Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Help the aged

In the absence of a hi-tech elixir breakthrough, I hope I'll live to be old.  I hope readers of this blog lead healthy and productive lives and live to be old, too.  I mean, nobody really wants to die young, except the young themselves. Once you're too old to die young and pretty you might as well live as much as you can and die elderly and decrepit.  That is certainly my plan. To be honest, I was never really into nihilism so it's been my plan to live on as long as possible for as long as I can remember. 

This post is going to be about pensioners.  The pensioner demographic completely swung both the EU referendum and the Scottish independence referendum of 2014.  If a 2nd indyref is going to be successful before the door slams on the EU someone is going to have to convince the Scottish pensionariat that independence is the correct choice.  (Yes, I did say "pensionariat". A secondary aim of this blog is to invent stupid words and furtively spread them through society so that I may laugh like a hyena at my handiwork.)  That means convincing them that EU membership is more important than being in the UK.  This is going to be a hard sell.  It is doubly hard because neither side is listening to the other.  I'll explain that with a not-hilarious personal anecdote involving Entoure Snr.

I was back in Scotland over Christmas and obviously spent some time meeting up with Familie Entoure. Herr and Frau Entoure are very, very old.  Entoure Snr asked me if the EU referendum result affected me and I told him that, yes, this could have a profound effect on my future.  After all, my rights to live and work in the EU will likely be curtailed by Brexit and the ensuing negotiated settlement.  Entoure Snr was surprised to hear this, probably because the rights of UK workers in the EU is not exactly a hot topic.  This is not the sort of thing that troubles the editorial team on any daily newspaper.  WHY IS NO ONE TALKING ABOUT THIS AND MAKING IT A TOP PRIORITY OH WHY OH WHY OH WHY DO THEY EVEN LISTEN?  We then chatted about Scottish independence and how that was the only remaining route that guaranteed my rights to live and work in the EU.  He presented the usual worries that were easily debunked: EU membership for an independent Scotland, walls at the border etc.  Anyway, it occurred to me that we got our information from completely different sources. Twenty years ago we would have read pretty much the same newspapers and watched the same news programmes, even if we had formed different views from the same information.  Today, we have almost no news sources in common and our opinion on each other's reading habits is divergent, to say the least.  What happened?

The Entoures at home in 1998 watching Panorama.  That's me at the front aged 27. Still got the shorts.
If you are a member of the pensionariat then you probably read a newspaper.  Remember them? They are printed on paper, appear daily, and have a defined editorial policy that permeates through every single page.  Before this turns into one of those remember-the-recent-past clips shows with Stuart Maconie, let's just remark that I don't read newspapers in any traditional sense. If you are reading this then you probably don't read them either.  Without going full-on Chomsky you might even think that newspapers represent an establishment view and thereby fail to represent the spectrum of public opinion.  That might include attitudes to Israel and Palestine; the UK's semi-permanent war footing; Scottish independence; immigration; or the EU.  Remaining in the EU had 48% support but does anyone think there was a commensurate fraction of pro-EU newspaper output?  The Scottish independence referendum had an even larger disconnect between voting outcome and editorial policy.  Luckily, the information super-highway, as we used to call it in the 90s, has led to an explosion of not-so-alternative views that do actually represent wider public opinion.  These outpourings of fact and opinion are indeed often produced by the wider public.

The emergence of two very separate readerships is remarkable and might even reflect something deeper happening in society.  If I worked at the BBC as head of digital strategy I would write a white paper on this exact topic. It would bang on about platforms, content delivery, diverging value systems, and the Terry Wogan demographic in a post-Terry Wogan world.  It would be a work of content-free genius that might even land me a promotion to a post with an even longer job title.  Happily (for you, for me, for everyone), I don't work at the BBC in any capacity so I'm not going to attempt an answer to this conundrum because a) I no longer live in the UK and b) I live in a bubble world of my own construction that involves a lot of ukulele playing and German verb conjugation.

What got me thinking about all of this is that Entoure Snr defends The Glasgow Herald as a newspaper with an editorially neutral stance on Scottish independence.  It might have a more nuanced view than The Daily Record or The Scotsman but it could hardly be described as having a neutral stance, at least not by you or me.  He is kind of correct, though, because on the limited spectrum spanned by daily newspapers it probably could be described as somewhere near the centre.  If you spent your entire life reading newspapers then it is hard to realise that they are now clustered at one end of the spectrum on a whole list of issues, including attitudes to independence.  In fact, it is almost impossible to realise that if you mix with other pensioners who read the same newspapers and have the same life-long beliefs in the benefits of being in the UK. If I was a pensioner today I would likely be no different.

It strikes that there must have been a time when Fleet Street managed to promote a wide range of popular views.  After all, where there is competition, there is also diversity.  When Entoure Snr was young, however, independence really wasn't a popular view.  There would have been no commercial sense at all for any daily newspaper to take on a separatist stance because they would have found very few readers.  Let's not forget that the post-war consensus of state health care, jobs for all, nationalised railways and council housing had a powerful effect on Entoure Snr's generation.  Back then the Union was a generally popular concept that was rarely questioned or challenged.  It's not surprising that today's pensionariat have warm, fuzzy feelings about the Union because for a significant period of their lives they either benefited from it or felt that they did.  Even if you don't believe that newspapers are the voice of the establishment it is still the case that they need to tailor their output to the remaining demographic that buys their daily wares in large numbers.

This is all a bit worrying for democracy because the political class is most definitely influenced by news headlines, which are now skewed towards a singular age demographic.   Who is it that gets invited for cosy chats at Nr 10 in return for exclusive interviews?  Who invites whom to celebrate their nuptials?  Even post-Leveson these links have not been broken.   More worryingly, I believe the BBC even analyses news coverage to help decide their running order when compiling their bulletins.  They do this in the interests of neutrality and impartiality so that they cannot be accused of setting the agenda.   This would be fine if the agenda was statistically balanced and mirrored the full spectrum of popular opinion.  What happens instead is that they reinforce an imbalanced view.

What about all this new media? What if we all  pointed our parents and grandparents to all of these shiny new internet thingamabobs on the super-highway?  The problem is that I'm not going to point my Dad at WoS or CommonSpace because he's not exactly what you might call an internet pioneer.  Moreover, these sites are aimed at a significantly younger demographic.  I really don't think any of the content is produced with him in mind.  Sometimes, I even wonder if it is produced with me in mind;  this blog, in particular.

When I am old whatever replaces all of this will scare the bejeezus out of me. Glog?
I think this is a real problem for the independence movement: elderly people are simply not connected with the arguments for independence and at the same time have a strong emotional connection to the UK.   The BBC, charged with neutrality, then promotes the idea that believing in the Union is a neutral position, one that is almost unchallenged in wider society.  Notwithstanding the reality of news coverage in 2017, undisputed facts alone might not be enough to change minds.  Just as I view EU citizenship as part of my identity, Entoure Snr has a similar relationship with the UK.  I don't mean that either of us is waving flags around , putting up bunting or saluting Her Majesty/Jacques Delors but these allegiances do quietly influence our identity in a way that only really becomes apparent when they are under threat.  My relationship with the EU is really just the same as my Dad's with the UK:  we basically like what we like because it was good to us.  The difference between our views on independence is just timing and circumstance.  

Jacques Delors is very specific about the length of bunting to honour his presence. Just saying.
It would be true to say that the explosion of alternative media had a profound effect on my views on independence.  Go back 25 years and I would have never been pro-independence.  I probably wasn't ashamed to be British back then, either.  Around 10 years ago I had no fixed opinion either way but in the last few years I moved very rapidly towards independence.  Alternative/new media played a strong role in that change. I'm sure many people of my age followed a similar trajectory.   The crux of the problem is that Entoure Snr's generation aren't going to listen to any of that and probably don't even know it exists beyond vague notions of cybernattery.

Entoure Snr is a rational human being.  He is also a human being with all the attendant paradox and inconsistency that happily differentiates us from automatons.  He will listen to the arguments where he finds them.  They might change his mind.   If he felt connected to the arguments he would be far more likely to change his mind, just like all of us humans here on planet earth.  Despite some really excellent blogs and journalism out there, almost nothing I've seen on the internet is going to draw in Herr and Frau Entoure.  What is the solution?

Over and out,


PS Pensionariat is a truly terrible word.  Let's keep it to ourselves and never mention it again.


  1. I pretty much agree with all that.

    People who lived through the Second World War, or who were born just after and raised/taught by those who had lived through it, had a very special relationship with Britain that people born a while before, and those since, didn't or don't have.

    There was this "all pull together against those Johnny foreigner fellows" spirit. Churchill, The King Emperor, Britannia Rules the Waves and Hurrah for the Red White and Blue.

    They'd been through a frightening time, a time of hardships (for all but the rich), daily waiting for the telegram that would tell them the news they feared, or the bomb that would fall on their house, or their Granny's house. Mr Churchill's or the King's plummy tones on a crackly radio had got them through, hard though it is for us to believe.

    And it lasted 6 years.

    It was ingrained.

    We grew up in a different world. EU money sent me to France on Leonardo Da Vinci programmes; funded a French teaching job, and later jobs to do with employment and training of young people, and today Erasmus is an incredible opportunity for students. We automatically go to the Continent without thinking, without going through much in the way of passport control and on bargain airlines, we do it often. We don;t terribly much even think of it as abroad. My granny hadn't been outside Scotland till she was in her 60s, and then only to London.

    And most of us have seen the UK waste money on protecting its status as a world nuclear power when the roads need fixing, schools are falling down and the health service is disappearing for want of the money that is spent on the tra la las of being "important". We laugh at it, a pathetic oldie has been pretending that it still matters. But they remember it when it did actually matter, at least a bit.

    And newspapers, realising that no one under 50 is likely to do much more than glance at the front page headline, design their output to suit the elderly reader who wants to have his or her opinions endorsed, reinforced.

    One day it will be us. You read news on a WHAT? What exactly is an iPhone anyway?

    The BBC is the same. How many young people watch the tv when there is a laptop at hand? And with heaven knows how many channels to fill 24/7, most of their output is now turgid.

    The lesson from this is that somehow we need to persuade pensioners that they would be better off, rather than worse off, in an independent Scotland within the EU.

    Of course if I worked that out, you can bet that almost everyone else has. So I suppose some brains in the Yes Campaign will be working on strategy right now.

    Let's hope they have more imagination than I do, because I've not got a clue how to get our message through.

    The second strand to whatever they come up with is to make sure that we persuade the young go out and vote. They are the ones that will have to live for maybe 70+ years with the results of the second referendum.

    1. It's a real problem and I don't have any clue how to fix it.

      For the demographic that read newspapers a newspaper like The National probably seems partisan and extreme but only because it is a newspaper and is judged against other newspapers. If it was a blog it would be another blog with an independence slant. Entoure Snr, for example, isn't going to read The National because it feels relatively extreme for print media. The problem, then, is really deep because even a daily newspaper isn't going to change minds.

      It's a simple fact that the older generation feel more British than European - we shouldn't be surprised by that. The Leave campaign was very effective at arousing and encouraging a sense of identity that was almost exclusively English. I really, really don't want the independence campaign to go down that route. I'm sure it won't end up there. I'm just not sure how to encourage those older voters to vote against their own sense of identity and experience.

      It almost requires some kind of subconscious message that just permeates through society. There's a strong sense of identity involved and it goes beyond rational thinking or reason.

      I also have no idea how to solve this. Let's hope some brains are beavering away on this problem.

      I recently saw some statistics about the number of 16-24 yr olds who voted in the EU referendum and indyref. It was really quite low. Grrr, they're their own worst enemy. They need to get their act together.

  2. It is a mind boggling problem from any angle. My father in law is a card carrying Tory (thankfully his daughter is not) and a habitual reader of the Daily Telegraph so when we visit I often take a glance through the paper and it is no wonder he holds the views he does. My mother, not a Tory by any stretch of the imagination, reads the Guardian and Observer and when I visit her I read those papers and feel equally disgusted by their slant on the world. In fact, possibly even more disgusted by them than I do the Telegraph because you know what you are going to get from that rag while I always have higher hopes for the other ones. At least she votes Yes so that's all right then...

    One of my aunts is a Yes & SNP voter but reads the Sun, the Record and other such drivel so I ended up having a chat with her about refugees and the support they actually received from the British state rather than what the papers tell her they are getting. All very frustrating.

    I've a thought that even though many people don't buy newspapers they still are influenced by their headlines when they pop into Asda or the corner shop for milk and sweeties. I always make a point of perusing the paper stands to see what lies they are telling today and it is very easy to be left with a strong impression of one thing happening that a visit to my usual blog sites dispels. But therein lies another problem; if one self-selects what news one is going to even consider reading one gets a very, very narrow view of the world indeed. That said, I consider so much of what appears in the media as anti-news (as opposed to fake news, though it can be that too) that watching/reading/listening to it actually reduces one's sum total of knowledge so my once daily digestion of news content has completely disappeared in recent years (and don't I feel so much better for it?).

    All of this is a rather long-winded way of saying I don't know how to fix the issue either! Maybe one way is to actively target the younger voters and get them to tackle granny with the emotionally laden argument that, 'gran, you voting No/Leave/Tory is damaging my future, please gonnae no dae that?', and at the same time get them out to vote. (It is times like these I think that voting should be a mandatory act and failing to do so should carry legal penalties - though if we are going down that route we have to include the 'none of the above' option on all ballot papers. But I digress...)


    1. I think emotional blackmail might indeed be the best solution.

      It's amazing how just seeing magazines and newspapers at the supermarket can lead to a lot of information entering the brain. When I used to live in the UK I kind of knew who celebrities were but only from glancing at the paper rack while in the queue at the supermarket checkout. Take that away and most of TV is now a mystery to me because I have no idea who the celebrities are on Celebrity Thingumabob Wotchercallit. Year after year of headlines screaming about immigrants causing trouble will have an effect far beyond the core readership who actually buy tabloids. They've managed to permeate the whole culture with xenophobia, which I suppose was their intention.

      Even more amazing is that I ended up with a Financial Times subscription. It's pretty much the only newspaper that makes any attempt at checking facts. It's definitely the only one that has a solid grasp on Brexit and the EU.

      I also doubt most news these days, including The Guardian and Independent. In most cases it is just sloppiness rather than rigid editorial direction that makes me sigh and give up. Somehow or other The Daily Express manages to actually print what they fully intend to print, even though they intend to print mainly lies and fabrication. I just wish The Guardian could be held to even that minimum standard.

    2. I have a more varied professional and personal life than most and, as a result, have developed professional competence (which is not to say I've become an expert, but I'm nae bad) or a high level of lay-knowledge in the following areas of life: engineering; the maritime industry; the oil industry; human resources; environmental issues (agriculture, climate, eco-systems, waste disposal, resource exploitation); the military; crime (policing); violence (inter-personal, social, predatory (crime) and inter-societal (warfare)); Scottish politics; health (exercise, nutrition, metabolic disease, age-related disease and well-being); and...(several other areas of interest which aren't pertinent here). I've studied three different areas at university (engineering, environment and health) and take an academic approach to anything I am interested in, ie. I look for evidence and form opinions accordingly and am willing to change my opinion in light of new evidence. I'm not trying to blow my own trumpet, just giving an indication of how broad my interests and knowledge base are.

      What I found while studying environmental sciences was that the media are invariably wrong in what they report. It was not necessarily biased or malicious but simply down to the journalists not understanding the subject beyond a very superficial level and the subject is far from superficial or simple. When I moved in policing several stories were published about crimes I was involved in solving/dealing with and, goodness me, how distorted a picture the media had/created even if it was only because they lacked crucial pieces of the story rather than an intention to distort. Then came 2014 and the distortion was overt and deliberate. My latest studies in the area of health have highlighted just how wrong most media stories are - even scientific magazines reporting on science stories or fitness magazines reporting about exercise - in relation to the actual science that is being done (even assuming the scientists themselves are telling it straight which does not always happen).

      It has been shown to me time and time again that in any and every area where I have some genuine knowledge or expertise the media, in all formats, invariably gets it wrong at least as often as they get it right. So how on earth can I possibly believe what they report on things I know nothing about? This really didn't sink in until I had seen it happen in more than one field so, for those of you reading who are really and truly experts in your field (and know how he media distorts that) but don't have my breadth of knowledge, please be very careful about believing what you read or hear anywhere about anything.

    3. I read Ben Goldacre's book "Bad Science" a few years ago. It really spells out how appalling the media are at reporting on health and science. They also have a bizarre obsession with the arbitrary categorisation of all inanimate objects into cancer creating and/or cancer curing. Madness.

  3. Some of us pensioners are convinced Yes voters and some more may be convinced, but many are just not listening, won't engage in anything that threatens their established views, and are not interested in facts. The angry old farts who put the a pile of Daily Mails on top of the National in the COOP are beyond reaching

    If we are depending on them to change their minds we will loose. The middle age group soft no voters may be convinced, and a huge effort is needed to persuade the young that it is vital to there future that they vote, and vote yes. We also need to persuade the yes / leavers somehow that independence is the important thing.

    It's all going to be quite difficult, but we must give it our best shot, because the alternative doesn't bear thinking about.

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    2. My mother, a Yes voting pensioner, has long used the phrase, 'my mind is made up, don't confuse me with the facts' to describe people who will not listen to new ideas or information. The one I like is 'you are entitled to your wown opinion but not to your own set of facts'.

      I am coming around to thinking that we simply need to forget turning the older folks' votes around and concentrate on getting the young and middle-aged (those with mortgages and credit card debt are looking for the most stable solution) that independence is for them and GET THEM OUT TO VOTE. But horses, water and drinking and all that...

      We are completely screwed if we fail this time around and I, for one, will be leaving Scotland for a life of exile if that happens.


    3. Agree, except I don't have the option to leave. As an old guy with children and grandchildren in Scotland I have to stay and help them best I can.

      If a majority of Scots are stupid enough to vote no again, then I will have no respect for their choice, and will tell them so.

      Meantime I will work as hard as I can for a Yes vote and be as positive as I can. I think we can win, but the majority of the old will still vote against. They are not interested in debate, facts, or anything that disturbs them.

      I've just been trying to interest one of them in the pub in at least looking at BBC / MSM lies, but no joy. He even said we don't need Scottish television news because there isn't any real news in Scotland, and would not accept that the BBC doesn't cover lots of stuff, even when given concrete examples.

      Efforts must be concentrated on the groups who may change their minds, and on getting out the young vote.

      Let's all work on that!

  4. As someone who is very, very old, like your mum and dad, it drives me nuts to see not just my contemporaries but younger so called sentient homo sapiens buying their Sun, Record, Mail, and Express every morning. They somehow need to hear a different, more positive pro-independence view if they are incapable of negotiating the internet. They need to have the lies spouted by these rags challenged/counteracted and most likely pushed right in their faces in the same paper and ink format.

    My solution , therefore, is to print out A5 leaflets (with a working title of La Vérité) take the lying headlines and refute them directly and post them through all the doors in my own neighbourhood which has a generally older, more affluent, demographic.

    It has it's problems, not least in personal cost, but getting the right content by someone who reads and can comment concisely on those mendacious journals. It would be a scatter-gun approach which means a lot of waste if not hitting the intended audience but that may be a price worth paying.

    Also, the idea would need to be replicated across other districts by fellow campaigners who saw some value in it.

    It would also be wasteful in producing more dead tree scrolls (as another commenter quipped!) but it would only be for a short period.

    That's the best I can come up with at present. Your young whipper-snapper views and those of your groupies to refine/improve the idea would be welcome!

    1. It also drives me mad seeing people reading the tabloids. It drives me doubly mad every time I get on a plane and all the free papers are all either The Daily Mail or the Daily Express.

      I sort of imagine something quite social and relaxing like a Yes coffee morning or a Yes meet-up. It would need to be very soft Yes, though, to get people along at all who aren't already Yes. This stuff can be so horribly divisive.

      I think your idea is great. I don't have any whipper-snapper ideas at all, I'm afraid. I don't have any groupies, either, even though it was very much a primary aim when I started blogging :)

    2. While no fan of the tabloids myself, don't be too hasty to write off the people who read them. In my limited anecdotal experience with Glasgow working class tabloid readers, most of them voted yes. I'm more concerned with the readers of the Herald, Scotsman, Guardian or Telegraph; supposedly intelligent & educated people who can't see beyond themselves.

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    4. P.s. I'll be a groupie if the price is right...

    5. There's definitely a spectrum with The Daily Mail and The Daily Express clustered together at one end. I honestly can't understand how anyone could read them regularly and stay sane. The Daily Record at least has lots of football coverage, if that's your thing. The Mirror and The Daily Record used to have quite a lot of campaigning journalism but that has died away lately. I guess it's just too expensive now. I do know people who still read the Daily Record but they pretty much get it for the sport.

    6. I had a friend at uni who was one of the cleverest people I've ever met in my life. You know, he actually deserved his PhD!!! (Actually he wasn't one of the cleverest; he was THE cleverest.)

      He read the Sun for the football coverage, which he reckoned was second to none.

      I never saw him glance at the rest of the paper.

    7. A student on my uni course bought The Times every day but only to do the crossword. He set himself a challenge to work out how to solve it - he said that the clues are drawn from a limited set of patterns.

      I can't believe many people buy the Daily Mail for the sport or its TV listings page.

  5. I reiterate that there is no way that many of the older voters are going to be persuaded, especially older women ( not a genderist point, purely a statistical one) so effort has to be concentrated on those who may be persuadable, either to change from no to yes or to vote at all, and vote yes. Most of these will be under 65.

    As I said earlier, there also has to be a way to convince yes / leave EU voters that independence is the important thing, and they can fight their corner after that. To sacrifice independence to go with Brexit is madness, but not everyone agrees.

    My usual rigorous research methods have been applied to this, i.e. listening in and occasionally questioning while drinking my evening pint of Stella, and the old bastards are not for shifting. It's almost irrelevant where they get there news. They are not going to vote Yes.

    Work on those who might.


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