Posts Tagged ‘UK’

Laziness and Pointless Hypotheticals

May 28, 2015

A few days ago, quite a few commentators lashed out at the pre-election opinion polls for being grossly inaccurate.  Surely most folk would conclude that the shaking of the fists is justified.  But I cannot myself bring about the energy to join such mindless rage.  However, the thought that an investigation by the British Polling Council is being put forward to find out why the polls failed so spectacularly when the answer is rather simple… that is the kerfuffle making me alternate between chuckles and fumes.

Why not join in?  Surely the polls were so horribly wrong that somebody somewhere needed to be shouted at.  Well, I also believed the polls.  All the way up to the vote I was juggling several coalition hypotheticals in my mind and what this would mean for British foreign policy (my single issue for voting*) as well as the integrity of the British union and the struggles of the poor and working classes of the union, like some mad game-theory analyst.  But unlike a lot of hacks I cannot aim my disappointment at anyone other than myself.

Anyone could have taken two seconds to study the source of the polls in order to find out that there was indeed the source of all the polls as opposed to any kind of plural.  That alone ought to have made anybody suspicious.  And those suspicions would have been validated upon further inspection: sampling methods were skewed and had no real way of assessing what voters were really thinking.  Apparently the hopeless sways to the old socialist Left exhibited by Labour and their choosing of a pitiful shambles of a Labour leader had given the party a strong standing against the Tories, and in the face of a Scottish National Party onslaught in Scotland and a United Kingdom Independence Party vote-grab in Northern England.  Nothing out of the ordinary there, so we thought.

That is what I should have done: dismiss the polls as part of a larger consensus and hence refuse to waste time on coalition hypotheticals.  Jeremy Paxman said more or less the same thing.  If it were a single poll claiming a hung parliament I would have found it easier to dismiss, as I did  with the poll published a week before the Scottish Independence referendum claiming both sides were neck-and-neck (though I did not dismiss it completely since I still feared the momentum of the movement).  On that occasion I had a strong suspicion that such a poll would not have been able to pick up on the signals of the silent majority and that the No side would carry the day.  They did by at least ten percent.  I honed on this conclusion because the Yes side were more likely to make their voices heard on the matter and that would bias the polls.

Unfortunately I dropped my guard for this general election.  In this case I thought there was a degree of legitimacy behind the polls because they had all come to the same findings.  A hung parliament was going to happen and there were seemingly no sways of public thought throughout.  Surely the polls cannot all be wrong, can they?  That was my train of thought and I went with it.  Keeping a polemical, anti-consensus guard up requires practice, and I evidently need more of it.

I am hoping there are some statisticians out there who have picked up on what I am going to say next.  Skeptics and scientists love to talk about why we should dismiss anecdotes – the holy preacher standing near two metal beams that were left standing in the shape of a crucifix among a collapsed building due to an earthquake, claiming such beams prove the existence of the particular god Yahweh and Jesus Christ, is being flippant.  Like-minded folk such as myself point this out whenever we can, and we also hammer down the additional observation that among a collapsed building that was once full of metal beams, had there not been a rearrangement in the form of a probable crucifix that would have been the truly extraordinary event.  Plot out the occurences of crucifixes with the occurences of other objects formed by beams on a graph, and you will get blips here and there when you look for crucifixes.  It is to be expected, not to be startled at.

Similarly, metadata involving tests with medicine will inevitably include some faulty studies that gave conclusions more unusual than others, showing as odd blips away from the general correlation.  Scientists expect this and that is why we have metadata in the first place: the study of studies weeds out the bad science.

Why then, when it came to these polls, were there no blips at all?  Why was no crucifix of any kind standing among the rubble?  You should already know by now: all the polls were using the same unreliable testing methods and sources.  This is what should have rang so many alarm bells within the journalistic profession.  Yet nobody took the simplest of steps to verify their sources.

And I likewise was too lazy.  Though even now, I seem to be among a few people saying so.  What does yelling at the polls achieve, besides avoiding having to point the finger at ourselves?  What use does it do to have a set group of fallible (or worse) researchers do all the thinking for us so that we do not have to?  And why set about a committee to investigate the polling standards when the simplest of all explanations is that bad journalists publish before verification and readers have a tendency to read what conforms to their viewpoints, not what challenges them?  Though I should add the exception to that final question of the masochistic fool who is so annoyed by a website he will read it and froth at the mouth on a daily basis, but only after funding the website every day via advertising to support how much he hates it.

We all know why the exit polls are the most reliable of the lot: the ability to ask voters as they come out the booths means you are not limited to having to track those voters down to all corners of the country.  They are already there waiting, and voters who decide not to disclose how they voted will most likely be divided evenly among all parties (unless there is some toxic political atmosphere that makes people genuinely fearful for speaking of their vote on a particular party, which was not the case here).  Therefore, a safe bet can be put on their accuracy give or take the tightly contested seats, and it shows.

Yet in the final hours before the official result, these were the polls that received the most hostility.  Tories are going to get the majority?  What fool would believe a poll like that?  Not just any silly poll, an exit poll!  There is something wrong here and we shall be proved right in the next few hours!

We need to stop being so bloody stupid.  Using common sense is more than enough to make bad polls fall away.  Internal investigations are unnecessary, thank you very much.

* And as for this single issue, it seemed to me that, despite the Tories’ dangerous tendency to be isolationist such as during the Bosnian invasion by Serbia and Croatia for example, they were the only party that best considered matters of principle over fighting Islamic State, and I can still remember the way in which they refused to be pushed around by Assad and Gaddafi.  I would have voted for them as the lesser evil, despite my deep hatred of everything else Tory.  Labour gave the impression of not giving a single fuck about foreign policy, doing everything they could to avoid any associations with Blair at all costs (except when it came to Islamic State when Milliband said that strikes against them were justified but only because he had to say it), though I ended up voting for Labour because I figured that the only practical power my vote really had was to resist the Scottish National Party onslaught in my constituency (it failed – our long standing Labour seat in Cumbernauld got pounded by the Scottish National Party having over double the votes Labour had).  And I should also give credit to the Liberal Democrats’ foreign policy in their manifesto that I wasn’t expecting, which went into the most detail about Syria and the need to take the side of those fighters who declared themselves enemies of both Islamic State and Assad.


We cannot stay silent while the nationalists claim there are no two Scotlands.

April 13, 2015

A nationalist movement by definition claims it is unique, which is what every nationalist movement has in common. From the self-righteous claims of American historical superiority and British traditional complexity – and by that I mean British nationalists have a tradition complex – to the ethnic “purity” of Serbian nationalism and the virtuousness of Greek nationalism, all have traits that play to the petty notion that all citizens of a nation think alike and will forever think alike.

It is also true that every nation-hating movement falls for similar traps. Roars of anti-Americanism go unchallenged for fear of accusations of being some hideous, moustache-growing neo-conservative with a neo-liberal agenda (to the point where “conservative” and “liberal” become synonyms). The phrase “British multiculturalism” is not as entirely paradoxical as it seems, since Britain deserves some credit for the better paradox of being a nation of nations, and hence can keep folk perpetually baffled at what “Britishness” actually is.   Serbs joined Bosnians in the fight against Muslim genocide in the Nineties, and Greek nationalists are in a good position to have their voices heard on the just claim of the reunification of the Parthenon marbles, despite the best reasons for the reunification being aesthetic instead of nationalist.

The thesis and the anti-thesis have their irrationalities that swing like a pendulum, never quite reaching a satisfactory synthesis – every time a nation commits a moral atrocity, the anti-nationalists can feel morally righteous as they mock the blind madness of their enemies. And upon doing so they can fall for the nonsensical themselves, claiming that any action performed by the state must have some nationalist motive behind it and therefore be wrong by definition, and without a second thought.

Short line is, if you want clarity and irony, remove “nation” from your equation.

From what I can see within Scotland, a nation that happens to be my own, not one major party has had the strength or courage to call out on the ridiculousness of nationalism as a mover of working-class causes. Instead, they pander to it. Labour for example insists on “the patriotic interest of the people of Scotland”. What they really need to do is drop the words “patriotic” and “Scotland” from that phrase. Though I am aware that a politician’s job is to conform to public opinion, not to challenge it. So I am not optimistic.

It is not sufficient to say that bourgeois red herrings have lured folk who want change, and nor would it be sufficient to blame the effects of Thatcherism in the North, though both may be necessary. Plus you could add the nasty catalyst of a gigantic economic crash caused by a sub-prime mortgage bubble (“sub” prime, for fuck sake, this is why paying attention to euphemistic language matters, people!). But the blunter way of putting it is this: when socialism died, it took a lot more than socialism with it. International working class movements no longer had the same tenacity after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

As a result of no longer being able to unite the poor under a colour-blind, nation-blind ideology, their struggles became more localised. This is precisely why Scottish nationalists naturally offer next to nothing in the way of helping the English, Welsh and Irish working classes, let alone movements further than that: they have no desire on voting for anything that could help the struggles of others who are not Scottish. This is evident from their need to secede from a union that would provide them with such a vote of solidarity. We have to seriously ask ourselves how much measurable time the Scottish nationalists give to thinking about the struggles of the poor within the rest of the union in order to understand the problem.

Scottish nationalists have to insist that it is wrong to put international peoples before national people. It is not the poor of the world that are being screwed over; it is Scotland that is being screwed over and that is all that matters. I cannot count how many times the expression “because Scotland” has been used to justify any policy put forward by the SNP. Though this is nonsensical at its core, it should not surprise anybody. SNP stands for “Scottish National Party” and in naming themselves this the party have already committed a root fallacy. There surely must be more to your argument than “because it is best for Scotland”. Surely one must be able to see that this can be used to justify anything. I usually refrain from using the acronym “SNP” to hammer home this point. The words “Scottish National Party” need to be seen clearly so that they can be better discredited.

Needless to say, a break of unity and even a mere attempt to break unity can fuel the fires of sectarianism. The Orange Order may be pathologically “loyal”, but they are most certainly not “unionists” by any sense of the word. Nor are violent Irish Republicans interested in the concept of unity. Unity does not involve the severing of culture, nor does it involve the attacking of fellow countrymen based on what kind of Christian they are. Every time a line is drawn between Protestants and Catholics in amputated Ulster, a wave of rioting and bombing is bound to follow – whether it is restricting freedom of assembly based on religious belief or building apartheid-inspired obstacles laughably called “peace” walls in Belfast, which all originate from the gerrymandered constituencies. I say “amputated Ulster” not because Ulster was amputated from Ireland but because Ulster itself was amputated, as Stormont only affects six out of the total nine counties of Ulster. This is one of Britain’s greatest shames. Endless fractals are not the solution to the problem of sectarianism. They are the problem of sectarianism.

Scottish separatism will not reach such appalling levels of hatred if it were to amputate the nation from Great Britain since what they are calling for is not a toxic religious segregation. Though it is hard to avoid calling the movement a movement for amputation nonetheless: there is no border between Scotland and England, but there must be one; folk are made at home, but must now be made foreigners and outsiders; if there are others around Europe who want to secede as well, good on them. And thus, the Shetland Islands did talk seriously about seceding in turn to rejoin the United Kingdom after a Yes vote. Again, the sight of endless fractals must make anyone nervous.

It is easy to see why the rest of the union is not at ease with the Scottish National Party’s presence in this election. The fusion of a sans-socialist Left with nationalism has ruthlessly eaten away at Scottish Labour votes. This will no-doubt encourage Labour voters within the rest of the union to feel resentful and possibly strengthen their nationalist sentiments in turn. And with the Conservatives’ casting the Scottish National Party as folk who can make Labour dance to their tune, the portrayal of Scots as only having mischievous intent with supposedly no legitimate say in the union is subtly cast, making the pendulum swing once again.

It must also be remembered that parties in Scotland have their own Holyrood election just next year. In this respect, the Scottish National Party has to think tactically. I cannot be certain if Nicola Sturgeon actually said that she would prefer David Cameron as Prime Minister since it is one’s word against another’s. Though the conjecture of a Tory boogeyman and a possible European Union referendum is still nonetheless a solid one. Anti-Europe sentiment – also an anti-unity cause – will definitely sink the union if it is carried all the way. Scotland will most certainly vote for independence if the United Kingdom votes for independence.   Why then would both of these movements not have a reason to sympathise with each other? The Scottish nationalists certainly had no problem supporting the Catalonian secession – indeed that was the only glimmer of recognition for a cause outside their borders. So it is by no means implausible to speculate how nationalisms feed off of each other, especially more so with the rise of right-wing sentiments across Europe as a whole.

I was expecting the expression “no true Scotsman” to resurface as a cliché between both sides during the independence referendum in the form of serious argument and/or satire. It did not. Normally I would celebrate since cliché is a stale, benign sign of an unthinking writer in itself. But in this instance it should trouble many writers that there was not such a debate over the expression. Indeed, Alex Salmond’s proclamation of “Team Scotland” against “Team Westminster” was the only instance of it I can recall, and it did not meet much scrutiny. That alone tells me we currently have no stomach to ridicule nationalist fallacies, and we damn well need it during this election.

What saddens me somewhat is that this is rather elementary stuff. Decent folk have to realise that there is a world beyond their borders.