Saturday, February 11, 2012

Poll : does Trump branding Alex Salmond "insane" represent progress on "amazing"?

As far as I can remember, the one and only time I've found myself arguing in favour of something I don't really believe in was on the subject of "Trumpton". The (now former) Labour MP Nick Palmer was laying into the SNP for backing the development, so the partisan instinct kicked in and I defended the decision without really thinking. To be fair to myself, though, I had spent the previous few months writing umpteen comments under my Scotsman pseudonym saying what I really thought. I can't deny that I feel considerably more comfortable now that Trump seems to hate Alex Salmond's guts, particularly given that he feels that way for the silliest and most transparently self-interested reasons imaginable.

So that's the question for today's poll : are you happier when this nincompoop (© Alex Massie) calls Alex Salmond an "amazing man", or when he calls him "insane"? The voting form is in the sidebar.

I for one won't be shedding any tears if the golf course is shelved, although of course a fair bit of the damage is already done. And if it goes ahead, well...where would "the world's greatest golf course" be without a view of some lovely windmills? This is the 21st Century, after all.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Six Nations 2012 prediction

Obviously a week late, but this is, hand on heart, what I put in the sweepstake form that I always end up filling in for my sister's work. Actually, it shouldn't be too hard to believe that this was my genuine prediction, given that I've already got the Ireland v Wales result wrong!

Weekend 1 :

France to beat Italy by 20 or more
England to beat Scotland by 1-9
Ireland to beat Wales by 1-9

Weekend 2 :

England to beat Italy by 10-19
France to beat Ireland by 1-9
Wales to beat Scotland by 10-19

Weekend 3 :

Ireland to beat Italy by 10-19
England to beat Wales by 1-9
France to beat Scotland by 1-9

Weekend 4 :

Wales to beat Italy by 10-19
Ireland to beat Scotland by 10-19
France to beat England by 1-9

Weekend 5 :

Scotland to beat Italy by 1-9
Wales to beat France by 1-9
England to beat Ireland by 1-9


France 4 Wins
England 4 Wins
Wales 3 Wins
Ireland 3 Wins
Scotland 1 Win
Italy 0 Wins

Believe it or not, we actually finished fourth in the Rugby World Cup sweepstake back in the autumn, and won the princely sum of £10, which just about covered the cost of the entrance fee. I later discovered that there's an ironic £5 prize for finishing last, which sounds like a lot less effort somehow.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Can Sheridan save rugby from the 'separatists'?

Labour MP Jim Sheridan in full holier-than-thou mode on the Alex Salmond Six Nations row -

"Putting aside the offensive and deeply inappropriate language, I believe that Alex Salmond should not be using sporting events and sports personalities to further himself and his party’s separatist agenda...I believe it far more appropriate that Alex Salmond stick to the job the people of Scotland have elected him to do rather than moonlighting as a TV personality. As a member of the UK Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, I intend to write to the BBC expressing my support for the view that politics should be kept out of sport and that sporting events and sports personalities should not be used in such a crass way."

OK, so I take it Jim has been a model of consistency on this topic, and threw a brick at the TV when he saw his own leader Gordon Brown on the field after the 2007 Rugby World Cup final, trying to (incongruously) cash in on England's success in getting there? Or what about Jack McConnell's lengthy interview during the TV coverage of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne? Or the countless thousands of other examples of politicians of all parties commenting on sport?

I must say I don't really give a monkey's whether Alex Salmond appears during the coverage of a rugby match or not - the issue is whether he's being treated differently simply because he is, in Sheridan's words, a "separatist" politician. And if he is being treated differently on that basis, that in itself constitutes a fundamental breach of the principle of impartiality. The idea that it would have been abnormal for a political leader to appear on such a programme simply doesn't stack up given the endless precedents - what is abnormal is for an invitation to be issued and them withdrawn. You would think in such circumstances that the justification given would be watertight, but it was anything but - the reference to the local elections just added to the impression that they were scrabbling around for any spurious reason they could think of, because we're way, way outside the statutory campaigning period.

It's hard to escape the conclusion that Ric Bailey subscribes to the grotesque Paxman worldview that Alex Salmond is not a "normal" politician (he's instead in the Mugabe or pre-ceasefire Sinn Féin category), and that completely different rules of engagement should therefore apply in relation to him. If so, the prospects for anything approaching even-handed coverage of the independence referendum look distinctly grim at this stage.

Turning around the Telegraph supertanker

If you've ever wanted to know what cognitive dissonance sounds like, look no further than the Telegraph's reporting of George Osborne's latest wizard idea of heading off Scottish independence by getting Tory MPs to campaign against it in England (yes, really!). As the article explains the reasoning behind the initiative, namely that English resentment of Scotland is making independence more rather than less likely, you can almost hear the penny drop with the writer that the Telegraph themselves have been fuelling that very resentment day after day after day, and thus undermining their own stated objective. And yet he can't quite bring himself to let go of the idea that their beloved 'subsidy junkie' propaganda is entirely justified, a belief which is obviously going to make it a touch difficult to convince the English of the "benefits" to them of Scotland remaining in the union. The effort to reconcile this hopeless contradiction is encapsulated in the following heart-rending sentences -

"Opinion polls have consistently shown that support for Scottish independence is higher in England than north of the Border, fed by anger that public spending is around £1,600 higher per head in Scotland than the UK average.

The First Minister’s decision to introduce a series of free universal benefits, including prescription charges and university tuition fees, has increased cross-Border tensions.

Although many English Tory politicians share their constituents’ frustrations over this, they remain committed to keeping the United Kingdom together."

So can the Telegraph turn the supertanker around, and stop routinely producing counter-productive headlines about "English patience with Scotland wearing thin"? Pondering their dilemma reminded me of Denis MacShane's rather amusing plea for a "different journalism" to report on the topic of prostitution in future, after being humiliatingly caught out by journalism in its current form for trotting out statistics with no basis whatever in fact. I think that the Telegraph do genuinely have an affection for Scotland and its place within the UK - but that Scotland is a different Scotland. One that knows its place, is damned grateful for what it's given, and votes Tory just like normal people do.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

If Alex Salmond is merely one of Sir Peter Housden's "two masters", who is supposed to be the other one?

From the Telegraph -

"The Daily Telegraph has learned that the permanent secretaries from all the Whitehall departments no longer discuss Scotland if Sir Peter Housden, the Scottish Executive’s permanent secretary, is present.

Their strategy for the forthcoming independence referendum would usually be discussed by all the permanent secretaries at their weekly meeting on Wednesday morning in Whitehall...

“Concerns have been expressed at the highest level about this individual. People cannot serve two masters ultimately and he has been put in a very difficult position by Salmond,” said one senior Whitehall source.""

All of which begs a series of questions. Precisely what "strategy" would it be legitimate for the UK civil service to have in relation to the independence referendum? Unless that strategy is inappropriately partisan in nature, it's hard to see what possible harm there could be in Sir Peter Housden overhearing it, regardless of whether the paranoia about him "going native" has any truth to it. Secondly, isn't Alex Salmond supposed to be Sir Peter's "master", in the sense that he sets the policy direction that his permanent secretary is obliged to follow? And last but not least, if Salmond is merely one of Sir Peter's "two" masters at present, who in heaven's name is meant to be the other one? David Cameron?

The irony is that unionists actually have a rare opportunity here to point out that the British state is working the way it should be working under devolution - that technically being a member of the UK civil service, and indeed originating from another part of the UK, hasn't stopped Sir Peter scrupulously and conscientiously helping the elected government he works for to pursue its policy agenda. But, no, the likes of the Telegraph would much rather encourage an absurd situation whereby civil servants working for Alex Salmond operate as a kind of institutionalised "enemy within", and thus make the case for a separate Scottish civil service utterly irresistible.

* * *

At the risk of incurring the wrath of Craig Gallagher, there are some gems from Political Betting that just cry out to be reposted, again and again. Exhibit W : these two irate reactions from 'Hooks Law' when I simply point out to him the irrefutable fact that the Single Transferable Vote system is a form of proportional representation -

"Don't be daft - PR, as in directly proportional number of seats to votes, is not STV which is what was in the LD manifesto. This fact undermines tim's argument.

With STV the LDs said they would reduce the number of seats by 150. Its going to be only 50 but with FPTP.

I don't think there is a massive difference there."

"'proportional system' = PS

PR = 'proportional representation' is a PS

STV and AV = preferential voting

Tim suggested the LDs wanted proportional representation, ie 20% of vote =20% of seats. Their manifesto says different and the difference between their pledge of STV and 150 less seats is not much different to FPTP and 50 less seats.

AND on top of that they got their referendum on AV.

So yet another tim smear holds no water.

I was clear enough in the last post and am clear enough in this one. Grow up."

Crikey. I'll have to brace myself before breaking the news to him that the Earth isn't flat.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Herald loses the plot in its reporting of TNS-BMRB poll

First things first, here are the results of the latest TNS-BMRB poll on independence -

Do you agree that the Scottish Government should negotiate with the UK so that Scotland becomes an independent state?

Yes 35% (-4)
No 44% (+6)

Now you'll notice straight away that this poll isn't directly comparable with many recent polls conducted by other companies, because it doesn't use the actual referendum question that has been proposed. Perfectly reasonably, the Herald notes that it wasn't possible to use the proposed question because it hadn't been published at the time fieldwork started, but instead of conceding that this renders the poll somewhat inferior to others, they risibly hint that asking a question that won't actually be asked in the referendum makes their poll superior, and even more incredibly that the results of the poll somehow cast doubt on the legitimacy of the real question! As a final flourish to this rather fantastical line of reasoning, they loftily note that -

"The question has already been criticised by opponents and by many polling experts as both leading and loaded."

Really? Was that before or after they welcomed it as fair, simple and clear? Here is the Scotsman's useful summary of the reaction to the question the day after it was published -

"Mr Salmond’s single question on independence was supported by constitutional experts last night. The UK government also welcomed the clarity of the question he proposes."

I think what irritates me most about this little turn of sophistry from the Herald is that they use it as thin cover to do what they've done many times before without any excuses - take a single (often rather questionable) poll they've commissioned themselves and report it as if it exists in a total vacuum. Remember those absurd MRUK polls during the 2007 election campaign which allowed the Herald to earnestly report on "Labour sailing towards a third term", as if the solid SNP leads being reported by the more credible polling companies were just a figment of our collective imagination?

And so we're breathlessly informed today that this poll is cast-iron proof that the pro-independence side has "lost" the first skirmish of the referendum battle - in spite of the fact that pretty much every other recent poll, regardless of whether it used the SNP's preferred question or not, has shown an increase in support for independence.

A note on TNS itself. If you look at the percentage change figures for this poll, you'll notice something rather important - that independence was actually in the lead in the last poll. And yet we've been informed by the London media and British nationalist politicians alike that "all polls" have shown a clear rejection of independence. In other words, TNS have so little credibility in their eyes that the last poll simply didn't register - it barely even existed. So I wonder if we'll see a consistency of approach this time - or will TNS miraculously be rehabilitated as a credible pollster now that their figures are suddenly 'on-message'?

The Brit Nats had better be careful here. A nine-point lead for No is pretty slender compared to the leads in the Cochrane-esque worded polls about "separation" that they're more used to crowing about.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Panelbase poll : independence trails by just six points

Thanks once again to Marcia for alerting me to the latest highly encouraging poll on voting intentions for the independence referendum, which shows the No side in a slender six-point lead...

Yes 47%
No 53%

The poll also confirms the SNP's current commanding position in respect of Holyrood voting intentions - the party leads Labour by 50% to 29%. For a point of reference, a survey by the same company just a month before the SNP landslide last spring had the nationalists at 37%, tied with Labour on the constituency vote.

As we know, Nick Clegg is an expert in "extremism", so perhaps he'll want to reflect at some leisure on which two party leaders find themselves on the respective extremes of popularity and unpopularity in this poll.

I'll give you three guesses.

* * *

I suggested two or three weeks ago that the broadcasters would need to urgently rethink their whole approach in the run-up to the independence referendum. Well, if the Alex Salmond/Calcutta Cup incident is anything to go by, it appears they've done just that - and come to the intriguing conclusion that there are simply far too many pro-independence voices on TV.

The mind boggles. Try again, chaps.

Sorry, Ron, but freedom will have to wait another day...

As part of my peculiar quest to cast a vote for a man who stands for a lot of the things I most despise (ie. Ron Paul), I had a quick look on the internet to see if there were any post offices in Glasgow city centre open on a Saturday afternoon. I did find one in the Merchant City, but (and call me picky here) I was somewhat put off by these reviews -

"If your buying from the shop in here then they are friendly, helpful and courteous…

but if you venture into the depths of hell (the post office at the back of the store), you’ll be greeted by satans spawns themselves. Every friend I have spoken to about this store has the same thing to say “horrible”. The staff are slow, they make things way more difficult than they need to be, ask questions which are irrelevant to the item and give you a row if you drop in anything on a Saturday or Sunday… apparently your only supposed to drop letters or parcels in on Mon-Fri!

I have been a few times in the hope that it was just an “off day” and had some bad luck but the same happens every time I go, and people in front of me always come away complaining."

"AVOID at all costs. These people are rude, dismissive and completely unhelpful. I had a package redirected to them, and have had to research, prove and verify what I knew all along: it is sitting in their store room - they are just not bothered to get up and go look for it. There was one lone woman working in there who was decent and she lasted about a month."

"I appreciate that a lot of their regulars may be unsavoury but if you've taken the time to queue alongside them the least you can expect is courtesy when you finally make it to the counter, but good luck getting it (there is one woman who works there who is totally fine at the moment, but give her time, she'll learn!)

Due to the shutter at the front of the shop being stuck today I had to use a further away post office and was pleasantly surprised to find that they had normal staff who weren't rude, obnoxious, condescending or all of the above."

"Grumpy uninterested and slow. This is the worst Post Office in Glasgow. When the queue stretches out the door the fat grumpy looking assistant gets up from her post and walks as slowly as possible to the other stations one after another. If she's looking for something its not obvious what it is. After 5 minutes of this avoiding the customers she returns to her seat having not achieved any mission other than to further inconvenience the customers. Go to the pleasant well run place across the river in the Gorbals."

"What a joke. Close the joint. Go somewhere else. These have to be the most unhappy people in Glasgow. The woman at the open counter gives the personality of a wet sponge, while Bareka and Tony hide behind their window and bark at people. Bareka is always in a rush, never looks you directly, half fills out the paperwork, argues with the customers over needless issues. She sneers if you ask for stamps, or cause her to stop gossiping with Tony. And these people want pay rises and all? P-Lease. They should all be replaced."

"All this place needs is a pentangle on the wall. There's definitely some heavy duty bad energy floating around in that post office. The guys behind the glass part seem friendly enough. It's only when you have to encounter the three gargoyles on the open counter that you realise why the men are protected behind safety glass. This place is worth going to if only to see how accurate the reviews are. But take a crucifix in with you."

So, sorry, Ron, but you, I and "freedom-lovers" everywhere will just have to hope that tomorrow or Tuesday is soon enough to get in my request for a ballot!

Part of the reason I was in the city centre yesterday was to see the final day of the Celtic Connections open stage event, and as I was talking about Shetland in my last post, I thought a final link to a song might be in order. This is actually from Friday night, and the performance is by a young brother and sister from Orkney - but their third song (if you can track it down!) is Rowin Foula Doon, in the Shetlandic dialect of Scots. It's so sad that such a beautiful dialect is reportedly in such sharp decline - which is just one more reason to hope that independence is around the corner, because the experience of other countries shows that it is possible to make a conscious decision that Scots will survive (and revive) as a living tongue. But to put that decision into practice does take commitment and effort, and that's never going to come from the UK government.