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More Referendum Thoughts

A few more thoughts to follow on from last night’s post:

Turnout

Turnout is crucial. If the majority is narrow, and especially if the turnout is low, the losing side will have a very hard time accepting the result.

For example, imagine if the vote goes 55% for Leave, and the turnout is only 60%. That means that only 33% of the electorate has said they want to leave. 27% would have expressly said they don’t want to leave, and 40% abstained.

But abstention can — and in my view should — be considered as being happy with the status quo. Yes, you can argue that it means that the abstainers are happy to go with the will of the majority of voters, but for such a major change — effectively a constitutional change — I don’t think that’s a safe assumption

So there ought to have been a requirement for a minimum turnout, and/or a majority of the electorate. In fact, for something this major, I’m inclined to think that a mandate to leave should require something like a two-thirds majority — of the electorate, not just of the turnout.

Something like that was the case in the original Scottish independence referendum — approval had to be by 40% of the electorate, not just a simple majority — though not in he 2014 one. I have criticised that fact in the past, but thinking about it now it seems right.

Parliament

Of course, this referendum will not be binding on parliament. If it goes to Leave, it’s possible that a majority of MPs could vote against the legislation that would have to be enacted to start the actual departure. That would have interesting results.

And if the majority is very slim in either direction, there will be calls for another referendum. Whatever happens on Thursday, we won’t have heard the last of this for a long, long time.

Referendum Thoughts

I have, of course, been meaning to write about the referendum almost since it was called. And let’s go right back to that point: of it being called, and why it was, and whether it should have been.

It was called, as anyone can tell, because David Cameron wanted to finally end the feuding in his party over Europe. The Tory party has been at loggerheads about it for decades. I have never known a time when they weren’t fighting about it.

So Cameron promised a referendum, thinking that if they were elected he could lance the boil, as they say. In fact what has happened in the end is that the boil has grown alarmingly, become infected, and is poisoning its host.

But we shouldn’t gloat. The Tory party in its death throes could take a lot of good things down with it.

I read one piece recently that suggested that he didn’t actually want to do this. That he made the promise fully expecting a hung parliament in 2015, and then he’d be able to say that coalition partners had insisted on no referendum.

Which may well be true, but it doesn’t help us where we are now.

The poison has spread into the body politic of the whole nation, and we are all in danger of becoming infected.

Or am I stretching this metaphor too far?

So much for that. The decision we make on Thursday matters, probably more than any visit to the polls in my lifetime. A decision to leave will be irreversible.1

Not that I think we would be utterly unable to survive and thrive outside the EU. We’d get by. But we wouldn’t be the best we could be, nor in the best position we could be in.

The EU is far from perfect, but so is the Westminster parliament, the Scottish one, and every other democracy.2 But above all, if we’re inside it, we are able to influence it — specifically, our democratically-elected representatives can — but if we’re outside, all we can do is look in.

While having to abide by its oh-so-terribly-onerous regulations if we want to trade with it.3

The Guardian’s editorial today advises us to “keep connected and inclusive, not angry and isolated,” and I think we can all get behind that, surely?

Oh, and don’t let me hear any of that “both sides as bad as each other” nonsense. The Remain4 campaign has been lucklustre, certainly, and I’d have liked to see more dynamism from Jeremy Corbyn and the rest of the Labour leadership — if only to reduce the impression that it was all about Tory infighting, or that anyone should vote Leave because Cameron wants the opposite. But lacklustre does not equate to vicious, poisonous, and lying.

“Project Fear,” they called it. I even heard one of my colleagues accuse the Remain campaign of fearmongering. But fear is not being “mongered” when we have a genuinely scary situation.

To end on a more cheerful note, if you only watch one video about the matter, make it this one from John Oliver:


  1. Well, Conceivably we could, at some time in the future, petition to rejoin; but if we did do that, it would be on quite different terms from those that we’re on at present. For one thing, we’d have to join the Euro, as all accession states do. For another, we wouldn’t get the rebate that we currently get. Loath her or despise her, Thatcher did renegotiate our country’s position into a more advantageous one. We won’t need that if we’re out, of course, but we won’t get it back if we ever have to crawl back. 

  2. And the EU is democratic, despite all the lies of the Leave campaign. 

  3. Not that onerous, and if they are they’re mostly for good reasons. 

  4. And shouldn’t the opposite of “Leave” be “Stay,” anyway? 

The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross (Books 2016, 8)

The latest of Charlie’s Laundry Files series, and Bob Howard is being considered for promotion. To management. He has to go on a course.

As you can imagine, he doesn’t stay on it for long. And soon things are looking pretty bleak.

It’s the usual Laundry fare: magic manipulated by technology, horrors from beyond the stars, intrigue, form-filling.

It’s great stuff, as always.

A Day of Infamy

Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.
From The Spectator. Something terrible did, of course, happen. I hadn’t heard of Jo Cox before today, but she seems to have been a thoroughly decent person.

Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? by Paul Cornell (Books 2016, 7

Some books take weeks or even months to read. Others slip down in just a few days. This was the latter kind.

Paul Cornell’s Shadow Police series is part of a thriving subgenre now. He and Ben Aaronovitch started out at a similar time, I guess, and they’re friends, so I don’t know if they came up with the idea together, or what. Maybe it was just steam-train time. But London cops who deal with the magical, occult side of the city’s problems are very much of today.1

This latest volume picks up not long after The Severed Streets finished, and our characters are in some dark places personally and professionally. But then the ghost of Sherlock Holmes is found murdered at the Holmes museum, and a serial killer starts murdering people in ways inspired by the Holmes stories. The game is afoot, obviously, and our heroes must take part.

This is really, really, good, and highly recommended. Though if you haven’t read them yet, start at the beginning with London Falling.


  1. Though I can’t help but wonder if Charlie Stross started it all. His Laundry Files series is about secret agents with occult dealings, rather than police, but there are obvious similarities. 

PJ Harvey at Field Day was SO good. Straight into my top three ever gigs? Oh yes. Most definitely.

The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi (Books 2016, 6)

I enjoyed it, but I didn’t really understand it.

I’m sure I should have more to say about it than that, but really, that sums it up quite neatly.

But to try to go a bit deeper… The solar system is populated by various species or clans of posthumans, transhumans, AIs, uploaded minds, whatever. Earth is unrecognisable, though some people — seemingly fairly close to basic-human, though it’s hard to judge, with so many strangenesses — still live there.

In some ways the biggest problems with this book, and its predecessor The Quantum Thief, which I read a few years ago, is the sheer number of new or repurposed words. None of these is ever explained: you have to gain an understanding of them from context, working it out as you go along. This is a perfectly fine and valid method of storytelling, but here it all just gets a bit too much.

Maybe it’s my fault for the way I read the book: in disjointed fragments and sections, over weeks. Perhaps if I had read it in a more concentrated fashion, its meanings would have unwrapped themselves for me more easily, more thoroughly.

But at the same time, it’s the storyteller’s job to tell their story in a way that allows the reader to grasp it, to understand it. If he reader has difficulty with that, then it’s not the reader’s fault. It’s the storyteller’s.

And yet, and yet, I enjoyed it, I finished it, I think i’l probably read the third in the trilogy, which I believe is a thing. Eventually, after some time has passed on this one,

And I’ll probably have just as much trouble with that one when the time comes.

Relaunch

If you pay attention to URLs and such — and if you’re reading this at all — you’ll be aware that my blog is not sited at the root or home page of the devilgate.org site, but at devilgate.org/blog/. For a long time the home page has been a very basic one, with just a few links to the other places you can find me online.

As of today, it still contains those links, but is a slightly more modern, sophisticated page, and has a new focus.

That new focus is job-hunting. I’ve been working at Misys for more years than I care to think about — well, Misys and one of its precursor companies, BIS, that it bought up in the 90s. And this is the first time I’ve named it in public on the internet.

The reasons I never named it before are to do with keeping work and the rest of my life separate; and more to do with the fact that, as quite an elderly tech company, it didn’t really have any concept of its staff having an online life outside of it — or even inside of it. At least until the last couple of years, when it launched a Twitter account and a YouTube channel… and the less said about them the better.

The same agedness is part of the reason why I have never contributed significantly to any open-source projects: my contract effectively disallowed it.1

And I’m making it public now — and I’m relaunching my front page — because I’m not going to be working there much longer.

Even in the teen years of the 21st century, we are not past the time of jobs being moved offshore, it seems. Well some jobs, at least; and Misys have been moving development jobs to our — to their, as I should learn to say — offices in Manila and Bangalore for years. It was only a matter of time, really.

So about three weeks ago, me and the four other remaining developers in the team were told that we would be leaving at the end of June.2 It wasn’t a shock, or even a surprise. In fact, I think we were all fairly pleased, in the end.

I’ve been expecting it for at least a year, since the last of the developers in another team were sent on their way. To the extent that I’ve been looking around, have been for a couple of interviews; because I didn’t want to be just hanging on there for the redundancy money. That would be a terrible reason for staying. And while the work was still OK, I didn’t have to find a job, so I felt I was in a position of strength.

Now, of course, I’m quite pleased that none of those opportunities came to anything, because I do get the redundancy money. And my CV is up to date, and my LinkedIn and more importantly Stack Overflow profiles are looking reasonably good.

I’m treating this as an opportunity: I’m keen to learn new things, have new experiences, and hopefully work in a development environment with releases more than twice a year, and with end-users I actually get to talk to.

So things are OK, but I am looking for a new job. So if you happen to know of anyone who’s looking for a Senior Software Engineer, or Lead Programmer, or similar, with a lot of experience in Java and various other languages (and who is currently learning Swift), then send them my way.

And I don’t mind being public about all this now, because I fully expect any company I work for in the future to have a more open, progressive attitude to its employees being citizens of the net.

Well, unless Apple are recruiting.3


  1. And, to be fair, I never bothered to seriously investigate changing that. 

  2. Unless we find other jobs within the company, which is extremely unlikely

  3. They are, as it happens, but their “London” site is in Uxbridge, a kazillion miles on the wrong side of town.