Saturday, January 15, 2011

Could yet another far-left tiff save a precious seat for the SNP in Glasgow?

It's worth remembering just how much the SNP owe to the Tommy Sheridan soap opera and the related implosion of the socialist vote in 2007.  Even if Solidarity had merely (as fully expected) been able to retain Sheridan's own seat on the Glasgow list, then the chances are that the SNP would have had one seat fewer, resulting in a dead-heat with Labour.  George Galloway's recent entry into the Holyrood fray under the Respect banner had raised the spectre of a Left candidate nicking back that crucial Glasgow seat in May, but such a prospect seemed to recede yesterday with the news that 'Gorgeous George' will be directly opposed by Gail Sheridan for Solidarity, along with (presumably) a full SSP slate as well. If a two-way split in the socialist vote was disastrous in 2007, it's hard to imagine what the effect of a three-way split could be.

Galloway's wounded reaction to this development seemed somewhat contradictory as well - he pointed out that the previous call for Ms Sheridan to be number two on his own electoral list wasn't really logical, given that Solidarity (unlike him) are a pro-independence and far-left force.   But if that's the case, isn't it entirely logical for Solidarity to stand against him?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Back to Celtic Connections...

A few hours ago, I popped along to the first of this year's free Danny Kyle Open Stage events at Celtic Connections, and I kept thinking that the standard was strikingly high compared to the ones I'd been to before.  Ever quick on the uptake, it wasn't until halfway through that it dawned on me there was a very good reason for that - it was a showcase of all the 2010 winners!  Anyway, that meant I had the huge bonus of being able to see the Seonaid Aitken Trio again, who were far and away my favourites from the sessions I saw last year.  The eponymous Ms Aitken is not only a gifted singer, but also an incredibly dynamic fiddler - there's almost as much pleasure in watching her fingers dart around the instrument as in listening to the music itself.  But it was a much more 'egalitarian' performance from the three of them this time round, with the bodhrán player suddenly jumping up at one point to announce that he was going to sing a song about - startlingly - broken general election promises.  And very good it was too, as indeed was the reel inspired by a computer on the blink.  (I'm not making this up...)

All five acts were superb, though - in particular, Kilairum performed some truly gorgeous tunes, notwithstanding the pedantic quibble of the chap standing behind me that Northumbrian music isn't "Celtic".  It's incredible to think it's even possible to enjoy such high-quality live music for free, especially bearing in mind that I forked out almost £10 for the privilege of seeing Tron : Legacy a couple of weeks ago!  Incidentally, apart from Seonaid Aitken, my other highlights from last year were the uncanny experience of seeing one of my former classmates take to the stage with her band, and perhaps most of all, Amy Lord's evocative rendition of the Jim Malcolm song Waterloo, accompanied by the choir-that-don't-like-to-be-called-a-choir Liltin' Lassies.  It can still be heard here (it starts roughly twelve minutes in).

An election that tells us almost nothing?

I must say I felt strangely disengaged watching the coverage of the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election.  With less than four months to go until the Holyrood poll, I'd normally be looking for clues about which way the wind is blowing, even in an English election.  Generally that would mean hoping for Labour to do as badly as possible.  But Scottish Labour's fortunes in the general election seemed so totally detached from what was happening elsewhere that I wonder if there's any real relevance.  Perhaps we should be relieved that Labour didn't win by a wider margin than they did, although John Curtice's benchmarks of how they "should" be doing in a by-election at this stage in the electoral cycle always seemed a bit unconvincing given the unique circumstances that brought this contest about.

It would also have been encouraging to see the Lib Dems collapse, given that Iain "the Snarl" Gray is likely to be either directly or indirectly dependent on them should the worst happen and he becomes First Minister.  But their resilience tonight isn't at all what it seems - it's fairly clear that a large chunk of their 'authentic' vote drifted off to Labour, only to be wholly offset by Tory supporters wanting to express support for the 'top coalition candidate', in turn leading to a somewhat artificial Tory collapse.  All in all, then, an election in which very little can be taken at face value, and thus from which very little of value can be learned.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cammo : Fanboy meets frit-boy

There seems to be something about responding to Angus Robertson in the Commons that leads to David Cameron leaving his self-awareness at home.  I thought nothing could top his sneering reply a few weeks ago on the closure of the RAF bases - "you won't be flying planes, you'll be flying...(snigger) the seat of your pants!!!" - but he somehow managed it at PMQs yesterday.  Not content with doing what the public loathe most and simply ignoring the actual content of Robertson's question, he launched into this spectacularly ill-conceived attempt at 'humour' -

"I think you can topple those with an SNP that said they were going to have a referendum on independence but never did.  As a predecessor of mine once said - frit."

Yep, there's nothing like a fanboy Thatcher Tribute Gag to have the people of Scotland laughing in the aisles.  But let me just see if I'm missing something here.  Of the five parties and one independent represented in the Scottish Parliament, the SNP, Greens and Margo MacDonald all favour a referendum.  By way of contrast, and in spite of their claimed certainty that independence would be soundly defeated, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour are all implacably opposed to a democratic vote on the matter, and used their combined parliamentary majority to block one from taking place last year.  Moreover, the last time I checked, David Cameron was the leader of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, and was not, in fact, the leader of either of the pro-referendum parties.

That being the case, was it really the wisest idea to invite the electorate to ponder the rather telling question of "fritness"?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Will Eurovision 2011 be a Broad Church?

I've just been catching up on the rumour-mill surrounding this year's UK entry for Eurovision, with suggestions that Charlotte Church, Katherine Jenkins, Pixie Lott or even (weirdly) Madonna will be our representative.  We can probably safely discount the latter possibility, but I must say I'm mildly encouraged by all this, because it presumably means the BBC are planning a return to the moderately successful 1992-4 arrangement of an internal selection of the performer, but a public vote to decide the song.  As I've mentioned before, I'd much rather see a completely open selection, but the worst of all worlds is what happened last year, with everything resting on the judgement of a single songwriter who clearly didn't have a clue where the contest was 'at'.  All we need to ensure now is that John Barrowman and his oh-so-helpful attempts to 'guide' the public's choice are kept well clear of the selection show!

As for the three songs to be selected so far, if the contest were to stop right now probably the Swiss entry - In Love For A While by Anna Rossinelli - would be the winner.  That's not saying a great deal.  The Romanian song is pleasant, uptempo, and utterly unmemorable, while the Albanian entry is a complete dog's breakfast - although admittedly that always seems to be the case at this stage in proceedings, so it would be rash to write it off altogether.  Whatever radical surgery they perform, though, I can't believe it's going to be a patch on Juliana Pasha last year.  Hopefully something more inspiring will be along soon from other countries.