There’s something fascinating about the latest “No Thanks” leaflet that’s slithering its way through letterboxes in Scotland this week, and it’s not the empty sloganising it deploys in lieu of an argument. (“We’re better together because best of both worlds!”)
It’s this graph.
It’s an extremely bizarre thing in its own right. Firstly, pensions aren’t paid out of oil taxes, so the connection between the two things is tenuous at best. It’s also based on totally spurious projections – nobody’s ever been able to accurately predict population size/demographics or oil revenues over even a couple of years, let alone the long term.
(The first Labour/Liberal Democrat administration at Holyrood predicted in 2001 that Scotland’s population would fall below 5m in the subsequent decade, when in reality it rocketed to its highest ever level.)
Secondly, why are oil revenues being measured as a percentage of the UK economy, when the graph is supposedly depicting the position of an independent Scotland?
But neither of those are the oddest thing about this particular incarnation of the graph. Alert readers will have noticed that both the X-axis and the two separate Y-axes have definitions, but no numbers. How many years are being depicted? What are the GDP percentages being provided by oil taxes? Exactly how many pensioners are we talking about per 1000 of population?
Without such scales the graph is completely meaningless. It could be a false graph, where axes are truncated or magnified or otherwise manipulated to present a totally misleading picture – a tactic the No campaign has documented history with. If only there was some way we could find out if that was happening here.
Oh, that’s handy.
We last saw the graph above when debunking a “Better Together” booklet back in May. This is what we said about it at the time:
“The graph on the pensions page is a particularly farcical piece of sheer fantasy in all manner of ways – nobody has ever been able to accurately predict oil revenues or population demographics 12 months ahead, let alone 20 years.
So what can we deduce?
1. The new version has removed the line identifying sources, so that people can’t tell that these dodgy figures come from UK government departments, rather than impartial analysis.
2. The time period being described is 20 years – laughably far beyond what anyone can predict with even the remotest shred of credibility. Both of the lines on the graph are nothing more than sheer guesswork. You might as well estimate oil taxes or pensioner numbers by rolling dice.
(The older version, incidentally, says that pensioner numbers will dramatically and suddenly increase “just as oil runs out”. Leaving aside the question of WHY there would be such sudden spikes in pensioner numbers, rather than a steady gradual increase, that dates “oil running out” at either 2020 or 2028 – absurdly pessimistic projections wildly at odds with the industry’s own forecasts.)
3. The graph for oil taxes starts at 0, but the one for pensioner numbers starts at 260 out of a maximum displayed value of 400. In other words, it’s been magnified by almost 300%. A more accurate representation of the red line relating to the black one, with the Y axis starting at 0 on both, would be this:
Which paints a rather different and less alarming picture of the scale of the “pensioner timebomb”. But wait – that still greatly dramatises the fall in oil taxes, because the Y-axis for oil is so “zoomed in”, only going up to 0.8%. If we make the scale of both graphs the same (0-100%), we end up with the truest picture:
(And remember, the two things still aren’t actually related to each other and the numbers are still completely made-up.)
Still, we must congratulate “No Thanks” on at least managing to learn something from the hapless incompetence of their “Better Together” incarnation. BT guilelessly failed to conceal the clues exposing its dishonesty, giving away too much information from which alert readers could discern how badly it was misrepresenting the reality.
The new version has eliminated that mistake, and airbrushed out any possibility of people learning the truth from the data provided. If only it could delete history too.