As the Scottish election campaign grinds to its bitter end or (depending on perspective) rises to a triumphant crescendo, the thing that have stood out for me are the numbers.
So much of the campaigning has been based on competitive presentation of numbers. My council tax is better than your local income tax, blah blah, based on irreconcilable and very much alternative assumptions. Or take what the Guardian described as the arcane debates about the alleged Scottih Deficit which contains things like £2.9 billion of depreciation and accounting adjustments which would fall out in an independence settlement or the assumption that every person, rich or poor, adult or child pays the same amount towards the defence budget and the war in Iraq. Or, take the new Adam Smith Institute report which says Scotland would be £6,000 better off under independence but only on the assumption that growth goes from present rates of 2.1% to 7% – aye right!
All of these numbers and I’m afraid that I don’t believe that our education system equips us to take them on and make sense of them. Proof? Last week in the Scotsman an opinion piece stated that Scotland could get by on a defence budget of £500 billion. Since the whole of the UK GDP is only twice that number you have to blink. But the subs didn’t. If the people who put together our great national newspaper (snigger) can’t even spot that one, how the hell are mere mortals supposed to process all of the complex data that’s thrown at us?
The integrity of data allows for all of this – state your assumptions and let the answer generate itself. Or, more likely tweak the assumptions until you get the answer you want.
Here in central Edinburgh, Shirley-Anne Somerville bends the integrity by showing a Scottish opinion poll result as if it applies to central Edinburgh. Over at the Liberal however, Siobhan Mathers has taken the data from last time and then lopped a slice off the Labour total to make it looke like it is a “two horse race” (her words). What’s the difference between these two approaches. Well, neither of them are true. But Siobhan abuses the integrity of data. It’s the difference between bending a ruler and breaking it.
I had a word with the electoral commission and they told me that there was nothing they could do about it as they had no power over the veracity of candidates statements. The application of the rule of law was all they were concerned with. I must say I was a bit dissappointed as it means that the lies of our future political leaders are sanctioned by the law itself.
The integrity of data can sustain any number of clearly stated assumptions, but when wannabe politicians blatantly abuse numbers to get elected, they are beneath contempt.
Love, McGellie x