Saturday, July 21, 2012

No, Virginia, America hasn't gone bat**** crazy - and here's the proof.

Far too much nonsense is spoken on this side of the pond every time someone in the US commits a mass murder with legally-obtained firearms. There seems to be a genuine belief among some commentators that less guns would somehow make incidents like this less likely to happen. What poppycock. Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Just like the civilians of Hiroshima weren't actually mass-murdered and irradiated by an atomic bomb - if Harry Truman hadn't had a nuclear weapon handy, he could just as easily have got the job done by bashing people over the head with a police truncheon, one-by-one.

As you know, at moments like this I much prefer to turn to Kevin Baker and his Fan Club over at The Smallest Minority, an oasis of non-paranoid thinking in an otherwise communist world. And I'm so glad I popped over there today, because it turns out that the real problem in this instance is not that there are too many guns in American cinemas, but that there are far too few, and that in any case the noble minority who sensibly have a firearm in their pocket as they're munching on their popcorn haven't given anything like enough thought to the logistics of shooting someone in the head in such challenging terrain -

"I took my grandson to see Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter on its opening weekend. When we got to the theater, I took my Kel-Tec PF9 out of the center console (in a pocket holster) and put it in my pants pocket. He saw. "You carry a gun in the theater?" he asked. "It's my job to protect you," I replied.

Now I have to practice head-shots with the thing. Maybe I ought to get the laser..."

Also worthy of note is the first reply to Baker's latest inspiring attempt to make the world a safer place -

"I felt it important enough to break my silence here and note that violent crime continues to drop in this country and world wide, making incidents like this outliers. Of course the media will cover this story to the point of nausea and make it seem like it happens everywhere all the time which it does not."

Nothing very surprising there, you might think, until you discover that this was Markadelphia, regarded by the KBFC as the blog's resident liberal "Antichrist" figure. And that usefully illustrates America's real problem - it's not that there are millions of gun zealots out there, it's that the so-called left are too cowed to face them down directly, and indeed that many on the left buy into the gun free-for-all ideology themselves. How else can we explain that the first response of a 'liberal' to a blogpost about defending yourself in a cinema with guns talks about anything other than the fact that the post is just utterly unhinged? I mean, if this incident is such an 'outlier', Mark, don't you think it might have been worthwhile to point out that the belief that it's too risky to take your grandson to the cinema without a lethal weapon may just be a tad disproportionate? Or if it isn't disproportionate, that it might be more rational (and fairer on others) to just forego trips to the cinema until such time as the whole unspeakable mess is sorted out?

In truth, of course, while a 'newsworthy' event like this is certainly an outlier, the daily toll of routine gun deaths in the US is anything but. 81 Americans per day die from firearm violence - and the per capita death rate is almost twenty times higher than Scotland's.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

YouGov poll : Labour least popular in Scotland

This has happened before, but I thought it was worth noting that in the regional breakdown in last night's UK-wide YouGov poll, Scotland was the place where Labour had its lowest vote share.

Labour's vote share by region :

North of England 57%
Midlands/Wales 48%
London 45%
South (excluding London) 32%
Scotland 31%

That may well be a sampling quirk, and tonight's poll may show Scottish Labour in a healthier position. Nevertheless, the fact that such results are even possible is an illustration of how fundamentally the politics of this country have changed.

For what it's worth, there were two polls yesterday (YouGov and Ipsos-Mori) that showed the SNP ahead in the Scottish subsample, in spite of the fact that Labour were well ahead throughout the UK. And that of course is for Westminster voting intention - the Nationalists' weakest suit.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why there should be a referendum on NATO membership, but not on equal marriage

I'm not an SNP Kremlinologist, so I can only guess at the significance of the deferral of a decision on legislating for same-sex marriage. However, given that we now know for sure that there will be a verdict by the end of July (ie. in less than two weeks), it seems overwhelmingly likely that we are still heading towards marriage equality, and that all the cries of betrayal and foot-dragging will look pretty silly in short order. I certainly hope so.

The fact that there isn't going to be a referendum on the subject is scarcely a surprise, but it was still a good idea to slap down Cardinal O'Brien's demand so firmly. However, I do think the Equality Network's widely-reported suggestion that a referendum would be "un-Scottish, unfair and a colossal waste of taxpayer's money" was slightly misjudged. The term 'un-Scottish' has a fairly obvious McCarthyite ring to it, while any recourse to the notion that a democratic vote is a waste of money is pretty much always disingenuous. The No to AV campaign, for instance, notoriously lumped in the cost of the referendum itself as part of the supposed "price of AV"!

In truth, there's a perfectly respectable theoretical case for having a referendum on this sort of topic. Of course, in an ideal liberal democratic world, we'd accept that equal rights for citizens (including marriage rights) are sacred, and should not be subject to a veto by majority vote. But we don't yet live in that ideal liberal democracy, and for as long as individual freedoms are at the mercy of a majority vote, it's no more irrational that the vote should be conducted among the population at large than among their elected representatives in parliament.

No, the question is instead one of consistency. There is simply no precedent in this country for a referendum on anything other than matters relating to the constitution, or changing the form of government. The only possible example I can think of is the 1994 Strathclyde water referendum - but that had no official standing, and in any case was 'constitutionally motivated', ie. it was intended to show that a Conservative government in Westminster had no mandate to act in Scotland.

It would be different if we lived in Switzerland, or even Ireland, which has held referenda on very similar 'social' matters such as abortion and divorce. But while there's much to be said for Swiss-style semi-direct democracy, in my view there's even more to be said against it. The fact that Switzerland didn't allow women to vote until 1971 (entirely as a result of the referendum system) tells you all you need to know. So the tradition we're developing in this country probably has the balance just about right - while referenda are not necessarily a bad thing, they should be strictly limited to vital constitutional matters.

Which brings me to my second point - that NATO membership is just such a vital constitutional matter, and that proposing a referendum on it would not only be justified, but would neatly solve the SNP's dilemma on the subject. I personally don't see the need for the change in policy on NATO - even if it's true that an anti-NATO stance is scaring the horses somewhat, the obvious antidote is to point out that it's simply one political party's stance, and that the people will choose whether Scotland remains in the alliance at the first post-independence election. However, there's an argument that the electorate are bound to wrongly equate SNP policy with "what will automatically happen under independence", in which case a referendum pledge is surely the way to square the circle. A straightforward flip from an anti-NATO to a pro-NATO stance is simply going to dismay and demotivate as many voters as it reassures.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

If gerrymandering won't work...

David Cameron's reported reaction to the possibility of the Lib Dems vetoing boundary changes -

"I thought I had a plan about how to win the next Election – now I’ll have to think of another way."

Ballot stuffing? Scottish independence? Increasing the minimum voting age to 63? Bonus votes for anyone called Felicity or Tarquin?

We can probably rule out electoral popularity as forming any part of the Cammo masterplan.

* * *

Michael Moore in Scotland on Sunday -

"This process of further devolution must be conducted in this way. It must be designed to meet the needs of people in Scotland, not to serve as a get-out clause for a Nationalist cause that has lost its nerve."

In other words, it must be slooooow. And it must certainly play second fiddle to the tribal urge to "defeat" the SNP for the sake of it - an outcome which would of course make further devolution far less likely to happen.

The Lib Dems : passionate Home Rulers, except when there's something more important to be getting on with. Like playing Tetris.