Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tomorrow's Possible Results, from worst to best

I'll be glad once this referendum is all over. Some time in the last week, we reached a point where further talk became pointless - people are now sufficiently entrenched in their positions that they're stifling any notions of debate. (And I should note that it appears the "Yes" activists have been the worse for this - the scenes at Ed's walkabout in Edinburgh yesterday were particularly shameful.)

There are, of course, several possible outcomes from the vote. The polls suggest that the most likely is a wafer-thin win for the No camp, though I have absolutely no confidence in those polls - I suspect the extremely large turnout coupled with the huge number of voters who have never voted before will make a mockery of their calculations of the margin for error. So I don't think anything from an 80/20 split for No right through to an 80/20 split for Yes will surprise me. (Though absolutely any Yes will be a shock, given the momentousness of the decision. But shock isn't the same as surprise.)

Anyway, here's my gut feeling for the possible results, ordered from worst to best:

The Worst: Shenanigans

Be it corruption in the way the votes are tallied, any significant doubts or legal challenges of the result, or attempted intimidation or other interference in the process, the absolute worst possible result would be if this was not, or was perceived not to be, a fair vote.

Fortunately, I don't consider this particularly likely, as we're generally pretty good about the mechanics of democracy, but I list it for completeness.

A Low Turnout

Again, I consider this one so unlikely as to be barely worth mentioning, but a low turnout would be a real problem. Ideally, we want as close to a 97% turnout as possible (that being the percentage of the electorate registered to vote, and so the theoretical maximum). A low turnout would automatically bring the result into question, which would be a bad thing.

(Of course, this is actually several results in one, since the low turnout would be combined with some other result. But I'm sure you got that.)

A Narrow Yes

Probably the worst of the likely results (and, indeed, probably the second most likely result), is a narrow Yes. This gets worse the closer the vote - a Yes win by a few hundred votes would be horrible, while a Yes win by a couple of percent would be slightly less bad. But any Yes win that doesn't see them carry a majority of the electorate (and possibly even a little beyond that), would horribly divide the country. It might be the will of the people, just, but it's not really any basis for setting up an independent country.

An ultra-narrow No

Next worst is a very narrow No, being one where the result hinges on a few hundred votes. I think any win by 51/49 or more would be okay, but anything in that extremely tight region would probably lead to unrest and recriminations.

A Landslide No

However, the next-worst option swings pretty strongly the other way - a landslide for No. That is, a 65/35 split or more. The problem with that scenario is that it will likely lead to the Establishment congratulating themselves on a job well done, going back down South, and forgetting about all this entirely.

The problem with that is that there really are lessons that need to be learned from all this, and whatever happens there needs to be at least some change. If a landslide No leads to them just forgetting about it, the lessons won't be learned... and in a few years we may well be back here again.

The Big Two

At this point I have to confess that I am genuinely torn as to what the best possible outcome could be. After all, independence genuinely would be a huge, very risky step, where the status quo is a relatively known quantity. So it wouldn't be wise to have no doubts. However, I do also genuinely believe that the status quo is fundamentally broken, and I see no possibility of fixing it. So it's a known quantity... but it's a known bad quantity.

On balance, I really have to put the Yes win at the top, given that that's how I'm voting. But I might be secretly relieved if it goes the other way.


Second Best: A Narrow No

This one is anything from a 51/49 split up to a 64/36 split - enough to avoid the problems of the ultra-narrow No, while also not being enough for the Establishment just to forget about us.

The hope here is that this will lead to some genuine introspection and reform in Westminster (and especially the Labour party). I'm not in any way convinced by the 'promise' of new powers, nor am I particularly interested in new powers anyway. In fact, I'd go further - much of what the papers have been talking about in the last couple of days definitely should not happen, it being a manifestly unfair deal for the rest of the UK. What I am interested in, and what would actually be ideal, is real reform of Westminster. Sadly, I don't think we'll get it, or at least not enough of it.

And Best: A Landslide Yes

If we're going to have a Yes win, I really hope it's as dramatic as possible. Not because I have any interest in gloating over those who will be (rightly) gutted at losing their country, but rather simply because the greater the margin, the clearer the mandate for this to happen.

Unfortunately, of all the results this is the one that I think is least likely (well, other than the 'shenanigans' and 'low turnout' options). For it to happen would require the polls to be completely useless and for the 'hidden' voters to be vastly skewed to Yes. While I consider the first of these very likely, I have no idea about the second.

So, take a deep breath, because tomorrow is going to be a long day...

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