Saturday, February 7, 2009

'Others' up 2% in ICM poll

It's a bit early on a Saturday afternoon to be getting word of the Sunday polls, but the Sunday Telegraph have already put up the basic details of their latest ICM poll. The most startling finding is that Labour are back below the psychologically important 30% threshold for the first time since the second 'Brown bounce' last autumn, and that - somewhat inexplicably - the Liberal Democrats have gained six points. But of course as an SNP supporter the first thing I look for is the combined figure for 'others', which encouragingly appears to be up two points. That's very thin information that may or may not be significant, but as ICM are among the slower pollsters in getting the detailed figures up on their website (probably Populus are the absolute worst), that's all we'll have to go on for a while. Even when we do get the figures there won't be a proper Scottish breakdown - ICM, unlike YouGov, Populus and ComRes, rather irritatingly define Scotland as being part of an unspecified area called 'the North'.

NOTE - the 'others' figure hasn't been published yet - I'm surmising it's up 2% because of the changes in the vote share of the other three parties. That may be misleading because of rounding issues.

Bashir Ahmad dies

The Nationalist MSP Bashir Ahmad, the first Scots Asian to be elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2007, has died. He was such an unassuming man that he didn't build up much of a media profile, and therefore it's difficult for those who didn't know him personally to say much about him. One thing that was absolutely unmistakable, though, was that he was a true gentleman.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Here comes a candle to light you to bed...

So a Lords committee has condemned the erosion of citizens' privacy inherent in the storage of innocent people's data on the DNA database, and the fact that we now have the highest number of CCTV cameras per head of population in the world. The government's response is the familiar one - the impact on privacy is a justifiable trade-off for the reduction of crime, and is one that many people feel perfectly comfortable with. Indeed, they actually feel safer for always being watched. But, as I mused on Twitter a couple of hours ago, where does this logic end? After all, there are some people who believe sufficiently in the benevolence of the authorities that they would feel perfectly comfortable with - and safer because of - government-controlled cameras in their bedroom. Such an Orwellian vision may seem fanciful at the moment, but the logic of the current position has a kind of inexorability to it - after all, rape in particular is such a notoriously difficult crime to prove, and how else will that ever change without blanket surveillance extending to the most intimate areas of people's lives? If a marker isn't put down somewhere, a government camera in every bedroom could be sold as a price worth paying within a few decades.

PS. I set up the Twitter account last night to give me another way of at least keeping this page ticking over should my interest in blogging wane a little from time to time (if you've followed this blog you'll know that's not entirely inconceivable). Knowing me, though, now I've said that I'll probably end up not updating either one!

Synthetic double-standards

I see Iain Dale is full of indignation about the "synthetic outrage" over Jeremy Clarkson's insult to Gordon Brown, on the basis that much worse was said about Margaret Thatcher on television. But while cruel jokes were certainly made about Thatcher's appearance and her voice, were any of them overtly racist? If a Scottish TV presenter, say, had attacked Thatcher solely on the basis of her Englishness, would that not have caused a great deal of offence and perhaps bewilderment in England? It appears that the acceptability of 'Jock-bashing' is taken as so much of a given by south-of-England-based media types that the nature of what they're doing just doesn't seem to register with them any more. The proof of that is that Clarkson appears to have apologised for mocking the Prime Minister's disability, but not for mocking his nationality.

Prejudice cuts both ways

So yet another feature on Newsnight Scotland about anti-English prejudice in Scotland. It was music to my ears when the academic behind the research being discussed mentioned in passing that he was planning a similar study to see if Scots living in England face similar problems. I'll give you a sneak preview of what that research will uncover - yes, they do, and if anything it's probably even worse.

I don't want to minimise the distress caused to English people in this country by low-level harassment on account of their accent, but from the way the media (on both sides of the border) typically deal with this issue you'd think it was a strictly one-way phenomenon. It seems Scots supporting 'anyone but England' at football (for perfectly understandable reasons - a subject I may return to at some point) is tantamount to racism, but somehow the relentless 'Jock'-bashing that goes on in southern England is always just a bit of friendly banter. Additionally, it always strikes me that the innocent people who genuinely suffer from anti-English prejudice are never the ones we hear from - it invariably seems to be the loudmouths with a not-very-subtle political agenda. I recall many years ago seeing an Englishman on TV telling a shocking tale of how he had his car smashed up "just for being English". But then he casually mentioned that he just happened to be a sort of "shock-jock" on a Highlands radio station, and that one of his favourite talking-points was the fact that everyone knows Gaelic is a pointless language and that ridiculous amounts of money are wasted on Gaelic-medium broadcasting. Of course that revelation didn't remotely justify a mindless act of vandalism, but it did put a slightly different complexion on his claim that it happened "just because he was English". Similarly, on tonight's programme, one of the anonymous comments from an English person who claimed to be a victim of prejudice was quite telling - it was something like "they think they're really welcoming, but they're much more insular than we are". Who exactly is exhibiting the prejudice and the resort to stereotypes here?

Also, the contribution from the former editor of the Scottish Mirror was utterly laughable. Typical unionist propaganda, lazily conflating things that have no automatic connection - ie. Scots feeling more Scottish and less British on the one hand, and anti-English sentiment on the other. He also appears to be labouring under the delusion that this decline in Britishness is a recent phenomenon, in some way connected to the ascent to office of the Machiavellian genius Alex Salmond. Where has this guy been for the last thirty years? Actually, he should have a word with AM2, who has utterly convinced himself that Britishness has been making a comeback of late!

And just to prove my point...

I promise not to make a habit of this, but AM2/Scottish Unionist has helpfully provided another textbook example of precisely what I was talking about in my earlier post. You're quite right, AM2, this chap Nevsky - don't know who he is but it sounds like he must be terribly important - has "dropped his guard". Yes, he's shown his views to be utterly repugnant. You've comprehensively exposed the blighter, old chap, wiped the floor with him, job done, sorted. Congrats.

But as Columbo would say "there's just one small thing that's confusing me here, Mr AM2" - what has any of this got to do with the SNP leadership? More fundamentally, how does it bolster your case that the Union with England is a good thing and that independence would be a bad thing? In any way? At all?

Small hint - it doesn't.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

1905, Nordic style

Interesting to read that the economic calamity in Iceland has caused something to happen that hasn't happened in the UK since 1905 (and if it ever did happen again would certainly be considered a constitutional outrage) - the head of state has pre-empted the electorate and replaced a bitterly unpopular government with a new left-of-centre interim administration, even though it does not command a natural majority in parliament. You can see from this table that the Alliance and Left-Green coalition partners between them have only 27 seats out of 63 in the Althing.

Even more intriguing, the new coalition partners are split on the most fundamental issue - the Alliance want to join both the EU and the euro, while the Left-Greens want nothing to do with Brussels, and are instead touting a currency union with Norway. Something will have to give, because it certainly appears the status quo is not an option...

The Green 'no' was logical and inevitable

I don't want to fall into the classic AM2/Scottish Unionist trap of according undue significance to the vagaries of 'Cybernat opinion', but I must admit as an SNP supporter I am just a little troubled at the venom being directed at the Greens for voting against the budget. Of course, there's a fair bit of venom coming in the other direction too, but the bottom line is that we need the Greens every bit as much as they need us, so cool heads are called for on all sides.

Whatever we might think about the Greens' decision last Wednesday, once they had voted that way a second 'no' was logical and inevitable - given that they were being presented with a package that was actually slightly inferior to the first time round. But by the same token Green supporters have to recognise that John Swinney's decision to water down the deal was equally inevitable - because the defeat last week forced him to do deals with the other opposition parties, and at the end of the day there is only a fixed sum of money to go round.

Iain Gray Veracity-watch

Iain Gray asserted on Newsnight Scotland tonight that the recent YouGov poll saw a drop in the SNP's lead from sixteen to six since "the last time that poll was conducted". Only trouble is...well, see for yourself here (in particular have a look at the first comment by Stuart Dickson).

My my, how can I resist ya? (Quite easily)

I finally got round to watching Mamma Mia on DVD tonight and...I wished I hadn't. Quite liked the singing and dancing, but couldn't they have just dispensed with the 'story'?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Eat your heart out, Keith 'the Oracle' Mills

I hope it hasn't escaped anyone's notice that, in spite of my absurd self-doubts, I was naturally correct in my prediction that Susanna Georgi would sweep to victory in tonight's Andorran selection for Eurovision. And in true self-effacing Mills fashion, let me just also observe that this extends my incredible track record of correctly predicting the outcome of Andorran national selections to an astounding one year in succession.

Can the left gain the upper hand in the European Parliament?

I mentioned the European elections in my previous post, and it was interesting to see William Hague on Newsnight confirm that it is still the Conservatives' intention to withdraw from the EPP-ED group after the June poll. Paxman seemed sceptical, but Hague left himself so little wiggle-room I tend to believe him. I suppose that should be my cue to go into a rant about the Tories drifting off to the lunatic fringe of hard right, Europhobic politics, but I'll leave that to others. What intrigues me is whether the loss of the EPP's British, Czech and presumably other associates will lead to the group surrendering its decade-long primacy in the European Parliament to the Socialists? I don't really know the answer - you'd need a labyrinthine spreadsheet of opinion polls and trends from 27 different countries to know how the groups are likely to fare across Europe as a whole, but it must at least be a possibility.

Why Holyrood will always be the SNP's focal point

A day or two too late, but I wanted to offer my brief thoughts on Malc's interesting post about why he feels the SNP's performance in Westminster elections still matters enormously to the party. Essentially he thinks that the SNP's strategy of achieving an independence referendum via the Scottish parliament might not work because of questions over legislative competence (I completely disagree) and parliamentary arithmetic in a PR system (I tend to disagree). But whatever the truth of these points, it's undeniable that holding power at Westminster is the one sure way to remove any doubt. Trouble is - the SNP can never win power at Westminster. The best they can hope for is influence by holding the balance of power. And while winning thirty rather than seven of the Scottish seats would slightly improve the chances of that situation arising, it would only be very slightly. Probably 80% of the time thirty seats would leave the SNP frozen out every bit as much as the Liberal Democrats currently are with sixty-three. So there's no real mystery as to why Holyrood elections are and must always be the focal point for the SNP's efforts - it's an arena in which their destiny is in their own hands, rather than one in which even a superhuman effort has at best a 20% chance of making the remotest difference to anything.

The other slightly odd point Malc makes is that if the SNP regard Westminster elections as less important, the logical thing for them to do would be to follow a Sinn Féin-style abstentionist line and decline to take up their seats in the House of Commons. This is a rather absolutist world view by any standards - either something is all-important or not worth bothering with at all! Perhaps Malc should reflect on why all the UK parties are about to spend millions on an election they all regard as having only peripheral significance (except as a glorified opinion poll) - the European Parliament election.

Andorra - it's a game of skill not luck

You really know you're a Eurovision obsessive when you've just wasted twenty perfectly good minutes poring over the entries in the Andorran national selection. The explanation is that Esctoday very helpfully spread the word of a 'guess the winner' competition Andorran television are running, and how could I possibly resist? As there are only three contenders in the selection, I was rather hoping the likely winner would be obvious and leave the competition as a sort of de facto lottery (rather like Philip Schofield asking "is France - a) a country, b) a tractor or c) Norman Tebbit's real name"), but unfortunately it's a bit more of a poser than that. I think we can safely rule out the truly awful Exhaust by Lluís Cartes, but it's a toss-up between the other two. Passió obsessiva by Mar Capdevila does remind me a little of a couple of previous Andorran entries, so that could be some sort of indication - but I went for my heart over my head and picked La teva decisió by Susanna Georgi because I liked it the best. Possibly a mistake, but as the prize I stand to miss out on is a dress - that's right, a dress - I dare say I can live with it.

Either way, I somehow don't think we're off to Andorra la Vella for Eurovision 2010. By the way if you fancy entering the competition yourself - go on, I dare you - you've only got a few hours left to watch the songs and e-mail your prediction.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Have the SNP just secured their full four-year term in office?

The blogosphere today is full of excited chatter about the highly unusual disappearance of the marked register from the Glenrothes by-election - an important issue, to be sure (Mike Smithson explains why here) and one that merits full investigation, but sadly it's far more likely to be a cock-up at Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court than a grand Labour conspiracy. And this development shouldn't be allowed to distract from what could well be the most important day in Scottish politics since the last Holyrood election, with the SNP securing a formal deal with the Liberal Democrats to pass the budget.

I've long felt that if the SNP were to struggle to see out their four-year term of office, the second budget would prove to be the danger point. Indeed, I recall Robin Harper being asked in the immediate aftermath of the SNP taking office how long he thought they could hold on, and he replied that the general feeling was two years. This seems logical - after two years, the opposition parties could make the case they were not acting hastily in bringing the government down. But the budget was the opportunity to do it, and that moment has now passed. Unless something unexpected crops up (always a possibility) the last remaining clear-cut chance to bring down Alex Salmond's administration will be the third budget a year from now, but will the opposition parties really be able to justify doing it just one year out from an election? I hope I'm not speaking too soon, but I feel the SNP may have just secured their full four-year term in office - a remarkable feat given their slender one-seat advantage in the Scottish Parliament.

Santa delivers for Ian Davidson

The headline item on Reporting Scotland last night featured Labour MP Ian Davidson saying something about Christmas coming early for the Duke of Sutherland. In reality it's Mr Davidson Christmas has come early for. What other explanation is there for the Beeb concluding that his comments - complete with bizarre reference to the Highland Clearances - justified top billing? The point he was making, if anyone's remotely interested, is that the £12.5 million spent by the Scottish Government on saving Titian's painting Diana and Actaeon for the nation was an obscene waste of public money, and worse still, would end up lining the pockets of a very privileged man, from a very privileged lineage. And, admittedly, when you phrase it like that, it doesn't sound great.

But the thing is there'll be a return on the money, as the presence of the painting continues to help draw visitors to Edinburgh for decades to come. The return on public money isn't always so clear-cut. I'm trying to think of a salient example, just off the top of my head...Ian Davidson's salary, maybe?

AM2. Discuss and explain.

If anyone ever wants to carry out an academic study into the origins of irrational obsession, they could do far worse than to try to track down that most enigmatic frequenter of Scottish political message-boards (and now the blogosphere), the one, the only Mr AM2. Although he now blogs under the moniker 'Scottish Unionist', I find it impossible to think of him by any other name than the one he used in his days as an almost impossibly relentless one-man anti-SNP propaganda machine on the Scotsman and Herald boards. And proof of his enduring legend is that almost everyone else who encountered him in those days has the same problem - virtually every comment on his blog is something along the lines of "AM2 is George Foulkes", "AM2 is deluded" or "AM2, you are a fool".

Well, he's not a fool but he is fixated, and in an utterly incomprehensible way. For although his mission in life is to undermine the SNP, his preferred method of doing this is not to take on the SNP leadership directly, or even known party activists. Instead he sets out to relentlessly question the credibility, integrity and good character of the so-called 'Cybernats', the legions of internet scribes who support the SNP - who may or may not be party members, but even if they are would be highly unlikely to hold any position of importance or influence in the party. Take his latest offering tonight - he quotes a Cybernat as saying "the problem for the Welsh is that so many of their population nowadays are English and they want the status quo" and demands to know if other Cybernats would take the same view about English people living in Scotland. Well, some wouldn't, but perhaps some would - because those who are motivated to contribute to blogs or message-boards (regardless of political complexion) are disproportionately likely to express their views in a trenchant, colourful, provocative, outrageous manner. In much the same way you wouldn't have to search very far to find the odd utterly irrelevant Tory supporter on the internet who unwisely expresses patronising or discriminatory views about women or ethnic minorities. But what does this really amount to? You can almost sense AM2's virtually orgasmic satisfaction every time he catches a Cybernat out on a point like this, and so off he scurries to do some more close textual analysis of yet more Cybernat scribblings to get his next 'hit', to the point he seems more than content to devote a large part of his life to this singularly odd and superfluous endeavour. Each to his own I suppose, but I do fear for him - isn't he going to wake up one morning and think "yes I caught out Wardog and Subrosa what?" Now catching out Alex Salmond would have been impressive!

Eurovision preview part 2 - Turkey

Düm tek tek

"Baby, you're perfect for me
You are my gift from heaven
This is the greatest story
Of all times"

Always thought the nativity was over-rated.

Interesting that this was the only one of the batch selected so far that caught Andrew Lloyd-Webber's eye, although of course what really caught his eye was Hadise's bare midriff. Yep, it's another belly-dancing song from Turkey - but to be fair the EBU do recommend that countries incorporate elements of their culture into the song, and belly-buttons are always going to be marginally sexier than Whirling Dervishes. But the Sertab Erener formula is highly unlikely to work this time. The song completely lacks - and I'll have to use that word again - dynamism, and isn't even especially catchy. Barring an extreme makeover (quite possible of course), I can't see this making the final.

One (very minor) positive - it's nice to see a little bit of Turkish in the lyrics, even if it's only a token three words!

Monday, February 2, 2009

No wonder Jade thought she'd be singing for 'England'

Alwyn ap Huw has a piece lamenting Mark's failure to win Your Country Needs You, and wishing that S4C was able to put him forward as a separate Welsh entry. Naturally, I agree wholeheartedly (on the latter point, I mean!). But at least Wales can say they've had the likes of Jessica Garlick and James Fox compete under the UK flag over the last few years.

But Scotland? Our last Eurovision entrant was the legendarily luckless Scott Fitzgerald (runner-up to Celine Dion by one point) way back in 1988. Even more strikingly, as far as I can see since 1997 just one Scottish act has even got as far as competing in the UK national selection - City Chix in 2006. With Scotland having a full 9% of the population, that can't be put down to mere chance. Don't want to cry discrimination, but sometimes statistics speak for themselves...

Boris Johnson for Beauty that Was

There should be a law banning all acronyms and abbreviations on the internet. My suspicion is that three-quarters of people never actually know what they mean, but bluff their way through because they assume they're the only stupid person not in the know. That's how I've felt with this new "BJ4BW" that's suddenly been everywhere over the last few days. What could BJ stand for? Well, quite, but naturally I was thinking more along the lines of Boris Johnson. And BW? Not a scooby. The first search result on Google suggests "beauty that was". Boris Johnson for Beauty that Was? Hmmmm...perhaps not. (For starters, it would be a touch harsh on Petronella Wyatt.)

But thankfully, has provided the answer. These things always seem ridiculously simple, but only after you're told...

Skipping their turn

Interesting that Jeff at SNP Tactical Voting has written a piece about who will become the Scottish Parliament's Presiding Officer next time round, when it's Labour's 'turn' for the job (following spells in the chair for the Lib Dems' David Steel, the SNP's George Reid and the Conservatives' Alex Fergusson respectively). I think this is based on two false premises - firstly, it's far from clear whether Fergusson will follow his predecessors in being a one-term Presiding Officer (unless there's been a clear-cut announcement I missed somewhere along the line). But the other point is that if the arithmetic is again tight after the next Holyrood election, Labour is very unlikely to remotely care whether it's nominally their 'turn' or not - they won't want to sacrifice one of their MSPs, and simply won't put someone up for the job.

Even in 2003, when Labour won 50 seats to the SNP's 27, there were some doubts about the wisdom of the SNP putting George Reid forward. After all, the overall majority of the Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition was just five seats, and Reid's election bumped it up to six. If the Presiding Officer had instead been drawn from the coalition ranks, the majority would have been four, and the SNP as principal opposition party could have looked forward to a slightly enhanced chance of inflicting the odd defeat on the administration over the next four years. As it was, the fact that Reid was so obviously the right candidate at the right time, and that he clearly wanted it badly, and that the SNP probably fancied the prestige of having one of their number fill such an important post, meant that his candidacy had a sort of inexorable logic to it, whatever the arithmetical downsides.

But of course Jeff's right in drawing attention to how crucial the choice of PO can be. If Alex Fergusson had still been a Conservative MSP on Wednesday, he would have voted in favour of the budget. As it was, he couldn't vote at all initially, and then according to parliamentary convention had to use his casting-vote to vote against. A Liberal Democrat or Green Presiding Officer would by contrast have seen the SNP's budget pass by two clear votes.

Eurovision preview part 1 - horizontal choreography?

Finland made its selection for Eurovision almost simultaneously with the UK, and this is what they came up with -

Waldo's People
Lose Control

I'm on a critical mission, got my destiny in my hands
Like Peter Piper I take control, put a spell on the mass
I cause hysteria, worry yourself, that's how I roll
It's not a drill, I'm for real, I'm a man who's out of control

As is refreshingly typical at the Eurovision, the above lyrics could be described as 'thought-provoking' and 'challenging' (ie. utter gibberish). Although needless to say I hand-picked what was easily the daftest bit! Perhaps an I Wanna-style makeover by a fluent English speaker is in order.

Of course the video probably bears very little resemblance to what we'll see on stage. Pity, really - we might have thought the contest had exhausted all the conceivable gimmicks over the years, but as far as I'm aware no previous act has utilised the obvious potential of fire, shopping trolleys, woolly hats and horizontal rapping in an anorak.

My thoughts - a very appealing song, moderately catchy, and although we haven't heard the bulk of the entries yet I suspect when we have I'll still think this deserves to qualify for the final. However, I fear it might lack the dynamism it needs to stand out and get the votes. Like the UK, Finland have almost four months to experiment and find the arrangement that will work best on the night.

A belt and braces budget

So Alex Salmond will meet Iain Gray tomorrow in an attempt to thrash out a deal that will allow the Scottish Budget to pass unanimously or near-unanimously. But, even though Labour have scrapped their previous shopping-list of demands in favour of a slightly more realistic bottom line, there remains one obvious unanswered (and to a surprising extent unasked) question. If the SNP government were so obviously struggling to find the extra £11 million to lock down the two Green votes last week, how are they supposed to suddenly stump up the extra £60-90 million Labour want for apprenticeships? And if the SNP already feel they have the basis for a deal with the Liberal Democrats, would they be willing to risk not paying the price for Labour's support? Perhaps after what happened with the Greens last week, the SNP's mantra for all future negotiations may well be - belt, and braces.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Struck Dumb with Amazement part II

So Keith Mills doesn't like the UK's song either! Astonishing. Mind you, I very nearly predicted as much on this blog last night, but then I thought...nah, who'll believe me?

How two casting votes scuppered the Scottish budget

Interesting that the Sunday Herald are reporting that Green MSPs Patrick Harvie and Robin Harper disagreed over how they should vote on Wednesday. In circumstances like that a small party would normally decide its position by holding an internal vote, but what do you do if you've only got two MSPs? Harvie votes one way, Harper votes the other, then Harvie has the casting vote as leader. Now that's power...

It certainly looks like Alex Fergusson wasn't the only man with a crucial casting vote on Wednesday.

It's my time...

Or rather it really is the time for this particular blog, which tries rather unnaturally to be simultaneously about both the Eurovision Song Contest and Scottish politics from a nationalist perspective. So what could be better - or more improbable - than a UK Eurovision selection final featuring a cameo by none other than the SNP's Pete Wishart MP? OK, there probably are quite a few things that would be better, but at least it allows me to marry both subjects in the same post for once!

So Jade goes to Moscow! The outcome I desperately wanted, but certainly wasn't predicting. But the revelation of the night for me was how beautifully the twins performed It's My Time, and for the first time I started to understand Lloyd-Webber's point about how special it can be when two close siblings sing in harmony. It was a subtler performance than the other two acts, and in a perverse way there's a little bit of me that's disappointed they won't get the chance to repeat that performance on the Eurovision stage. But in any case they thoroughly deserved their second place on the night.

The other delight about the outcome is that we can now look forward to four solid months of Keith Mills smugly telling us the UK have no chance because our singer "oozes far more confidence that her limited vocal range would support". Charmin'. Perhaps we should swap her for the "almost perfect" Chris Doran? (OK, that's maybe a bit too catty even for me!)

Final thought - ever since I heard the title of the song (which is growing on me nicely, by the way) I've been wondering what the 'it's my time' lyric reminded me of from a Eurovision point of view. It suddenly struck me a couple of hours ago - it's this song...

That, for the uninitiated, is Evelin Samuel's Diamond of Night, the 1999 Estonian entry. Very different type of song of course (it's practically a lullaby), but it's one of my all-time favourites, and I think at this stage we'd probably settle for a repeat of its sixth-placed finish! It also had the distinction, as Terry Wogan pointed out in his commentary, of being the last Eurovision song of the twentieth century, since it was the last in the running order that year. That is, except for those people who think the twentieth century ended on 31 December, 2000!