Saturday, December 29, 2012

Nuclear democracy

On a number of occasions I've made the point that Britain is, at best, a semi-democracy, due to the House of Lords being unelected. Some people react incredulously to that notion, and insist that the power of the Lords is merely to revise and delay - the Commons will always ultimately decide.

But the truth of that statement hangs by one extraordinarily slender thread - namely the Parliament Act, which allows the Commons to overrule the Lords by a cumbersome procedure. Indeed, it's no exaggeration to say that the Parliament Act literally is British democracy - strip it away, and the unelected chamber has unfettered power to thwart the will of the electorate.

Curious, then, to witness the Telegraph's reaction to suggestions that the government may use the Parliament Act to ensure the elected chamber has the final say on gay marriage. Apparently the Parliament Act is a "nuclear option" that is only intended to be used in "exceptional circumstances". Really? That's a bit bloody convenient for the conservative elite of this country, isn't it? The moment the government tries to "enforce" democracy, it's subject to dark mutterings that it's doing so far too often and not selectively enough.

Sorry, guys, but democracy is not supposed to be a special once-a-decade treat. Time to choose - is Britain a democracy, or isn't it? If it is, then by definition the Parliament Act is not a "nuclear option", but an indispensable tool that ought to be used just as often as necessary. And the Lords, not the Commons, decides by its actions how often that is.

It's extraordinary to recall that one of Michael Forsyth's objections to devolution in the 1990s was that the Scottish Parliament's decisions would not be subject to "revision" by unelected Lords. That complaint sounded funny at the time, but it sounds positively unhinged now.

* * *

I also have a new article in the UK edition of the International Business Times, about the significance of welfare reform to the debate on independence. You can read it HERE.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The imperial delusion lives on

The SNP's Angus MacNeil and Labour's George Foulkes found some rare common ground a few days ago in condemning the Queen's 'silent' participation in a cabinet meeting, on the grounds that it breached a "vital separation of powers". Personally, I'm all for stunts like this - anything that undermines the ludicrous mythology of a monarchy that is "above politics" can only be a good thing, and means that the debate about the sort of Head of State we want in future will at least be marginally more clear-sighted. In a democracy, people who wield power are held accountable for their actions - or at least that's the theory. I look forward to Prince Charles being subjected to a long-overdue Paxman sneerfest one of these days.

No, what took my breath away was not the Queen's cabinet appearance, but the naming of a part of Antarctica in her honour. We know all about the extent to which individual Tory politicians lack self-awareness, but this is the clearest example yet of an institutional self-awareness problem on the part of the entire Tory/Lib Dem government. This is an administration that wants the world to believe that its upholding of British sovereignty in the Falkland Islands is not about imperialism, but self-determination. As I've said many times, that's a perfectly defensible position, because the Falklands are not an empty land - they contain thousands of people who want to retain the constitutional link with the UK, and who are the only stable population the islands have ever had.

But to ride roughshod over Argentina's Antarctic claim - which is no more or less legitimate than Britain's, because Antarctica really is an empty land - will send a powerful signal to the whole world that Britain's actions in the South Atlantic are in reality driven by the old, unreconstructed imperial impulse. Just how moronically insensitive can they get? Why not rename somewhere in the UK after the Queen? Or why not give her a beach in Pitcairn, if for some reason it really had to be an overseas "possession"? Oh no, that's not good enough for imperialist Tory governments - nothing but a continent will do for their monarch.

Yup, it's true - Cameron thinks he's Benjamin Disraeli. With a bit of luck, that delusion might just be taking a slight knock in 2014.

* * *

I feel slightly queasy. I can't stand Piers Morgan - but he's currently running rings round the American gun lobby quite brilliantly, and speaking vital truths to his adopted country in the unapologetic way they need to be spoken.

All the same, though - Piers Morgan. It's a bit like discovering that Political Betting's Plato is my local SNP candidate.

And on that downright disturbing note, I'll wish you all a very happy Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

In wake of Newtown, Baker goes sinister

Question : If you were an American libertarian blogger who had spent almost every waking moment over the last decade advancing the fantastical notion that a gun free-for-all has made your country safer, how do you think you would react to this latest horrific gun massacre in Connecticut? Would you a) take a step back and quietly reflect on whether you might, after all, have been missing something, or b) boast about how right you've been all along, and then make a blood-curdling threat about what you and like-minded folk will do if anyone tries to take your guns away?

Long-term readers of this blog who can remember Mr Kevin Baker will probably be able to guess the answer. Here are his latest constructive musings on his favourite topic -

"Newtown, Connecticut is not Dunblane, Scotland"

This is true. There are two key differences between Newtown and Dunblane -

1) Only 18 people died in Dunblane. 27 died in Newtown.

2) Lessons were actually learned after Dunblane. When even President Obama is so cowed by the gun lobby that he authorises his press secretary to make the extraordinary observation that "today is not the day to have a debate about gun control" (when is, for pity's sake?) it seems highly probable that the equivalent lessons will not be learned as a result of Newtown, and consequently these entirely avoidable tragedies will continue to happen - perhaps with increasing frequency, as gun control laws are perversely loosened in some parts of the US.

"Yes, 27 people and one creature are dead, eighteen of those dead people are small children - first-graders. Yes, it's horrible, senseless, inexplicable.

And no, the guns were not at fault."

No, the guns were not at fault. They were all too effective. Just how 'inexplicable' is it that a man with a gun was able to kill far more people in a short space of time than he ever would have managed with his bare hands, or with the proverbial cricket bat?

"Let me just say again for the record:

I won't license.

I won't register.

I won't turn them in.

If you want to make me and several million other law-abiding, tax-paying citizens into felons, beware what you wish for. You may get it."

That does sound disturbingly like code for: "If we don't get our own way, we'll create a bloodbath, and then blame it on everybody but ourselves". True enough, the guns won't be entirely to blame for that either - the other key factors will be the sense of victimhood on the part of the perpetrators, and their failure to take responsibility for their own choices and actions. Those are the typical hallmarks of most 'senseless, inexplicable' massacres.

It should be remembered that the process of turning a "law-abiding citizen" into a felon is a remarkably simple one - it consists of that citizen making a conscious decision to no longer obey the law.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why the Northern Ireland demographic shift does matter

Ten years ago, the results of the Northern Ireland census were greeted with a not inconsiderable amount of unionist gloating. All the expectations had been that there would be evidence of a significant demographic shift towards Catholics, heralding the potential for the ultimate irony - a Catholic majority in a Frankenstein statelet created with the sole intent of entrenching Protestant dominance over as wide a geographical area as possible (including two counties that were Catholic-majority even in 1921). But those expectations were confounded, and the 2001 census showed the Protestant population maintaining a substantial numerical advantage.

The story this time, however, could hardly be more different. The Protestant population has shrunk 5% to a 48% share, with the Catholic population's share now just 3% behind at 45%. A similar "swing" in another ten years' time would comfortably tip the balance. And yet, curiously, the unionist reaction is that it "doesn't matter". Why? Because polling evidence supposedly shows that even a majority of Catholics want Northern Ireland to remain subject to London rule. Yet this begs the obvious question - why the gloating last time round if the demographics quite literally don't matter?

There are a couple of explanations. Firstly, it's not all about the constitution for unionists. In their heart of hearts, they must know that these figures make a Sinn Féin First Minister an all-but-inevitable outcome in the medium term (barring some kind of improbable political realignment). Under the power-sharing arrangements such a development shouldn't be regarded as important, because the First Minister and his deputy are equals in all but name - their legal powers are literally identical. But the reality is that the symbolism would be unbearable for a great many.

Perhaps more to the point, though, is that polling on constitutional preferences needs to be taken with an even larger dose of salt in Northern Ireland than in Scotland. There is an extraordinary level of community cohesion in votes cast for NI political parties, and it seems highly likely that much of that cohesion would transfer to a constitutional referendum, if one is ever held. The only scenario in which that might not be the case would be if the SDLP changed its constitutional stance. But the chances are that both Sinn Féin and the SDLP would campaign for a united Ireland, and that most of the nationalist vote would prove to be solidly behind them. It's called the nationalist vote for a good reason.

All these grounds for optimism make it all the more baffling that Sinn Féin were content to place the sole power to determine when or if a referendum should take place in the hands of...the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Surely if the consent principle so beloved of unionists (known to the rest of us as self-determination) is to mean anything, there has to be an automatic trigger by which the electorate can actually express its consent, without requiring permission from the quasi-colonial overlord?

Friday, December 7, 2012

John McTernan has a butler, or the kitten gets it

A couple of years ago, I did a brief round-up of the more unusual search engine queries that had led unsuspecting surfers to this blog. I thought it was high time for a more comprehensive list, although believe it or not this is merely the family-friendly edition...

Annabel Croft hates Greg Rusedski

Deadly weapons big breasts

Do 81% of North Sea revenues belong to England?

Does Alex Salmond have a personal trainer? (Again, my guess would be no.)

Giraffes AV Prescott

Have you got the guts to vote SDP?

How do I get the best sexual experience with an escort in Indianapolis?

I hate First Buses

If Scotland goes independent who pays there unemployed

Is it wrong I payed a cleaner for sex?

Is Annabel Croft a homophobe

Is Barry Manilow a democrat

Is Scotland more violent than us

James Kelly MSP not doing so well

Johann Lamont Krankie

John McTernan does he have a butler

Ku Klux Klan unicycle fairy

Muscular women popping

Naked Goes Pop

Naked News with Jim Kelly

Naked pictures of women from Wick, Caithness

No2AV kittens

Or the kitten gets it

One million Scots to crush

Painted toenail experiences in public

Rambling topless

Say er er er er er say la la la la la

Scottish are inferior to English

The SNP should be banned

Tom Harris moderator on Labour Hame?
(Surely not!)

What is the meaning of tae in tae think again

Who is Plato from PoliticalBetting?
(Answer : As a "libertarian with a fiscal conservative twist", Plato has the distinction of being Britain's most representative "floating voter", and is someone who Labour must "win back" to have "any chance" of winning the next general election. She is also noted for "never reading" this blog, contrary to the grossly misleading impression given by her familiarity with the contents of this blog. She has done 248 jobs in her relatively short working life, and has naturally signed the Official Secrets Act. Were you really expecting a name?)

Why don't people go to the moon

You allowed on Facebook with electronic tagging?

Alex Salmond English can leave our country alone haggis

Monday, December 3, 2012

Our Head of State for 2060 has just been selected...

We don't have a clue about his or her personality, talents or intelligence, but we're absolutely certain that he/she will be just the chap/chapess for the job.

Democracy and rationality at its finest.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Open questions

Leaving aside the obvious jibe that 'Open Unionism' is a contradiction in terms, my eye was caught by this article of the 'anyone to the left of Enoch Powell is a Marxist' variety -

"It became more and more obvious that many of the people who were attracted to the SNP were attracted precisely because they were disappointed former Labour party voters. They now considered the Labour party to be a party of the right. Independence for many of these people was thus a way of bringing about “Socialism in one country” leaving world revolution for another day!

There are clearly people in the SNP with a variety of political viewpoints, but if supporters are declaring that the present day Labour party is a party of the centre right, then it must be that the SNP is a party of the centre left in a different sense to that in which most people understand the term. Moreover, they must be on the centre left in a different way from other European centre left parties."

Hardly. In fact, I would suggest that the SNP are understood to be centre-left in precisely the way that most of the social democratic parties of western continental Europe are, and Labour are understood to be centre-right in precisely the way that most of the conservative parties of western continental Europe are. It's no coincidence that Tony Blair's closest allies on the continent were not Schroeder or Zapatero, but rather Aznar and Berlusconi. Labour may have made a marginal move back in the correct direction since then, but that isn't saying much when you bear in mind where they were starting from.

"I never understood the almost universal SNP opposition to nuclear weapons until I realised that they truly were a left-wing party. What have nuclear weapons got to do with independence?"

And it could just as easily be asked - what has opposition to nuclear weapons got to do with being left-wing? As the author of this piece has already raised the spectre of 'socialism in one country', it should be noted that Stalin himself wasn't exactly short of the odd nuclear weapon. If Stalinism is being presented as the pinnacle of leftiness, surely any party that does the opposite of what Stalin did must by definition be 'sensible, moderate, compassionate conservatives'?

Alternatively, it could just be that 'Open Unionism' is missing the point somewhat.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Response to Rhoda Grant's consultation on criminalising the purchase of sex

Having got into the swing of responding to consultations earlier in the year, I thought I'd have another go with Labour MSP Rhoda Grant's consultation on criminalising the purchase of sex (ie. the Swedish model). I was particularly motivated to take part given that the last consultation on this subject, conducted by Trish Godman, was such a complete joke from beginning to end.

* * *

I am resident in Scotland, and I am responding to this consultation as a private individual. I am a political blogger, but I do not represent anyone other than myself. I am not a sex worker, and to the best of my knowledge I do not know any sex workers. However, given that much of the impetus for the proposed law change comes from women who themselves have little or no knowledge of sex workers, and who primarily see the potential Bill as a means to advance ‘gender equality’ in broad-brush terms (as opposed to improving the lot of individual sex workers in a real-world setting), it seems reasonable to suppose that many of the responses to the consultation will be from women who are as detached from the central issue as I am. There will also undoubtedly be many responses from rather more knowledgeable women, keen to explain how misconceived and counter-productive the proposal is from the point of view of their own gender. But what may well be largely missing is the voice of men. That is deeply ironic, given that the most direct impact of the legislation would be on men, not women. The intention is simple – to criminalise and shame men, and men only, for indulging in a certain type of consensual sex. Given that this disgracefully discriminatory use of the criminal law would be directed against our gender, I feel that it is vital that as many men as possible speak out in opposition, regardless of whether we would be personally affected by the legislation.

It’s important first of all to identify the precise rationale for the desire to discriminate against men. Your consultation document repeatedly uses language that is suggestive of a crusade against slavery in a literal sense - “sexual servitude…a commodity to be bought and sold”. But we know that you cannot be referring to literal slavery, because payment for sex where coercion or trafficking is involved is already comprehensively criminalised and severely punishable. The proposed law change can therefore only have consensual paid sex in its sights. In which case, how can your use of language be justified? Are we supposed to infer that sexual servitude is a self-imposed phenomenon?

Although you don’t spell it out, the answer is of course that you buy into the fantastical ideology that underpins the Swedish law banning the purchase of sex. In noting that the bulk of sex workers are female and that the majority of their clients are male, you discount the obvious explanation of biological differences between the genders, and instead see a manifestation of systematic exploitation and oppression of women by men. It doesn’t matter that many female sex workers believe they are making a free choice, because this is a type of ‘false consciousness’ caused by the economic constraints that women live under in their state of oppression.

The only problem, of course, is that this is bunkum. Men are just as likely to find themselves under the type of financial pressure that drives some women to become sex workers, but the difference is that women may feel they have one additional option open to them. Indeed, one of the papers you cite quotes women who make clear that they do not regard sex work as the only option they have been left with, but simply as an option that is preferable to all the others –

‘What job pays £60, £100 a night? Sometimes you can earn £100 in an hour if it’s busy. You know where you’re well off, don’t you?’

Like you, I come at this issue from a left-of-centre perspective. I can allow myself to imagine a utopian society in which it might be considered a desirable thing that virtually no man has access to consensual paid sex, for the simple reason that no woman feels driven by financial considerations to offer it. But in that utopia, no man or woman would do any other type of work that they would not choose to do if free from financial pressures. Very few people would choose to be cleaners in that scenario, for example. What confuses me is that your party is keen on that (essentially Marxist) utopian ideal for the sole purpose of eliminating sex work, but loathes it in every other context. All forms of potentially unpleasant work other than sex work are not only deemed tolerable, but are considered morally virtuous. Indeed, during the Blunkett era, we were told that work – any work – was an all-purpose cure for sickness, depression and suicidal thoughts. The end result of this bizarre example of doublethink is that you would seek to force many sex workers into another unpleasant job that pays less and that they prefer less.

To put it mildly, that is not a laudable goal in a supposedly liberal society. Until and unless utopia arrives, we ought to be clear-sighted about sex work as being just one more imperfect – but legitimate - option in a world full of imperfect options.

It’s also worth pointing out that a significant minority of the clients of sex workers are disabled men seeking sex for therapeutic reasons, men seeking sex from other men, or women seeking sex from either men or other women. The idea that these individuals are the malevolent drivers of the Great Male Oppression of Women is, I would hope, self-evidently ludicrous enough to illustrate the nonsense of the ideology that lies behind this proposal. In respect of disabled men, some surveys have shown that female sex workers are concerned that they are exploiting their more vulnerable clients (for financial gain), rather than the other way round.

I will turn now to the specific questions contained in the consultation document.

Q1: Do you support the general aim of the proposed Bill? Please indicate “yes/no/undecided” and explain the reasons for your response.

No, for the reasons stated in my introduction. I also want to challenge some of your own reasons for reaching the opposite conclusion.

“For example 75% of women in prostitution in the UK became involved when they were children…”

That statistic appears to be pure invention. The study you cite questioned only street prostitutes who started work before the age of 18. By definition, therefore, 100% of that sample became involved in prostitution when they were children, not 75%! The 75% figure is the percentage of the sample who reported that they were still working at the time of the study. How you get from there to the claim that 75% of all female prostitutes (not just street prostitutes) started when they were children is something of a mystery, and to put it mildly, this calls into question the credibility of the evidential basis for your proposal.

“The buying of sexual activity is sexual exploitation and is recognised as a form of violence against women.”

Recognised by whom? Your statement may be literally true in the sense that some people (for ideological reasons) regard all paid sex, no matter how consensual, as “violence against women”. It would also be literally true to say that the moon landings are “recognised” as fake, in the sense that some people devoutly believe that to be the case. In neither example is there any particular reason to suppose that this represents the consensus of opinion. Most people, I would submit, expect actual violence to be present in an act of “violence against women”, and not just the incorporeal type of ‘violence’ you are somehow able to discern in consensual paid sex.

“International and Scottish evidence based research suggests that men who have purchased sexual activity believe that a number of consequences including legal penalties, financial penalties or public exposure could act as an effective deterrent if effectively enforced.”

Placing men, and only men, on the Sex Offenders’ Register if they cheat on their wives would also be a highly effective deterrent against the committing of adultery. But it would still be a very silly, illiberal, and discriminatory thing to do.

“The study also indicated harmful and violent attitudes of men who buy sexual activity:

32% stated that rape happens because men get sexually carried away; or (34%) because their sex drive gets “out of control”;

12% said that the rape of a prostitute or call girl was not possible; while 10% asserted that the concept of rape simply does not apply to women in prostitution.”

There have also been numerous studies and surveys showing very similar results among the general male population. It could well be that if a sample of television repairmen were interviewed, 12% of them would also say that the rape of a call girl is impossible. Would this mean that the repairing of televisions contributes to harmful and violent attitudes? Of course not. It would simply mean that television repairmen are representative of the male population at large.

It’s perfectly conceivable that there may be a correlation between paying for sex and harmful attitudes about rape, but the figures you cite utterly fail to establish one.

Q2: What do you believe would be the effects of legislating to criminalise the purchase of sex (as outlined above)? Please provide evidence to support your answer.

Given that your proposal is essentially identical to the laws already in force in Sweden and Norway, the best way of predicting the effect is to examine the Scandinavian experience. This shows that your law will entirely fail to have the desired effect of literally ‘ending’ demand for paid sex. It will in turn fail in its secondary objective of leaving women who suffer from ‘false consciousness’ (those who ‘erroneously’ think they have made a free choice to sell sex) with little choice but to abandon their work. There will still be many potential clients for sex workers, and therefore sex work will continue. However, the profile of the potential client base will change in character. With ‘nicer’ clients most likely to be deterred by the change in the law, prostitutes will increasingly be forced to take their chances with more violent and abusive clients if they want to maintain their livelihoods. They will also have little choice but to assist their clients in evading detection by the police, leading to the abandonment of vital safety precautions.

As far as women who are not sex workers are concerned, there is some evidence that draconian legislation on prostitution increases the rape rate –

“In the multiple regression model the rape rate was shown to be correlated with the homicide rate and anti-correlated with the availability of prostitution. Both relationships were at above the 95% confidence level. It is estimated that if prostitution were legalized in the United States, the rape rate would decrease by roughly 25% for a decrease of approximately 25,000 rapes per year.”

In a nutshell, your proposal will increase the risk of actual - as opposed to metaphysical - violence against women.

Q3: Are you aware of any unintended consequences or loopholes caused by the offence? Please provide evidence to support your answer.

It’s impossible for me to judge the extent to which the harmful consequences I’ve listed above are unforeseen or ‘unintended’. Some apologists for the Swedish model openly acknowledge the increased trauma that has been caused to thousands of sex workers, but regard that as a price worth paying for the prize of a largely symbolic law. I would hope that forms no part of the thinking of proponents of the Scottish proposal, and that they regard the real-world welfare of sex workers as more important than the pursuit of ideological purity, but the wording of much of your consultation paper leaves me with grave concerns on that point.

Q4: What are the advantages or disadvantages in using the definitions outlined above?

I would suggest the disadvantage is not the difficulty in working out what a reasonable person would construe as “sexual”, but rather the difficulty in working out what constitutes a reasonable person.

Q5: What do you think the appropriate penalty should be for the offence? Please provide reasons for your answer.

Obviously I do not think there should be any penalty at all. However, I am aware of the absurdly extreme suggestions that have already been made by some respondents to this consultation, such as lengthy jail sentences and public shaming in newspapers. I would simply note the grotesqueness of applying such penalties to, for example, a vulnerable disabled man who spends a large percentage of his disposable income on a high class escort. They would, I presume, constitute his ‘punishment’ for an act of ‘violence’ against a woman who cheerfully pockets that money and uses it to help fund a life of considerable luxury.

Q6: How should a new offence provision be enforced? Are there any techniques which might be used or obstacles which might need to be overcome?

Q7: What is your assessment of the likely financial implications of the proposed Bill to you or your organisation; if possible please provide evidence to support your view? What (if any) other significant financial implications are likely to arise?

On both questions 6 and 7, I would refer you back to the serious concerns identified by the Association of Chief Police Officers in their submission to Trish Godman’s consultation.

Q8: Is the proposed Bill likely to have any substantial positive or negative implications for equality? If it is likely to have a substantial negative implication, how might this be minimised or avoided?

Your proposal will have profoundly negative implications for gender equality, for the very simple reason that it is intended to. Female sex workers and their male clients will no longer enjoy equality before the law when they enter into a consensual paid sex transaction. Both genders will suffer harmful consequences – men will be less equal than women in respect of the criminal law, but women will be less equal than men in the perception of a society that has deemed them incapable of making free, rational decisions and being held responsible for them.

There is no way of ‘minimising’ these negative implications. They can be avoided by not enacting the proposed Bill.

* * *

You can read Ms Grant's whole consultation document, and find information on how to submit a response, by clicking HERE.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Ashcroft poll : SNP lead in Westminster voting intention

The Tories' billionaire puppet-master Lord Ashcroft recently conducted a UK-wide mega-poll of Westminster voting intention, with a sample size some eight times larger than a regular poll. That means the size of the Scottish subsample was almost as large as you'd expect for a full-scale Scottish poll. The results make fascinating reading -

SNP 39%
Labour 33%
Conservatives 16%
Liberal Democrats 6%
Others 7%

There are a couple of important caveats here. Firstly, even a massive subsample is still just a subsample - ie. the figures may not be properly weighted. Secondly, the fieldwork is a few weeks out of date. Nevertheless, given the fact that this a poll that shows a very healthy Labour lead at GB-wide level, these numbers are obviously hugely encouraging.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Special appeal : Scots Wikipedia contributors needed!

I've just found myself writing a rather impatient email reply to someone whose heart is in the right place, but who I think is lashing out in entirely the wrong direction. Basically, he's one of only two active editors on the Scots language Wikipedia at the moment, and he's annoyed with me for a) having created several hundred short articles in 2005/6 on non-Scottish politicians, and b) not maintaining those articles. I told him that in creating the articles I wasn't entering into a lifetime commitment, and that in my view it was healthy for the Scots Wikipedia not to become ghettoised in Scottish-only topics. I added that the growth of any user-generated site depends on people feeling free to write about subjects that they know about and are interested in, and that if he wanted the site to thrive it was counter-productive to berate someone for actually creating articles six years ago!

Nevertheless, I'm terribly sad to learn that the site has been so neglected of late. It occurred to me that many readers of this blog may not even be aware that a Scots language Wikipedia exists, so I thought I'd give it a mention in case anyone is interested in becoming a contributor. For obvious reasons, it's much more of a blank canvas than the English Wikipedia, so there are far fewer constraints on writers. (It's become almost unbearable to contribute to the English wiki in recent years - if you dare to even insert a comma somewhere, a zealot will pop up out of nowhere and bang you over the head with Wikipedia Rule XY75-RF.)

If you'd like to set up a Scots Wikipedia account, click HERE.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Clinton doesn't just oppose "separatism" - he opposes democratic self-determination

Our old friend Duncan Hothersall was full of beans yesterday about the supposed 'endorsement' of the No campaign by Bill Clinton. In truth, of course, it was no such thing - the comment Clinton made was vacuous and full of creative ambiguity, and as Jeff Breslin has pointed out, was entirely misconceived if it was intended to subtly steer listeners towards the 'correct' conclusion. Both unionists and nationalists agree that it's possible and desirable to be both Scottish and British, thanks all the same Bill, so there's no need for you to worry your pretty little head over that issue. Indeed, the SNP were quickly able to confirm that their philosophy is entirely in accordance with the one Clinton set out, and while they were at it they could also have pointed out that they share Clinton's fervour for motherhood and apple pie.

But if we leave aside what Clinton actually said, and turn our attention to what he almost certainly thinks, then perhaps Duncan has a point. You see, Clinton has form on this. During his presidency, he launched an utterly disgraceful intervention into the internal affairs of a neighbouring state by not only coming down firmly on the side of the federalists in Quebec, but also by disputing Quebec's right to seek independence even if the majority voted for it. In case anyone doubted that this position was part of a wider belief-system, he astonishingly went out of his way to commend Russia's "rightful" defence of its national sovereignty in Chechnya (while quibbling about some of the specific methods used to do this).

This is the problem, Duncan - Clinton doesn't just oppose 'separatism', he also opposes democratic self-determination. He's an unreconstructed 'territorial integrity' dinosaur, who thinks that the vested interest of an international elite in keeping all national borders exactly as they are should trump the democratic will of citizens.

Is that really the sort of friend you want, Duncan?

As you might have guessed, I'm not Clinton's greatest fan - all he really achieved in office was the effective disenfranchisement of millions, who were hoping for a slightly wider choice in 1996 than between two right-wing Republicans. The fact that Dick Morris ran his campaign that year says it all. In a sense, the George W Bush presidency was a monster of Clinton's own creation - after eight years of triangulation, it's little wonder that many liberal voters were sick of being told they had nowhere else to go, and either stayed home or voted for Nader.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Today is Thursday 15th November 2012...

Remember that date. It will live in infamy.

Just eighteen months ago, brave men and women across the United Kingdom raised their hands in defiance, and said: "No. This shall not be." In doing so they saved the lives of 17,984 seriously ill babies, 9,254 heroic British soldiers, and 24,897 very cute kittens. My Auntie Doris was able to have a hip replacement, my cousin Julia kept her job as a nurse, and my mate Charlie is still able to educate the young.

How crazy must we have been to think for even a moment that a preferential voting system was more important than all THAT?

And yet the noble actions of the British people have been in vain. Yet again, we've been betrayed by the political class. The very same politicians who earned our respect and gratitude by leading the charge against the Alternative Vote system have shamelessly introduced a near-identical system for today's Police Commissioner elections in England and Wales - and there isn't a damn thing you or I can do about it. We shall just have to watch in despair as our economy collapses under the weight of the extra pencils required for electors to cast a pointless second preference vote for John Prescott. The public transport system will collapse. Food supplies will run short. Sanitation will be but a fond memory. Many cute kittens will die today.

There is a word for what these politicians have done. That word is 'evil'.

I'm not sure I've ever felt more ashamed to be British than I do right now. It's sad to say it, but independence may be the only answer here - if we can't protect the babies of England and Wales from the insanity of preferential voting, perhaps we can at least protect our own babies.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

It's been a while...

There was a time (in 2009, I think) when this blog was primarily a round-up of Scottish subsamples from UK opinion polls of Westminster voting intention. It would be a bit difficult to sustain that now, given that there's a YouGov poll virtually every day. However, I thought you might enjoy the latest one (fieldwork was carried out yesterday and the day before) -

SNP 42%
Labour 31%
Conservatives 18%
Liberal Democrats 5%

Did someone say something about a 'Scomnishambles'?

The poll also shows that Scots are less likely than respondents from any other region of the UK to think that British troops are "winning" in Afghanistan, or that the war is winnable.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The black hole where the US media's coverage of third party candidates should be

It was an interesting experience watching CNN's election coverage as one of the roughly 1% of voters who had plumped for someone other than Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. Although I'd been in that position before, in past elections I'd voted for the relatively high-profile Ralph Nader. This time it was as if third party candidates didn't exist, and indeed as if their voters didn't exist either. The subliminal message was "if you didn't vote Democrat or Republican, you didn't participate in this election". Psychologically, it's very hard to swim against that tide, and I found that I had to remind myself a few times why the easy option of a vote for Obama really wouldn't have been such a great idea.

This subtle pressure on voters to conform is undoubtedly very convenient to some. At about 6am, I saw a former Clinton adviser talking about his party's "growing up" process in 1992, which included an embrace of the death penalty. The Democrats "wouldn't have been ready" to make that change four years earlier, he added with a degree of smugness. This repugnant notion that putting people to death somehow equates with "maturity" is enabled by the assumption that left-liberal voters have nowhere else to go - or if they're uppity enough to think they do have somewhere else to go, that they can and should be browbeaten back into line. Witness the disgraceful attempt to pin the blame for Bush's 2000 election victory on Nader and his supporters. Seemingly it had never occurred to the "centrists" and "moderates" (ahem) that their complicity in maintaining a discredited electoral system might just have consequences for them, as well as for the constituencies of opinion that they are happy to patronise and marginalise.

On a more positive note, it's conceivable that CNN may have been kind enough to actually count my Senate vote, because I happened to vote for the winning candidate - an unashamedly socialist independent. Which is a timely reminder that if enough people persevere with voting for third party candidates for long enough, eventually some of those candidates will make a breakthrough, and then they can't be ignored anymore.

It should also be pointed out that the US media's treatment of third parties is infinitely worse than anything we've ever seen in this country. Even when British politics was a genuinely straight fight between the Conservatives and Labour, the BBC used to faithfully report the results for Liberals and fringe candidates (indeed they probably did so more faithfully than they do now).

* * *

A quick update on my previous post - somewhat surprisingly, Puerto Rico seems to have broken the habit of decades by voting against the constitutional status quo. The most popular option was to become the 51st US state, so it'll be intriguing to see if their wishes are respected, or if "only English-speaking states are welcome here". Unfortunately, the attempt to abolish the death penalty in California failed, which is without question a considerable setback for the abolitionist movement throughout the US. I do still firmly belief that America will join the civilised world eventually, but it may take a few more decades yet.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

It's independence referendum day... Puerto Rico.  The fact that you probably didn't know that (no offence to anyone who did!) should perhaps cause us to question our assumption that any independence referendum is bound to attract considerable international interest.  After all, Puerto Rico is only slightly smaller than Scotland.  Having said that, today's vote follows on from a series of past referenda on the island that have always produced negligible support for outright independence.  There's no reason to expect anything different this time round, so that perhaps explains the lack of excitement.  The real interest will be whether the electorate opt for the status quo, for a free association agreement with the US, or to become the 51st state of the union.

Yes, you read that right.  This is a multi-option constitutional referendum.  The Scottish Liberal Democrats are understandably bemused - everyone knows that if you want constitutional change short of independence, the sure-fire way to get it is to insist that your preferred option is excluded from the ballot paper.

I must say that the status quo in Puerto Rico looks like the worst of all worlds - it gives the territory most of the bad things associated with being an integral part of the US, but without any of the voting rights.  Statehood might do the US and the wider world a favour by moving Congress slightly to the left, and increasing the chances of a Democratic victory in presidential elections. It would also make the US a much more unambiguously bilingual nation.  However, assuming independence isn't a realistic option, I think free association is what I'd be looking towards if I lived on the island.  In a way it's strange that option has never really been floated for Scotland - perhaps that's because as a proud historic nation it's unthinkable for us to have the same constitutional status as the Marshall Islands.  But the fact remains that free association is a rung on the ladder above Devo Max - we'd be sovereign, and outside the United Kingdom.

Another referendum taking place today will decide whether California should abolish the death penalty.  I'm quite glad I'm not involved in that campaign, because the Yes side have made a tactical decision to abandon the moral arguments against capital punishment, and are instead advancing the 'fiscal conservative' case that life imprisonment without parole would be more cost-effective.  They seem to be gaining some traction that way, but it must be hard to try to win a victory for a deeply-held moral principle by pretending you don't really care about that principle.

I was amused to see this defence of the death penalty on a forum the other day -

"We all have consciences to some degree HB....

The main difference here, is OUR consciences are activated by seeing a multiple murderer/child rapist be released, or escape from prison..

and do his horrible deed to yet another child....

yep, this drives my conscience absolutly NUTS.

While YOU'RE conscience activates over SAVING the pig knowing full well that they can escape, or be do their dirty deed over & over.....

You sure you want to talk about a pro's conscience?"

So the main justification for capital punishment is that prisoners "might escape" if you don't kill them? Crikey, just how insecure are these American maximum-security prisons?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Questions to which the answer is 'if you don't stop asking these horrid questions, I'll shame this family by becoming an arsonist'

Gordon Brown may not have been the greatest ever PM, but it's now clear that was not the summit of his political career. No, the role that history has been preparing him for is to resurrect Labour Hame's legendary Questions To Which The Answer Is "Er..." feature, which has been so shamefully neglected by its creator Tom "Admin" Harris for over a year now. For the uninitiated, the feature consisted of a series of 'impossible' questions for Nationalists. They were 'impossible' for the following reasons -

1) Approximately 728 answers from Nationalists would be received for each question, of which approximately 701 would be deleted. They simply didn't exist.

2) The remaining 27 answers would be declared "non-answers".

3) When asked why they were non-answers, "Admin" would explain that a legitimate answer could only consist of a 'Yes' or a 'No', without qualification.

4) Subsequent legitimate answers consisting of an unqualified 'Yes' or 'No' would be greeted with the words : "Thankyou for attempting to answer this week's Question To Which The Answer Is "Er...". Unfortunately, your answer was incorrect."

5) The question would then be declared UNANSWERED.

What a lark. Sadly missed.

But now Big Gord has made up for lost time, with more than twenty absolute belters. I feel like a kid let loose in a sweet shop, but I really don't want to make myself ill, so for now I'll just restrict myself to my absolute favourite -

"What happens if the Scottish Parliament has a different view on the line of succession for the Monarchy?"

First of all, the fact that this genuinely appears to be one of the questions keeping Gordon awake at night says something rather profound about his sense of priorities. As Johann Lamont might put it : "a male heir to the throne is no substitute for having a job".

But as it seems to be so important to Gordon, let's try and put this matter in some kind of perspective for him. There are currently sixteen Commonwealth Realms, ie. countries which share our monarch as their Head of State. All of them could in theory take their own view on the line of succession, but all of them have decided that would be extremely silly, and have agreed that any change (most probably allowing a girl to take precedence over any younger brothers) would have to come about through consensus. Scottish independence would simply add a seventeenth Commonwealth Realm to that process.

Now my own question for any passing Labour activist, if they can find the time -

Given the theoretical but unlikely possibility that the parliaments of New Zealand, Jamaica or Papua New Guinea could take a different view on the line of succession for the monarchy, does this mean that the independence of those countries is unviable?

In your own time, chaps...

* * *

Suffering from Denis MacShane withdrawal symptoms? Get fast relief by trying out the Scot Goes Pop Denis MacShane word-search from last year.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Phil's Fallout Feeds My Five-Year-Old

Brit Nuke chief Phil Hammond today BLASTED the parochial Jock First Minister for his "crazy obsession" with averting global nuclear catastrophe.

Speaking on flagship radio show Mornings Are Better Together, Hammond announced that an extra SEVENTEEN nuclear-related jobs could be created in Scotland - but this would ONLY happen in the event of nuclear war. In a devastating blow for the separatist pipe-dream, he confirmed that Scotland was highly unlikely to be part of a nuclear war if it left the United Kingdom.

"Mr. Salmond may be a tad slow on the uptake," said Hammond with a glint in his eye, "but the people of Scotland have always known that nuclear explosions create jobs. Once our cities have been destroyed, seventeen Scots will be leading the firefighting efforts, and handing out comfort biscuits to survivors. That's even better than it sounds, because those seventeen people will constitute an incredible 97% of the remaining workforce.

"Are Scots really going to throw away the chance to fulfil John Smith's goal of full employment? I think not. We're better together."

And in a clear sign that Joke Jock Alex has misread the mood of his own people, Hammond was greeted by hundreds of well-wishers as he left the studio. Some were carrying placards featuring slogans such as "Phil's Fallout Feeds My Five-Year-Old".

With depressing predictability, however, Hammond's intervention was greeted with somewhat less enthusiasm by his coalition 'partners'.

"Steady on, chaps," said a Lib Dem source. "We may well be up for a job-creating nuclear war eventually, but we've yet to go through our traditional 'looking reluctant' phase. That will take at least two weeks."

But Labour insisted that allergic-to-divorce Scots shouldn't be disheartened by the apparent coalition tensions.

"In fact, this brings the creation of these seventeen much-needed jobs even closer," explained Alistair Darling of the Marriage Conciliation Service. "We now have a very real chance of a nuclear war between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Party. This would never happen under separation. Let's say it loud and proud - we're better together and we'll burn together."

Read more about this story in the print edition of your super soaraway Scot Goes Pop.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why are YouGov so convinced they can "improve" on the referendum question?

I overlooked this YouGov poll on independence the other day, which essentially shows an identical position to the previous poll by the same company a week earlier -

Yes 29% (-1)
No 55% (-1)

(Note : In my post about the earlier poll, I incorrectly gave the figure for Yes as 31% rather than 30%, because the question had been asked two different ways with slightly different results.)

A supplementary question asked whether Yes Scotland (the Yes campaign) or Better Together (the No campaign) had produced better evidence to support its case. The results were strikingly different -

Yes Scotland 33%
Better Together 32%

One point stressed in the reporting of this poll is that the main question asked by YouGov was the actual referendum question proposed by the Scottish Government. This would indeed constitute progress for a polling company that has for years much preferred questions like "Do you REALLY think that Scotland should be WHOLLY separate from its dear brothers and sisters in the rest of the United Kingdom, cast adrift in the North Atlantic without food, shelter or warmth?". But, alas, the story isn't quite so simple. YouGov apparently still believe their panel are far too thick to understand the meaning of the words "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?", and felt obliged to offer an 'explanatory' preamble to the question, pointing out (you've guessed it) that what the referendum is really about is Scotland leaving the United Kingdom.

There's no great mystery as to what's going on here. Peter Kellner, the head of YouGov, recently penned an article in which he once again lambasted the SNP for proposing a 'loaded' question. Well, he's perfectly entitled to that faintly ludicrous opinion, but what he isn't entitled to do is allow his personal beliefs about what would constitute a "better" question to continue to skew his polls, however subtly. It should surely be self-evident that the most robust, credible and reliable polls will be those that ask the actual referendum question in a straightforward, unadorned manner.

Incidentally, Kellner's article also contained the jaw-droppingly hubristic claim that he knows - literally knows for a fact two years in advance - that there will be a No vote in the referendum, a conviction for which he offered a string of spurious justifications. Now, it would be extremely easy to dismiss this as a partisan stunt by a known Labour sympathiser (and the husband of Baroness Cathy Ashton), but in truth I think that Kellner is a serious analyst who just has some pretty major blind spots. Anyone who watched the replay of the BBC's 1992 election coverage earlier this year will have seen him make a series of utterly bizarre predictions - one was that Brussels would soon somehow 'force' the UK to use proportional representation for its national elections. Twenty years on, it's sad to say that his bolder predictions are no more soundly-based.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What's done is done, but let's try not to bring back the tawse

There probably isn't a good way for a political party to lose a member of its parliamentary group, but there are very bad ways and less bad ways. The worst is either (depending on your point of view) straight defection to another party or a resignation forced by a criminal charge or conviction. The next worst is a resignation caused by an internal party squabble, à la Margo MacDonald or Dennis Canavan. MSPs who resign on a specific matter of conscience, but who remain on good terms with their former party leadership and pledge to remain supportive on most parliamentary votes, is the least worst of all. Indeed, it reminds the public of the strong principles that attracted people to the SNP in the first place - this isn't a party of careerists or narrow nationalists, but of idealists who see independence as a vehicle for a better nation and a better world. Additionally, to the extent that the electorate stand to be reassured by the change in policy on NATO, this underscores for them that the shift is not cosmetic, but is genuine and has had consequences.

Nevertheless, the departure of John Finnie and Jean Urquhart is still highly regrettable, and I can't help but feel that the leadership have to take a share of the blame. Loyalty and the maintenance of unity isn't a one-way street. Before indicating their desire for a change in policy, did the leadership take steps to ascertain whether resignations were likely? That should certainly have been a factor in their thinking - there may be some (small) tactical advantage in being seen to be more in step with public opinion on NATO, but there's also a tactical advantage in a party remaining united. A natural majority clearly exists within the SNP for leaving NATO (the narrowness of the vote suggests that it was swung by delegates who didn't want to embarrass the leadership), and the most appropriate way to maintain unity is to ensure that the majority voice is respected.

However, what's done is done. Let's hope the lessons have been learned, and that there are no further attempts to push the party membership further than they are prepared to go on their core principles - ie. no innocuous policy "updates" on reintroducing the tawse!

Lastly, I don't want to say I told you so, but I told you so. I suggested in May last year that the SNP ought to think twice about installing Tricia Marwick as Presiding Officer, because it would slightly increase the risk of them losing their overall majority at some point during the five-year parliament. Eighteen months on, the majority is already down to two seats. It's unlikely to make much practical difference if the majority is eventually lost, but you can be sure that the symbolism would be gleefully seized upon by the unionist parties.

Monday, October 22, 2012

No campaign's own poll shows increase in support for independence

Another day, another mildly encouraging poll - but this one is courtesy of the No campaign. I seem to recall this isn't the first time that a Better Together poll has backfired in this way - thanks again, chaps. Here are the figures...

Yes 31% (+4)
No 56% (-4)

It's a YouGov poll, so the percentage changes are from the last YouGov poll on independence in August. It pretty much entirely reverses the Olympic blip that our unionist friends got so excited about at the time - the pre-Olympic figures were Yes 30%, No 54%.

The poll also shows that as many as 21% of Labour supporters will vote for independence. It strikes me that either Tom Harris' sneering claim that the Labour for Independence group must be "Nats pretending to be Labour" is wrong, or else Labour activists are utterly failing to represent the views of their own voters. I hope (and believe) it's the former.

It's probably already been widely discussed elsewhere, but I've also just spotted that there was a YouGov poll commissioned by the SNP a few days ago -

The 'Yes' campaign is deploying a series of arguments as part of their campaign to achieve a 'Yes' vote for an independent Scotland in the referendum in 2014 – for example they point to statistics showing that Scotland generates 9.6% of UK taxes, but receives just 9.3% of UK spending in return. If the 'Yes' campaign could persuade you that you and your family would be economically better off with Scottish independence, in these circumstances, how likely or unlikely would you be to vote 'Yes' for an independent Scotland in 2014?

Likely 45%
Unlikely 36%

So we now know that the Scottish people will vote for independence if they think the Tories will win the next general election, or if they think they would be economically better-off. Hmmm. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this somehow doesn't strike me as being the hopeless position for the Yes campaign that the London media would have us believe.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Panelbase poll : independence within touching distance

Thanks to Marcia on the previous thread for alerting me to today's Panelbase poll on independence, which is far more encouraging than the recent Ipsos-Mori and TNS-BMRB polls. The main question has independence just eight points behind -

Yes 37% (+2)
No 45% (+1)

However, there is also a supplementary question asking how people would vote if they thought the next election would result in a Tory victory, or a renewed Tory-Lib Dem coalition. This produces a dramatic turnaround -

Yes 52%
No 40%

It would be interesting to know exactly how that question was framed, because there's always a danger with these hypothetical questions of giving respondents the impression they're 'supposed' to produce a different answer. Nevertheless, it does demonstrate a plausible reason for believing this referendum can be won, and one which will not please Tom Harris and friends, who will doubtless step up their attempts to lecture the Scottish people that wanting rid of the Tories is not a good enough reason to vote for independence. I dare say it all makes sense to a man who moved heaven and earth to install David Cameron in Downing Street.

UPDATE : Judging from the details of the poll that have been mentioned on the SNP website, it appears that respondents were actually asked both about how they would vote if they thought the Tories were going to win the election, and about how they would vote if they thought Labour were going to win. This increases the credibility of the findings (because it means the questioning was even-handed), but what's particularly fascinating is that support for independence also increases sharply when voters anticipate a Labour government, with the lead for the No side decreasing to four points.

* * *

Although I switched on the TV in time to catch the result of the SNP conference vote on NATO the other day, I missed the debate itself. If I had been a delegate I would have voted to maintain the existing policy, so I was a bit troubled by suggestions that proponents of a change had used inflammatory language such as "grow up". RevStu's summary of proceedings has been very helpful in making sense of what happened -

"The real killer blow, though, came in a closing speech from Angus Robertson, the proposer of the motion.

Reminding the conference that he’d been in charge of the SNP’s two historic Holyrood victories, he led them onto the sucker punch – that even in the 2011 landslide they’d only secured 44% of the vote, and 44% wasn’t enough to win a referendum. It was a devastating point..."

I'm not sure about that. The SNP enjoyed a victory last year of extraordinary proportions, and the idea that they might have topped 50% if only they had been pro-NATO seems fairly fanciful. As RevStu reminds us later in his piece, polling evidence suggests that only 11% of the electorate want to leave NATO, so that clearly wasn't a bar to at least another 33% voting SNP. Indeed, it was probably a greater number than that, because some anti-NATO voters would presumably have voted Green, SSP, Solidarity or Respect.

The Greens have also been quick to correctly point out that this doesn't even mark a shift in the stance of the Yes campaign, which is multi-party and thus does not take a view on NATO. Of course some unionists and commentators will always insist on conflating the SNP's policy with "what will automatically happen under independence", so from that point of view there may be some tactical benefit to this change. But I very much doubt it will make a huge difference.

"The second-weakest argument, incidentally, was that staying in NATO would prevent Scotland from leading the entire globe to multilateral disarmament. With the best will in the world, the notion that what Scotland does could ever have even the tiniest impact on the nuclear policies of the USA, Russia or China is delusional tree-hugging insanity of the absurdest order."

True, but it's not unreasonable to suppose that Scotland refusing to join NATO would have a modest international impact, because it might check the momentum in favour of the organisation's seemingly relentless expansion. It could stiffen the resolve of a country like Finland to remain on the outside, for example.

"If you’re underneath a bomb, you don’t much care what kind it is.

This is something that’s puzzled us for decades, frankly. We really don’t get the hysterical opposition to nuclear weapons as opposed to other kinds of weapons. Go and ask the people of Tokyo or Dresden if they’re relieved that they got attacked with nice cuddly “conventional” weapons instead of nukes."

On that point I part company entirely with RevStu. The devastation wreaked on Tokyo and Dresden may have been comparable to the effects of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but that's because nuclear weapons technology was in its infancy in 1945. Modern nuclear weapons have the potential to virtually (and some would argue literally) wipe out the human species. In that sense they are comparable to chemical and biological weapons, but not to conventional weapons. WMDs are quite rightly in a special category, and it should be the goal of every civilised nation to eliminate them.

However, as I've said before, a change in the SNP's stance on NATO membership isn't the end of the world (no pun intended). We're sure as hell not going to get out of NATO for as long as we remain in the UK, so the first priority is to achieve independence, and then those of us who want to leave NATO can set about campaigning to achieve that goal.

* * *

NOTE : I've temporarily removed Better Nation from the blog list in the sidebar, because for some reason it was triggering a doom-laden warning on Chrome urging people to leave this blog immediately. It's almost certainly a false warning, and I'll put BN back on as soon as the issue is resolved.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Iain McKenzie, coincidence, and cosmic beauty

A woman walks along a random street, hundreds of miles from home. She passes a phone box where the phone is ringing, and out of curiosity answers it. On the other end of the line is her husband, who addresses her by name. He thinks he is talking to her on her mobile phone, but has got the wrong number.

Some people are scared by a coincidence like that. They assume that it could not possibly happen by random chance, and must have some underlying meaning. In many ways that's the foundation of superstition - and perhaps of one or two religions as well.

But, in truth, science tells us that it's statistically inevitable that these amazing coincidences will occasionally occur - so much so, in fact, that we ought to be far more frightened if they don't happen. So when we discover that Inverclyde's Labour MP Iain McKenzie rented a flat using taxpayers' money, and by completely random chance discovered later that he had accidentally ended up with a fellow Labour MP as his landlady, we shouldn't be scared, and we certainly shouldn't be sceptical of his story. We should simply embrace it as one of those extraordinary phenomena, like the aurora borealis, that enrich our world with so much beauty. And when we discover that, even more remarkably, three other MPs also accidentally rented flats from fellow MPs, we should feel even more enriched.

This is, it must be said, a special moment for those of us who predicted that something truly wonderful would happen if the people of Inverclyde had the good sense to elect McKenzie as their MP.

* * *

I've just heard that George Osborne has been caught sitting in the first-class compartment of a train with a standard-class ticket. He asked the conductor for special permission to stay where he was to avoid having to mix with the plebs, but was refused. As per what happened on a ScotRail train last year, I trust a "big man" arrived on the scene to deliver swift and violent justice to the fare-dodger, with the cheers of fellow passengers and the right-wing press ringing in his ears?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Ipsos-Mori poll : SNP retain solid Holyrood lead

Ipsos-Mori's latest Scottish poll suggests that the SNP's lead in voting intention for the Scottish Parliament has narrowed, but still stands at a reasonably healthy five points. The party's raw share of the vote is, at 40%, some seven points higher than when Alex Salmond first took power in 2007. Here are the full figures -

SNP 40% (-5)
Labour 35% (+3)
Conservatives 13% (+1)
Liberal Democrats 8% (+2)

There is also a question on voting intention for the independence referendum.

Yes 30% (-5)
No 58% (+3)

Which is very much in line with the drop in support for independence recorded recently by TNS-BMRB. As I said the other day in my guest post at PB, the obvious grounds for optimism is the possibility that we are currently witnessing a "London 2012" blip, which will shortly be reversed as memories of the summer gradually fade. It seems entirely plausible that will prove to be the case (after all, the Olympics were a complete one-off, and certainly won't be replicated by 'celebrating' the 100th anniversary of the start of a global catastrophe), but only time will tell.

Oh, and by the way, the Times seem to think Alex Salmond should regard his net personal rating of +10 as bad news. Just remind me of how far below zero Cameron, Miliband and Clegg currently are?

UPDATE : Ipsos-Mori have been in touch, and have asked me to correct this post, which originally stated -

"There is also a question on voting intention for the independence referendum. Caution should be exercised here, because from the little I've seen of the report in the Times, it looks very much like this is yet another example of a unionist newspaper commissioning a pollster to ask a question that bears little resemblance to the actual proposed referendum question. However, for what it's worth, here are the figures..."

In fact, the question asked was identical to the one proposed by the Scottish Government, ie. "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?". The reason for my mistake is that I wrote the post overnight, when Ipsos-Mori hadn't yet (as far as I could see) posted the details of the poll on their website, so I was reliant on an extract from the Times report which gave the impression that respondents had been asked if they supported the union or independence.

I'm very happy to correct the error, and I also hope that Ipsos-Mori's excellent practice in using the real referendum question will now be followed by other pollsters, notably YouGov and TNS-BMRB. There really is no remaining excuse for them not to do so, especially now that we know the Scottish Parliament will ultimately control the wording of the question.

* * *

There are times when all you can do with Simon 'Says Separation' Johnson of the Telegraph is sit back and admire his unique artistry. Has there ever been such an exquisitely contradictory sentence as this?

"The FCO said independence could even result in customs posts at the Border as Scotland would no longer benefit from the UK’s opt-out to the Schengen Agreement, which guarantees free movement between EU member states."

OK, let's untangle this, if such a feat is humanly possible. Scotland would no longer benefit from NOT having the benefit of free movement between EU member states. So it seems the existence of border posts and a lack of free movement is in itself a benefit. Presumably this means that having even more border posts imposed on us by partitionists in London would constitute even more of a benefit?

The sophistication of this theology is positively Harrisian. Border posts and restrictions on movement are simultaneously both a good thing and a bad thing. Okey-dokey.

"Although the document does not name specific threats to Britain’s influence, it is understood they fear Argentina would try and have the UK removed as one of the five permanent members of the UN’s Security Council."

I must say I'm extraordinarily relaxed about the idea of the UK losing its permanent seat on the Security Council. The veto power of the permanent members is a relic of colonialism, and should be scrapped as soon as possible - but won't be, for the obvious reason that a change in the rules would be vetoed by the permanent members. And there's the point - I'm sure Argentina and a whole host of other countries would be only too delighted to see the UK dislodged from the council, but they are powerless to make that happen. The only permanent member to have been previously cast out by a vote in the General Assembly was Taiwan - but that was done by the sleight of hand of redefining what was meant by "China", and replacing the Republic of China with the People's Republic of China. The automatic right of China itself to a permanent place on the council was never in question. I suppose Argentina could always try redefining what is meant by "the UK" (perhaps it means Scotland?) but I doubt if they'd gain much traction.

In other words : red herring. Alas.

"The UK’s criticism of regimes in countries like Iran and Syria would also be blunted, with their leaders likely to crow over Scotland deciding to separate."

Are we really supposed to believe that the Western Alliance is so feeble that it can't survive a tiny bit of "crowing"?

"Scotland would lose its representation on the Security Council or the G20 group of the world’s largest economies, the submission said."

Scotland doesn't have any representation to lose, Simon. Or perhaps you're talking about William Hague? Dear God...

"Its ability to influence the EU would also suffer under a new proportional voting system that favours larger nations being introduced in 2014."

Can an increase in voting power from zero to a proportionate share really be characterised as "suffering"?

"Scots abroad could also be put at greater risk of "child abduction, forced marriage or crime" through the loss of the UK's consular assistance."

Snigger. Will that happen before or after UK embassies cripple our economy by withdrawing their tireless promotional efforts for Scotch whisky?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

@Admin4TheYoonYoon Tweet-Watch : The Return

It's been far, far too long since we've taken a dip into the exotic waters of the Twitter account of Johann Lamont's former Shadow Minister for Conducting a Review Into the Uses of Modern Technology. It's been a momentous 48 hours in so many different ways - did Tom rise to the occasion? Judge for yourself...

"So it's settled: a single question on whether Scotland should split from the rest of the country and join the euro. I'll be voting No."

"Like the idea of having to change your money between euros and pounds at the border? Then vote Yes to separation!"

Correct me if I'm wrong, Tom, but I seem to recall that you were rather keen on securing the election of a certain Mr Tony Blair, who as Prime Minister wanted to join the euro, and who I understand still thinks Britain's destiny lies in that direction. Alex Salmond has mortally sinned by deviating from that Golden Blairite Path, and has instead committed himself to retaining sterling. You suspect, for some unspecified reason, that he is lying and fully intends to take heed of the Great Leader's wisdom. In what sense is that a bad thing?

This is an impressively nuanced belief system, and it would be intriguing to hear more about it.

"How depressing that the extent of many Nats' ambitions for an "independent" Scotland is for it to be "Tory-free"."

How depressing that the ambition of a "Labour MP" doesn't even extend as far as wanting Scotland not to be ruled by Tories. Indeed, Tom was so nauseated by the prospect of working with other parties to put together a non-Tory government that he actively campaigned in the days immediately following the 2010 election to put David Cameron in office. Always worth remembering any time you see Tom going through the motions of an anti-Cammo tweet, as he occasionally does - Dave was his own choice as PM.

"Maybe the debate should be about the Scottish people's advantage, rather than petty party advantage? Just a thought."

Luckily, we at least have one party - the Labour party - which has always set aside its vested interest in retaining a large bloc of Scottish seats at Westminster. That never even enters their heads.

Retweeet : "I don't get that so many Nats think they are voting for a political system for the next five years and not the next 300 years."

Well, we've now had Tory and Tory Lite rule for 33 unbroken years - I'm not sure it's entirely fanciful to suggest that the independence referendum is our best chance to avoid the next 30 or 60 years, if not the next 300, being more of the same. But of course, Tom, you could always prove us wrong by pushing for Labour to forget about triangulation and implement what it's actually supposed to believe in. I'm not holding my breath.

Oh, and for good measure, Tom chucked in a presumably approving retweet of Alex Massie lamenting the fact that Gary McKinnon has been spared the tender mercies of the US judicial system. Isn't it remarkable - a rare occasion when pandering to the sentiment of Daily Mail readers in the south of England wouldn't have put Tom out of step with mainstream Scottish values, and that's the one time he doesn't want to do it.

* * *

Just to let you know I had a guest post on Political Betting last night about polling trends on independence - you can read it HERE.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ten reasons why Scottish independence isn't "pointless", Mr. Warner

Except in fairly extreme circumstances, it's probably a bit silly to call for a boycott of anything. But from a personal point of view, I might find it necessary to give the Yahoo UK home page a wide berth in future if there's any repeat of what happened today. Basically they've taken a Telegraph opinion piece from a man who evidently holds the entire nation of Scotland in sneering contempt, and summarised his main argument ("there is a fatal financial contradiction in the Scottish National Party's plans for independence") on the home page as if they were reporting 'news' or 'fact'. Why Yahoo have even chosen to republish such a rambling and utterly unoriginal diatribe is rather baffling (can we look forward to an article putting forward the alternative view, and if not, why not?), but at a minimum we were entitled to expect a disclaimer that this was merely one man's opinion, not a truth being passed down from God.

Anyway, let's take a quick look at Jeremy Warner's article itself, starting with the title -

"Why would Scotland turn itself into Greece?"

I don't know. This, and a number of other questions equally unrelated to the subject of independence, are likely to remain an impenetrable mystery. Why, for example, would Cat Deeley want to turn herself into the Taj Mahal? Why would a mauve bison want to materialise on Jupiter and start singing the greatest hits of Girls Aloud? We quite simply DON'T KNOW.

"What Scotland will in fact be voting on is whether to give its devolved government a mandate to negotiate independence."

No, it won't, actually. That was the wording of the original proposed 'consultative' question that the Scottish government could have asked with or without the UK government's consent. The actual question will be much more direct.

"Now obviously, Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, has his wish list. It goes something like this. You keep all the national debt, we keep all the oil..."

Sigh. No, Jeremy. What Mr Salmond is actually proposing is as follows -

* Scotland 'keeps' only the oil in its own sovereign waters.
* England, meanwhile, keeps the oil in its sovereign waters.
* Scotland 'keeps' a share of the national debt in proportion to its share of the UK population.

Tell me, Jeremy, exactly what is so unreasonable or unrealistic about this 'wish-list'? You wouldn't be the first unionist who appears to think that London should have proprietorial rights over the natural resources of another sovereign state, but it would be no less entertaining to hear you attempt to justify such a startling proposition.

"Salmond is demanding a whopper of a divorce settlement, even though he is, as it were, the guilty party."

Yes, folks, you heard that right. If you want to exercise your right under international law to self-determination, you are 'wronging' someone else. You must consequently make financial reparations for your 'guilt'. There speaks the authentic voice of unionist journalism in London.

"To put it mildly, to vote for fiscal and political separation, but for the continuation of monetary union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is a contradiction in terms. If there is one thing we have learnt from Europe’s experiment in monetary union, it is that it won’t work unless accompanied by fiscal union and political federalism."

And if I've learned one thing in my life, it's that "2+2=22"-type assertions by the assistant editor of the Telegraph are not necessarily the same thing as hard fact. But in any case, what is actually meant by "federalism"? Is this an example of the Eurosceptic worldview that cannot distinguish between the actual meaning of the word "federal" (entrenched decentralisation of power) and the dystopian fantasy of a centralised "superstate"? In a genuinely federal UK, for example, Scotland could be expected to enjoy considerably more self-government than it currently does, and all the powers held by Holyrood would be far more entrenched. At present, the Scottish Parliament could theoretically be abolished at any time by Westminster, which also retains an unrestricted power to "legislate for Scotland".

"In Europe, the strategy has been to start with monetary union, and then, however implausibly, make everyone march in lockstep towards fiscal and political union....

Scotland would be doing the whole process in reverse. It starts with fiscal union, and then… well, who really knows? I’m damned if I can figure it out."

Then why allow yourself to be handsomely paid for wittering on about a subject you openly admit you don't understand? All the same, you seem to be implying that an independent Scotland that is fiscally constrained by being part of a sterling currency zone could end up enjoying even less autonomy than it currently does under devolution. Let me give you a small hint here - it wouldn't. Seriously. I suspect you know that, Jeremy, in spite of all this disarming self-deprecation about your lack of knowledge.

"The point is that monetary union doesn't work unless those involved are in pretty much perfect economic, fiscal, monetary and political alignment. We are therefore left with one over-riding question about Scottish separation: beyond bravado and grandstanding by a small cadre of senior politicians, what precisely is the point of it?"

Well, let's be ultra-generous and suppose for the sake of argument that Jeremy's assumption of a need for "perfect alignment" isn't the utter tripe we all know it is. What could an independent Scotland still do under the extreme type of economic constraint he implies? Well, how about this for starters -

1. It could get weapons of mass destruction off its soil.
2. It could opt out of London's illegal wars.
3. It could decide its own immigration policy.
4. It could tighten restrictions on the ownership of guns.
5. It could revitalise Scottish public service broadcasting.
6. It could decide its own law on abortion.
7. It could settle its own overseas aid budget.
8. It could reach its own extradition agreements, ending the outrage of the UK's unequal agreement with the United States.
9. It could properly control energy policy and the railways.
10. It could end the war on the poor and vulnerable by assuming control of its own welfare budget.

OK, we give in, Jeremy. Quite plainly the stuff of trivia, every last one.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sing it out, every song is a cry for love

From the Telegraph's 'report' on the seemingly imminent resolution of the referendum stand-off -

"Mr Cameron told the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham that the Olympics highlighted the depth of feeling for the UK, adding: “Whether our athletes were English, Scottish, Welsh or from Northern Ireland, they draped themselves in one flag."

I know. It would have been even more touching if they'd all done it of their own free will.

"Now, there's one person who didn't like that, and he's called Alex Salmond."

Er...make that two, David. Don't suppose there's a third out there somewhere, by any chance?

"I'm going to see him on Monday to sort out that referendum on independence by the end of 2014."

Ah, you mean you're sheepishly going to make a string of concessions in order to secure the one and only thing you've been hellbent on achieving from the word go - ie. being clearly seen by all Scots as the person who has denied them the full range of choices on their own constitutional future. Masterfully done, as ever. Don't worry - I doubt if there's a single Devo Max supporter who will now feel driven to vote for independence as a result of your antics.

"Let's say it, we're better together and we'll rise together..."

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains.

You RAI-AISE me up, to walk on stormy seas...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Mad World Part 2 : it's "anti-women" to agree with the views of millions of women

You might remember the tagline of Mr Eugenides' old blog was "holding back the rage". I sometimes used to think that could also apply to this blog when I find myself in full-on rant mode, but I now realise that I'd be hard-pressed to match Edinburgh Eye on that score, judging by the strength of her reaction to my last post -

"Alex Neil isn’t fit to be Health Secretary if he thinks he can express such anti-women, anti-healthcare views in public. He should either retract or resign, since if Alex Salmond continues to keep him as Health Secretary, it’s a clear indication that to Salmond, Alex Neil’s views aren’t objectionable...

Oddly enough, my first stumble across the story was in James Kelly’s blog instructing me that what Alex Neil thought about abortion didn’t matter and shouldn’t affect my views on independence and I must be “thick” if I thought it should.

Other SNP defenders suggested that it didn’t matter what Alex Neil thought because as Health Secretary he didn’t really have anything to do with abortion. Or that it didn’t matter that Alex Neil was only as bad as David Cameron because Jeremy Hunt was much worse. None of these are good defenses, because none of them deal with the real problem – the SNP has appointed a man who holds anti-choice views on abortion to be Health Secretary: instead they create a huge problem, which is that with every defence of Alex Neil, the SNP is building itself up to be the anti-choice party in Scotland, the party not to be trusted on human rights."

Well, of course I wasn't 'instructing' anyone to do or think anything. Quite the contrary, in fact - I was objecting to the idea that all women must dutifully hold the views on abortion and independence prescribed for them by the Labour party. So I decided to set the record straight, and it developed into the following exchange...

Me : “Oddly enough, my first stumble across the story was in James Kelly’s blog instructing me that what Alex Neil thought about abortion didn’t matter and shouldn’t affect my views on independence and I must be “thick” if I thought it should.”

Actually, I didn’t say that, and I suspect you know I didn’t say that. I said that Labour must think that women are thick, based on a suggestion from one of their activists that practically every woman would now desert the pro-independence cause simply because of what Alex Neil said.

“Other SNP defenders suggested that it didn’t matter what Alex Neil thought because as Health Secretary he didn’t really have anything to do with abortion.”

He doesn’t. It’s a fact. Abortion law is wholly reserved to Westminster, and if it was ever transferred to Holyrood it would continue to be decided by a free vote. This is the point you’re missing – the Scotland on Sunday article was indeed misleading, but not because Neil was misquoted. It was their interpretation that “the government is signalling a change” that was misleading – or, to put it more bluntly, a lie. By definition, a free vote means that the government will not be taking a collective view on this at all, let alone signalling a change.

In one very limited sense you’re right – Alex Neil’s personal view DOES matter, but only because he has one vote out of 129. That’s it.

Edinburgh Eye : "I said that Labour must think that women are thick, based on a suggestion from one of their activists that practically every woman would now desert the pro-independence cause simply because of what Alex Neil said."

Yes. And the follow-on from that is that any woman who does reject independence because its adherents are all rallying round to support Alex Neil, must be thick.

Thanks so much.

"It was their interpretation that “the government is signalling a change” that was misleading – or, to put it more bluntly, a lie. By definition, a free vote means that the government will not be taking a collective view on this at all, let alone signalling a change."

Yep. The SNP had the option of avoiding this implication by promptly sacking Alex Neil as Health Secretary. They opted not to.

Me : "And the follow-on from that is that any woman who does reject independence because its adherents are all rallying round to support Alex Neil, must be thick."

Nope. This slipperiness isn't doing your argument any favours. First of all I wasn't talking about women who reject independence for the reason you suggest ("its adherents are rallying round"), and neither was the activist I responded to. He was suggesting that women would reject independence simply because they didn't like Alex Neil's personal views, and yes, if he really believes that, he must think women are pretty stupid.

I certainly wouldn't describe someone as stupid or thick because they turn against independence on the grounds that they don't like the SNP's support for Alex Neil, but I do think such a reaction is demonstrably irrational. The SNP is not independence, and independence is not the SNP. There will be an election to decide which party or parties governs an independent Scotland. If you have an issue with the SNP, vote for another party in that election.

A second aspect to the reason why that activist must think women are stupid is that he evidently perceives them as herd-like, with entirely uniform views. He believes diversity of opinion and individuality of thought on the subject of abortion is a male preserve. That's what I was getting at (as made abundantly clear in point 1 of my blogpost), so it just doesn't make sense to claim that it's a 'follow-on' from what I said that any individual woman must be thick if she reacts in a certain way.

"Why didn’t it occur to the vast majority of the SNP supporters, even those who say they disagree with Alex Neil, to actually step up and say that Alex Neil should cease to be Health Secretary?"

Well, I can't speak for other SNP supporters, but I'll tell you why it didn't occur to me. I not only think that Alex Neil is a fit and proper person to be Health Secretary, I think it would be utterly outrageous if he was sacked for simply expressing a perfectly legitimate and mainstream view that is also held by a significant proportion of the public, and indeed is held by more women than men -

"Polls consistently show the opposite – that women are more likely than men to support a reduction on the abortion limit. In the 2011 YouGov poll 28% of men supported a reduction, 46% of women did. In the 2012 YouGov poll 24% of men supported a reduction, 49% of women did. In the Angus Reid poll 35% of men supported a reduction in the limit, 59% of women did. In the ICM poll 45% of men supported a reduction to 20 weeks, 59% of women did."

Is it really "anti-women" to express support for the political views of millions of women?

*    *    *

One other point is worth making. Margaret Thatcher supported the reintroduction of capital punishment during her entire eleven-and-a-half years as Prime Minister. For most of that period, her party had a Commons majority of over 100. This was also a time when, unlike now, membership of the Council of Europe and the European Community would not have precluded the return of the death penalty. Mrs Thatcher of course sometimes expressed her personal view in public, just as Alex Neil has now done on an equivalent matter of conscience, and it did not lead to a rebellion against her leadership. On Edinburgh Eye's logic that means there was an "implication" that the Thatcher government was collectively in favour of capital punishment. But that logic is wrong, as a succession of parliamentary votes in the 1980s handily demonstrates.

The views of individual political leaders really are neither here nor there on the matters of conscience that are traditionally decided by a free vote. If control over abortion law is transferred to Scotland, it will be exclusively a matter for parliament, not for the government, and certainly not for the Health Secretary acting on his own initiative.

*    *    *

UPDATE : And some more...

Edinburgh Eye : Alex Neil is anti-choice: he's been appointed Health Secretary: the SNP supporters are rallying round to defend having a Health Secretary with anti-choice views: this turns me off independence because I don’t want to live in a country run by people like that.

And your reaction is to say you think I'm pretty stupid. You're still not being convincing.

Why defend Alex Neil and attack his opposition?

Me : "Alex Neil is anti-choice"

He isn't. That simply isn't true, and won't become true no matter how many times you repeat it. He favours a small reduction in the time limit on abortion. If simply being in favour of ANY time limit on abortion is "anti-choice", then practically the entire population of this country is anti-choice.

"this turns me off independence because I don't want to live in a country run by people like that."

And thus you prefer to live in a country run by people like Jeremy Hunt who, er, wants to cut the time limit on abortion much further than Alex Neil does. Yup, that makes perfect sense.

"And your reaction is to say you think I'm pretty stupid."

The one and only thing I think is stupid is your determination to convince yourself that I've called you stupid, in spite of repeated explanations that I've done no such thing.

"Why defend Alex Neil and attack his opposition?"

Probably because I think he's a principled man who has expressed an entirely appropriate personal view on a subject that is not covered by collective cabinet responsibility. I've "attacked his opposition" because they appear to be intolerant zealots who think there ought to be no place in public life for someone with the "wrong" views on a matter of conscience.

I'm not sure how much clearer I can make this.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

It's official : Labour think women are thick

Or at least that's the impression you'll have got if you've been viewing Labour activists' tweets over the last few hours. Here are two particular gems -

"If any thinking person wants another reason not to vote for Scottish independence, Alex Neil has just provided it."

"Just wondering if @womenforindy will be shortest lived indy support group ever?"

It seems what we're supposed to infer from the latter comment is the following -

1) Every single woman in Scotland has an identical view on abortion. The apparent diversity of views on the subject is an aberration caused entirely by the existence of the male gender.

2) Women who are both pro-choice and pro-independence are too feeble-minded to believe they can actually win the debate on abortion in a democratic independent Scotland. Alex Neil has pronounced, therefore the only option left for females of the species is to look to strong London men for protection. Step forward Jeremy Hunt. Talking of whom...

3) The fact that the Scottish Government's Health Secretary doesn't want to cut the time limit on abortion by anything like as much as the UK Government's Health Secretary is all a bit too complicated for pro-choice women to grasp. They're bound to get it entirely the wrong way round, and conclude that they'd much rather put their faith in Jeremy Hunt and co to make the best decision.

4) Women are not capable of understanding the concept of a free vote in parliament - or else they're under the impression that the idea works fine in Westminster, but for some reason not in Holyrood. Up here all free votes go the way Alex Neil wants.

Of course in spite of Scotland on Sunday's creative attempts to sensationalise it, this is a story about abortion, not about independence. Yes, Mr. Neil was talking about his views on what should happen if abortion law is transferred to Holyrood, but that eventuality is not contingent on independence - Northern Ireland already decides abortion law for itself. David Steel, the proposer of the liberalising 1967 legislation, attempted to have control over abortion law transferred to Holyrood in the late 1990s. It was pointed out at the time that Scotland is not Ireland, and that there was absolutely no way of guessing whether the Scottish Parliament would be more or less likely than Westminster to tighten the law. That remains as true now as it was then. Regardless of whether the decision is taken in London or Edinburgh, there will be a mixture of pro-choice and pro-life unionists voting on it, along with a mixture of pro-choice and pro-life nationalists.

But heaven forbid that anyone should actually engage with the substance of Alex Neil's personal view, rather than inviting women to shut down all thought and chant "INDEPENDENCE IS UN-FEMALE" to themselves every night before they go to bed.