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You can't know the future but you can guess who best to trust

In November 2009, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) published the poetically-titled ISO 31000.

It was intended as the latest thing in the thrilling field of risk management. For the City of London, Wall Street, and the economies of the western world, it came just a little bit too late.

Undaunted, the ISOnauts laid out guidelines for the "practitioners and companies" struggling to keep their labours free from risk. Amid the near-Confucian principles offered was "Avoiding the risk by deciding not to start or continue with the activity that gives rise to the risk". Also proffered as sound notions were "accepting or increasing the risk in order to pursue an opportunity"; "removing the risk source"; "changing the likelihood"; and "changing the consequences".

For the politicians and bankers who knew what had become of the global economy by November 2009, that last tip must have been a comfort. After all, one major cause of an almighty crash had been the spread of exotic financial instruments whose very claim to fame was that they hugely reduced risk, if they did not eliminate it, for those who played the markets.

Most of us have now realised it didn't quite work out. Most of us already knew, in fact, that the only difference between a sure thing and snake-oil is that you can get a drink out of the latter. We would all bet the house on a certainty. This is why houses are so rarely offered as wagers. But a good housing boom - the kind that makes everyone rich and can't possibly go wrong - will still tempt most of us.

Certain philosophers will assure you that certainty in all things would make life pointless. Others will remind you certainty is impossible. Yet still we demand sure things while knowing - ironically, for certain - there are no sure things.

So: what will become of your pension after independence? What will become of the currency? What will your world look like a decade from now? The questions are depicted as a demand for "information". What they amount to is a plea for certainty. Since we are supposed to know better, this is peculiar.

Independence is a big step. We might all like to be armed with a personal version of ISO 31000 along with a few affidavits signed in blood. One peculiarity of this argument, nevertheless, is that a higher standard of proof and assurance is being demanded than is normally believed possible. A lot of this stems from Better Together's wholly unoriginal playbook.

Spread uncertainty and then demand certainty in all things. Take the natural wish to know what the future might hold and turn it into an insistent desire to know - in the name of "information" - what the future must hold. Because independence is a big step, present every possible future as a void, preferably an abyss.

The comparable cases would be Scotland's membership of the European Union, either with or without the UK. There has been a barrage of disingenuous and deceitful stuff about what might - though Unionists would say "must" - face an independent country. Ask them about the vast uncertainties surrounding English public opinion and David Cameron's promised "in-out" referendum: solid information becomes scarce indeed. Demands for certainty are declared illegitimate.

You can grant that these tactics are meant to exploit a mood. It exists most obviously in that large minority who express their uncertainty towards independence as "don't know". After all these years they have not been won over to refusal and the status quo - another issue that Better Together does not care to discuss - but neither have they been persuaded to say Yes.

The idea they lack information is not exactly true. There's tons of the stuff. But it comes flying at the audience in competing versions. As often as not, what's called information is a lie disguised by people - take a guess - who lack an argument. At other times, information flows from tainted sources. It also seems likely that after a hideously long campaign some voters are all but overwhelmed. When there's too much to choose from, how do you choose?

It counts as another Better Together tactic. The "people's right to know" becomes the people's right to be bombarded with any mad fantasy - mobile roaming charges being a memorable case in point - that a Unionist brains trust can contrive. If you take every possible outcome for a given country, you can keep this kind of thing going almost indefinitely. After all, who questions the notion of the well-informed electorate? The abuse of a fine notion, on the other hand, is the hallmark of negative campaigning.

It is all too human to wonder what the future might be like. If one side in an argument offers some optimistic glimpses of what a future could be like, it follows as darkness follows day that the other side will take the grim shadow of uncertainty as its theme. The idea is to obscure the most important and certain truth of all: futures can be made. They can be chosen.

Personally, I wouldn't take much guidance on uncertainty from a Tory Party incapable of stating the kind of European future it has in mind.

I'm unlikely to be swayed by Liberal Democrats who can't say which Coalition partners they might fancy if the electorate gives them another chance. I don't fear a risk to the state pension after independence on the say so of Gordon Brown.Perhaps this is what ISO meant by "removing the risk source".

I don't exactly call that a guess, but I don't claim it is a guarantee of certainty, either. Certainty arrives when you conclude some are trying to exploit honest doubt, to describe the future as a place strewn with unspeakable risks unless - and here's a coincidence - you do as they bid. Sometimes the only thing riskier than a step into the unknown is a step backwards into the known.

The desire for certainty over Scotland's possible futures is unlikely to diminish between now and September. It has become the nature of the argument. In the end, though, people are liable to remember why they didn't demand a crystal ball when they picked a career, or took their wedding vows, or conceived a child.

You take your best informed guess. Then you remember to beware those who try to persuade you that there is or should be any other way to deal with the future.

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