Stan the Statistician <<Last | Next>> | Current Stan | Archive Stan
Work in the media? Struggle with statistics? Stan's irreverent (and often irrelevant) review of the latest media reports, news and gossip may not help at all... Stan the Statistician

Stan # 102: Hibernians, Old Etonians - what a Farrago! February 2015

< Life is all about probability. The layman may think that this means that something is likely to happen - that it is probable. However, statisticians (including Stan) know that probability means the degree to which an event is likely or unlikely to happen. If something is very likely to happen, then it has a high degree of probability and vice versa. Trying to predict the future is one of the fascinations of the human race though if you could predict things with 100% probability, it really wouldn’t be a lot of fun. I was reminded of these issues with the advent of the World Cup last year. Football is notorious for predictions because there are so many chance variables. Who thought Spain, England and Italy would all be knocked out in the group stage? The pundits then play the, ‘what if’ game. If that shot from Rooney had gone in, if England had had a penalty, if Suarez and sunk his teeth into an England player instead of an Italian and so on.

Economic forecasters have devised a strategy for avoiding looking foolish; they regularly ‘revise’ their forecasts. In other words, they got it wrong! Opinion pollsters ask, “if there were a general election tomorrow, who would you vote for?” As I write, the Labour Party are slightly ahead of the Conservatives but would probably not have a working majority if that was the result on polling day because the other parties, notably the SNP would take too many seats to allow any one party to have an overall majority. But there is a problem. Respondents know that there isn’t a general election tomorrow and may say that they will vote for Labour as a way of persuading the Government to improve; in other words, a threat - a way of making their feelings known without actually voting.

For the first time in British history, a national election was won by a party without a seat in Parliament (the European elections). If UKIP were to come second in every constituency, they may poll more votes than any other party but still not have a seat. It’s unlikely, but theoretically possible. Gordon Brown became Prime Minister without anyone voting for him to have that office and only a few thousands Scotsmen elected him an MP. In the US, people are able to vote for who will be the candidate for each of the two major parties who will fight to be President as well as vote for which they prefer. They also have ‘propositions’ which are referenda on specific issues.

With the success of UKIP, the three main parties (though I’m not sure you could now call the Lib-Dems a major party), responded by saying that they would have to work harder to get their message across. One Lib-Dem politician actually accused the electorate of being responsible for the downfall of his party because, “they weren’t listening to our message”. I had this naive view that the listening was supposed to be the other way round and politicians were elected to carry out the wishes of the people. I suspect that is part of what has gone wrong.

UKIP’s success was allegedly based on our leaving the EU and controlling immigration. Mr Cameron says that he will, “renegotiate” the terms of our membership but he should know that he cannot do that unless he activates Article 50 which means issuing a formal notice that we intend to leave - and he won’t do that. Many people think that we are so intricately linked with the EU that we cannot now leave. It certainly will be very difficult but one Country has left the EU. Do you know which? Answers on my next Desktop.

If the SNP holds the balance of power, what does it say for our democracy if a bunch of foreign MPs can determine the laws of another country which don’t affect them? Will the Scots demand another referendum as the price for cooperation with the Labour Party? Will the Labour Party agree? Suppose legislation is brought forward which prevents Scottish MPs from voting on matters which affect just England and the only legislation which is brought forward affects only England. Indeed many important issues for Scotland will be decided in Scotland but English MPs can’t vote on those. Scottish MPs deciding laws for England but English MPs can’t decide on the laws for Scotland!

What happens if legislation is only half way through its passage through Parliament when laws preventing Scottish MPs voting are passed? Should they not vote at all on anything? If so, then what is the point of having them? Maybe there should not be a general election in Scotland which would pretty much give the Conservative Party a permanent majority? What happens if the vote is close? Will there be another independence referendum in a few years? Or will David Cameron seek another vote to reverse the decision? If in the Ukraine, the vote by people in the Crimea was considered to be illegal because the whole of the Ukraine didn’t vote, then by the same rule, shouldn’t all people in the UK vote on Scottish independence? Could be interesting if Scotland eventually votes for independence and is thus excluded from the EU but applies to join while the rest of the UK may vote to leave. What a mess! Still, lots of work for constitutional lawyers.

This political desktop may seem as if it has little to do with numbers but the numbers voting in May will determine the makeup of Parliament and then the fun will start. At least it might stop them passing another five years worth of laws to crush us.

The Office for National Statistics (obviously kindred spirits) calculates that the population of England will increase to 61 million adults by 2037 and life expectancy will increase to 82.8 years for a woman and 79 for a man. The most crowded area is Islington with 14,000 people squeezing into a square kilometre. Few countries in the World are as crowded and most are tiny such as Malta or Monaco.

On a lighter note, the final group game of Holland in the World Cup didn’t contain a player with, ‘van’ in his name for the first time since 1996. How probable is that?


Check in again at my desk soon!

<<Last | Next>> | Current Stan | Archive Stan Who we are
What we do
Our work
Contact us