Thursday, 31 March 2016

Population through time

Every day I'll post a graph from the book with some commentary written specially for this blog. I won't repeat everything in the book, and I'll probably end up saying some stuff that isn't in it, particularly if new data has been released.

The National Records of Scotland provides data on Scotland's population for every year back to 1855. This graph shows the population (blue line) and its growth rate (red bars).

The eye is drawn to the dent in the line. This is the second world war. At the start of the war many people left Scotland, presumably with the armed forces. By 1944 the population had fallen by 350,000, but the next year the war was over and the exodus reversed.

There must have been many happy reunions amongst family and friends at that time, especially for young couples who wasted no time in adding to the population. By 1947 the population rose through 5 million to exceed pre-war levels.

Notice the rapid population growth throughout the 19th century. This is the last 50 years of the industrial revolution's boom, in which people moved into towns and cities. The annual growth rates in that period were between 0.5% and 1.0%. These may seem small, but a 1% annual growth rate sustained for 70 years will result in the population doubling (1.01 raised to the power 70).

The growth slowed in the early 20th century. If you look closely at the graph, you might be able to see that growth stopped before the first world war, and the population dropped in 1912 and 1913 and then grew through the war. I'm not sure how to explain this (if you know, please comment), but it seems that the pre-war decrease was because the birth rate fell in 1912 and 1913.

The population hardly changed in the latter half of the 20th century, and from 1975 until 1990 the population declined. It then remained stuck at about 5.1 million until 2004 when it began growing rapidly.  From 2007 to 2011, the annual growth was 0.6% a sustained rate not seen since the industrial revolution. Whereas the 19th century population rise was due to natural increase (births exceeding deaths), this one was due to immigration, with many people coming to Scotland from the 10 states that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007.

Averaged over 2004-2014, Scotland's population growth rate was 0.5%. This compares to 0.7% for England, 0.4% for Wales and 0.7% for Northern Ireland.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Why should I read this book?

Book cover
    But facts are chiels that winna ding,
    An' downa be disputed.
      From A Dream by Robert Burns, 1786.

Have you felt frustrated when politicians and pundits juggle facts and figures leaving you baffled by a mess of complexity and opinion? Have you felt aggrieved when during a debate in the media either traditional or social opponents make contradictory claims on a point and you wish you could be sure who was correct, or at least closest to the truth? Or do you suspect a particular party one you oppose, or perhaps one you favour of cherry picking information or distorting the numbers?

My aim with this book is to share an understanding of the information and data that should underpin the political debate in Scotland. If you just want some facts and figures then you'll find them within, but the intention is not just to list statistics about Scotland; it is to highlight sources, dismantle barriers of jargon and place information in context. In short, to assist anyone who wants to improve their knowledge of our society.

A single voice can carry far in the right circumstances.  You can choose to be passive and just nod or shout at the TV, or you can choose to become active. The most common forms of activity are to join with others in a political party or a one-off protest rally or, at the very least, just to feed the ballot box on election day every few years.

It is a fact that many people do not engage in any of these ways. At the last election for the Scottish parliament in 2011, 50% of people who could vote, did not. Although Scotland was widely touted as being much more politically engaged following the 85% turnout in the 2014 referendum, the Scottish turnout of 71% in the 2015 election wasn't that much higher than the UK-wide 66% turnout. Non-voters are so commonroughly one in three adults that you've almost certainly heard their reasons for yourself: it doesn't matter who's in power; the parties are all the same; my vote won't make a difference; the system is too flawed; and perhaps the most common, and unsaid: people are too busy just getting on with their lives.

But there is another form of engagement, and one which doesn't require you to align with a political party or even vote: improve your understanding of the society in which you live. Learn to question which facts are known with some certainty, and to recognise where uncertainty lies. Learn to separate what is a technical issue, for example how tax is calculated, from what is a moral and political issue, such as why higher incomes are taxed at a higher rate.

At the very least you'll gain a satisfying insight into your society. Even if you still choose not to be politically active you will very likely feel the need to share your insights with others. Whether you do so directly with friends or family, on twitter or facebook, at public debates or with your MP, MSP, MEP or councillors, you can make a difference. Anyone who is is honest about advertising knows that the best way to spread a message is not a TV advert in Coronation Street, nor on a fancy billboard at the busiest road junction, but by word of mouth. And these days, word of mouth is greatly augmented by word of type across the internet.

But, word of mouth's (and type's) problem is that it can spread falsehoods as efficiently as truths. If you want to insulate yourself from the falsehoods and help stem their flow, then the first pre-requisite is that you know how to check facts, and as time is valuable, it's important to be able to do so efficiently. With smart phones and tablets and ubiquitous internet access this has never been easier.

Politics is society's attempt to make sense of a jumbled nest of moral and factual issues and as such is a tremendously difficult business. The aim of this book is to help you untangle and identify some of the certain and uncertain facts. What you then do with them is entirely up to you.