Saturday, July 2, 2011

Come on, Tim!

Hard lines to Andy Murray for losing out at the semi-final stage again, although the first set offered a glimpse of what could have been possible.  I don't know about anyone else, but I'm getting slightly sick of London media people saying "of course he's never going to win Wimbledon, we went through this every year with Tim Henman".  Firstly, that's disrespectful to the consummate professional Henman, whose achievements were light-years ahead of any other English or British player for decades.  Secondly, it's monumentally silly to still be framing Murray as "just another Henman" in the year that he reached his third Grand Slam final - Henman never reached any.

The main consolation of the result yesterday is that if Murray does ever make the ultimate breakthrough, I'd actually quite like it to happen away from Wimbledon and everything that goes with it - the "come on, Tim" brigade, and the onlooking "as long as he wins, I'm British for the day" aristocracy (of both the literal and sporting varieties). Why should one of the greatest Scottish sporting triumphs of all-time be entirely reduced to the tedious billing "first Briton to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry"?  No, let's see it happen in New York this September, or Melbourne next January - the surfaces there suit Murray's game better anyway.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Inverclyde by-election : SNP vote share up 15% from general election

Labour have held Inverclyde more comfortably than had seemed likely at the close of the campaign, but nevertheless there was a hefty fifteen-point surge in the SNP's vote, with the Liberal Democrats once again being squeezed almost to the point of embarrassment.  Here is the full result -

Labour 54% (-2)
SNP 33% (+15)
Conservatives 10% (-2)
Liberal Democrats 2% (-11)
UKIP 1% (-)

That represents a headline swing of 9% from Labour to SNP, although as with the Holyrood election it seems likely that there was heavy movement from the Liberal Democrats to both SNP and Labour, with a middling shift direct from Labour to SNP.

I've noticed quite a few Labour-friendly online commenters suggest tonight that what this result shows more than anything is the difference between voting patterns for Westminster and Holyrood.  Well, I have to say, I still don't buy that for a moment - unlike general elections, by-election campaigns for each parliament tend to be more or less interchangeable, and my guess is that a Holyrood by-election in the equivalent constituency would have produced a similar result.  However, the contrary point of view is ironically a useful enough fiction for the SNP, so by all means let Labour peddle it if they really want to!

I always felt that Objective One for the SNP in this election was to avoid a Glasgow NE-style drubbing, and the inevitable subsequent headlines about "the bubble bursting". They've achieved that, although clearly a victory or a defeat that was narrower still would have been preferable.  However, I don't think we should overlook how much more difficult it is to win safe Labour seats in by-elections when Labour are in opposition at both Westminster and Holyrood.  It's not impossible to do so, but it's always going to be like trying to climb a down escalator, and therefore what happened in Inverclyde is certainly not directly comparable with the contests in the previous parliament when an unpopular Gordon Brown was still in Number 10.  In time, this result could end up looking extremely creditable for the SNP - although in truth the long-term impact in either direction will probably be minimal.

Oh, and a final thought - the acceptance speech by the new Labour MP was excruciatingly, ridiculously awful.  It may seem like sour grapes to say that, but it's simply a fact.  I've felt all along that McKenzie was the weakest of the four main candidates, so depressingly there's more than a whiff of the old "monkey with a red rosette" syndrome about the result.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Questions to which the answer is 'this is a really bad line mate, we'll catch up another time, yeah?'

The latest in Labour Hame's thrilling series of "let's ask nationalists a question, delete most of the answers for no apparent reason but nevertheless leave a handful of highly compelling ones, and then pretend the question was UNANSWERED anyway" is this -

Why does Alex Salmond think he needs a referendum before he can negotiate more powers for Holyrood?

Answer : Because he has spent the last two months since the election doing his level best to negotiate more powers for the Scottish Parliament without a referendum, and the evidence of our own eyes confirms that it's like trying to get blood out of a stone. By contrast, a government that has a referendum mandate under its belt has tremendous moral authority in negotiations and is far more likely to succeed.

But as ever, what is more interesting about the question is what it unwittingly reveals about the inner contradictions in Labour's own thinking. Perhaps they can now answer the following -

If you think that an elected Scottish government has a mandate to negotiate more powers without a referendum and indeed should find it easy to succeed in doing so, why did the Labour government at Westminster refuse to enter into such direct negotiations with the SNP administration between 2007 and 2010?

I'm way ahead of you here, guys - the question will be UNANSWERED.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Labour's Inverclyde candidate fails to learn the lessons from the first debate

Although Iain Gray didn't exactly sparkle in any of the leadership debates during the Holyrood campaign, he never quite repeated his finger-jabbing low of the first STV debate, which suggested that he had at least analysed what had gone wrong and learned from it.  Sadly, the same can't be said for Labour's Inverclyde by-election candidate Iain McKenzie, who made an idiot of himself in the first debate by trying to shout down the 20-year-old Lib Dem candidate and failing, and who in the second debate yesterday simply tried yet more of the same.  Having spent much of his own first answer lambasting Anne McLaughlin of the SNP without any interruption, it looked absolutely ghastly when he reacted with such fury to McLaughlin returning the compliment that he instantly boomed "I'LL NEED TO STOP YOU RIGHT THERE".  It also didn't look great when he later tried to shout down the moderator Isabel Fraser when she was admonishing all the candidates for speaking over each other - McLaughlin, by contrast, looked completely in control of herself and just smiled mischievously at the collective telling-off.  Angus Macleod suggested on Twitter that McKenzie's agitated performance may be a sign that Labour are worried about losing the seat - I've no idea if that's true, but you'd certainly be forgiven for suspecting that.

McLaughlin had also very cleverly prepared a "heads I win, tails you lose" trap for McKenzie - she again asked her question from the first debate about whether he, as the head of the Labour-Tory coalition on Inverclyde Council, could guarantee that there would be no compulsory redundancies.  If he had repeated his non-answer from the first debate, the implication would have been obvious - as it was, the fact that he gave a completely different answer this time and offered a firm guarantee allowed McLaughlin to claim a first success as a prospective MP for Inverclyde.

A quick word about Sophie Bridger of the Lib Dems - I thought she had improved markedly from Thursday, although her hesitant response on the question of whether the operational life of Hunterston should be extended gave the impression once again that she simply hasn't done her homework on the local area properly.  Her best moment, ironically, came when Isabel Fraser challenged her on her agent's comment that the Lib Dems couldn't win - Bridger refreshingly didn't try to flannel her way out of a sticky question, but instead smiled and admitted her agent had been foolish to say it.  David Wilson of the Tories, by contrast, after a reasonably impressive first debate, came across as insufferably smug this time.

Overall verdict - another clear win for Anne McLaughlin, but this time without anyone laying a glove on her.

Anne McLaughlin (SNP) 9/10
Sophie Bridger (Liberal Democrat) 7/10
David Wilson (Conservative) 5/10
Iain McKenzie (Labour) 4/10

REVEALED : My hurt at being stalked on Twitter in a creepy, weird way

A few hours ago, I received this tip-off from Political Betting stalwart Tim -

"I see a couple of the Sarah Brown baiters/Tears for Piers merchants have taken to abusing you on the twittersphere"

Well, obviously this piqued my interest, but the trouble is that with a common name like 'James Kelly' it's difficult to track down any mentions of me using the search function. However, it soon dawned on me that it was more a question of checking the Twitter pages of one or two of the usual suspects, and in the end it took all of thirty seconds to find the exchange in question. No prizes for guessing who it was...

Jason Manc : Could we deep fry James Kelly and feed him to Alex Salmond?

Plato : LOL a mere snack I suspect.

Fitalass : Blimey, I see that you are becoming a regular feature on someone's blog. Creepy.

Plato : I'm sure its fascinating - I blocked someone on Twitter...

Fitalass : Oh, were you being followed by him or someone else?

Plato : Whoever it was sent me a link to a certain blog - I just blocked them immediately - worthy of a certain Mr Ireland.

Fitalass : That is just creepy. Have you suddenly got any other followers tweeting out odd or dodgy links & stuff?

Plato : I get several a day that I assume are spam accounts trying to flog stuff - I never look at them either so pointless!

Now, it has to be said this exchange is rather amusing on a number of counts -

1) Plato may think she's blocked me on Twitter but as far as I can see she hasn't.  This follows the familiar pattern of her repeatedly claiming to "put me on ignore" at PB, but mysteriously still being aware of everything I post.

2) Even if she had blocked me it wouldn't have made any difference, because I wasn't one of her followers and - for obvious reasons - had no plans to become one. (And unlike Facebook, you can still see the tweets of people who have blocked you, so the chances are I would have remained completely oblivious to it.)

3) The "link I sent to Plato" (which Fitalass, aka 'ChristinaD', bizarrely tries to lump in with automated internet marketing spam!) was of course no such thing - I simply followed the normal practice of referencing Plato's username in a tweet that was about her, and which happened to have a link to a blog-post at the end.

4) It's somewhat curious that Plato disdainfully claims (ie. "I'm sure it's fascinating") not to have followed the link, because by that point she had already discussed its contents with me on more than one occasion!

5) As I understand it, part of the ever-shifting basis for Fitalass and Plato's charge that I am some kind of "creepy, weird stalker" is that I have discussed them on a public forum (ie. here) without their express permission. Indeed, just the other night, Fitalass claimed with characteristic melodrama that the fact I had done so had "genuinely made her feel physically sick". Clearly the penny has yet to drop for both women that discussing views that have been expressed by others on the record and in a public space (ie. nothing whatever to do with their private or family lives) isn't known as stalking, it's known as political blogging. I would certainly be surprised to learn that Plato seeks written permission from Lib Dem HQ before going off on one about Chris Huhne on a daily basis - but let's leave that to one side. I'm just so incredibly humbled to uncover conclusive proof from Twitter that both Plato and Fitalass practice what they preach with such rigour - and I'm delighted to announce that I'll be continuing to follow their shining example in future.

By the way, if Plato wants to know what 'creepy, weird stalking' really looks like, she might want to cast her mind back to the time someone tracked down Tim's full name and home address, and posted it on the internet out of spite. Oh, wait a moment - wasn't it her that did that?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

No good deed goes unpunished by the BOA Brit Nat zealots

To return briefly to the subject of the GB Olympic football team, some rather startling choice of language from the Mail -

"The British Olympic Association have confirmed the GB teams will be run by the English FA but can include players from any home nation. However, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remain implacably opposed to a Great Britain team, claiming their separate nation status could be under threat and there are fears their players might be intimidated into declining.

Those fears were not allayed by an SFA spokesman saying it would be viewed as 'treachery' for a Scot to play for Team GB. The managerial appointments will put Pearce on a collision course with the FA of Wales over the probable selection of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, and with the Scottish FA over his goalkeeping choice and possibly other players."

Heaven forbid that the SFA should concern itself first and foremost with defending the interests of Scottish football, rather than "allaying the fears" of fretting London journalists that it might do something untoward like...well, defending the interests of Scottish football. The SFA is called the Scottish Football Association for a very good reason - it's supposed to be the governing body of football in a country called Scotland. That means it shouldn't have to "intimidate" players into not participating in the Olympics - it should be able to, you know, decide. If the BOA and English FA choose to play cynical and legalistic games to circumvent that "problem" and get what they selfishly want, they and their cheerleaders in the London press are in absolutely no position to moan if the SFA respond in kind by playing hardball to protect Scotland's football autonomy as best it can in difficult circumstances. This wasn't a fight of the SFA's choosing - they entered into a compromise deal that everyone should have been able to live with (to allow an English team to nominally represent GB), but their good faith has been betrayed. No good deed goes unpunished, as the saying goes.

I even saw a journalist the other day who described the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrators as "traitors" - a curious form of treason it is that basically consists of NOT selling out your own countries.

Incidentally, it's amusing to spot in the Mail article that the English FA will not consider Euro 2012 players for selection in the GB team. Since it was the BOA's supposed zeal for non-discriminatory selection policies that was the pretext for breaching the deal with the Celtic associations, I trust they'll be coming down on the FA like a ton of bricks...