Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What I'm accepting as an answer for "countries"

Last week at Ray's I made the error of asking a fairly harmless (so I thought) Speed round question about what European countries lie west of Germany. This caused some hub-bub.

One team answered "(UK) England" [sic] which I marked correct for its "UK" portion. I'm actually something of an easy grader. A few spaces later they also answered "Scotland", which I marked wrong. Even if I bought Scotland as a country, "UK" as a previous answer at best made that redundant.

For the record, this is where any future quiz of mine stands and has always stood on the issue, should I be asking (typically a Speed round question) asking for countries:

United Kingdom or UK:
Obviously a country, this will be marked right if the UK meets the criteria for the question.

Not a country. I will accept this as a gloss for "UK" as an answer, as per below.

Not a country. England is in the driver's seat in the UK, and appears to allow limited parIiamentary powers in its British neighbors to assuage feelings of domination without granting independence. Note that England doesn't feel the need to have its own parliament. (Note also that when it comes to Scotland the people arguing with me argue that the Scottish parliament makes it a country... what would that then make England..?)

I have habitually accepted this answer as a gloss for "UK" even though this is technically incorrect. Americans are in the habit of using "UK", "England" and "Britain" interchangeably. Similarly we used to interchange "Russia" and "USSR", also incorrect but only a pedantic jackass would correct you in casual conversation. I accept one for the other purely not to appear to be difficult in running the game, the same way that I accept misspelled answers if I can read what you meant. If I ask a question (which I almost certainly wouldn't for these very reasons) looking for Scotland specifically when I want England or vice versa, this would be marked wrong. As above, don't expect me to let England slide and then on top of that get credit for another portion of the UK in the same question.

Scotland: Not a country. This is where my poli sci degree actually comes in handy. Note none of this has a thing to do with whether or not I think it'd be nice for Scotland to be a country. The Scottish National Party website lays a nice case out for that in fact. Note also that I know that the UK claims to be a "country comprised of four countries," which I accept about as much as the Trinity, another concept the true believer never has clear answers on when challenged. The fact that the UK has one UN seat and not 5 or more tells me all I need to know. The USSR used to claim to be 14 "republics" - who took that seriously?

Scotland has:

- a flag (so does Philadelphia... although Philadelphia doesn't fly a UK flag, which Scotland does)
- a parliamentary body with limited powers concerning internal matters (so does any US state)
- a soccer team (so did my high school)
- a rugby team (so did my college)
- limited budget and taxation powers (so does any US state)
- a history as a former independent state (so do Texas, Vermont, Tannu Tuva and Sikkim... look it up)
- a unique language and culture (see also Kurdistan, Tibet and Quebec)
- an independence movement, which is a curious thing for a "country" to have after becoming one
- a royal family... the English one (who are themselves largely not English either)
- seats in the UK parliament; generally a country doesn't get seats in another country's parliament... in fact this is definitional

Scotland doesn't have:

- international recognition as a country by other countries (this is the primary criterion)
- control over its own borders
- control over its own currency (Bank of Scotland prints a British pound; Scotland can't decide on its own to, for example, adopt the euro)
- control over its own military
- passports, embassies, consulates nor a diplomatic corps; all very damning
- a seat at the UN
- a seat at the EU
- Scottish stamps
- an Olympic team (the bar on this one being rather low, see Puerto Rico)
- the ability to pass laws not ultimately subject to review by UK judiciary

Scotland is pretty much on par with constituent parts of the United States, India, South Africa or Spain, dependent upon the issue.

Wales: Not a country, as per Scotland. One big hint on this one is that the Prince of Wales isn't Welsh and doesn't live there. Ouch.

Northern Ireland:
Not only not a country, but filled with people interested only in being part of one of two others. If only they could agree which one...

Republic of Ireland: Unfortunately this came up during the debate to muddy the waters, and oddly to support the idea of Scotland being a country. Ireland is a country. I assume you mean the Republic if you write just "Ireland." I would suggest that Scotland doesn't have nearly everything that the independence-minded Irish fought for and won, i.e. becoming a country. This is only useful as contrast.

I might suggest this article,
Scotland Is Not a Country as brief review on this subject. The author lists 8 criteria and Scotland by his estimation fails 6 of them. I don't even accept his #1, "Scotland has internationally recognized boundaries", as I don't think any international body cares where England and Scotland draw their boundary; it's an internal affair. His #2, the one we can all agree upon, is that "people live there permanently." Wow.

An Englishman drinking at Ray's was called into the debate, who in addition to repeatedly insulting me declared that Scotland is a country because of the "devolved parliament" thing. This, of course, is what almost all poli sci people would use to argue just the opposite, that body giving Scotland about as much international standing as Oregon has.

The primary argument I've heard in favor of Scotland being a country is that a lot of people who live there say that. That being the case, I should have accepted 3 or 4 answers for (instead of?) Spain. Kurdistan and Tibet would most certainly be countries if that's all it took. The fact remains that international recognition by other countries makes a country. Debate within political circles concerns when that is appropriate.

Delivered in the English accent, however, this was taken to mean by the assembled that I must be wrong. I blame the TV contest shows and their instance on always having an English judge. If our world balances out there was an American butting into a pub quiz in Manchester somewhere last week, declaring confidently that Marilyn Monroe laid out the Monroe Doctrine.

And the hate mail begins... now! I have a feeling that this will be one of those posts that'll get angry comments years later.

It's April 11, 2010, and that prediction turned out to be very much true.

Not sure why I didn't think of this a year ago, but let's read the text of the Act of Union 1707:

"I. THAT the two Kingdoms of Scotland and England shall upon the first day of May next ensuing the date hereof, and for ever after, be united into One Kingdom by the Name of GREAT BRITAIN; And that the Ensigns Armorial of the said United Kingdom be such as Her Majesty shall appoint,, and the Crosses of St Andrew and St George be conjoined, in such manner as Her Majesty shall think fit, and used in all Flags, Banners, Standards and Ensigns, both at Sea and Land."

So that's a very clear statement that A) England and Scotland were referred to as Kingdoms, not countries, before the Act, and B) that both Kingdoms were henceforth considered dissolved in favor of one unit.

Reading on:

"VII. THAT all parts of the United Kingdom..."

Parts, not countries.

" IX. ...in that part of the United Kingdom now called England..."

Part, not country.

And seemingly important, in case we're looking for ambiguity:

"XXV. THAT all Laws and Statutes in either Kingdom, to far as they are contrary to, or inconsistent with the Terms of these Articles, or any of them, shall, from and after the Union cease and become void and shall be so declared to be, by the respective Parliaments of the said Kingdoms."

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QuizMasterChris said...

Oh and ANOTHER interesting usage!

"If I wanted to know about fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, I'd use a specialized medical dictionary."

Specialized with a Z? And you were raised in the UK?

Apparently this is not likely, although not impossible.

Our sockpuppeteer from last year is a HUGE fan of the TV medical shows such as "House" etc.

It took about about 2 seconds to Google that fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva was featured on "Grey's Anatomy" not too long ago.

The same woman has spent years attacking anti-smoking doctors and medical researchers on THEIR own blogs, based in her near-total lack of even high school science and math background. From these lofty heights of academia, she tells medical professionals that their peer-reviewed studies about the harm of cigarette smoke are crap.

Folks, our sockpuppet is an American who used to play my quizzes until the Scotland thing, who lives in Philadelphia and has never been to the UK, nor last I understood anywhere outside of the country aside from the Canadian side of Niagra Falls for a few hours.

Weak. Lame. And this is how you prove you're sharper than college boy?

Michael Follon said...

We have a name here in Scotland for people who DELIBERATELY ask a question for which the answer has already been given either as an answer to the same question, as part of the answer to another question or in response to a related comment - the Labour Party.

"A lie, if repeated often enough, can come to be regarded as being the truth."

QuizMasterChris said...

You have it backward; I made one positive assertion and people have been arguing with me about it for nearly a year.

No one ever had to seek out my blog to tell me that I'm wrong to use an international standard of what makes a country in accepting quiz answers.

At the moment I would refer you to Scotland.com's message boards, where a very strong Scottish nationalist/independence advocate named Crofter - who had been posting on the site for years - has for the past two days been arguing that I'm 100% correct about my interpretations of the UK's and Scotland's status.

The thread is titled "American insists Scotland is not a country" and should be easy enough to find.

So far as I'm concerned Crofter is arguing circles around everyone else.

Michael Follon said...

The following is an extract from an e-mail which I have received from Ross Ingebigtsen of dotSCO - the campaign for an internet domain name for Scotland:

'By way of an update, we are currently putting together a bid, with the help of the Scottish Government. The new application window has been repeatedly put back by ICANN (hence the lack of activity over the last few months), however we believe they will be ready to accept new applications by the end of the year, and we will be ready when the time comes.'

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