Saturday, July 28, 2012

The good things about the Olympic opening ceremony

I don't plan to genuflect towards the London imperial altar too often over the next couple of weeks, but I do think there were three genuinely refreshing and praiseworthy aspects to the Olympic opening ceremony -

1) The in-your-face dedication of an entire section to the NHS. That was a bold and unambiguously political statement, and while the four National Health Services of the UK may have overwhelming public support, I'm sure there were still a number of Thatcherites foaming at the mouth. I can't even begin to imagine what our 'libertarian' chums in the US made of it.

2) Shami Chakrabarti being given her moment in the sun as one of the eight bearers of the Olympic flag. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw her - she may have some friends in the Conservative Party, but she remains a true radical, and was thus a fairly astonishing choice for such a role.

3) The choice of non-celebrities to light the Olympic flame, making the moment more important than the person.

* * *

Having made the claim in my previous post that this is not the first Olympics to be partly held in Scotland, I thought I'd better check if I was right. At first I was beginning to wonder, because the Wikipedia article on the 1908 Games only lists Southampton and the Solent as venues for the sailing events. However, the Official Report tells a different story...



The series of matches for the selected 12-metre cutters under the direction
of the Olympic Committee of the Yacht Racing Association began from Hunter’s
Quay on Tuesday, August 11. The yachts engaged were Mr. Chas. MacIver’s
Mouchette, designed by Mr. Alfred Mylne, and Mr. T. C. Glen-Coats’s Hera, designed by the owner. The wind was from west-north-west, tending more northerly,
of moderate force, puffy at times, but steady for the most part, and there was no
more than a pleasant curl on the water. Each boat had an amateur crew of
ten, and the owner steered in each case. The matches were conducted by the
Clyde Corinthian Yacht Club, Commodore Robert Wylie’s steam yacht Verve was
flagship, and a committee consisting of Messrs. W. W. Aspin, secretary, Wm.
York, secretary of Royal Clyde, W. F. King, F. W. Robertson, W. R. Copland,
and J. A. Gardiner were in charge of the details, and Mr. C. Newton-Robinson
represented the Y.R.A.

The start was fixed for half-past eleven, and both cutters appeared then
under all lower canvas, jackyarders, and jibtopsails for a free reach to Inverkip.
Thence it was a beat to Dunoon, an easy reach to Kilcreggan, and a close-haul
home, twice round, twenty-six miles."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

In pictures : the opening day of the 2012 Glasgow Olympics (which is apparently also being partly held in London)

A couple of months ago, I suggested that it would be "every Scot's patriotic duty to show an interest in an Under-23 match between Egypt and Belarus". Well, I'm not actually sure whether I'll be taking an interest in that particular game, but in a sense I did follow my own strictures, because I went along to Hampden for the opening day of the Olympic football competition. There were two games - USA v France, and North Korea v Colombia. I'm an American citizen, so I supported France in the first game, and I'm a fierce anti-communist, so it was North Korea all the way for me in the second game.

One or two people raised their eyebrows when I mentioned that I was paying good money to watch women's football. But I must say that as a non-expert, the skill level in the USA v France game seemed pretty high. It was certainly an exhilarating watch - France took an early 2-0 lead, only for the US to come back to win 4-2.

You may have heard that there was then a slight interruption before the second game. There was, of course, no official explanation - we were just told that "the delay is due to a behind the scenes issue, which we are working to resolve". One or two people next to me started muttering that it must have something to do with Kim Jong-Il, apparently unaware that the Dear Leader is no longer with us. Someone else suggested that we might be in for a repeat of the Scotland v Estonia scenario from 1996, with one team taking to the pitch, kicking the ball for three seconds, and then punching the air with the joy of victory.

The crowd (or at least the hardy minority who stuck around) amused themselves during the unexpected hiatus by booing, hissing, doing the conga, booing, hissing, doing a Mexican wave, booing, hissing, singing Flower of Scotland, booing and hissing. For my part, I passed some of the time by taking a couple of 'self-portraits'. I include one in the collection of photos below, mainly in fond tribute to my new cap, which is now very much my old cap, because I later contrived to lose it during the short walk back to Mount Florida railway station (God knows how).

There were two little clues as to what was really going on. The announcer read out the names of the North Korean team approximately seventeen thousand times for no apparent reason, and the big screen featured a fixed picture of the (real) North Korean flag for about half an hour - presumably the thinking was "OK, we'll keep it up there for the rest of the bloody night if you want, now will you play?". Once the game finally got under way, the neutrals seemed to take their revenge by getting firmly behind Colombia - there were plenty of Come On Colombias from just behind me. I was sorely tempted to scream Come On The Democratic People's Republic of Korea! at the top of my voice, but I thought better of it.

At the start of the session, there was a pre-recorded message from Alex Salmond. He received warm cheers from the American and French supporters after wishing them well, but I winced slightly when he declared himself delighted that an Olympic event was taking place in Scotland for the first time ever. I may be wrong, but I seem to recall looking at the Official Report from the 1908 London Olympics, and spotting that the sailing event took place on the Clyde.

Actually, when I first got broadband internet, just about the first thing I did was download some of the Olympic Reports from years gone by (dial-up could never handle the job). I've always had a fascination for the Games, and that brings me to what I was doing at Hampden. I yield to no-one in my cynicism towards LOCOG, Lord Coe and the Brit Nat zealots at the BOA, but the Olympic movement is bigger than all of them. And with a little slice of the Olympics taking place in Scotland for the first time in 104 years, I think I was probably always going to be tempted to buy a ticket - even if Egypt v Belarus U23s had been the only thing on offer.

(Click the photos to enlarge)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Panelbase poll : Majority of men support independence

The predictable slant of the report in the Express on the latest independence poll is that supporters of "separation"/"the break-up of Britain"/"hell on Earth" have got a problem - this time a problem with women, because if you strip out the undecideds, 61% of female voters are planning to vote No. Fairy-nuffski, but by the same token it's only reasonable to point out that the No side have got a similar problem with men, because 51% of male voters (excluding undecideds) are planning to vote Yes.

Here are the overall results for all voters -

Yes 36%
No 45%
Undecided 20%

That isn't much use for showing changes in support, because the headline figures from the last Panelbase independence poll I can find (from February) excluded undecideds. Based on my own calculation, here is the direct comparison -

Yes 44% (-3)
No 56% (+3)

The figures are actually more like 55.5%-44.5%, but rounding produces the above effect. So a slight increase in the No lead, but this is self-evidently still a very close race with more than two full years of campaigning ahead of us.

* * *

UPDATE : Even better news from the SNP website - the same Panelbase poll has voting intention figures, which show a whopping lead for the Nationalists.

Holyrood constituency vote :

SNP 47%
Labour 32%
Conservatives 12%
Liberal Democrats 6%

* * *

UPDATE II : I see from my stats that at 1528 BST, this blog received a visitor from Tucson, home of Kevin Baker. At 1534 BST, the blog that Conan linked to in the comments thread on Saturday received the following anonymous contribution -

"If you've actually seen the latest Batman film, you might want to note that (SPOILER ALERT!)

Catwoman blows Bane away with THE CANNON MOUNTED ON THE BATCYCLE - and suggests that Batman may need to rethink his "no guns" philosophy in the face of almost having his head blown off by Bane with a 12 gauge double-barreled sawed-off shotgun."

Coincidence? Seems unlikely. I posted this response -

"Alternatively, he might want to persevere with the no guns philosophy to ensure that Bane doesn't have the 12 gauge double-barreled sawed-off shotgun in the first place.

Just a thought."

Democracy and the rule of law : the difference between the two

Six days from now, Romania will stage a referendum on whether to impeach the country's centre-right president, Traian Băsescu. This is the culmination of what many in the European press see as the left-wing government's attempts to entrench and expand its authority by extra-constitutional means. There have even been some dark murmurings about the possibility of a "soft dictatorship" re-emerging in one of the European family of nations. However, the EU's success in persuading the government to reverse its previous decision to set aside the rule requiring a 50% turnout for the referendum result to be valid is being hailed as a small triumph for democracy and the rule of law.

Now, obviously we must be careful not to judge the Romanian government by laxer standards simply because it's left-of-centre, and many of its actions do seem pretty outrageous. (For example, they tried to replace democracy with "good old British first-past-the-post", and it doesn't get much grimmer than that.) Nevertheless, the EU's enthusiasm for enforcing the minimum turnout rule is a classic example of a fixation with a single important principle (the rule of law) rendering people incapable of seeing the wood for the trees. Scrupulously legal it may be, but the 50% rule is in fact profoundly anti-democratic. Indeed, it's even worse than the notorious 40% rule from the 1979 devolution referendum, which merely put an unequal onus on Yes supporters to turn out and vote. The Romanian rule actually gives supporters of the president a clear and perverse incentive to abstain rather than actively vote against impeachment - because they know that if they do so in sufficient numbers they can thwart the will of the majority, however overwhelming. Not so much "if you stay at home you are voting No" as "if you don't want to vote Yes, don't vote".

Just goes to show that, while adherence to the rule of law may be an essential prerequisite for democracy, it isn't the same thing as democracy.

* * *

Although in principle I agree with Peter Curran that the SNP's potential policy reversal on NATO is regrettable, I have to say that I think he's getting the whole thing several light-years out of proportion. One thing is for sure - Scotland will not be leaving NATO for as long as it is part of the United Kingdom. So the first priority for any opponent of NATO membership is to get Scotland out of the UK, and the SNP is far and away the best vehicle to achieve that. A pro-NATO stance on the part of the SNP does not preclude the possibility of an independent Scotland leaving NATO, any more than a continuing anti-NATO stance would have precluded the possibility of us staying inside the alliance.

This is an issue that will be settled democratically after independence - either by a parliamentary vote, or more ideally by referendum. Whatever our individual feelings about NATO, knowledge of that fact ought to be more than enough to ensure that we don't lose sight of the bigger picture now.