Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ultra-early prediction for Eurovision 2011

As long-term readers will know, since this blog started in 2008 I've made an annual eve-of-Eurovision prediction for the top 3-5 placings in the contest. I thought for the purposes of comparison (and also just in case I've lost interest in blogging by May!), I'd attempt an additional, much earlier prediction this year, unaffected by reports from the rehearsals which are always such a huge factor in trying to fathom out what is really going to happen.

I think the puzzle this time can be summed up fairly succinctly - will France walk it, or not? It's the best song in the contest by miles, it's hugely distinctive - but it's just possible that it might be distinctive in the wrong way, ie. in the sense of not having enough of an appeal to younger televoters. We could see a repeat of the Natasha St-Pier/Sandrine François scenario, when France also had the best song and the best singer, but never really threatened to win. It's hard to say whether that will happen, but if France does fall short the winner then becomes extremely tough to predict, because bubbling under are five songs that are fairly evenly-matched - Sweden, the UK, Germany, Estonia and Hungary.

My instinct is that Sweden can't win - they've been banging away with these formulaic show-stopping efforts for as long as anyone can remember, and in recent years haven't come within touching distance of victory. The shadow hanging over Hungary is the strikingly poor record of out-and-out dance tracks in the contest over the years - one of my all-time favourite Eurovision entries Je t'adore failed to even qualify for the final in 2006. Germany are presenting a class act in every sense, and although I've always felt the song was a touch too low-key to win, Lena Meyer-Landrut's fame and popularity across the continent may offset that problem. And the UK? Although my first impression was positive, the more I've listened to the song the more I've come to feel that it's a bit 'forced' and soulless - although, again, Blue's fan following may partly come to the rescue.

So, by a mixture of process of elimination and a gut feeling at this stage that France won't win, here is what I've come up with -

Winners - Estonia (Rockefeller Street - Getter Jaani)
2nd - France (Sognu - Amaury Vassili)
3rd - Germany (Taken By a Stranger - Lena Meyer-Landrut)
4th - Sweden (Popular - Eric Saade)
5th - UK (I Can - Blue)

So I'll see if I'm still saying that in a few weeks' time after the rehearsals! Although France is my personal favourite, it would be nice to see Estonia back on top - their fine run of results in the late 90s/early 2000s (crowned by unexpected victory in 2001) was one of the great fairy-tales of the contest's history, and it's been a shame to see them regress since then.

The words say 'serious offence', the punishment tells a different story

The BBC reports on the punishment for a woman found to have made a false complaint of sexual assault -

A woman who admitted wasting police time by making false allegations of sexual assault in South Yorkshire has been fined £80.

The 41-year-old claimed to have been attacked by two men on land off Greenland Road in Darnall in January and two arrests were made.

Police said their investigation found inconsistencies in her account and the woman later admitted making it up.

News of the allegation spread fear and panic in the local area, police said...

"Her false report tied up a good deal of police time that could have been spent on other matters, and unfortunately, cases like this can only have an adverse effect on efforts to tackle genuine reports of rape."

I'm not exactly part of the hang 'em, flog 'em tendency, so I'm not going to say this relatively light punishment was wrong in its own terms, but I do wonder about the tone of the police comments. Taking a deliberate action that could have utterly wrecked the lives of two innocent people is (or at least certainly ought to be regarded as) a very serious offence, so if something as minor as a fixed penalty fine has been issued as a result, you'd think the police might want to justify that decision by emphasising the mitigating factors. Instead, with the references to "fear and panic" and "adverse effect on tackling genuine reports of rape", it's hard to escape the conclusion that they - startlingly - consider themselves to have acted with a degree of severity in this instance.

The broader context here is the ongoing efforts to 'rebalance' the way the justice system treats the victims and perpetrators of rape and sexual assault, and thus boost the conviction rate. This approach is predicated on the assumption that wholly bogus complaints are extremely rare, and that therefore removing certain protections for the defendant will only have the effect of sending more of the guilty to prison, rather than risking miscarriages of justice. If that is to be the guiding philosophy, then surely instances like this where someone has been clearly demonstrated to have concocted a story from scratch become that bit more serious, as they threaten the integrity of the system. And yet an £80 fixed penalty sends out just one message - that this is a routine, relatively minor offence.

Friday, March 25, 2011

More encouragement for the SNP from Angus Reid

Thanks to Marcia on the previous thread for alerting me to the detailed results from this month's GB-wide Angus Reid poll. Given that the numbers relate solely to Westminster voting intention, the Scottish subsample is another very positive straw in the wind for the SNP. Here are the full figures -

Labour 43% (+2)
SNP 38% (+5)
Conservatives 10% (-3)
Liberal Democrats 5% (-1)
Others 4% (-3)

At the risk of repeating myself for the umpteenth time, it's worth pointing out that Angus Reid subsamples are of rather more interest than those of other pollsters, because they tend to be much more stable over time, suggesting they have been weighted as full-scale polls would be. Whether they have been accurately weighted is of course the million dollar question!

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Some small anecdoctal backing for the concerns I raised about the Scots langauge questions in the census - I discovered last night that my sister had left all four tick-boxes blank because she wasn't sure what Scots actually was, but her best guess was that it applied only to Doric speakers in the north-east. By any definition, she falls into the category of 'understanding' the language, and almost certainly 'speaking' and 'reading' it as well. It seems to me a much more high-profile public awareness campaign would have been in order to clear up the confusion - or even better, a brief clarification on the census form itself.

Note - I'm indebted to a comment someone left here a few months ago for the title of this post. I can't remember who it was, but thanks!

Sizzlingly sexy slogans for a bigger, better, brighter tomorrow

I was relieved to discover via Caron Lindsay that most rank-and-file Lib Dems have enough sense to be distinctly unimpressed by Nick Clegg's weird new slogan "Alarm Clock Britain". My own problem with it is not so much that it's patronising or offensive - more that it's utterly meaningless. OK, I know it probably has some spurious logic to it, but any three word slogan that requires a three hundred word explanatory note has got a flaw. It's the political soundbite equivalent of abstract modern art.

Anyway, if we've got to the point where slogans don't have to make any immediate sense, but do have to involve a) everyday activities or familiar objects and b) the name of a country or location, here are a few helpful suggestions for any political strategists out there -

Electric Razor Scotland

Hot Toddy Wales

Lemsip Max London

Wheelie-Bin Aberdeenshire

Event Planner Israel

Stubborn Stain Senegal

Fountain Pen Saudi Arabia

Sleigh-Ride Paraguay

Unexpected Puddle Poland

Involuntary Bungee Jump Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Caron mentions in a comment on another blog that the only slogan she can think of worse than "Alarm Clock Britain" is "Have You Got the Guts to Vote SDP?". But I'd have thought the latter was the stuff of genius, brilliantly preparing the ground for the inevitable moment in the post-election press conference when Dr Owen shrugged his shoulders and said - "Well, don't look at me. Didn't have the guts, did they?"

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Five reasons why Hamish Macdonnell has made my eyes roll to the heavens - again

I've just caught up with Hamish Macdonnell's Caledonian Mercury article from a couple of weeks ago, entitled 'Five reasons why the AV system should be voted out'. I of course wholeheartedly agree with his opening sentiment that the No campaign should be moving on to substantive points about the subject in hand, and away from their ludicrous and offensive "electoral reform kills babies and soldiers" claims. But as for the five suggested reasons themselves...oooh, where to start. Let's take them in turn -

1. "The current system works...whether it is the most fair system or not, it works. FPTP has, generally, delivered the outcome the country wanted to see."

I beg pardon? A clear majority of the electorate voted for centrist or left-of-centre parties in 1979, 1983 and 1987, and yet unalloyed Thatcherism was the outcome "the country" wanted to see? The only possible way of reaching that conclusion is via a kind of circular logic - it must have been the outcome they wanted because they voted for it. How do we know they voted for it? Oh, because that was the outcome the electoral system delivered. If we'd had PR during the eighties, there may well have been a more moderate centre-right coalition government (and quite possibly even a centre-left coalition), and we'd now have a journalist in Macdonnell's position looking back and sagely noting that what we got was, after all, exactly what the public voted for. The difference is that he would have been right.

"Far better, it would seem, to have a system which reflects the mood of those key swing voters who carry with them the mood of the nation, than to hand it those candidates who come third, fourth or fifth."

Yes, I think I can see where Hamish is going astray here. He believes the "mood of the nation" is not determined by the majority of the whole electorate, but rather by a majority of the 65-70% of the electorate who happen to vote for one of the two largest parties - a 'majority' that worked out as just 35% of the vote for the Labour government in 2005.

2. "FPTP usually delivers strong government."

For strong government read "elective dictatorship". Remember the poll tax, Hamish? Its implementation entirely against the public will may have been a sign of governmental 'strength', but how that was in any sense a good thing is a bit of a mystery.

3. "AV is not actually backed by any major political party in Britain."

But there are many, many parties and individual politicians who regard it as clearly preferable to first-past-the-post. In an imperfect choice between two systems, should they really be voting for the system they prefer less?

4. "The real argument here is between FPTP and single transferable vote (STV). The Lib Dems want STV, not AV. If that is what they want, then we should have a real and proper debate about the merits of a fair system of proportional representation and the current winner-takes-all system. That is the real argument."

Say what you like about the Lib Dems (and I generally do), but if the Tories had been democratic enough to offer a vote on the full range of options for electoral reform, it seems rather unlikely that offer would have been rejected. It is those opposed to electoral reform who have moved heaven and earth to prevent Hamish's "real argument" from taking place, not the Yes campaigners. Mysteriously, Hamish fails to clarify how voting No will actually take us any closer to having that real argument, rather than - as it surely will - move us much further away.

5. "There is no reason to change the system if it’s not broken."

See above.

"I worked at Westminster during the dying days of the John Major government, which had such a narrow majority it risked defeat on every vote. The precarious nature of that administration reflected the public mood and worked at keeping the government from doing anything too outrageous."

Well, do you want an electoral system that delivers "strong government" or don't you, Hamish? If you do, that clearly wasn't what we had during the Major years, was it? And are you now suddenly saying you want an electoral system that prevents a government from doing anything "too outrageous" against the public will? In that case, why do you support the system that gave us unalloyed Thatcherism on 42% of the vote?

Taking the five points together, the thrust of Hamish's argument is as clear as mud. He seems to concede that PR would be fairer than the current system and a referendum on that would be worth having - and yet two of his points are really arguments against PR and in favour of majoritarian systems in general, of which (more's the pity) AV is one.

He finishes by going off on a rather random tangent to inform us that not only does first-past-the-post 'work', but the old system of hereditary peers making laws for the rest of us mere mortals also worked "really, really well". At least that helpfully puts in a better perspective where he's coming from. Yes, of course the Lords 'worked', if your main political concerns were protecting privilege, preserving discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and permitting animal cruelty in the name of sport - and doing it all against the democratic will of the electorate, naturally.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

SNP ingenuity risks repeat of Daily Record sanctimony shambles

You know that the SNP must be on to an effective strategy when the upstanding moral guardians at the Daily Record start taking a public-spirited interest in the niceties of electoral law. Apparently, despite the belief that the London parties had rigged the rules for this May's election to ensure that the SNP couldn't repeat their rather effective "Alex Salmond for First Minister" party description on the list ballot paper (while of course still allowing the London parties to depart from their own legal names), the Electoral Commission has ruled that it will be permitted after all, so long as it is preceded by the words "Scottish National Party". Even though the SNP have yet to make a final decision, the Record had little difficulty persuading Patrick Harvie to join in with their prolonged hissy-fit on the matter -

"The SNP are ready to risk the integrity of the vote again and put their self-interest ahead of the democratic will of the Scottish people.

"They must now give a clear pledge to do the right thing, or we risk seeing another screwed-up election."

Translation - this may have cost us seats last time round and we're worried it will do so again. In truth, although the Record are able to pray in aid quotes from the Gould Report claiming that the SNP's "sloganising" had caused "confusion" last time round, the Gould Report was wrong on that point. Simple as that. The confusion on how the list vote worked was there beforehand, and ironically the 'AS 4 FM' wheeze went a small way towards clearing it up for many people, by emphasising that the list vote was in many ways more important than the constituency vote in determining who forms the government. It's not hard to see why Harvie was so unhappy about that development, given that his party had previously benefitted in 1999 and 2003 from a grossly misleading "2nd Vote Green" campaign, which strongly (but of course entirely deniably) implied that the list vote was some kind of second preference.

I saw a commenter on Better Nation the other day who said that he/she was an SNP supporter in Glasgow and was planning to vote for the party on the constituency ballot, but was toying with the idea of switching to the Greens on the list. Given that the SNP's strength in Glasgow is overwhelmingly on the list and a Green vote in the city could potentially make a Labour government more likely, that's a fairly strong indication that confusion about the function of the list vote is still widespread. Leaving the self-serving sanctimony from others to one side, a second outing for 'AS 4 FM' could well have some value.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A statement from Comical Ali, now in employ of a man who can snarl in Portuguese

These crooks, these liars, these cheats, Salmond and Sturgeon, they tell you they invented policies on a council tax freeze, on protecting A&E departments, on keeping higher education free. They lie! These are glorious original policies of the People's Party, but these creemeenals, these mer-sen-arrries, Swinney and MacAskill, they lie, they steal, they puff and pant to catch up. These crooks and cheats even invent time machine so they can travel back four years and make it look like they were implementing council tax freeze, saving Monklands A&E and abolishing tuition fees before glorious People's Party devised these original policies last week. As for this creemeenal Salmond and his supposed "charisma"? Pah! Stolen by his pack of time-travelling wolves from the glorious Gray, who they give unappealing snarl to with their reality-distorting technologies. We will crush them, these creemeenals, these cockroaches, these mer-sen-arrries. In fact, we already have crushed them - the score is three-nil to the glorious Gray!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The ugly face of global warming scepticism (there's a surprise...)

Now, even by the recent standards of Political Betting, this was vicious. I've mentioned quite a few times how my old haunt - once a haven for genuinely ecumenical political banter, debate and sharing of on-the-ground intelligence - has become increasingly dominated by right-wing posters who show little or no tolerance for alternative views. In particular, the current 'Poster of the Year' Plato tends to lord it over what she evidently regards as her own territory, delusionally 'calling people out' on what she deems to be inappropriate behaviour (taking issue with her robustly is generally sufficient to fall into that category), and cramming virtually every thread with 'retweets' and links relating to her own hobby-horses - such as climate science scepticism, the nuclear lobby, and opposition to electoral reform.

And yet these people repeatedly deny that they have any interest in driving us 'lefties' from the site. So to test out my theory that alternative perspectives are about as welcome to 'the PB Herd' as the proverbial bucket of cold sick, I decided to 'do a Plato', and enhance a few threads with some rival retweets of my own - pro-electoral reform, anti-nuclear, and accepting of mainstream climate science. On the latter front, this is just a small selection of the pleasantries I received for my trouble -

"You really are moronic sometimes James."

"Of course if you would rather be a sad little feckwit instead of taking part in a reasoned conversation than that is entirely your affair."

"No James you are moronic"

"In short you are a sad little troll who knows sweet FA about the subjects you comment on."

"After all, what was said by whom is all there in black and white - or perhaps in your case in green crayon."

"Of course she [Plato] committed the cardinal sin of being flippant about the holy James Kelly. Let the wrath of the Scot descend upon her."

"What I object to is idiots (and I do use that word advisedly) like you..."

"stop polluting the site with your inane drivel."

I think the phrase that springs to mind here is "they do not like it up 'em".

Incidentally, if by any outside chance Plato stumbles across this post, on past form she will doubtless take time out of her hectic schedule to pose the question - "what sort of sad person writes blog posts on the interweb about people they've never met?". To which the answer is pretty simple, I'd have thought - political bloggers. That sort of sad person. In my limited experience, it would be rather challenging to write any sort of political blog without discussing people I've never met. You know, people like David Cameron, Barack Obama...