Sunday 7 September 2014

Thoughts on Scottish Independence

I’m a proud Scot, living outwith* Scotland, and it’s got to the stage now that when people realise you are Scottish, they will just look you in the eye and ask, “Yes or No?” (and whether I am eligible to vote, which I am not).

My answer, is “no”.

The slightly longer answer is “the heart says ‘aye’, the head says ‘dinnae be daft’”.

However I have found even those sage words fail to placate my inquisitive foreign enquirers, so I figured it was about time to put my thoughts down in written form. Disclaimer: this is not a deep political and economic analysis. It’s just my feelings and thoughts.

First, some context around me. I left Scotland at age 21 to do a biology PhD in London. After that I worked in pharmaceutical consulting, then did an MBA at Oxford, then worked for one of the world’s largest Internet companies, first in London, later in Berlin. Most recently I’ve started my own company, based in London, backed by investors from all over Europe. So what I’m saying is, I’m fairly-well educated, got quite a bit of international business experience, and while I’m not an economics expert I get the basic principles. i.e. I’m not a dafty, but I’m no f’ing independence braniac either.

My opinions are based on my own experience, and what I consider “common sense”. I don’t care about “left-wing vs right-wing” and “socialist vs conservative”. I don’t think in those terms, because I think they are mostly bollocks and damaging, preventing people on “one side” from using good ideas just because they are considered from “the other side”. I’m even vaguely tempted to start my own “Common Sense” political party. I’d be like George Galloway, but without an appearance on Celebrity Big Brother.

So before I get stated, I should say that think the independence debate in Scotland has mostly been a model of democracy from which the rest of the world could learn. When you see the good folk of Crimea, “voting” to join Russia in their recent “referendum”, I can’t help but wonder, with political naivety set to 11, if the Ukrainian government could not have got the upper-hand by saying, “ok, we can have this referendum, but this is important so let’s do it like Scotland, planned and debated over the next 4 years”.

Despite Scotland conducting a largely well-behaved and intelligent debate around the independence referendum, I can’t help that nationalism is nothing much more than the politically packaged face of one of mankinds most negative traits: tribalism. The Scottish dislike the English; the West Coast of Scotland is different from the East Coast of Scotland; the folk in Dundee dinnae like the folk in Aberdeen; Kirkton vs Lochee; this street vs that street. Tribalism is a natural, ingrained instinct, but it’s one which is largely overridden by being in a civilised society.

Tribalism is mostly-based on self-preservation and selfishness, whereas a civilised society is meant to promote egalitarianism and selflessness. So when the Yes camp, start talking about “our” oil money that’s been robbed from the Scottish people, it strikes me as ugly selfishness. If we follow that argument, in an independent Scotland, why should the Shetlanders or the folk in Aberdeen share “their” oil revenue with the rest of Scotland? Indeed, why should London stay a part of the rest of the UK? It produces far more tax income per capita than the rest of the country. Why shouldn’t they just keep it all to themselves? Other parts of the country are “robbing” London of its tax money. You see if we keep pandering to tribalism we might as well just break up the country into dozens of separate states. I think that’s called Balkanisation, and I don’t think it’s considered a positive thing.

One of my concerns from watching the independence debate from afar is the dominant profile of the people that seem to be the loudest on either side of the argument. From afar, it seems the the majority of people on the Yes-side are the ones that have lived in Scotland their whole lives, are less-likely to have much international experience, and (I can’t think of any polite way to put this) less well-educated. Of course there are well-educated, internationally-rounded people in the Yes camp too, but it does not seem like they are majority. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with living in Scotland all your life and having less-education. It’s just that it seems to most observers that the “Yes” feeling is mostly driven by the “Braveheart mentality”.

You see, it’s hard to admit, but when you’re brought up in Scotland, you pretty much get brought up to hate England. There’s nothing specific about it, but there is this self-perpetuating animosity towards our neighbours, “the f**king English”. Then when you move to England, you assume that they feel the same way about us. Surely the English hate the “f**king Scots” just as much as we hate the “f**king English”.

Nope. They don’t. They really don’t. And it’s kind of embarrassing when you realise you’ve been holed up in Scotland for 21 years thinking that you occupy as much-mind share in their heads as they do in yours, but you really don’t. That’s when you become painfully aware that as a nation we have a collective chip on our shoulder about England. I think it’s that chip on the shoulder that fuels the tribalism that drives most of the Yes voters, and seeing as most of the Yes voters have lived in Scotland their whole lives, they’ve never had the chance to brush that chip off their shoulder and look at things objectively.

There seems to be some perception that we have it bad in Scotland, and that we would be a rich country if only we were independent. Eh? As part of the UK we’re already one of the richest countries in the world with an exceptionally high-standard of living. Alright, we’re no Norway or Luxembourg, but do we need to be? Maybe we can be realistic here?

We are part of perhaps the most successful union in the world - the United Kingdom. Why on earth would we want to break something that has already been so massively successful and rewarding for us? Wanting to break up from one successful union - the UK, whilst staying part of another successful one - the European Union, makes no sense to me.

Can we think of any other successful unions? Yeah I can think of a couple of examples. The United States of America for one. Does anyone think that the US would be a richer place if they started splitting up? California on its own would be on of the richest countries in the world, why don’t they split off? Because most people realise that they are successful because they are part of a successful union, not despite it. When you read about crazy San Francisco types who think their city should be a separate state or country because it is so rich with technology companies, does anyone sensible really think that is a good idea, or just selfishness?

Closer to home, look at Germany. Germany is the combination of dozens of states with just as much history as Scotland and England. But do you see them fighting to breakaway from Germany? No, because they realise that their union has made them one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Sensible Germans.

OK, so that’s my general “independence is a daft idea fuelled by selfish tribalism” angle. I’m getting a bit bored of writing this, so here’s a few practical points.

Oil revenue - please let’s stop going on about this. It’s going to run out eventually. It might go up or down in the short term, but we sound like total-f**kwits going on about it.

Replication of services - if we were independent we would have to duplicate a whole bunch of governmental services that are provided by the UK. What a waste of money. Notice how in the business world companies tend to merge exactly so they can do the opposite? It’s because they know merging makes them stronger, more powerful and means they can eliminate over-lapping functions. Doing the opposite makes no sense.

Currency and debt - this seems to be the most dafty part of the whole Yes angle. Of course we can’t keep the pound and of course we have to take our share of the national debt. I don’t think we get to have our own way with those just because Alex Salmond is a better orator than Alistair Darling. If we go independent our credit rating will certainly drop and Scotland’s cost of borrowing would increase. Can’t see how that is a good thing.

Nuclear - please can we keep nuclear power and Trident? Hatred of nuclear power is irrational.

Lastly, what worries me about independence is that if we vote for the biggest structural change our country has known for hundreds of years, it will be by a very slim margin. It doesn’t seem like a good thing that we could have independence based on 50.1% people voting Yes versus 49.9% voting No. It feels like the sort of thing that needs a clear 60:40 majority. But hey, I guess that’s just the way democracy works.

I don’t support No because of any specific economic argument, but just because overall it is pretty much pointless. The Yes camp say that at the end of the day it’s not about economics, it’s about self-determination, but just seems like a fancier way to describe tribalism to me.

Tuesday 5 April 2011

Ghana fun

Rambling notes from my first few days in Ghana:

Took a trip along the coast to Elimna for a couple of days before the MEST activities get started.

Took the STC Bus (State Transport Company). The bus was meant to leave at 10am and take about 2.5h to get to Elmina. I ended up waiting 3h for the bus and it took 4h to get there. That is kinda similar to taking a train at the weekend in the UK, so it was not too bad for me, but the Dutch girl I was sitting next to at the station struggled.

Had my first experience of a Ghana public toilet there. I have over 20ps, he hands over a wad of toilet paper. The facilities themselves were grim.

Got to the guest house – the Almond Tree Guest House – and it was as nice as the Tripadvisor reviews said it was. Even nicer maybe. I was staying in the Bob Marley room with air-conditioning. The power went off in the middle of the night but I had already cooled the room down so it wasn’t too bad. I only had hot water once – not sure why – but the cold showers weren’t exactly cold so it wasn’t too bad.

On the Sunday I took a trip along to see Elimina Castle, which was built by the Portuguese as a place to trade slaves. Took a dodgy old cab along the road to get there, as soon as a I got out the cab I was surrounded by about 5 or 6 teenagers. “Hey what is your name?” “Where are you from?”

I made a less than voluntary donation to their “school.” I hope they enjoy the $20. I also made a less than voluntary purchase of a couple of bracelets which would have my and W’s name on them, ready by the time I left. They also wanted me to write my surname down, but I wasn’t sure why (I would realise in about 1h).

Did a tour of the castle. It was taken over by the Dutch and subsequently sold to the English in exchange for some land (in Sumatra maybe?). Needless to say the conditions the slaves were kept in were horrible. It’s hard to accept that slavery by Europeans was once normal. L

In the castle I got speaking to an English tourist who agreed that the “young salesmen” were quite intimidating and said he had also been totally gamed when he first got there. As I left the castle a couple of my enterprising young friends noticed me, and my heart sank a little as I noticed them beckoning to all their friends to join them. Great.

They had finished my bracelets. Lovely. They had also prepared a “present” for me – a large shell with “To our Scottish friend Steven Renwick from...” and all their names and their email addresses written on it in black marker pen. I tried to decline it, then I said I would take it if it was really free. “Yes it is free!” “Really free?” “Yes!” OK, so I took it and hid everything in my bag so I wasn’t too obviously a tourist mug. Then my friends decided they wanted my free gift back. I guess the marker pen must wipe off easily.

My rubbish taxi was waiting for me and nearly ran a couple of families over as it sped to meet me and then it took me back to the guest house.

Once back at the guesthouse I asked them to send a decent cab – i.e one with seatbelts would be nice, and a/c would be nice too. They sent Abraham. He had seatbelts, but the a/c was a bit dodgy. I paid him a vast sum to be my driver for the afternoon and he took me to Kakum National Park.

At the national park I went on a jungle canopy walk, suspended 30-40m above ground-level. Everybody else on the tour was Slovak but thanks to my incredible language skills I was able to effortlessly blend in as one of them, despite only saying “How are you” and “I left my pineapple of the bus, please ask the vicar to send a replacement”. They had also stayed at Elmina and had also run in to the young entrepreneurs outside the castle.

I saw lots of Ghana countryside on the drive to and from the national park. It really is like you see it on TV – a mixture of corrugated iron houses, mud huts, and concrete constructions – with a couple of notable differences. 1) The plastic rubbish everywhere – I didn’t realise what a blight plastic is till I had seen it strewn everywhere in the Ghana countryside. It is *everywhere*. 2) Ghana seems to be sponsored by Vodaphone – you can go through a village and 50% of the buildings will be red with the Vodaphone logo painted on. Very odd. Apparently Vodaphone offers to paint houses for free and the deal is you have to accept Vodaphone branding.

Today I got a taxi back to the STC station in Cape Coast. Abraham’s car was playing up so he sent a friend. Just before the taxi showed up a rainstorm started. Lucky I had my waterproof jacket with me as I was getting soaked inside the car. This was the worst taxi yet. I could not see out the windscreen so I’m not sure how he could. Anyway we made it.

“The white man wants to go to Accra” they shouted when I came in. It was 1045 and I was wanting the 11h bus. I was told there is no 11am bus – only 3pm. Bummer. Turns out that was not true – the 11am had been pushed back to 12 and it eventually left at 12.30pm with me on board, which is where I am now writing this post.

Further: got chatting to a young guy on the bus who was totally in to Manchester United. He gave me a minute-by-minute rendition of their last game. We had even travelled to Russia for the Champion's League final. Amazing dedication. Unfortunately though if football is the universal language then I am only semi-literate but I did my best.

Got a taxi from STC to the hotel. As my taxi pulls up who is getting out of his own taxi, but Mike! Many beers were drunk that evening...

Today we did our first MEST day with a tour of Accra, but I'll make that a separate post...


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Monday 13 September 2010

NatWest MBA loan

So, I'm going back to university in a couple of weeks to start an MBA. In true social media geek style I have started new blog specifically to cover the MBA and any business issues I feel capable of discussing.

My first post covers the NatWest MBA loan - essential reading if you're thinking of applying for one to fund your degree.

Saturday 3 July 2010

All done and dusted

The biking is done for this year. Today we rode North up Pacific Coast
Highway 1 back to San Francisco. It was really cold on the coast but
warmer as we moved inland again.

We decided that we wanted to ride over the Golden Gate Bridge so
headed to Sausalito for lunch. W got a great video of us riding over
the bridge.

We then rode back over the bridge - $6 toll for a motorbike. What a
rip-off! I got us back to the hotel on Post Street, W checked in and
took our bags in and I went to hand the bike back. It wasn't due till
tomorrow morning but if took it back early it would save hassle

So I make the not unstressful rise through downtown SF back to the
bike shop. So glad to hand it back without any mishaps.

Then, still wearing my bike kit, I walk out of the bike shop, hail a
cab and get back to the hotel.

When I get back W asks me where the luggage is. Ha ha - of course she
already has taken our stuff in. No really - where is the lugage we
left at the bike shop for the week.


Looks like I'll be making another trip to the bike shop tomorrow
morning. Damn.

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Friday 2 July 2010

some video riding towards Carnel Valley

Download now or watch on posterous
P1020974.MOV (21776 KB)

We've got a better video in Carmel Valley but I can't post it yet because it's too big. Will do later.

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Lake Nacimiento and Carmel Valley Road

Yesterday's roads were great - Lake Nacimiento, then Carmel Valley Road. I wasn't going to try Carmel Valley Road as I though it might be a bit to twisty, but I was persuaded by Norm - a biker we met at the Bluebird Motel. I'm glad to did it - the views were absolutely amazing and the ride was just right. We could ride for an hour without seeing traffic. Amazing!

In one of the pics you see what we thought was a tornado at first. It looked like a massive cloud originating at some point and turned the sky really dark. Turned out it was actually grass fires at Fort Hunter Ligggett which we were riding through. 

W has taken some great videos but I am having trouble uploading them at the minute. 

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Frenchman on Kwak

We saw this guy stopped at the side of the road crossing Lake
Nacimiento dam. We didn't see the 'No Parking Any Time' signs till
after we had stopped and got off.

He was immediately amazed that we were riding a Harley but had full-
face helmets and proper biking jackets. We explained we were European
then it made sense to him and we agreed that most Harley riders are
mad going about with tiny helmets and just t-shirts.

Turns out he was French and had been living in California for 30
years. He sounded like he had just got off the boat.

We told him we were heading for Carmel Valley Road and he warned us
that the road was quite small and difficult. Another few minutes chat
and we were on our way...

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