Friday, July 6, 2012

History beckons : can Andy Murray win Wimbledon for NATO?

Dare we bring ourselves to hope? NATO's Andy Murray is now just one game away from ending the alliance's seemingly endless wait for another Wimbledon champion. When the North Atlantic's finest sealed victory with a successful Hawkeye challenge, Spanish television put in perspective what is really at stake in Sunday's final by cutting to a statue of Rafael Nadal - the last NATO player to win at SW19 way back in 2010. From the Yukon Territory to Anatolia, citizens of the alliance will be united in hoping that Murray can bring the years of heartache to a close.

And to add a little spice to the occasion, the final will be the mouthwatering NATO v EFTA showdown we all longed to see. EFTA itself is in raptures after seeing one of its sons reach the final for the first time since 2009. General Secretary Kåre Bryn will be marking the occasion by flying the EFTA and Swiss flags together outside his office, although there have been some mischievous suggestions that Mr Federer will "just be Swiss if he loses".

Photos on Friday : Rubbish photo of the Queen edition

Long-term readers of this blog will of course recall the irregular 'Photos on Friday' feature (irregular in the sense that it appeared once). I thought I'd give it another outing to mark the occasion of me successfully managing to take the world's most rubbish photo of the Queen.

I had to be in Edinburgh anyway, so I decided to wander down to Holyrood to see the festivities, which basically consisted of a band called Whisky Kiss, a group of Highland dancers, a Robert Burns impersonator doing a reading of To a Louse, and umpteen pipe bands. I must say the whole thing seemed strangely under-rehearsed, as if it had been hastily thrown together at the last minute. But it was good fun all the same.

(Click the photos to enlarge)

You'll be encouraged to hear that it was saltires and Lion Rampants all the way - I did spot a couple of Union Jacks, but they looked very lonely among a sea of sky-blue and white.

Afterwards, I started making my way up the Royal Mile, but I noticed that people were still lining the street. I overheard a policeman say to someone : "I don't have a time, but soon. Stick around." From which I inferred that the Queen was coming, so I waited a few minutes to see what I could see.

In case you're wondering why everyone was looking at the car behind the Queen, it's because Kate Middleton (or the Cambress of Dutchton, or whatever her name is supposed to be these days) was in that one. I didn't get a photo of her, but I dare say the world can survive without one more of those. Nor did I get a snap of Princess Anne in the third car, although I imagine all I'd have to do to put that right is pop round to Murrayfield in November with a long-lens camera.

I'm slightly embarrassed to confess that I waved to the Queen as she went past. Having said that, if waving at someone is to be taken as an indication of political support, it should be remembered that the Queen also waved in the general direction of little old republican me. So it's swings and roundabouts, really.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The best of both worlds

When I first saw the title of the lead video on the Better Together website, I assumed 'the best of both worlds' must refer to the devolution settlement, ie. a halfway house between Home Rule and London rule. But it can't do, because devolution is never actually mentioned by anyone in the video, either directly or indirectly. It seems we're supposed to infer that we automatically get the best of both worlds by simply saying No to independence - regardless of whether that leaves us with pre-1999 style direct rule from London, or with the current devolved settlement, or with a degree of autonomy for the Scottish Parliament that is only just short of the powers of a sovereign state. It's essentially a long-winded repetition of Ed Miliband's "it stands to reason" suggestion that the existence of a British nation state (regardless of its form) magically makes a dual Scottish/British identity possible, while the existence of a Scottish nation state (regardless of form) would magically make such a dual identity impossible.

Well, sorry chaps, but that one ain't going to wash. From now until referendum day, the message is going to be driven home that Britishness will not only survive independence, but will flourish. A well-known journalist (I forget which one it was) suggested the other day that the SNP's comparisons with the multi-national Scandinavian identity wouldn't gain much traction, because people here just aren't familiar enough with the Nordic countries. But it doesn't really matter whether that's true or not, because other equally good comparisons are available. For several decades after independence, Australia and New Zealand were perceived, and perceived themselves, to be 'British' countries. Even now, although it may be more difficult to put a name to the common identity, it's obvious that we have cultural ties to those countries that we simply don't have with the largest English-speaking country in the world, the US.

So the No campaign are self-evidently flogging a dead horse by presenting the choice as being between a single identity and a dual one. But a much more interesting question is whether they would be capable of sustaining the 'best of both worlds' argument if they ever did attempt to apply it in a hard-headed way to the present devolution settlement. The implication would be that devolution cherry-picks what people like best about the Scottish and British dimensions, and jettisons what they like least. So to test that assumption, we'd of course first need to identify what it is that the majority of Scottish people like and dislike about the British dimension.

What people like :

The monarchy
The social union
The pound
An unspecific sense of economic 'security'

What people dislike :

Illegal wars
Trident on the Clyde
Voting left, getting right
Tory and New Labour control over domestic policy, eg. welfare and pensions
Theft and misuse of Scottish natural resources
Suppression of Scottish identity, for instance by the BOA

On that basis, the constitutional models that would take us closest to the 'best of both worlds' are the form of independence proposed by the SNP, and Devo Max. The former would tick all of the boxes with the possible exception of point 4 in the 'likes' section, while Devo Max would address the irrational concerns about a loss of economic security, but unfortunately at the cost of retaining Trident on Scottish shores, and leaving us at the mercy of more London military adventurism. However, either model would be clearly preferable to the status quo, which retains all of the things that people consider to be worst about the British 'world'.

When you look at it that way, it seems obvious that an electorate acting rationally would vote for change. Hence the need for the No campaign to use content-free emotional arguments to get people to muddle up their desire for a British identity with a desire to be ruled by a Tory government they didn't vote for. It's up to the Yes side to de-muddle those two concepts.

So it's little wonder that the Scottish Government are allowing speculation to increase about the possibility of a Devo Max question in the referendum. Such a development would force the participants in the No campaign to take a stance on a constitutional model that would preserve the UK, but give the public something much closer to what they might actually recognise as the best of both worlds. The inevitable effect is that the No side would split down the middle. Hence the panic in their voices as they try to reinvent the maximising of choice for the Scottish electorate as being somehow bad for people's health -

"So. The referendum has been reduced to a damage limitation exercise foe Eck’s ego.

What you describe may be win win win for Salmond. But it certainly is not a win for the Scottish people."

Let me see here. The polls show that Devo Max is currently the most popular option, and that people want the opportunity to vote for it. But actually getting both of those desires would be a loss for the Scottish people. Yup, this is the kind of 'reasoning' that makes perfect sense if you're the Labour councillor for Ward 8, North Coast and Cumbraes.

In truth, if a Devo Max question is all about Salmond's legacy, then clearly the needs of his legacy and the Scottish people's desires have suddenly become perfectly aligned. How inconvenient (for some).

Indeed, isn't it closer to the mark to say that unionist politicians are putting the goal of destroying Salmond's legacy ahead of the best interests of Scotland? The Lib Dems' Malcolm Bruce openly boasted of doing so in a speech not so long ago - his only justification for trying to deny the electorate a say on Devo Max was the belief that defeat in a single-question referendum would end Mr Salmond's political career. It's hard to think of a better textbook example of obsession with one party or one individual overriding the national interest.

Incidentally, a second referendum question will disappoint unionists by failing to cause the confusion they claim to expect. Everyone seemed to cope perfectly well with the two-question 1997 referendum, in spite of it being stated nowhere on the ballot paper that the second question was contingent on there being a Yes vote on the first question. This time, I'm quite sure it will be spelt out in bold print on the ballot paper that the second question ("do you want Devo Max?") is contingent on there being a No vote on the first question ("do you want independence?"). Consequently, the electorate will impress us all by being even more free of befuddlement than they were in 1997.

* * *

Before I forget, here are the results of the weekend poll -

Would Devo Max bring independence closer?

Yes 88%
No 11%

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Poll : Would devo max bring independence closer?

In a recent guest post at Better Nation, Craig Gallagher cited Joan McAlpine and myself as two of the rare nationalist subscribers to the "A-ha paradigm". Clearly this wasn't intended as a compliment, but nevertheless I did briefly entertain the idea of embracing my hard-won reputation by changing the name of this blog to Knowing Me, Knowing You - A-HA!, or On That Bombshell, or something else Alan Partridge-related. (Ideally I would have gone for Bigamy At Christmas, but alas, that was Tony Ferrino.)

Leaving aside the question of whether Craig was right or wrong about me, I think he was bang on the money on one point - namely that the unionist camp simply don't 'get' what it is about devo max that many nationalists find attractive. There does seem to be a genuine belief that nationalists are so obsessed with independence that anything short of that can't possibly be of any interest, except as a stepping-stone to independence itself. Unionists are perhaps projecting their own narrow-minded assumptions onto us - after all, it's only a few weeks since Ed Miliband declared that Britishness would lose all meaning outside the context of a political state that has London as its capital. So maybe they instinctively assume we must feel the same, and that without a Scottish state our cause is a total failure. Not so. We're Scots now and always have been, with or without the political structures to match. And if we knew for certain that independence was never going to happen, there can't be many of us who would shrug our shoulders and say that it doesn't matter what degree of autonomy we have within the United Kingdom. Of course devo max is well worth having for its own sake, regardless of whether it would bring independence closer.

And it's not at all clear whether it would or wouldn't. I've always felt that Margaret Ewing was right in the 1990s when she dismissed the "Big Bang Theory" of the SNP fundamentalists. Some kind of Scottish Parliament was probably an essential first step if independence was going to happen. But would a parliament that has virtually all the powers of a sovereign state lead people to think that independence isn't necessary, or would they think "well, there's no harm in taking the final step now"? Without sucking it to see, we can only guess.

So that's what I'm inviting you to do in today's poll. From a purely tactical point of view, do you think devo max would bring independence closer, or not? You'll find the voting form at the top of the sidebar, and the poll will close in a couple of days.

* * *

Some of you might remember an article by Gerry Hassan a couple of years ago, in which he claimed that the idea that English sports commentators still go on about 1966 is a figment of our imagination, and that the only people obsessed with the subject are in fact Scottish football fans.

Ahem. Gerry, allow me to present to you Exhibit Y - Chris Bradnam's commentary on the Andy Murray tennis match just a few hours ago...

"And as we look at Sir Bobby Charlton, it's 66 points apiece in the match."

I'm not making this up. He actually said that. In fact, given the circumstances, it seems all but certain that the production team realised in advance there was a chance that the overall points tally was going to reach 66 each, and lined up the shot of Bobby Charlton for precisely that eventuality.

Future Chris Bradnam commentary -

"Geoff Hurst in the crowd there. Coincidentally, the last rally contained nineteen strokes, and we're now sixty-six minutes into the match."

"Great to see Jack Charlton cheering on Andy today. Funnily enough, my co-commentator Lindsay Davenport was born in 1976, and the mathematicians among you will already have spotted how significant that is if you subtract just one decade."

All he has to do is throw in a "that night in Barcelona" at some point, and the search for Clive Tyldesley's natural successor will be at an end.