Scottish Independence Part I - A Long Road to Change

Here's the thing - when the IndyRef was announced I was dead against it. I hated the idea that the Scottish government had legislated for it and that there was going to be a vote. That knee jerk reaction changed to an understanding of the need for a vote, but still dead against the idea of an independent Scotland, dead against the end of the UK that I knew and back then I wanted to remain.

Notice the past tense. Since about June I have been pretty set on voting Yes for Scottish Independence. This hasn't been an easy or a quick decision - indeed, quite the opposite. In the next five days I am going to post several posts ranging from my thoughts on the No campaign to the reasons why I am voting Yes. 

But first, here's a post about my road to Yes.

The first place I'd start is in 2009 where I rather amazingly posted this titled "Being Scottish. Is It Shite?" where-in I ridiculed the idea of independence because we are a bit of a "shite" nation, and also was worried about a few things. I wrote some amazing sentences in that post: (and I lift directly) "We are a nation hurtling towards the brainwashed masses voting us out a Union with England and Wales that could ruin everything for all countries involved." and I went even further with "[independence]...is a car crash in slow motion, hurtling towards a long, expensive and pointless program of devolution and independence. Why should we think that we can pull out of the Union when if anything we have been the ones who a benefited most from it?".

Ahem.

Okay, so I have changed my mind. The advantage of this blog having existed for so long is that I can pull back from five years ago and know that at that point in time that was my true feelings. That's what I thought, and for better or worse, that's what I wrote. Am I now having to eat those words? In a way, yes. But I am not apologising for writing them. Actually, here's the things - that last part of the second quote is interesting; it qualifies something - at that point I thought we were getting the better deal. I thought that the traffic went in one way - to us, and we benefited greatly from the Union. This is a key point - because I don't think so any more.

It was around 2010 I think when walking down Buchanan St a friend, his boyfriend and I scoffed at the idea of iScotland. It was then when I truly remember realising with alarm at the idea of Scotland going it alone. I had in my head an idea - one that seemed to suggest that Scotland was doing a bad job. I believed that the SNP government were not doing things correctly. Then several things started to happen.

The first was that I realised that this wasn't about the SNP. This happened shortly after my return to Aberdeen after living in Texas. The second was that the UK Government started to mess with things that they shouldn't be messing with - the NHS, Royal Mail, benefits, and tax. I dislike the conservatives a lot, but anyone who votes either way because of party lines is making a grave mistake. This is bigger than that.

It wasn't until I was describing the current set up to a Canadian that I realised how nonsense it actually is. The Scottish parliament, Westminster, the House of Lord (that bit especially, actually)... it all really doesn't make any sense any more.

We pay our taxes, and they go to Westminster (or Whitehall, a turd is still a turd by any other name) and then they decide how much we get back. We get to spend what they give us in anyway we want on certain things. That isn't the right way it should be. Devolution was a way to give us powers to govern things that needed to governed in Scotland, like health and education, and in my mind we've done a very good job with them. But we are still at the mercy of the Barnet Formula, which is a pretty unfair way to work out our budget for both Scotland, and the rest of the UK.

Additionally, I realised that the question being asked wasn't about "What Ifs" like the No have been suggesting - instead, it should be "Imagine If" - imagine if we had control over everything. Imagine if we voted for the and got our government. Imagine if we could take all the oil income and spend it on us rather than splitting it across the rest of the UK?

There are a lot of great reasons to vote yes, but the one that clinched it for me (shortly after I posted this speculative post titled "Yes?" in February) was why notSeriously - why not? Why not have a go? All of this fear peddled by the No side is because they're the ones scared. The vote was given as an appeasement to silence us - instead it has actually given us a voice... and we're starting to shout.

Later this week I'll explain why I think that even a No vote will change everything in the UK, and not just for Scotland, but in the meantime my journey from a dead-cert No to a optimistic Yes is almost at an end. Yes, I love England. I liked Northern Ireland. I've got nothing against Wales. Yes, my sister lives in the Lake District. Yes, the Union has worked, but it's not working now.

Time to change it up. Time to grow up. Time to take a chance.

The Waiting Game

Around three weeks into Connie and I's relationship, we realised that there was one area of our matched personalities that we were vastly different - turns out that I am a very patient person and Connie is not. I would say she was impatient, but that sounds like an insult and it's a little more than that - she just doesn't like waiting. It was first discovered when stuck in traffic in Aberdeen, and that she didn't like waiting in the car, which I discovered was a major issue. Patience, it turns out, is something I have in abundance. I mean, I can wait ages for a train or a bus that I know will come. Connie can't and will chose not to.

And, you know what? Fair enough. Many people will paint this as a personality flaw, but it actually can work to her (or our) advantage. Boarding an aeroplane after our wedding last year Connie was a little nervous about fitting our two carry on cases (for our sins) and her wedding dress onto the plane and in the storage areas. I was all prepared to wait until we were told our section was boarding (we were in the front half of the plane's seats, which would mean waiting for the back section to be filled, giving us little time to get in a situated our selves). The waiting at the gate for a plane is where Connie's patience is truly tested, and she decided to go and plead with the gate staff, who then let us on with the infirm and children'ed people before the rest of the passengers like royalty. 

Now, if you're clever and read the blog at a level above casual, you'll notice that I posted this post announcing our pregnancy back in January 2014. Assuming for the moment we waited for the 12 week scan (at least), that was 28 weeks ago. Putting those two together and you'll get 40 weeks: 40 weeks, the length of a pregnancy. If I tell you that our 12 week scan was actually on our 13th week due to changing hospitals, you'll also realise that we are now a week "overdue".

Here's the thing - being overdue is a very very common thing. In fact, the majority of births, especially from first time mothers, are late by four days or more. And the other thing is that the due date is as amorphous a thing as you can imagine, being based entirely on assumptions and averages, and almost all births are not on the due date. The exact measurement methods include ovulation, period timing, and a whole range of methods that are very different for each pregnant woman. One major part of hypnobirthing was the education around the due date and that inducing the birth isn't something that should be the go-to tool to use if you're overdue, because a baby will come when it's ready, and bringing it along "earlier" than that might not be the best for you or the birth experience.

That being said, going to 12 to 14 days over isn't reccomended, as that is then outside of the window of error for the due date, and then discussions will be had. We're okay with this.

You know, if our child is reading this back (a post that I am drafting right now as well) let it be said that this isn't a problem and we aren't annoyed OR impatient - in fact, the only reason I am posting this is to try and tempt fate, to bring the birth along a little quicker. The only reason we would be impatient is to meet our child, someone we've been waiting for over 40 weeks to meet, and that it will be pretty great. It's funny, being on the edge of parenthood, within touching distance of it, and still not being there.

A weird existential limbo, but a good limbo to be in.

Internet Identity

In the coming month, sooner or later, I will become a father, and from there on in all my responsibilities will have changed. I will have people chipping in their ideas and thoughts on how to raise my child, and I will listen to them, take their suggestions on board, and discard them with abandon. I'll say "I agree" and "I don't agree" to things people will suggest each day, more than likely, and to be honest, that's all right. Children seem to be the one thing that everyone, educated/experienced or not, has an opinion on, and I'm never going to be able to say that my ideas are "right" - I just need to try and do the best I can, and the best Connie and I can.

There is one thing you're never going to see though; a photo of my child on this blog.

That'll surprise you if you follow the upteen photos of my dog, Frank, on Instagram, for he is a minor celebrity. In addition, once your Facebook friends reach a certain averaged age, photos of their kids are almost all that appears on your Facebook feed.

However, Connie and I are united on one thing in this respect - no one, not us and not our family, will be posting photos of our child on the internet.

Why, you might ask? Well, it's about responsibility. Photos of me as a baby are in a drawer at my mum and dads and safely there, not owned by a mega corporation that pays no tax where I am their product. I won't be plastering a person, a human with an identity, online without their consent, because once it's online it's there forever, no matter how much you pretend it isn't. That's something I've came to know well and understand the implications of.

This is going to be hard, though - I mean, it's going to be the best thing Connie and I will have ever done, becoming parents, so surely we'd want to let everyone know that was the case? But it links into what I saying previously about things "needing" to be recorded - someone people will push for a photo to be posted. And yes, there might be one announcing the arrival (and even that one won't be an identifying photo), but after that, it'll be a black out.

Unorthodox maybe and certainly not going to be make family members very happy who will also want to show off the new arrival, we instead suggest that they should privately share photos on sites that the photographer retains the ownership of the photo (like Flickr or 500px). We will sill share photos to family and close friends via those controlled means, but until we are happy with the way the photos will be used, our child won't be online in that way.

If you think about it, it is all to do with ownership. We own Frank, despite him being an important member of the family, and he's just something that we bought. He doesn't have a personality that will, in the future, want to become it's own identity. He's always going to be a dog, and be unwaveringly and completely in bonded to Connie, me and our child, no matter what. He's just too stupid to know any different (that, my friends, is why dogs are so so great, by the way).

Our child, on the other hand, is a mini me, a mini-Connie... a mini-you. They are going to grow up the same as us, worried about everything and confused about the world, striving to find themselves, discover the world and become something that is unique, and I don't like the idea of having put another level of worry on their minds, that there is baby photos out there that are owned by a corporation. I feel that it is a matter of respect. I worry that people who post photos online of their kids at any age, but especially when they are very young, forget that they aren't the latest Guardian post or Buzzfeed article to be Shared, Liked and Forgotten - they are a real person

However, this isn't a dig at people who do post photos of their kids online, I am not that sancitmonius. You can do whatever you want and whatever you like with your family, I am just explaining my thoughts about the whole thing. Here's a final thought if you're still on the fence. Do you have any idea how far photos online go? No? Well, here's a thing - if you think your photos stop at the walls of Facebook, you're wrong. They can end up anywhere, which means that anyone can look at them. Which means you have to assume that the worst people are seeing them.

And yeah, that's not something I want.

Mobile Data - The Only Thing Left

I used to work for a mobile phone sales company that no longer exists. I worked for The Link from 2002 until 2006 as firstly “admin” and then a full sales person. I was the guy who convinced you to spend £30 a month for 12 months instead of spend £25 a month for 12 months and £30 on the phone (that little bit of magic cost you, the customer, £30 more long term). Selling these things at the time was easy – honestly, between 2002 and 2006 anything that had first had a colour screen, then Bluetooth, then could take photos, then play MP3s, and by the time I left, maybe do video calling, would sell. People would spend mountains of cash to buy the latest Nokia, or Sony Ericsson, or the latest Motorola phone.

I remember the moment the Walkmen branding landed on phones. The first phones to have an actual headphone port on it rather than the nonsense hands-free port. The first phones to come with a camera (I spent £100 on a phone that took postage stamp sized photos, the Sharp GX10, still a classic). That first time the Motorola V3 RAZR came in and we only had one – people actually came in just to see the phone and to check it was real! Those days dripped in university nostalgia, will always be fun and enjoyable memories to go back to. Here's all my phones, listed.

However, in 2014, things have changed a lot. Not so much when it comes to phones – people still spend over the odds for the latest handset (it’s not Nokia anymore, but Samsung or Apple). What has changed a lot is what the networks can see you.

In the times when I worked for The Link, I would sell you a phone first, and then a contract. People would spend around £30 a month on a contract (which is still the average cost these days) it would appear from the contracts and the phones available. For that you’d get probably around 100 minutes and maybe 100 texts. There were off-peak contracts, there were add ons for texts and more minutes. But literally no data. Phones just didn’t need data then – GPRS was brand new essentially, and the mobile web was utterly useless.

The thing that they could sell you then was texts. Everyone texted. People used to only text each other. You had a contract and you’d add texts on. 1000 texts, 2000 texts, that was what was their grasp on the customer. The best contracts gave you loads of them, but the places they made their money was in the balance between minutes and texts, and the networks knew it. Vodafone’s old tarrifs used to give you no texts, which people used to actually use as a reason to avoid them – it will come as no surprise that I still have parts of my brain filled with tariffs and phones.

Today, in 2014, when was the last time you sent a text? In my group of friends, texting is dead, as we now use Whatsapp. Other people use Twitter, Snapchat, Viber, Facebook, even old fashioned emails. And these all use the only thing that mobile phone networks have left – data.

The use of mobile internet is increasing at a rate that I can only imagine doesn’t fit neatly onto a graph. Networks are bursting at their seams to manage all the data going back and forth. My contract, with O2, is two years old, and it gave me unlimited minutes to anyone and unlimited texts, but a strict 1Gb data limit, because no one calls, no one texts, but everyone uses their data. And each month, I run out and they ask me to buy another Gb for a tenner – around a quarter of the total cost of my contract.

This is because mobile phones are no longer phones, but computers that need to be online to work. I went without my internet connected phone over Christmas (using an old D600, one of my favourite phones) and it was insane, not for not having Twitter o Facebook, but Whatsapp, the only way I get in touch with almost all my pals now. This is why they can give you all the calls you want, but not all the data.

Or can they? Well, here’s the thing – O2 hangs onto their data limits with a vice-like grip because it’s the last thing they have. If I had unlimited data I wouldn’t need to buy anything else each month, and some networks do offer that – they’re the disruptors, the virtual networks like GiffGaff, or Three, a network built on the “new” 3G technology. With 4G coming in now too, data limits are going to have to go up, and throttling will come in.

Companies have just spent billions of pounds on the 4G spectrum but that might be misplaced. On BBC Radio 4 this week a talking head said that the first company to launch a city wide free wifi network would disrupt everything. My phone, in that case, would be come free entirely, because I can call people and text them via Wifi even better than the current data networks. That isn’t that far off, either. Even more interesting is that the companies that run your broadband are scared too because once your phone can do internet without needing either their faster broadband (personal wifi) or someone sets up a wifi network across the whole city you won’t need them for anything – phone, internet, or even broadcast TV.

If data is the last thing they have to sell you, then you can bet that they are going to protect it with all their might and power. But, in the end, it is inevitable that as infatrucutre costs reduce and the networks expand and get faster, things are going to change. I’ve seen it happen to phone companies, I’ve seen it happen to shops selling phones, I’ve seen it happen to first calls, then texts, then data – and I can only see it going one way in the future.

A One Time Thing

Date Eggers' book The Circle is a fascinating but flawed novel that details a Google or Facebook service that has replaced all types of communication which slowly but surely creeps surveillance into ever part of people's lives. Of course, that kinda already happens, what with my phone and it's GPS tracking, but The Circle goes one step further and adds constant video feeds of people's lives, day to day, as well as a camera that is so small it can't be seen, or found, but wirelessly transmits it's feed across the internet for anyone to watch.

It is an addictive read, despite its flaws which I won't go into here, and one I enjoyed quite a lot. It did touch on one thing that was interesting and key to the world that had been developed in the novel, and that is of selfishness.

In the book the character Mae, a new employee at The Circle, finds her self committing a minor crime that is captured by one of the wireless cameras. Instead of being properly pinished for the crime, she is asked why she had not personally recorded the event. She had taken a canoe out onto the water and watched a stunning sunset whilst seals swam next to her, and her boss asks her why she hadn't recorded the event.

In the books logic it makes a point that the not recorded event was selfishly unshared by Mae and that, because she hadn't saved it, it was lost forever. This part of the books is where I gave into the world, as it resonated with thoughts I'd had myself; the more we scramble to record things, the less we feel that they didn't occur without the recording.

I make this point following the Scottish Album of the Year Award ceremony that I went to o  Thursday there. Ten albums, including some belters, we're up for the award including my very own Boards of Canada. I assumed from the outset that they wouldn't appear, and I wasn't alone in thinking that, and I was also correct. Instead they did a video thank you to the audience and nominators that was interesting, for it was certainly all new video footage, all new never before heard music, and they rarely do anything without thought behind it.

However, upon the video starting it was clear that this was unique. The video stream that was showing the whole ceremony cut out leaving those at home out of the new music. I tweeted about it and quickly it was retweeted across the Internet, and soon it turned up on the Boards of Canada forums, where superfans started to take it all apart, first dismissing it as a hoax, then as a throwaway track before being frustrated at it not being recorded.

One thing that has been read into the lack of it being broadcast is that it must mean something. I was there and it was explicity stated that the video was a gift to "all those who are here tonight" which makes me think that it wasn't a comment on anything other than just a bit of in the moment magic. Why does everything need to be recorded? The brothers who make Boards of Canada music have fabricated an enigma around themselves and they must enjoy it in some parts but it feels like they can't do anything without analysis, and this seemed like a way of commenting of that.

It was fun to see it hear it and take part in it, but I honestly don't know if it was a new EP, a tease of something else, or just literally a onetime unique thing that was engineered to be that way. Either way, I didn't recorded it, and the thought didn't even cross my mind, instead I chose to be in the moments. Others online did record it.

At least that means it definitely happened. I mean, I did just see a unique Boards of Canada track played in front of an audience at the Barrowlands which is something I thought I'd never ever ever say. So there is that.

The Circle on Amazon