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Sir, Scottish independence is the story of the moment, increasingly on a global level. Canadians would be forgiven for a sense of déjà vu. The Quebec independence vote in 1995 ended with a 50.58 per cent to 49.42 per cent split. Should we be surprised Scotland’s vote, almost 20 years later, is on a similar knife edge?
Perhaps not, if we look at the science of it. Complexity science and mathematics shows that if one forces a binary “either/or” vote on to a complex dynamic system with multiple independent agents (for example, lots of people), the outcome is more often than not a 51 per cent to a 49 per cent outcome, with the final swing being volatile and impossible to predict.
All too often we try to use “either/or” thinking to solve those issues that sometimes have “both/and” solutions. Such thinking was described as “The Tyranny of the Or” by Jim Collins and Jerry I Porras in their book Built to Last. The decision to remove devolution max from the ballot papers may have made political sense for some, but was, quite simply, a mathematical blunder.
“Either/or” thinking is all too often pursued by political leaders seeking to gain or hold on to power. The No campaign seems to have woken up to some “both/and” thinking, with Johnny-come-lately promises, described by some as devo supermax. This is perhaps for the No camp too little, too late and is seen sceptically by the Yes camp.
But one cannot help thinking that this binary vote has served the Scots poorly, certainly divided their proud nation and could cause much damage based on a mathematical blunder driven by political leaders using binary thinking which is out of date.
Mr Nick Obolensky, Bath, UK