Saturday, October 10, 2009

A sport snookered by too much talent

So it seems snooker is back for the new season, with the Grand Prix currently taking place in Glasgow. Although I won't hear a word said against the game (it's a matter of national self-interest as much as anything - what else do we regularly excel in?), it always strikes me that it suffers from an inbuilt problem that must be virtually unique in sport. In a nutshell, it's this - the more talented the players are, the duller the game becomes. OK, I appreciate that Pete Sampras winning seven Wimbledons out of eight, most of them in a canter, didn't exactly make for thrilling viewing, but that wasn't the fault of his ability - it was the lack of serious competition. Imagine how compelling a match between Sampras and Federer at their respective peaks could have been. But in snooker, the same principle does not apply. When you have two players showing their absolute top form, you in fact have the perfect recipe for tedium. The cue-ball under perfect control, no difficult pots. Not for nothing was the most exciting break in the sport's history - Alex Higgins' impossible clearance against Jimmy White in 1982 - described as "the worst break I've ever seen". Higgins only needed to pull out the outrageous pots because he kept running hopelessly out of position.

So in looking to secure a bright future for the game, perhaps World Snooker should focus slightly less on superficial things like relaxed dress codes and round robin formats, and instead reflect on whether the fundamental rules of the game can be modernised. Increasing the size of the table might be the simplest solution.

I know things are grim, Silvio, but...

Silvio Berlusconi reportedly now views himself, quite literally, as the most 'persecuted' man in the entire history of the world. Really? Perhaps someone ought to quietly introduce the billionaire Italian Prime Minister - who for years has been able to use his wealth and power to shield himself from the legal process in a way that no ordinary citizen ever could - to Mr. Gary McKinnon.

Fifteen minutes on Facebook

After the epic 'debate' I was involved in earlier this year, one of my observations was that there appears to be very few forums in which the massed ranks on each side of the Great Cultural Chasm in America can even bring themselves to talk at each other, let alone engage in constructive debate. The bemusement I provoked simply by sticking around to argue an alternative point of view, and the curiosity value that seemed to be attached to such a thing occurring, spoke volumes. Well, I had a very similar experience a few hours ago - all it took was a brief exchange on Twitter about President Obama's new status as a Nobel laureate, and suddenly one of my tweets briefly occupied pride of place on the Facebook page of a "Republican activist/commentator/blogger/vlogger" (the mind boggles). Ryan P Dixon does appear to have something of a following, with 600 fans on Facebook, and no fewer than 24,954 followers on Twitter. Well cheers, Ryan, I agree with you that it was one of my very finest tweets, and thoroughly deserving of the wider audience you brought it to.

Ryan further drew attention to my little gem by introducing it with shouty capital letters - "LIBERAL ON TWITTER: Says this is the reason why Obama won the Nobel". I'm always unsure at moments like that whether it's worth entering into a philosophical discussion about what the word 'liberal' actually means, at least on this side of the Atlantic. Someone with left-of-centre views in Germany would hardly look to the liberal party there (the Free Democrats) as their spiritual home. Of course, the American usage of the word is just as legitimate, but when it's imposed on people from other countries, it can sometimes be quite satisfying to respond with an insistence on linguistic precision. The best retort of that variety I can think of is from Sean Connery's character in the film The Russia House (it may well feature in John le Carré's original novel as well). When a paranoid American military interrogator puts it to him that his father was a liberal, he responds with a wry smile -

"No. My father hated liberals. He took the communist line mainly..."

Friday, October 9, 2009

Was it right to award Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize?

I must admit my first reaction when I vaguely heard something about the news earlier today was "that can't possibly be right", so I suppose that ought to answer my own question. But of course the Nobel Committee has often in the past awarded the prize to a person of goodwill (or assumed to be of goodwill) as a kind of exhortation to them to continue striving for peace in the future. It can indeed be a powerful incentive - if, several years down the line, nothing has been accomplished, or things have actually got worse, the prize can become almost a mark of shame rather than pride. That was for a time, it's worth remembering, the case for John Hume and David Trimble, who were given the award at a relatively early stage of the Northern Ireland peace process, which still had "many a slip twixt cup and lip" to come. During those slips, it was often suggested to Hume and Trimble that they ought to return the prize money. Did this factor shame them (or rather Trimble and his colleagues in particular) into pushing for a durable settlement? It's hard to see it as an overriding factor, but it certainly can't have done any harm.

The recognition for Obama can also, I think, be justified simply on direction and speed of travel. For a country that less than a year ago was perceived (probably accurately given its capacity to project its will onto others) as the greatest threat to world peace to have transformed itself into a force for reconciliation in many arenas does indeed look impressive. If Obama had succeeded the Clinton administration, it would look rather less so. But it's the paradox of the Peace Prize that it is typically awarded to people from countries that have recently stoked conflict - how else could it have gone to Northern Ireland twice?

I'm writing this in blissful ignorance of what the conservative American blogosphere have made of this news. I'm about to dive in and discover. I'm sure they will be thoroughly magnanimous, pleased that the leader of their country has received this extraordinary accolade, regardless of any political differences...

Desperately seeking an instant convert

I'm slightly baffled by an article that's just appeared on the Telegraph blogs by Will Heaven (who, appropriately for both his name and subject-matter, is described as 'a writer who specialises in religion'). He seems to have genuinely convinced himself that Ian Hislop underwent some kind of Damascene conversion while on the Question Time panel this evening, and became a Conservative supporter midway through, after realising that his Tory-bashing jokes weren't carrying the audience.

Just two problems with this startling theory. Firstly, the Tory-bashing jokes (to the extent that there were any at all) were actually resonating. "Witness his opening jibe," says Heaven, "that Cameron’s was 'quite a dull speech'. No laughs." Actually, I think you might want to "witness" that again on the BBC iplayer, Mr Heaven, because there was in reality a loud spontaneous laugh.

But the second thing, far more to the point, is that Hislop has clearly been mildly sympathetic towards the Conservatives, and Cameron in particular, for quite some time - for at least a couple of years in fact. His so-called opening 'jibe' was in fact merely a teaser leading into a clearly pre-prepared line which was very supportive of Mr Cameron - the unfunny punchline of which was that 'dull' is exactly what people actually want at present.

So if Mr Heaven's goal is to eventually report on a real-life instant political conversion, I fear he'll have to be patient and look elsewhere - and that doesn't mean towards David Freud or Richard Dannatt either.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The best small unitary authority in the world

Out on my travels on Wednesday, it struck me how bizarrely grandiose some of the slogans used by local authorities on signposts are becoming. Angus is the "birthplace of Scotland" (in what way?), while Perth and Kinross "welcomes the world". Dumfries and Galloway (from what I recall the last time I was there in August) is "First in Scotland" - although of course it could just as easily be last. Whereas North Lanarkshire takes a different tack with the internal contradiction of "take the lead, reduce your speed".

A more colloquial "hiya" would be quite refreshing one day, although I suppose nothing can be worse than Scotland's former branding as "the best small country in the world".

There was also a gorgeous large moon all the way home, which set me wondering (for some reason) whether a man had ever set foot on the moon within my lifetime. The answer, as I should have remembered, is no - the most recent was Eugene Cernan way back on December 11, 1972. And of course NASA couldn't return in the foreseeable future even if it wanted to, a reminder that technology can go backwards as well as forwards, and quite frequently does. We used to have commercial supersonic air travel. We even used to have teletext on ITV...

Minority entitlements

Malc in the Burgh has starkly demonstrated the iniquities of the current Westminster electoral system, by means of a simple comparison between the outcomes of the 1992 and 2001 elections. But one thing that always strikes me as extraordinary about 1992 is that John Major went out of his way on a number of occasions to complain about the constituency boundaries generating a majority considerably less than he was entitled to. To me, if you've successfully got away with maintaining a system that allows you to hold absolute power for eighteen years on the basis of a mere 42-43% of the vote, it might be a little more tactful just to keep quiet about any minor drawbacks...

It would only take one doctor...

Over at Jeff's blog, one poster has rather unkindly suggested that Lord George Foulkes ought to be sectioned, as a means to "cut public spending and help reduce the deficit at a stroke". This is presumably a reference to the Labour peer's two sets of parliamentary expenses claims (from the Scottish Parliament and from the House of Lords) and to his hard-earned reputation for submitting an extraordinary number of vexatious and costly written parliamentary questions and Freedom of Information requests. But I wonder if Marcia's comment might also have been inspired by the frankly chilling news the other week that the London government Lord Foulkes enthusiastically supports is using the swine flu pandemic as an excuse to rush through changes that would allow mental health patients to be sectioned with the go-ahead of just one doctor?

It's hard to think of a bigger human rights issue than this. I don't know what the procedure is, and whether parliamentary approval will be required for the change to take effect, but if that is the case, I hope and expect Lord Foulkes' colleagues in the upper chamber will block it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

98% and 'universal' - spot the difference

Back to the USA, and Right Wing News expresses a kind of faux bemusement that the "ultra-left" (ie. vaguely to the left of Enoch Powell) National Association for the Advancement of Colored People should be spearheading a drive to encourage prisoners in Maine to register to vote. The 'controversy' here is that inmates are disproportionately likely to back the Democrats. The only difficulty with this complaint is that Maine is one of the two states where prisoners are perfectly entitled to vote, and the Democrats would in fact therefore be left at an unfair disadvantage if there was not an attempt to galvanise all potential voters.

Of course the US is not the only place in the world where allowing criminals the right to vote is highly controversial - Europe is split on the issue, and the UK is one of many countries which retains a legal bar. But the difference is a matter of scale. Even in the UK, which jails more people per head of population than other country in western Europe, less than 0.2% of the voting age population is debarred due to a term of imprisonment. In the US, the figure is an astonishing 2%, due to a blend of a higher crime rate, a much more draconian legal system, and perhaps most significantly of all, the fact that in a great many states felons remain debarred from voting even after they are released. So let's turn the Right Wing News point about the likely political inclinations of the people concerned on its head. Is it entirely a coincidence that in the most Republican of states, draconian criminal justice legislation just happens to be artifically suppressing the potential Democrat vote to a mind-boggling degree? When you consider that well over one in ten African American men in the US are legally barred from voting, it seems that the bad old ways of 'poll taxes' and 'literacy tests' to ensure indirect disenfranchisement of black people are still around - just in an invidious new form, one that is much harder for civil rights groups to successfully campaign against.

And yet campaign they must. Apart from anything else, can a country that currently only permits 98% of its adult population to vote actually be deemed to have maintained 'universal suffrage'? The USA - a beacon of democracy for the rest of the world, or not even a democracy at all?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dazzling distractions

In heated disputes over issues, there are occasions when one side seems to instinctively deflect attention from the fundamental weakness of its own case by seeking to comprehensively - and conveniently - redefine what the issue is actually 'about'. And it almost seems that the more contrived and implausible that redefinition is, the more aggressively it will be promoted. Perhaps because it's themselves that they most desperately need to convince? A classic recent example was the ban on fox hunting, an issue squarely about the prevention of gratuitous cruelty towards animals, but which was somehow magically resculpted into an issue about 'human rights' and 'tolerance towards minority groups'.

We've seen exactly the same pattern in the last few days over the issue of fair access to the proposed leaders' debates in the run-up to the general election. And the arguments that have been deployed have had previous outings, of course. In 1995, when the Scottish courts blocked the screening of an extended interview with the then Prime Minister John Major a week before Scottish local elections, we saw countless column inches bewailing the dastardly judges and politicians who had breached a 'fundamental principle' by interfering in the media's editorial independence. The issue was, in a nutshell, about protecting precious freedoms that had been hard-won over centuries. All of which, of course, amounted to nothing more than a dazzling sound and light display that was there to distract us from the rather more prosaic real issue, the one that had been specifically zeroed in on by the court - do the London-based media recognise that balanced election campaign coverage is just as important in a Scottish context as it is in an English context? As I recall, the judge specifically asked "would you have scheduled this interview one week before local elections in England?" The answer was not 'yes'.

And once again, over the last few days, some have been brazenly inviting us to believe that the attempts of certain political parties to gain fair access to leaders' debates is in fact all about those parties trying to 'ban' and 'censor' things. We've heard all sorts of hysterical references to "Kim Jong-Il" and "Chinese-style censorship". Even the normally sensible Mike Smithson joined in, I suspect due to his very strong enthusiasm for the debates taking place at all costs. His rather peculiar comment was - "Sounds like Switzerland - if it’s not compulsory it’s prohibited."

Those words came back to me a few hours ago, as it struck me that they could be far more aptly applied to a completely different issue. Here we are with countless thousands of over-65s who desperately want (and in some cases need) to work, but are in essence legally prevented from doing so. Yet at the same time we're talking about forcing lots of people who don't want to work an extra year to do just that. Does the left hand actually know what the right hand is doing?

A beginner's guide to libertarianism

I haven't been following the American healthcare debate particularly closely, mainly because some of the details are so incomprehensible to an outsider's eyes that it's often difficult to fathom what the hysteria is about. However, it was startling today to notice the conservative blogger Dr Helen Smith describing a group of doctors as 'traitors'. I could only assume they must have done something that at least bordered on being unprofessional, but following the link to the New York Post (ahem) it transpires that they had simply sat, listened to, and applauded an Obama speech in which he set out his views on reform. Oh, and they were encouraged to dress up in white coats as they did so to denote their professional status for the cameras, and they happily obliged. And that's it.

Does this shocking behaviour breach the Hippocratic Oath? I don't have the full text to hand, but I'm guessing not. Do these doctors' political views breach the American constitution? If there was even a 0.1% chance of that, I'm guessing we might just have heard about it by now (ad nauseam, in fact). So the 'treason' we appear to be left with consists of free citizens expressing honestly-held and constitutionally-legitimate political opinions, and doing so in their own free time. The alternative course of action for them, which Dr Helen would presumably have preferred, would have been to allow themselves to be browbeaten into keeping their mouths shut about their true opinions. A decidedly peculiar position for a self-styled 'libertarian' blogger to hold. But then again, this is the Paul Staines school of libertarianism we're talking about.

The arc of desirability?

For all the distasteful triumphalism about the tarnishing of the 'arc of prosperity' last year, a stubborn fact remained largely unremarked upon - that one of the countries in the 'arc', Norway, had come through the global economic crisis remarkably unscathed. Yesterday it was revealed that Norway has topped the UN's annual Human Development Index, measuring quality of life - or as the BBC put it, the best places to live. Even more remarkably, Iceland is in third place and Ireland fifth. So should the arc of prosperity simply be rebranded the 'arc of desirability'? Well, to be fair, the data on which the rankings are based is two years old. But there seems little reason to suppose that Norway in particular will have slipped much since then.

And it's always intriguing to see how certain American commentators cover a story like this - can they bring themselves to concede that it might just have something to do with the Scandinavian social democratic model? I'll give you three guesses. The blogger Ann Althouse sums up why she thinks Norway is actually top with characteristic succinctness - "mainly because of a lot of extra wealth from oil". Now doesn't that remind you of somewhere?

Hold on, be strong, find some earplugs

I've just been having a peek at for the first time in many months (for the uninitiated, it's the biggest independent website devoted to the Eurovision Song Contest). I was hoping to find out a little more about the scandal I vaguely heard about a week or two back, concerning a few dozen Azerbaijanis who were tracked down by the authorities and questioned...about why they had picked up the phone and voted for Armenia in the contest in May. Apparently there was nothing unusual or untoward in the request for an explanation. I note that Freedom House currently rates Azerbaijan as 'Not Free' - but surely the country should get special dispensation for only interfering in their citizens' lives on the grounds of dubious musical taste?

Anyway, no obvious sign of that controversy on Esctoday's main page (I'm sure it's there in the archive somewhere), but what I did find instead was a poll to decide the best Eurovision song of the decade, which has now been narrowed down to a grand final of 24. Rather refreshingly to my eyes, it's not a million miles away from a shortlist I might have drawn up myself - the two big omissions being Once in a Lifetime by Ines (Estonia 2000) and the brilliant If I Had Your Love by Selma (Iceland 2005). The absence of the former can probably be put down to the passage of time, and the latter perhaps never had a chance due to the ropey live performance which saw the song crash out unexpectedly at the semi-final stage. However, another song that met the same fate, Je t'adore by Kate Ryan (Belgium 2006) does make the cut. I'm delighted because it's one of my two all-time favourites - the other being the enchanting Icelandic ballad, Is it True?, that finished second in Moscow this year. So who to vote for? Looks like I've still got time to ponder that one.

Although I do wonder what a certain Irish Eurovision enthusiast, a man with no little pride in his unerring judgement, makes of the list. How on earth did Hold On, Be Strong go from being "clearly the worst song in the contest" in 2008 to being in the running for best song of the decade?

The anti-nuclear lobby's trump card?

I saw a bit of the Conservative conference earlier, and in particular a surprisingly thoughtful session in which Sir James Dyson set out the case for a return to a Britain that actually makes things, and Kenneth Baker (who to be honest I'd almost forgotten existed) set out an interesting, but probably thoroughly flawed case for a return to the technical schools that were an original part of Rab Butler's tripartite system of secondary education. I say it was 'thoughtful' partly because, highly unusually, neither man bothered with the conventional conference speech trick of inserting obvious cues for applause, and as a result there was indeed almost no applause. In spite of the slightly sycophantic subsequent cries of "I absolutely agree with James Dyson" (and to be fair he has apparently nailed his colours firmly to the Tory mast), Dyson was from beginning to end trying to get his own personal message across, and said a number of things a Conservative audience could - and perhaps ought - to have been quite uncomfortable with. There was, for instance, a little jibe about the British nuclear deterrent actually being American, and also something about the rot first setting in for Britain in 1904 - hardly sounds like an indictment of Labour rule only.

But what really caught my attention was that one of the very few rounds of applause that either man received came in response to Kenneth Baker's cry of "why should a new generation of British nuclear power plants be built by French engineers?". Could the anti-nuclear lobby (in England and Wales, I mean) just have located their get-out-of-jail-free card, in the unlikely guise of Tory Euroscepticism? Probably not, but then any chink of light is better than nothing.

'Joke of the Day' (well, I was only watching for half-an-hour) - David Willetts revealed that there will be a surge of university applications next year, as the result of a mini baby-boom in 1992. "Now we know how people celebrated our election victory that year," was the punchline. Hmmm. Leaving aside the poignant question of whether there was actually anything to celebrate, wasn't the 1992 election held on April 9th? The man they call "Two Brains" can't possibly have slipped up on his mental arithmetic, so I can only assume there were an awful lot of premature births in 1992...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A full and equal partner

Further to my last post, it seems David Maddox at the Steamie has got a distinctly odd definition of the word ‘sinister’. If he thinks a political party demanding fair coverage in an election campaign is sinister, he should try imagining Peter Mandelson creeping up on him when he’s asleep, taking a DNA swab and then whispering in his ear “don’t worry, David, if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear”.

Maddox it seems to me, rather like the posters I encountered a few weeks ago, is so completely locked into a one-dimensional London-centric world view that he’s failed to see the SNP’s demand for what it actually is. They mean what they say, they do actually want to be part of the debates! But to Maddox, that is simply demanding the ‘impossible’, therefore it is tantamount to calling for a ban, and denying the poor Scottish public the right to watch their three (ahem) potential Prime Ministers in action. (Actually, I think they might be rather relieved to end up with a hastily-arranged repeat of Taggart instead.)

Point 1 – if Gordon Brown had been planning to debate Nick Clegg, and Nick Clegg only, on primetime TV in an election campaign, David Cameron would have demanded his right to be included. If the simple principle of fair coverage had not won the day, the Conservatives would undoubtedly have gone to court to seek redress. This would have been an action of last resort and a perfectly understandable one. So why should the SNP’s stance be seen any differently, when in the 59 constituencies of Scotland they compete on an (at least) equal basis with the three parties that Maddox seems to feel have an in-built right to bonus coverage?

Point 2 – why is fair coverage for the SNP in the debates ‘impossible’? It seems to me Maddox is simply guilty of a failure of imagination here. There are two possible solutions. Firstly, yes, Alex Salmond (or Angus Robertson) could simply be permitted to participate in debates shown throughout the UK - in practice this would probably mean only in some of the debates, with Plaid Cymru taking part in others. If Maddox can't conceive of such a thing happening, I'd point him in the direction of Canada. In the general election there last year (and presumably the same will be the case in the election about to take place) the Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe took part in the Canada-wide leaders' debates on an absolutely equal basis, in spite of the fact that his party only contests 25% of the seats. Why would the broadcasters there permit such a thing? Presumably because they take seriously their responsibilities to ensure fair and balanced coverage within Quebec. Furthermore, there is a precedent right here in the UK - in the 2005 general election, there were hour long leaders' specials on ITV that were broadcast throughout the UK. And there were four of them, not three. The first was divided between Alex Salmond and Ieuan Wyn Jones - an eminently fair and sensible arrangement.

The second solution however is simply to have Scotland-specific debates - which would be shown instead of, not in addition to, the debates shown in England. I'm not talking about mickey mouse debates featuring Jim Murphy, Michael Moore and David Mundell. I mean proper, full-scale debates featuring the leaders of the four main parties contesting seats in Scotland - Alex Salmond, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Oh, wait a moment, what's this new objection, David? The London leaders simply can't be expected to find the time, or it would be beneath their dignity? Well, doesn't that say something about their attitude to Scotland, this 'full and equal partner' in our United Kingdom.

A question of simple fairness

Just over a month ago, I got embroiled in a mild stooshie over at that trundled on for so long it almost rivalled my delightful encounter with the Kevin Baker Fan Club. (Well, perhaps not.) It began when I suggested that any political leaders’ debate that is televised in Scotland in a general election campaign must, as a simple matter of fairness, include the leaders of all four major parties in Scotland, not merely three of the four as the broadcasters seem to be proposing. This would, of course, be fully in line with the long-established principle that we see applied to Party Election Broadcasts in Scotland, where all four parties receive fair broadcasting time, not just the three London-based parties.

I was of course fully prepared for the fact that my suggestion was, to put it mildly, unlikely to attract broad support on, which is after all a heavily Conservative-dominated forum. What did startle me, however, was the utter incredulity that my comment provoked. Many posters seemed to struggle to understand (or perhaps they were determined not to) the rather simple proposition I was putting forward. “What, you think the SNP can ban the British public from watching a British debate?” was a frequent disbelieving response. No, I tried to explain patiently, I merely think that any debate shown in Scotland should feature the leaders of all four parties, and if the broadcasters fail to adhere to this obviously fair principle, the debate should not be screened in Scotland. If needs be, I added, the SNP would most certainly take legal action to ensure this was the case – a suggestion that provoked a degree of mirth. A self-styled ‘expert’ (I’m not quite sure on what) popped up to assure me I didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. I reminded him that the complacent ‘experts’ in London had been, to put it mildly, somewhat stunned by a Scottish court’s decision to ban the screening of an interview with John Major a week before local elections in 1995. They had been similarly stunned by the ruling in the run-up to the 2000 Falkirk West by-election that ITV’s programme ‘Ask the Prime Minister’ had breached the requirement for fair coverage of all parties.

Still the airy dismissals continued unabated. “I think you’ll find the broadcasters are planning debates for the Scottish party leaders” a number said, with a tone of ‘well that’s dealt with that, let’s move on’. Yes, I replied – additional debates, which can’t possibly balance out the SNP’s exclusion from the main debates. “What, are you actually saying that Alex Salmond should be debating Brown and Cameron?” I was asked incredulously. Er, yes, of course that’s what I’m saying. And at that point, naturally, we arrived at the last, faithful line of defence – “the main debates are only for the leaders who actually have a chance of becoming Prime Minister of the United Kingdom,” a number of posters sniffed. What, like Nick Clegg? “Yes, because the Liberal Democrats contest seats across the United Kingdom, so in theory he has the chance to become Prime Minister.” But the Liberal Democrats do no such thing, and nor do the Labour party – neither contest seats in Northern Ireland. If this is supposed to be a debate for the leaders of parties who contest seats across the United Kingdom, we’re all going to be watching a David Cameron monologue. “Well, they contest far more seats than the SNP anyway. Do you think an SNP leader is going to become Prime Minister by contesting 59 seats?” Well, in a parliamentary system, actually yes he could. Parties do not need to win (or contest) a majority of seats to either form a minority government or to form part of a governing coalition. Highly unlikely to happen in the SNP’s case – but if Nick Clegg only needs an ‘in theory’ chance to become PM to qualify for the debate, shouldn’t exactly the same principle apply to the SNP leader? No real response to that question, just increasing murmurs that the whole discussion was becoming rather tiresome.

Well, they’d better get used to it being such a bore, because exactly as I predicted, as soon as debates became a serious prospect last night the SNP indicated that they would take steps to ensure that any debate excluding their leader would not be screened in Scotland. Of course it remains to be seen whether I or the self-styled ‘expert’ will be proved right, but it looks like we might well have our ‘day in court’ to find out one way or the other.

And the UK-wide impact of the debates, should they take place? In 1992, John Major turned down a challenge issued by both Neil Kinnock and Paddy Ashdown to take part in a TV debate, on the grounds that “every leader who expects to lose demands a debate, every leader who expects to win declines the offer”. Given the 1992 result, it seems Major may have had a point. In which case, oddly enough, logic would suggest that the leader playing the riskier game here is David Cameron.