Saturday, March 13, 2010

That sounds ropey to me

I haven't got round to writing a Eurovision post so far this year, but that doesn't mean I haven't been keeping an eye on the national finals season - I managed to sit through most of the Latvian selection two or three weeks back, which I think should entitle me to some sort of medal. Suffice to say they chose the wrong song, and in any event the best performance of the night was the preview of the Swiss entry, which is never a great sign. It was exciting to see Niamh Kavanagh make an unlikely comeback for Ireland, but dismaying to see the song she's been given isn't a patch on In Your Eyes. What seems like an eternity ago (it must have been January) I also saw a Norwegian semi, and a bit of what I think was probably the Icelandic final. Bit sad to see that Maria Haukaas Storeng didn't quite make it in Norway, if only because her return to the Eurovision stage would probably just about have finished Keith Mills off, but admittedly the song wasn't as strong this time. What Norway ended up with instead is an intensely irritating entry, which even more intensely irritatingly probably has quite a good chance of winning. From the others I've heard, Denmark may provide Europe's only slender hope of salvation.

But it was the UK's turn tonight. And unfortunately, pretty much all the fears I'd expressed last year about the Your Country Needs You format proved to be justified. In a nutshell, those worries were - "this might work fine as a one-off with Andrew Lloyd-Webber, but what happens next year?" There simply wasn't any point in continuing with the same format unless a similarly big-name composer could be found - and Pete Waterman isn't it. By all accounts he's barely known in Europe.

That wouldn't have mattered if he'd come up with a knockout song capable of blowing the competition away, and if the auditions had produced a stellar assortment of undiscovered talent - but the exercise was a failure on both counts. Admittedly, Jade Ewen was the only really strong performer on the show last year, but one was all that was needed. As for Waterman's song...well, the most that can be said for it is that it might have finished about fourth in the Eurovision in 1985. It's obviously a competent composition, and few will absolutely loathe it, but the problem with the Eurovision voting system is that you don't get any points for being the least hated. Decent enough inoffensive songs have an uncanny habit of finishing last, especially when they're put forward by unpopular countries like the UK. It was slightly painful making the direct comparison between the three performances of That Sounds Good to Me and the rendition of Fairytale immediately afterwards, because it served to emphasise just how far short we've fallen of a potential winner yet again.

For what it's worth, I voted for Esma, but I think that was mainly because she won me over with her performance of This Time I Know It's For Real. On the strength of the performances of the actual entry, probably Josh was just about the right winner, but none of them inspired huge confidence.

What do all recent Eurovision winners have in common? They all came through conventional open national selections. (The only partial exception was Greece in 2005, when Elena Paparizou was pre-selected as the performer, but the public chose the song.) Hopefully the one silver lining of a seemingly inevitable dismal showing this year is that it might persuade the BBC to forget about quick fixes and instead go back to the hard graft of finding a range of quality songs for the public to choose from. It's an open question whether the performer should be pre-selected or not - the UK's experience in the 1990s suggests it can work either way. But the problem with pre-selecting a composer and giving him carte blanche is that you're at the mercy of one person's questionable idea of what makes a Eurovision winner, and there's no Plan B if it goes horribly wrong. The unveiling of the song tonight was such an anti-climax, because from that moment on there was no way back and no meaningful decision to be made.

I dare say if we have a conventional national final next year, I'll be straight back to spitting fury about someone like John Barrowman setting himself up as a Eurovision 'expert' on the basis of no discernible evidence, and on the back of that strongly steering the public towards voting for a disaster area of a song in preference to a potential winner (for the avoidance of doubt I'm talking about 2007!). But even that prospect seems like the lesser of two evils just at the moment. Graham Norton started the show by saying "last year the UK got serious about Eurovision". To which the response of Europe will surely be "so why did you stop?".

Final thought - ever since the wonder that was Yodel in the Canyon of Love way back in 1997, we have now had just one Scottish act perform in a UK Eurovision selection show (that was City Chix). No Scottish act has actually represented the UK since Scott Fitzgerald in 1988. As I observed last year, we don't even have to bother crying under-representation - the numbers speak for themselves. It seems that Eurovision mimics political reality - if Scotland ever wants to get anywhere in Europe, the only option is to go it alone...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Are the SNP re-establishing a clear lead over the Tories in the YouGov daily polls?

I may of course be foolishly tempting fate by posing that question, because subsamples are so volatile it's quite possible the new set of figures released in the morning will show the SNP slipping back to third place. However, for what it's worth, there have now been several YouGov subsamples in quick succession that have shown a clear lead for the SNP over the Tories, in one case by as much as seventeen points. This breaks the pattern of the previous few weeks, which had shown the two parties locked together in a close battle for second place. Here are the latest figures -

Labour 37% (-7)
SNP 23% (-)
Liberal Democrats 19% (+8)
Conservatives 15% (-2)
Others 7% (+3)

That raw 23% vote share is admittedly not fantastic, but has reached as high as the low 30s in recent days. If previous practice is followed, these recent subsamples should at some point be aggregated together to form the basis for a 'poll' to be reported in the Scottish Sun, so some slightly better headlines may be on the way for the SNP - unless of course the Scottish Sun pick and choose when it's convenient for them to report such figures!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Revealed (maybe) : the broadcasters' fallback position on the leaders' debates

A very interesting exchange I've just had on Political Betting - a poster called 'The Screaming Eagles' claims to have a source in Sky who has told him of the basis for the broadcasters' confidence that their proposals for a selective line-up of three in the forthcoming leaders' debates is law-proof. But, intriguingly, when pushed further the poster conceded that the broadcasters have a fallback position to cover the possibility that the SNP or Plaid Cymru might actually win a legal case -

"the debates will only air in England.

However the broadcasters will argue, that those with Sky in Scotland will be able to watch the debates on channel 974 (BBC1 London)

And with the freeview, BBC iplayer, you tube, and sky player, it will be impracticable to enforce a ban in Scotland."

In other words, another wheeze (to follow on from the 'Prime Ministerial Debate' rebranding) to artificially circumvent the inconvenient existence of a fourth major party in Scotland. What's extraordinary about this one, though, is that it tacitly acknowledges that the coverage will be grossly unbalanced, but essentially says to the court "nothing much you can do about it, gov, so you might as well let us get on with it". Now, I'm not a legal expert, but I'd have thought if such a stunt was pulled it would be perfectly open to the SNP's lawyers to simply say to the courts that they're reasonable people, and as such they would naturally only expect any block on a Scottish broadcast to be enforced to a practicable - and most certainly not an impracticable - degree. The percentage of Scots who would bother to seek out the debates by these theoretical exotic alternative methods would be fairly small, and thus the requirement for fair and balanced coverage between the four main parties in Scotland would essentially have been met. Everybody happy.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

It's affection, Jim, but not as we know it

Northern Ireland's leading 'liberal unionist' blogger Chekov - who must be suitably thrilled to now find himself supporting the only major anti-agreement party in the province - has returned once again to his fixation with Scotland. It's all rather touching really, his general affection for us as a nation shines through his every word - he just can't stand our patriotism, our left-wing politics, our choice of government (especially our First Minister), and our national anthem. But if we could just get our act together and sort out those minor details for Chekov, rest assured there stands a man who desperately wants to love us. I'm guessing that Raffle Night at the Drymen Conservative and Unionist Association could well be the prototype for the 'real Scotland' that's just bursting to get out.

Anyway, it's our national anthem that's the theme of the day, with Chekov delightedly picking up on Jim Telfer's desire for Flower of Scotland to be replaced by a more 'mature' anthem. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the heavy spin on the Scotsman article he's quoting from, Chekov appears to be completely misinterpreting Telfer's words, with the suggestion that the former Scotland coach is in some way embarrassed by the 'nationalism' of the lyrics. What Telfer actually seems to be saying is that we've reached the stage of development as a nation where we can stop "defining ourselves through England" - which is in fact a solid, small 'n' nationalist argument that most SNP members would, I'm sure, be able to wholeheartedly agree with. Indeed, if there's one thing that almost guarantees that we will continue to 'define ourselves' through England, it's the continuance of the political union with our much larger neighbour. By definition, all parochial 'ninety-minute nationalists' are political unionists, if only by indolent default.

Where I part company with Telfer is that I simply don't recognise the problems he identifies with the lyrics of Flower of Scotland. It's categorically not an anti-English song, or even a song that's particularly about England - it's an anti-Edward II and anti-occupation song. Are Dutch celebrations of the liberation from Nazi rule deemed 'anti-German'?

In truth, Flower of Scotland is in many ways almost the perfect national anthem - its lyrics look to the past, present and future of our country simultaneously.