In the months building up to the vote, the Yes campaign – spearheaded by the SNP and its then depute leader Nicola Sturgeon – engaged with every community in Scotland. Support for independence reached record highs[,] and levels of political participation blossomed across the country.

While the result delivered in the wee small hours of September 19th fell short…

I know that memory plays us tricks, but I think I remember Alex Salmond being around at that time. Wikipedia supports me on this: in its article on the 2014 referendum, it mentions Alex Salmond by name 89 times. The SNP names him, um, zero times.

Putting my third and fourth points together – the SNP’s inactivity and the Salmond stitch-up – we can derive a coherent account of the SNP’s policy over the last six years:

a. The UK will never let Scotland go if it can avoid it, because Scotland is too valuable. (For a summary of this, read Craig Murray’s opening paragraph here.) This makes independence is virtually unachievable, except by UDI and the risk of bloodshed (which the UK is perfectly capable of fostering). Sturgeon understood this early on, and decided not go go for it;

b. Her career plan is therefore to leave the SNP after five to ten years, and move on to an international career;

c. The modus operandi will be to talk up independence, but do nothing, just as the Brexiteers have talked up a “free” Britain, but will balk (we hope) at actually making much of a difference with Brexit;

d. Salmond is a threat to this, because he’s a cunning political animal and is committed to independence. He must therefore be neutralised;

d. The Gender Recognition Act – which gets you lots of brownie points internationally – is the jumping-off point for her international career. This is why she’s packed the party with transgender activists. The GRA is her passport out, and needs to be more or less in place if possible before the Salmond trial, which could see her forced to resign, and in any case before the 2021 Holyrood election, which could be the high point at which she departs.

That may all sound out-to-lunch, but in my view it adds up. So that’s all I’ll say for the moment, except for one final point. One of my skeptical friends describes BoJo as “a fatuous prick”, meaning (I assume) that he needn’t be taken seriously. I disagree. BoJo’s fatuous prickery is a stance, an act, designed to endear him to the voting public; underneath it, he’s a shrewd performer with a steely grasp of all the things he needs to do to further his career. He’s ruthless and skilled and uncontrollable, and that adds up to dangerous.

The Salmond trial opens on Monday. We live in interesting times.

Where it’s at

That title reminds me of a linguistic joke, so let’s get that over with:

New student at Harvard, seeing a clearly established student whom he can ask for information: “Say, is this where the library’s at?

Established student (snootily): “This is Harvard. We don’t end sentences with a preposition.”

New student: “Oh, I’ll rephrase my question. Is this where the library’s at, asshole?”

To the point, now. It’s been a long time since the Scottish independence movement has been anything other than murky, unpredictable, unbelievably baffling or just plain hopeless. However, things are beginning to turn the corner, with some upcoming dramatic events:-

  1. This coming Wednesday, it is said, Nicola Sturgeon will set out her response to BJ’s refusal of the request for a Section 30 order. This either will or will not contain a commitment to an indy referendum this year. It’s difficult to see how it will plausibly do that. But if it doesn’t, the SNP’s credibility will slide down by another notch.
  2. The background to this, and the basis of all SNP policy on independence since 2015, is their belief that independence can only be securely won with the consent of the British government; anything else will create too much division in Scotland, and too much risk of non-recognition abroad.
  3. An alternative explanation of the SNP’s conduct since 2015 is that they don’t in fact want independence – they want to stay in power and keep their jobs and perks for ever. Political life after independence will become much more difficult for the SNP, with their primary aim accomplished and the rise (let us hope) of a proper Scottish opposition.
  4. The Alex Salmond trial opens soon, and there’s open discussion among commentators that this will destroy the SNP. It will destroy the SNP because the accusations against Salmond are (commentators say) a stitch-up, and Sturgeon (they say) played a large part in setting that stitch-up up. She did this (they claim) to demolish a rival who wanted to take the party in a direction she didn’t favour. (The thought of the honest, open, red-headed wee wifie whose mouth butter wouldn’t melt in being revealed as a corrupt and self-seeking political turd is an unsettling one, until you remember Blair’s metamorphosis in just a few years from left-wing poster-boy to financial scammer and international war criminal.)
  5. A line of argument that might mitigate the SNP’s dishonesty is that their proposed direction – indy with consent – is truly the only viable one, but that this will take ten to twenty years. Their only dishonesty is that they haven’t admitted to that timescale.
  6. If the SNP is eviscerated by the Salmond trial, a new party will head the independence movement (let’s just assume it’ll call itself the Scottish Independence Party, for heaven’s sake!). It’ll be much more aggressive in calling out the lies of the mass media on Scotland’s economic and cultural strengths, and in challenging Westminster’s machinations to erode devolution. If the movement is eventually forced to go for UDI, it will be a UDI which Scottish voters are in favour of because they’ll have listened to all the arguments, and one for which international recognition has been prepared through diplomatic initiatives.
  7. This might not be far off. After January 31st, an EU that wanted Scotland to join it (because of its economic potential and cultural compatibility) would be able to twist the arm of the UK, because the UK will no longer be an EU member and the UK will want a trade deal.

The Scotsman doesn’t believe this last point: it reports that the EU has stated categorically that it will not readmit a Scotland that has separated from the UK without consent. What The Scotsman doesn’t say, however, is that the EU will twist the British government’s arm to give consent, and that will be the price of the trade deal. So there’ll be consent, and therefore indy. And the Northern Ireland settlement shows that BoJo does actually back down when he has no cards.

Voting for Dummies: Part 2

I left a few points hanging in my previous post. One was that AMS, being a proportional system, makes tactical voting impossible. Tactical voting, under a first-past-the-post system, is where your preferred party is polling third, with the two despised enemies neck-and-neck at the top: you vote for the enemy you despise less, because at least it will keep out the other scum. But under AMS, where parties with even 4% of the vote get seats, voting for the less-despised enemy simply gives them a better chance of a seat, and reduces your own party’s chances of winning one.

Another complication is how we should properly refer to the two votes that you have under the AMS system, and I sidestepped this issue by calling one the ‘constituency’ vote (which is not controversial) and the other the ‘second vote’. However, even ‘second vote’ won’t do, because the ballot paper could well ask for your constituency vote in its right-hand column, and what I’ve called your ‘second vote’ in its left-hand column. This would make my terminology disastrously counter-intuitive. So a better term for the second vote is the ‘list vote’, because you cast your vote not for an individual member but for a party list.

But even ‘list vote’ isn’t the term used in official descriptions, and that’s because of a complication that I haven’t told you about. The complication is that list votes aren’t totalled and seats allocated for the country as a whole; instead the country is divided into 8 regions of 7 list seats each, and those 7 seats are allocated in proportion to the list-vote shares for that region only. Each constituency is also within a region, and it is the constituency seats for that region that are topped up. So the more widely used (but less informative) term for the list vote is the ‘regional vote’. The regional basis of the top-up also makes the election result hard to predict: you can’t just say, “X party has Y percent of the votes, so they’ll get Z seats,” because different parties can be stronger in different regions.

The third and almost last complication is both interesting and infuriating, and arises from two inherent constraints in the seat-allocation process. One is that to allocate seats in exact proportions, you would have to allow fractions – one-third each of 10 seats is 3.3333 seats per party – and that won’t do. The other is that if you avoid the fractional problem by not allocating all the seats – give the three parties 3 seats each and leave the 10th seat unallocated – that won’t do either.

The formula used to get round these problems is the d’Hondt formula, which operates like a bidding system, but with the bids rigged by the formula. In the first round, each party bids its full number of list-votes, and the party with the most list-votes wins the first seat; but for the next round, that party’s list-votes are divided by the number of seats it now has plus 1 – i.e. it’s now divided by 2 – so that party can only bid half its list-votes for the second seat, which will therefore go to a party whose list-votes are more than half those of the leader. And so it proceeds: at each round, what you can bid are your list-votes divided by the number of seats you now have plus one; algebraically

Q = V / (S + 1)

where Q is what you’re allowed to bid, V is your list-votes and S is the number of seats you currently have.

To take a simple example, if you’re the Big Party and I’m the Tiny Party, and there are 7 seats to be allocated, your bids round by round will be all of your list-votes, then 1/2 your list-votes, then 1/3 of your list-votes, then 1/4 of your list-votes, and so on, and as long as that fraction of your list-votes is more than the whole of my list-votes you’ll be allocated that seat. If my list-votes are more than 1/7 of yours, but not more than 1/6, I’ll get the last seat.

The immediate importance of d’Hondt is that you can’t convert votes into seats by simple arithmetic: if you want to know how many seats a party would get if it won a given percentage of the vote, you have to specify an assumed vote-share for each party and then run d’Hondt: anything else is mere guesswork. For a Holyrood election you have to do this for each of the 8 regions separately. You also have to specify, for each party, the number of constituency seats – d’Hondt sets the value of S in the first round to each party’s constituency seats. Running a d’Hondt calculation is an easy and mechanical task, but not all commentators do it. There’ll be a d’Hondt calculator on my website soon, and when it’s ready I’ll post the link here.

It’s the last complication of all, however, that’s the most interesting. The aim of the system is to arrive at a proportional parliament by adding to the constituency seats a top-dressing of list seats. But what if a party’s constituency seats already exceed its list-vote share? Supposing, for example, in a 100-seat parliament with 60 contituency seats and 40 list seats, the party vote-shares and constituency seats are as follows:

VOTE-SHARES: SLOBS 40%, TOADS 50%, EARWIGS 10%

CONSTITUENCY SEATS: SLOBS 50, TOADS 10, EARWIGS 0

The Slobs are due 40 parliamentary seats, but they already have 50, and you can’t take those away; the Toads deserve 50 parliamentary seats, which are available, but then the Earwigs would get none, and they deserve 10 parliamentary seats. The problem is of course logically insoluble, because the terms of the system don’t allow it: AMS assumes that each party’s share of constituency seats will fall short of its list-vote share, giving room for a top-up.

I’ll deal in a later post with how d’Hondt resolves this conundrum – it’s a fair result in fact, but it has unexpected effects. And it will lead us, as some readers will already have guessed from the way my argument here is going, directly on to the Wings Over Scotland Devastating Electoral Initiative, which is looking as though it will play a crucial role in the 2021 election.

Voting for Dummies

Looking at blogs and Twitter, I see a disturbing lack of knowledge about how the Holyrood voting system works. Even the basic fact that you have two votes seems incomprehensible to some voters. Given that the next Holyrood election will be upon us in or before Spring 2021, and is likely to be crucial for independence, readers might welcome this short ‘Voting for Dummies’ guide.

1. You have two votes. One is called your ‘constituency’ vote, and elects the MSP for your constituency. It operates under the first-past-the-post system (FPTP). We’re all thoroughly familiar with that, so it needs no further comment.

2. Your second vote has various names – your ‘regional’ vote, your ‘list’ vote, your ‘second preference vote’ – but they’re all unsatisfactory, so for the moment let’s just call it ‘your second vote’.

3. Your two votes are votes for different things. With your constituency vote, you vote for a person, the person you want to represent you, albeit they have a party identifier attached to them. With your second vote, you vote for a party, and your ballot paper shows no candidates’ names (though it may show the name of the party leader).

4. Your second vote determines the make-up of the Parliament: in the final result, the number of seats each party has will match its share of the second vote. So if the shares of the second vote, across the whole country, were these:

SECOND-VOTE SHARES: SNP 49%, Con 24%, Lab 18%, Green 5%, LibDem 4%

then, in a 129-seat Parliament, each party would end up with the following numbers of seats:

SEATS TO MATCH VOTE-SHARE: SNP 63, Con 31, Lab 24, Green 6, LibDem 5.

This was indeed the result of the 2016 election.

5. Given that some seats are filled by the constituency vote – 73 of them out of the 129 – how does the system ensure that the final number of seats matches each party’s share of the vote? Simple: to each party’s constituency seats, it adds the number of second-vote seats that will bring that party’s total up to the required percentage. Of the 129 seats, 56 are distributed in this way. In 2016, the 73 constituency seats were:

CONSTITUENCY SEATS: SNP 59, Con 7, Lab 3, Green 0, LibDem 4,

So to bring the each party’s seats up to the required percentage, second-vote seats were allocated as follows:

ADDITIONAL SEATS: SNP 4, Con 24, Lab 21, Green 6, LibDem 1,

giving the ‘Seats to Match Vote-share’ shown above.

6. We needs actual bums to put on these seats – bums of Members of the Scottish Parliament – so where do they come from, given that the second vote is not for a person, but a party? The answer is that each party maintains a list of candidates who are called off to fill that party’s second-vote seats. So the Conservatives, for example, needed to have at least 24 candidates standing by, and Labour at least 21, to occupy those seats. The Members to whom these seats are allocated are sometimes called ‘list’ members.

7. A number of points need to be made before closing this short guide:

7a. The system as a whole is called the “additional member system”, or AMS, because it adds second-vote Members of the Scottish Parliament to the constituency Members.

7b. The final proportions of seats are based on the second vote, not the constituency vote or the total vote, because consitutency votes are notoriously prone to tactical voting. Your second vote answers the question, “Which party do you want to form the government?”

7c. Because the second vote allocates seats to lists of members, it’s often called the ‘list vote’. And because the country is in fact divided into regions for the allocation of second-vote seats – more on that in a later post – the second vote is often also called the ‘regional’ vote.

7d. Because second-vote seats are allocated proportionally, it’s not possible to vote tactically with your second vote.

I’ll take these points up in my next post, quite soon.

Construe as Mince

Craig Murray’s petition to bring in OSCE observers for the next Scottish referendum (which I hope you’ve all signed – DO IT NOW!) has resurrected the doubts about postal votes in 2014. These doubts solidify, for some people, into the claim that the 2014 referendum was rigged by the UK Government packing the postal vote with “No” ballots, as evidenced by the extraordinarily high postal turnout. This is a consoling narrative for those indy supporters who were gutted by the massive “No” wrecking-ball that crawled out of the woodwork on September 18th to steal the referendum (which many Yessers feel in their bones was in truth a clear victory for Yes) and demolish their dreams. So we need to look at that claim again now.

The claim

The detailed account of this rigging (the “Dunoon Report”) has gained some traction among the Indy community. It was authored by Andy Anderson, Education Officer of the Dunoon Unit of the Democratic Socialist foundation, and a video of Andy explaining the report to a group of activists shows him as a sober, thoughtful and concerned individual. We can summarise his report as follows:

1. Three public figures (John McTernan, political strategist and advisor to the Labour Party; Susan Dalgety, former Labour councillor and civil servant; and Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives) said in public, before the count had started, that the postal ballot showed a clear lead for No. It’s illegal to count postal votes early, so these people couldn’t have acquired this information legitimately: there must have been government malpractice.

2. The reported postal-vote turnout is not believable as it stands, and broke world records in four local authority areas. To quote the Dunoon Report, “[The Electoral Management Board’s] claim that there was a spectacular world record 96.4% turnout in the PB in Argyll and similar spectacular results in the PB all over Scotland, needs to be carefully assessed, before it can be accepted as a fact.”

2. In Argyle and Bute, more people voted postally than were on the postal-ballot register. “We have a grand total of 743 people on the PB register who could not vote,” says the Report, when the count shows that only 526 people did not vote.

3. Areas with a higher proportion of postal votes returned a higher proportion of No votes; this correlation held across all 32 local authority areas. In the words of the Report, “[A]s the level of the [postal ballot] rises, so the No vote rises with it and takes a stronger and stronger lead.”

5. The fraud was committed by the UK Government replacing unused postal votes with fake votes for “No”. Clandestine government agencies will have access to local authority records, and therefore will have known how many postal ballots had been issued. They also knew, as the referendum approached, who had voted and who had not, and had copies of their signatures (which are on local government computers). So they printed postal ballot papers for electors who had not voted, and submitted them in the normal way through the mail or at local authority offices, reversing the result of the referendum. To quote the Dunoon Report, “[A] massive No vote was inserted into [the postal vote], ensuring an overall No vote majority at the Referendum.” This fraud left no trace in the counting process.

Evaluation

I found this account persuasive (and worrying!) when I read it in detail for the first time recently, so I decided to flesh it out with numbers. The data I used comes from Wikipedia, with postal ballot details from the Electoral Management Board, as quoted in the Dunoon Report. A copy of the Dunoon final report, and my extracted data-sets, are on my website here. Let’s take the Report’s five claims in order:

1. Public figures knew some postal results before the count. These politicians’ comments are consistent with there being government-sponsored fraud: they would have made the comments to soften up the public for the massive No that was about to engulf them. An alternative explanation is that some unscrupulous busybody had counted postal votes, and had primed three political idiots to talk about it in support of No.

2. The postal turnout was unbelievably high, and set world records. The postal-vote turnout was 93.7%, as against 82.5% for the in-person turnout. Postal-vote turnouts are always higher, but I could find no data that would show whether this particular turnout was unbelievably high or not. I could find no data at all on world records for postal-vote turnouts. The claims that these turnouts are unbelievably high and constitute world records are concrete and verifiable, so the absence from the Report of data to support them is worrying.

3. In Argyle and Bute, more people voted than was possible. The electoral register was a year old at the time of the referendum, and therefore included people who could not have voted. The Dunoon Report estimates their numbers as follows:

Those who had died since the register was updated: 125
Those who had moved away since the register was updated: 250
Those in prison: 6
Those with dementia: 362
TOTAL: 743

This total of 743 people who could not vote is clear evidence of fraud. 14,409 people were registered for postal votes, and 13,883 votes were received (13,926 in my data-set, due to rounding differences): so only 526 people did not vote. But 743 people could not have voted, so more people voted than was possible.

If we examine the data critically, however, more holes appear than we can be comfortable with. Firstly, “couldn’t have voted” – the form of words used consistently throughout this section of the Report – is not the same as “a ballot paper couldn’t have been sent in”, and the outstanding case of this is the group of people with dementia.

People with dementia can of course vote; in fact it is probably illegal to prevent a person from registering or voting on grounds of dementia. So care-home staff will take steps to ensure that such people are registered and vote; the care staff or a family member may even mark the ballot-paper for them (and there are statutory provisions for bypassing the signature, for persons who can’t sign their name). So it’s difficult to see the justification for including these 362 patients among those for whom a ballot paper could not have been sent in. Removing them reduces the number of impossible votes from 743 to 381, well within the count of 526 people who did not in fact vote.

Similar considerations apply to those who had died or moved away: the ballot papers were sent to their old addresses, and the current residents there could have sent in those votes, and no doubt in some cases did. This means that the Report’s third claim, that more people sent in ballot papers than was possible, doesn’t stand up.

4. A high postal vote correlated with a high No vote across all 32 local authority areas. This at least looks sound: the chart below shows the relationship between postal votes in the local authority areas (ranked by the proportion of the vote that was postal, and divided into four groups) and the No vote in each group:

dunoon-chart-1“R-squared” is a statistic that shows how closely two data-sets match: 0.0 is no relationship at all, 1.0 is a complete match. A value of 0.98 is extremely good for any human-society data, perhaps even too good to be true. So let’s look at it more closely.

I first asked myself why, and on what basis, the 32 areas had been divided into four groups, but the Report is silent on this. Then I looked at the figures for each of the 32 separate areas, and found that the postal-vote levels do not in fact fall into natural groups at all (red bars on the chart below, which show what percentage of that area’s vote was postal). Similarly, the percentage of No votes (blue bars on the chart below) shows no observable relationship to the size of the postal vote (red bars), and in Group Two and Three goes down as the postal vote goes up:

dunoon-chart-2Deeply suspicious now, I inserted the 32 data-lines for the separate local authority areas into a scatter-plot like the first chart above, plotting the full data, rather than just the four group-averages. The scatter-plot looked like this:

dunoon-chart-3A statistician’s professional verdict on this correlation (R-squared = 0.14) would be that it’s a bit below piss-poor. What the Dunoon Report has done here is to hide the detailed data of the 32 local authorities by reducing it to four averages, which give a spectacularly different result. My own qualifications in statistics are nothing to write home about, but I do know that this is elementary data-rigging, arrived at by ignoring the principle of data integrity. Data integrity says that the investigator should look at all the data, not just the bits she likes; next time you meet a statistician, ask them whether data integrity matters, and then hide under a rock until they’ve finished exploding. So no cigar for the Dunoon Report on this one: the full data shows that the level of postal votes has no correlation with the level of No votes, and blows its fourth claim right out of the water.

5. A clandestine government agency replaced unused postal votes with fake No votes, compromising the result. The clandestine tactic, it is claimed, was to hoover up unused postal votes and replace them with fake No votes. So how many votes would have been available to these purveyors of state-sponsored skulduggery? We’ll have the answer if we can estimate how many postal votes were genuine.

We know the electorate size and the votes cast for all voters, and the electorate size and the votes cast in the postal vote, so by subtracting one set from the other we can get the turnout for the in-person vote. It’s 82.5%, slightly lower than the 84.6% overall turnout, which was inflated by the high postal vote. Nobody thinks that the genuine postal-vote turnout could have been lower than the in-person turnout, so let’s take that figure of 82.5% as our baseline, our threshold for genuine postal votes. The possible number of fake votes is the difference between that number, 82.5% of the postal electorate, and the number of postal ballots received, 93.7% of the postal electorate.

A turnout of 82.5% of the postal electorate gives us 657,410 genuine postal votes; the number of postal ballots received was 746,308. The difference between the two – the window for fraud – is 88,898 votes. However, “Yes” lost the referendum by four-and-a-half times that number, 400,000 votes. These numbers are not shown in the Dunoon Report; but, presented or not, they mean that the Report’s fifth claim, that a clandestine government agency changed the result of the referendum by faking postal votes, can only be construed as mince.

Working through these calculations to verify the Dunoon Report’s claims has made me angry. Not because my comfort blanket – that the referendum was stolen from us by some malign agency – has been stripped away, but because of the egregiously dishonest presentation of data. The Dunoon Report says the postal-vote turnout was unbelievably high and broke world records, but shows no evidence for this; it claims that more people voted than was possible, but the choice of words is sloppy and the figures do not stand up; it says that a high postal vote, area by area, always gives a high No vote, but it does not, and the Report hides the data that show it does not; and the Report says that packing the postal votes “ensured an overall No majority”, when the putative packing amounted to less than one quarter of the majority, and this data is not even referred to. That this dishonest Report should have been going the rounds for five years, consoling Yessers with its unexamined data and false claims, annoys me.

Lessons

What can we learn from this? I think there are two take-aways for us. The first is fairly obvious: if a document comes your way that makes a data-based case, examine the data carefully, compare it with other data that you know or can easily acquire, and verify that it all makes sense. The second relates to how we expect to win IndyRef2. We should not console ourselves with comforting narratives, false expectations and wishful thinking. Instead we need to concentrate on clear, factual arguments, presented soberly and straightforwardly; at the end of the day, we want an IndyRef2 that has been properly thought through by the electorate and reflects the considered consent of most voters. That’s not an impossibility; all the facts are on our side, and we just need to put them over properly.

Jocks Away?

According to a recent poll, if achieving Brexit meant that Scotland left the UK, then 63percent of Conservative Party members would consider that a price worth paying. This is of course good news for independence. The Unionist narrative for the last decade has consistently been that Scotland lives off England’s £14bn annual subsidy, a fiction that GERS was designed to support. In that case, you might ask, why does the UK not just get rid of the scroungers and used the saved cash to paint another slogan on a bus? The reason is in The Answer That Dare Not Speak Its Name: that Scotland in fact contributes so much to the UK economy in natural resources and human skills that, without it, the UK Battleship Galactica would be holed below the waterline and bound for the deep glug-glug. A call to kick out the scrounging Jocks exposes this Unionist hypocrisy, and leaves Unionists with no message.

Wee Ginger Dug puts this far more forcefully than I can, so I give you his words:

What British nationalists thought was their greatest strength has turned into their greatest weakness. This poll is actually a victory for all those people who have been constantly producing graphs telling Scotland and the world that Scotland is a financial basket case which relies upon the goodwill and largesse of the rest of the UK in order to stop it turning into an even more impoverished form of Greece, only without the nice weather. It’s a victory for those who never question the methodology or politics of the annual GERS figures because they are eager to use those figures as a weapon. It’s a victory for those who think that the supposed financial and economic weakness of Scotland, a land blessed with an embarrassment of wealth, talent, and natural resources, is an argument for the UK instead of an indictment of generations of Westminster’s rapacious financial mismanagement. – Wee Ginger Dug, 19th June 2019.

Do read the rest of his post.