Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Euros and Europe – why saying no-one knows what will happen is misleading.

One of the things I keep hearing in the EU referendum debate is the argument that “No-one knows what will happen in the UK leaves” therefore people who claim that it will bad for the UK are just guessing. This is one of those really annoying things whereby the truth is used to obscure a lie.

It is of course true that no-one knows what the effects might be. It is true in the strict philosophical sense that no-one can know the future. It is however not useful in the real world where we are always making judgements based on evidence and experience without ever knowing for sure. Do I know that this patient will die without this life-saving operation? No, in the strictest sense. But I suspect my philosophical honesty would not be taken as good reasoning by the coroner.

I do like a good analogy. For example, I do not know who will win the European Championship in France at the moment (Euro 2016). I can tell you though that it will not be Scotland. I am reasonably certain that the winner will be one of the countries that is actually taking part.

Back in 1992 Denmark won. This was very surprising as they did not actually qualify. They only got admitted to the tournament 11 days before it started after Yugoslavia had to pull out. This is a really good example of the unexpected. Two weeks before the start it was unforeseeable that Denmark would win but the surprising does sometimes happen.

In terms of the EU referendum, the fact that leaving the EU would be bad for the UK economy and may well be bad for the stability of Europe is fairly clear. The debate is over how bad. The consensus of economists is very strong and based on some decent evidence; The IFS report is a good place to start. No one can tell the future for sure but the outcome is fairly predictable based on what we already know about the UK economy. Spain might win the Euros or Italy, Portugal, Wales, England etc. but Scotland won’t.

To say ‘no-one knows’ what will happen is to bet on Denmark before they were admitted to the tournament or to bet on Scotland now. Except the once-in-fifty years event that led to Denmark being admitted does not look like it is being repeated. It is the same sort of odds as saying I will safely walk across this motorway with a blindfold on. It’s not impossible but it’s also not very wise. What is so striking to me is the idea that in the face of such strong evidence anyone would want to take such a risk with our nation’s future.

Alternatively, invest all your savings on a bet for Scotland to win the Euros. I’ve no doubt the bookie will give you excellent odds.