I started to understand the baffling workings of the EU a little better a few years ago when I realised that the "European Parliament" is misnamed - it's in fact just one 'chamber' of a two-chamber legislature. The other chamber is the Council of Ministers, which itself is elected after a fashion, because it's comprised of national governments, who have voting rights weighted in rough (very rough) proportion to population size. So every time an EU member state goes to the polls, they're in fact helping to elect a 'parliament' that legislates for all of us. The upcoming French presidential and legislative elections will thus reverberate across the continent - they certainly matter more to Scotland than the Ken v Boris show that is being shoved down our throats.
Alas, the balance of power in Europe is not at stake - the right have the upper hand in the European Parliament, and is completely dominant in the Council of Ministers. But this might just be the turning of the tide, after a period of several years in which it appeared that the electorates of Europe were utterly determined to reward the right for economic calamity, again and again and again. The latest polls show a hardening of support for the socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande.
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When I was watching the coverage of the Grand National yesterday, an uncomfortable thought went through my head as I saw a vet give the horse Synchronised a clean bill of health after unseating his rider in the run-up to the race. It occurred to me that there was a significant statistical chance that the green light to race had just sent the horse to its death, whereas if the vet had found something wrong there would have been no danger. It's a bit like the psychologists in America who can effectively condemn an inmate to death by concluding that his IQ is high enough to proceed with execution.
OK, that's an unfair comparison, because most horses get through the Grand National unscathed. But there is a very real risk, as evidenced by the fact that Synchronised suffered a fatal injury just a few minutes after that troubling thought crossed my mind. I'm not unrealistic enough to think that the Grand National will be banned, but it's surely not beyond the wit of man to make it considerably safer than it is now. And even if that detracts slightly from the spectacle, surely that's a price well worth paying?