Monday, September 22, 2014

The Scottish Referendum and the Older Generations’ Attachment to the Status Quo

Grampa: "Happy birthday, Bart."
Bart: "Thanks, Grampa."
Marge: "Where'd you get all the money?"
Grampa: "The government. I didn't earn it, I don't need it, but if they miss one payment, I'll raise hell!"  - The Simpsons

Well sadly my prediction came true, and Scotland voted ‘NO’ for independence.  Myself and others who favor more local governance can at least get some small comfort that it was as close as it was (55% Yes, 45% No), and the fact that the vote was allowed to happen at all.

But what I found really interesting was the split between younger and older voters, and the biggest reasons given and issues considered among those who voted no. From Zerohedge:

The following post-referendum poll from Lord Ashcroft does a good summary of who voted how and why. However, the most telling distinction is the following:
  • Voters aged 16-17: YES: 71%; NO: 29%
  • Voters aged 65+: YES: 27%; NO: 73%
How will last night's vote look like in 5, 10 or 15 years when today's 17 year olds are Scotland's prime demographic?”
The results of the post-referendum poll from Lord Ashcroft: 

The 16-17 year old segment voting overwhelmingly yes is interesting, but I don’t consider it that meaningful given the average teenager’s tendency to be impulsive, emotional, and (some might say) have their head up their ass (I remember feeling this way about most of my peers in high school, and I doubt that has changed any in the two decades since).  It was the 65+ (and to a lesser extent the 55-64) age group leaning so heavily towards ‘NO’ (73%) that caught my attention. 
Furthermore, when looking at the most important issues for the ‘NO’ voters and the primary reasons given for voting no, an interesting pattern is shown.  They have 47% of ‘NO’ voters listing ‘the risks are too great’ as the biggest reason for voting no, and they have pensions, defense & security, tax & public spending, the NHS (the UK’s public healthcare network), and the pound as heavily weighted issues in their decision making. 

So to break it down here, the decision to vote no was largely made because of folks, a majority of them who are past middle age, who are afraid.  Afraid of changes to their pensions.  Afraid of developing and being responsible for their own healthcare system.  Afraid of being responsible for their own defense & security.  Afraid of managing and being responsible for their own currency.  Ultimately, afraid of making changes to the status quo!

Now I can respect voters who weigh the pros and cons logically and come to the conclusion that staying in the UK is more beneficial on the whole (especially if one believes the UK will really give the Scottish parliament more power and more say in its future).  But the most heavily weighted issues I described are obstacles that CAN be overcome and worked through, and in fact most are simply a part and parcel of self-governance.  What I see is that a significant portion of the ‘NO’ voters voted the way they did out of fear of the unknown, fear of making their own decisions, and fear of rocking the boat.

Ultimately, this speaks to a generational split that I expect will be a dominant trend and the basis of much political and social strife much of the world will see in the next 10-20 years.  Here in the US, we already have the Millennials and, to a certain extent, Generation X growing increasingly unsatisfied with a political, social, and economic system that greatly favors the majority of the Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation.  We know that these previous generations have to some extent become as prosperous as they have by borrowing money they expect us and our children to pay back.  And to boot, the political leadership overwhelmingly comprised of these older generations have kicked the can down the road and created a future disaster for us to deal with by printing money and expanding easy credit to absurd levels, instead of facing the problems of too much debt and unsustainable spending head-on.  In many other countries the generational divide may be taking a different shape or have different issues they fight over, but in almost all cases it boils down to the young wanting to change a status quo that the older folks are afraid to lose.

What I would like to see would be the older and younger generations finding some common ground to build a future that doesn't completely suck.  Hopefully us younger generations would understand that many of those Boomers and Silent generation people have had no direct hand in shaping the current status quo, and some are getting shafted as much and feel the same as the younger generations.  Odds are, if our generations’ positions in time were reversed we’d probably have made the same mistakes and oversights… that’s just the cycles of history at work.  And at the same time, I hope the older generations become more open to change, and realize that by unconditionally supporting and clutching to a status quo their children and grandchildren oppose, they will sow the seeds of their own undoing.  Excessive fear of loss often tends to lead towards losing that very thing one is so afraid to lose.  Learning to let go of that fear and accept that a little risk is necessary to make any progress. 

But I do have concerns that this generational split will turn into a generational war.... The young get fed up and use violence and destruction to lash out at the power structure, while the old use the apparatus of the state and the status quo to subjugate, marginalize, and beat down the dissenting young.  And I have few doubts that the people running things would use that opportunity to grab more power.  One think to look for in the coming years is a media blitz of commentary and articles on generational strife meant to get both sides riled up.  When it comes, I hope people don't fall for it as much as they have in the past with illegal immigration, same-sex marriage, etc.

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