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Let Me Say That Again

Apple has finally joined the NFC bandwagon. Let me say that again. Apple is redefining mobile payments. Better? I cannot wait to use my expensive new wrist watch or smartphone to replace my miserably cheap and unprepossessing plastic card to pay for my cappuccino. Seriously. I’ll look such a cool dude among all those ordinary customers like my past self. This, of course, after I have run all the way from the metro to the coffee shop monitoring my heart rate and blood pressure on the said watch. Or should I wear a separate wrist band for that? Whatever. I know the checkout will be super-fast, whereas at the moment it’s only fast. It’s Internet time at last! (What was that line from the movie Lost in Translation?) Can’t wait. No waiting time at all. Just like MasterCard PayPass and Visa payWave, but they are so yesterday. Well, they will be when Apple moves beyond them, which Apple won’t immediately. So what? Tomorrow they will become so yesterday, or maybe the day after tomorrow. Whenever. Using my NFC pay-card inside the secure element inside the secure wrist-watch securely fastened to my wrist, I will raise my arm (the one without the shopping bag), twist it towards the terminal which will be set at a height that does not force me to bend or at a distance that does not force me to stretch across the serving counter, and with just a hover over the gadget that cappuccino will be mine.

How I pity the sister next to me having to pull out her non-digital wallet, spend seconds finding the right card, and then having to hand it over to someone she has never met before who will, on her behalf, make the transaction, or, if she has at least got so far as to upgrade to an NFC card, have to go through the ignominy of repeating the process I have just so easily gone through with my shiny new timepiece. Her card cannot tell her the time. She has to look at her wristwatch for that, and as she does, I will sense her emotional distress at feeling “so yesterday” indeed.

Time is of the essence. Now I have to wait for them to make the cappuccino. That’s Apple’s next challenge, a watch that boils and froths for you. Of course the cappuccino will work out a bit more expensive, but the unit price comes down the more you drink. And the single function version that only makes espresso will be cheaper. Unless you buy the double-shot version. That’s tomorrow’s world. Can’t wait for that.


“Britain is… so 19th century” sighed an (Apple watch-wearing?) audience member at an Edinburg Festival Fringe gathering (Financial Times, 18th September). The same article related the words of leftist singer Billy Bragg’s song “Britain isn’t cool, you know/It’s really not that great/It’s just an economic union/That’s past its sell-by date.” As the Independence poll showed, there are deep divisions within Scotland, and they are not exclusively about class and income levels, although the fault lines do to an extent reflect those things. Scotland clings to post-war social democracy in a way that politicians, from Mrs Thatcher to Tony Blair and now David Cameron, have not. The whole of Scotland returns just a single Conservative MP to Westminster. Basically, the Tories don’t exist north of the border.

Few Scots were consulted about the Acts of Union in 1706 (England) and 1707 (Scotland) and the bribes involved at the time were impressive. (Canny Scots). But the UK is a bit short on cash these days. Times are tough, or as Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times (16th September) so instructively put it “This is a very bad time to break up Britain”. Even so, this did not stop Mr Cameron in a panicky last moment, offering to maintain the block grant of over £1,300 per head above the national average from the UK budget to Scotland. The “Barnett” formula, named after Labour Peer, Lord Barnett, was originally meant to last for two years, and that was thirty-five years ago. Lord Barnett was quick to disown the idea as a financially reckless promise. Likewise many of Mr Cameron’s own MPs.

With Union, Scotland enjoyed a ride on the redcoat tails of the British Empire, the poorest of the poor having to make their way to the Colonies or into the new “dark Satanic mills” (William Blake) of the industrial revolution. Class divisions in Scotland went through a transformation, from semi-feudal to employer and employee. The contrast between the slums of Glasgow (like the Gorbals where my grandpa grew up and worked as a tiler) and the gentility of Edinburg, so close yet so far apart, said it all. Glasgow voted “YES” and Edinburg voted “NO” in the referendum.

With the passing of Empire, the UK has struggled to keep its place in the sun, mostly by cheerleading a rather stretched relationship with the North Atlantic alliance. And, although Scotland in the event voted “NO”, the “NO” campaign completely missed the point. It’s not about economics,1 for once it’s not “the economy stupid” (economists like me have nothing useful to say… “on the one hand, on the other…”); it’s about the declining relevance of Britain to the Scots, not as a place to live and to work, but as a national entity. Sure many, such as ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, profess a shared identity, but so many do not. A Scottish Social Attitudes Survey in 2014 found that 23% thought of themselves as British and 65% as Scottish, down 10 points from 2011 but a substantial majority. Over 1.6 million Scots or 45% voted for Independence.

At the end of the day, many people in Scotland probably know less about what they want than what they don’t want, but many know that, as a community, they do not much identify with the UK. Of course, some do passionately, not least those who have served in British regiments. The Black Watch – a regiment famous for not wearing anything under the kilt, which leaves some critics wondering whether Scotland has anything under its kilt when North Sea oil runs out – especially came to represent the Scots as a fighting force for Empire and beyond. But what is beyond “beyond”? There is a search for identify, imagined or not.

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