Saturday, August 11, 2012

In 1988, East Germany went out on a high in their last-ever appearance at a Summer Olympics. Can Team GB do the same?

As we enter the final weekend of the Games, it already looks all but certain that Great Britain will finish third in the medal table on the most popular counting method. On the measure preferred by the North American media (total number of medals regardless of colour), GB have now slipped behind Russia, but fourth place would still represent an outstanding achievement. And of course one thing that is already absolutely guaranteed is that GB will have their best medal haul since London 1908, easily outstripping the team's lacklustre performance when the Games were most recently held on home soil in 1948. Undoubtedly, the gold rush has captured the imaginations of many, and led to an upsurge in the type of British/English/can't-quite-tell-the-difference-between-the-two nationalism that we might have imagined had ended with Euro '96, when England football supporters finally noticed that the Union Jack wasn't their most obvious choice of flag.

There is, however, a 'but'. We need turn the clock back less than a quarter of a century for a reminder that the apparent rude health of a country's Olympic team is no guide at all to the health of the country itself. In Seoul '88, the top two places in the medal table were occupied by countries that wouldn't even exist by the time Barcelona came round four years later. In particular, the East German team marked their swansong with their best ever performance at a Summer Games - just one year before the fall of the communist regime.

Few in eastern Germany seriously regret the demise of their former Olympic team. Just as people in Scotland generally feel Scottish more than British, people in eastern Germany feel German more than 'Ossi'. And of course, the sporting success enjoyed by the former communist state was achieved by thoroughly dubious means. All the same, the memories of political interference in sport and suspicions of widespread doping can't entirely dispel the residual affection felt by some for the defunct, all-conquering team. By the same token, the BOA's disgraceful bullying of Scottish and Welsh athletes who want to express a degree of national identity, and their haughty disdain for the rights and privileges of Scottish sports authorities, can't wholly tarnish the affection many Scots have felt for Team GB over the years. However unsatisfactory the setup, they've been our only representatives, and that counts for something. So in the case of both East Germany and Great Britain, it's perhaps rather fitting that the team should bid farewell to the Olympics on a high.

Thanks for the ride, guys - but now it's time for an exciting new Olympic chapter to unfold, as Team Scotland looks ahead to its potential debut in Rio.

* * *

We've heard a great deal over the last couple of weeks about how 'success' is a far more important consideration at the Olympics than the trifling matter of Scottish national identity. Imagine my bafflement, therefore, to encounter some inexplicable resistance among the ranks of PB Tories to the idea that success is also more important than British national identity, as I floated my bold - and frankly thrilling - plan for Team GB to dissolve itself into a world-beating Team EU in all future Olympic Games. A few intriguing objections emerged...

Team EU would be 'less than the sum of its parts'.

Well, quite. The Bahamas (an independent country with a population less than a tenth as large as Scotland's) defeated the mighty USA in the 4x400m relay last night. I doubt if the first thought of most in Nassau was "what we really need to do now is subsume ourselves into a greater whole", but you never know, I suppose.

'I don't see how adding Europeans would have helped the GB cycling team.'

Absolutely. Success in swimming, badminton, basketball, hockey, taekwondo, athletics, beach volleyball, archery, judo, gymnastics and table tennis is all totally irrelevant. As long as there's just one sport in which the GB squad can't be improved by the addition of Europeans, the argument for a Team EU is killed stone-dead. That's a scientific fact. Intriguingly, this also means that the Scottish domination of the GB curling squad has killed the argument for a Team GB at the Olympics stone-dead. Who'd have thunk it?

'Imagine the mayhem on the selection committees!'

Oh, I think this 'problem' is vastly overstated. The English Football Association would happily give way to their betters in the EU Olympic Association, and wouldn't worry their pretty heads about the consequences for their national team's participation in major events such as the World Cup. After all, everyone knows that the average English football supporter would much rather see one or two English players win the World Cup as part of Team EU than see a sub-standard England team merely reach the quarter-finals.

'Far fewer British athletes would have the chance to compete at the Olympics.'

Hmmm. This is a particularly surprising objection, because it seems to imply that success in winning medals is not, after all, the primary consideration, and that the opportunity for the greatest number of athletes to compete is what we should be chasing instead. This principle would of course mean that a Team Scotland is by definition preferable to Team GB, but I'm sure I must be missing something.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Alex Salmond on green energy

I suspect I must have been one of several bloggers to receive an email from OilPrice a few hours ago, effectively suggesting I might care to give a free plug to their interview with Alex Salmond. But as it's the First Minister talking a great deal of sense as usual, who am I to argue?

"Nuclear power will also leave a legacy of waste and vast decommissioning costs for the next generation of Scots - we will not add to the issues of decommissioning by building new nuclear plants in Scotland. The legacy we must leave future generations is a world where invention and innovation is used to harness the earth’s natural resources sustainably. And it is in wind, wave and tidal energy, and in carbon capture and storage, where Scotland has strong competitive advantages, both in terms of capacity and expertise. This is where it makes economic sense to concentrate our efforts, and that is what we are doing."

You can read the full interview HERE.

* * *

Talking of unexpected emails, I thought you might be amused to see an exchange I had a few weeks ago. I've blanked out the guy's name in case there are any privacy issues!

July 10th :

Hello, I hope this email finds you well. I am with ****** in *******, **. I would like to connect with you about advertising on your website. We are an ad provider, and I'd love to see if we might be a fit. Can you point me in the right direction?

Talk to you soon!

M*** *****

July 13th :

Hello, Just following up on my earlier email. Would love to talk to someone about advertising on your website. Thanks!


M*** *****

July 25th :

Hello, Just following up on my earlier email. Would love to talk to someone about advertising on your website. Thanks!


M*** *****

July 26th :

Hi M***,

I've been ignoring your messages, because they seem to be pre-prepared messages sent out in bulk to a large number of people. If you've actually looked at my website, you'll know that it's a personal blog, so if you would "love to talk to someone" will you please get on with it, because there's only one of me!


July 27th :

Hi there - giving this one last whirl. I just want to talk to someone about advertising on your website. If I don't hear back I will assume you're not interested. Thanks and all the best.

M*** *****

July 27th :

Hi M***,

Jesus. I have already responded to you. If you want to talk to me, then FOR THE LOVE OF GOD will you get on with it, man? If you don't respond seriously this time I'll assume you're just being irritating for the sake of it.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Why must Ian Davidson hide emotions? Why must he never break down and cry?

I'm not quite sure why, but I found myself looking up Cry for Help by Rick Astley yesterday, for the first time in many years. It brought back memories of watching one of those interminable Channel 4 "Top 100 of something" list shows, in which Johnny Vegas recounted how he had first heard the song as a teenager. One of his friends had phoned him to say : "Rick Astley. Top of the Pops. Tonight. Good. Watch it." As fate would have it, I ended up having an eerily similar experience last night when one of the prolific SNP posters on Political Betting emailed me to say : "Ian Davidson. Meltdown. Huge. BBC2. Watch it. Now."

Those weren't the exact words, but they capture the gist.

Unfortunately, I didn't see the email until it was too late, and it's taken me 24 hours to have the chance to catch up with the interview in question, but it didn't disappoint - it's epochal stuff all right. What Labour have done in making this man the chairman of a theoretically important select committee is the rough equivalent of Alex Salmond handpicking a Cybernat from the Scotsman boards to be his campaign manager, specifically to enable that person to go on television and use terms like "New Liebour", "Bliar" and "Wee Joke McConnell" as often as humanly possible. That's the surefire way to win floating voters over, right enough.

Plenty of people have already pointed out how Davidson's naked thuggery in representing Scottish Labour's case has utterly destroyed the party's credibility, so I won't rehearse the point again. Instead I want to take a quick look at one part of what might very loosely be described as the "substance" of his argument. He makes the extraordinary claim midway through the interview that the electorate have "given" Westminster the sole right to decide constitutional matters by voting Yes in the 1997 devolution referendum. But the slight logical problem here is that a No vote in that referendum would have meant that there would have been no Scottish Parliament at all, meaning by definition that Westminster would have been left empowered to take every decision on the constitution.

So, to sum up, it seems that by voting Yes in 1997 we were giving Westminster the authority to decide constitutional matters for us, and by voting No we were giving Westminster the authority to decide constitutional matters for us. Doubtless according to Ian's logic abstainers in 1997 had much the same thought in mind as well.

Crikey, what lucky voters we were to be so spoilt for choice. Thanks heavens Ian is on hand to make sure the menu of democratic choices available to us is just as impressive this time round...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Emma Thompson doesn't want independence. Let's face it, folks - it's over.

I'm in a bit of a mad rush at the moment, but you'll probably get the gist of the point from the comment I've just left at the Telegraph website -

"I hate nationalism. If you look at the history of nationalism, you will find the history of war and horror"

Inspiring stuff from Billy, there. Evidently we should abolish Westminster and set up a unitary world government as a matter of some urgency.

Alternatively, we could be mature enough to recognise the fundamental difference between ethnic, expansionist and civic types of nationalism. The SNP type is the latter.

Lastly, could I just thank the Telegraph for filling the void in British comedy left by the demise of the Only Fools and Horses Christmas special. "Emma Thompson, who spends half the year in Scotland, has attacked separation in the latest blow to Alex Salmond"...priceless.

What next - superstar Scottish canine Gromit speaks out?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Scotland salutes you again, Andy - this time as the champion

I've been trying to assess where Andy Murray stands now, in the wake of his sensational win over Roger Federer to secure Olympic gold. While I was actually watching the match, it seemed obvious that he was in the process of achieving something that was at least the equivalent of that elusive Grand Slam title, and yet somehow the elation doesn't seem quite as overwhelming as it would undoubtedly have been had he won Wimbledon last month. Perhaps that's simply because there are so many other events to distract us, but I still have a feeling that in a month's time we'll be back to asking "can he win his first Grand Slam?". However, regardless of what happens in the future, at least there's no longer any way that Murray's career is going to be looked back on as a failure, and that must be a huge weight off his mind. And the tennis event at the Olympics has also come of age over the last week - it's travelled a long way since the Seoul and Barcelona Games when it was regarded as a fairly pointless sideshow that half of the top players didn't even bother turning up for.

There's nothing more entertaining at moments of Scolympian triumph than observing the eager efforts of Political Betting's Tory contingent to Britify the gold medallist in question. In case you missed the fun, it went something like this -

He's touched the Union Jack! Astonishing! Look at the flag! Look at Murray! You see? No distance at all between the two! The Murray shoulder is in ACTUAL CONTACT with OUR flag! He's one of us!

He's singing the anthem! Oh my God! He's actually singing OUR anthem! OK, he's sort of mumbling it...but that'll do! He's one of us! No doubt about it!

He even knows the WORDS to the anthem! Well, he knows some of the words, anyway. At least seven of them. But nobody else knows the words to the anthem either, so that means...he's one of us! Irrefutable proof!

And he hasn't produced a claymore, started screaming "Death to the English" and attacked the Duchess of Cambridge! That's what we all expected him to do...but he hasn't! Incredible! True Brit!

Gosh, how that boy has MATURED...

For my own part, I don't possess the mind-reading talents of PB Tories, and I wouldn't presume for a moment to know what Andy Murray's views on the constitutional future of Scotland are - if, indeed, he has any such views at all. But what does seem reasonably likely is that he would be just as proud to compete for a Team Scotland at the Olympics, if such a thing came into existence. And what a supremely proud moment it would be for this entire country if Murray, as defending Olympic champion, was to carry the saltire into the stadium in Rio for its debut appearance at an opening ceremony in four years' time.

That can happen, if we make it happen. It's in our own hands.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Meet the man who thinks that wanting Scotland to have its own Olympic team makes you a racist

It's been quite a while since I last posted an epic exchange from Political Betting, but I'm veritably spoiled for choice this weekend. I could go with the hysterical reaction to my suggestion last night that it was rather fitting that the BOA's arrogance over the GB football teams had ended in failure, with the men's team following the women's team in being eliminated at the quarter-final stage. This was the typically restrained verdict on me from Sean Thomas, aka "best-selling international thriller writer" Tom Knox (nope, me neither) -

"He wants to break up my beloved country. And he's a liar. And he's not even British.

F*** him and the mangy, spavined, Irish-American-Quebecois horse he rode in on...

Nonetheless he wants to dismember my country.

In other, less tolerant nations he would be electrocuted as a traitor. Not least because his political "beliefs" so obviously spring from his Quebecois-Irish background, and have FK all to do with any spurious "Scottishness".

That said, I am glad we are peaceable and democratic, and I am glad he is allowed to express his vile, pettifogging and interminable lies without his scrotum being attached to electrodes - but I reserve the right to hurl abuse at him."

But it was an exchange earlier in the day, also on an Olympic theme, that really took my breath away. The fact that even one or two of the Tory usual suspects thought that Antifrank had gone too far tells its own story...

Antifrank : The SNP do need to decide how they wish to react to the three (so far) gold medals that Team GB has won with hybrid English/Scottish teams. Even a casual viewer might decide that the two countries are "better together" in this respect at least.

Me : No, that depends on the casual viewer's preconceptions. Many will be thinking "we could have had a Scottish bronze here, if the Scottish gold medallist had teamed up with another half-decent Scottish athlete".

Antifrank : I refer you to my first comment. That you would prefer an inferior but racially pure team is very revealing.

Me : That is a deeply offensive lie, utterly unworthy of you as a serious poster, and I would ask you to withdraw it.

Antifrank : I infer from your last post that you prefer to see Scots only bronzes to mixed English/Scots golds. What's your beef?

Me : Do you actually understand what the term "racially pure" means?

Antifrank : Do you actually understand the avatism that the SNP routinely flirts with?

Me : This is utterly pathetic. Stop trying to deflect, and address the point. Do you accept that I do not want a "racially pure" national team, or don't you?

Antifrank : Would you prefer a pure Scots team of inferior quality or a mixed English/Scots/Welsh/Irish Team GB?

Me : I really thought you were better than this, Antifrank. You're now resorting to sophistry, and you know it. "Racially pure" means ethnically pure. You've now deleted the word "racially" to lend creative ambiguity to the meaning.

Won't wash. SNP-style Scottish nationalism is civic nationalism - all ethnicities, all creeds.

Please withdraw your earlier comment.

Antifrank : Stop playing with primary school nationalism. Civic nationalism would celebrate success. You have made it clear that nationalism outranks performance in your eyes. I think you need a major rethink of your priorities.

Me : I'm sorry, mate, but all the bluster in the world isn't going to get you off the hook here.

Your claim was that I want a "racially pure" national team. Do you now accept that you were wrong? It's a very simple question, and I await your answer.

Antifrank : What upsets you about having English team members alongside Scots, if not their race?

Me : It does not upset me. I thoroughly welcome it. I look forward to people of English origin competing for an independent Scottish Olympic team, just as they do at present for the Scottish Commonwealth Games team.

Now that your absurd misapprehension (more like unthinking prejudice, frankly) has been corrected, will you withdraw your earlier comment? Yes, or no?

Antifrank : Your position is now hopelessly confused. You seem to be complaining about the current arrangement under which we can have mixed nationality teams, while wanting pure Scottish teams that do worse than mixed nationality teams. Make your mind up!

Me : What in God's name are you talking about, man? Do you honestly believe that what you've just said makes any sense, or is this the most desperate attempt at deflection yet?

Do you, or do you not, accept that I do not want a "racially pure" national team?

Corporeal : Antifrank, nationality is different to race.

Surely you comprehend that?

Antifrank : (to Corporeal) In the context of Scottish athletics, show me how the difference is meaningful. I doubt the average SNP headbanger is imagining a Scottish Usain Bolt lookalike when they talk of a Scots only team. More likely something off the back of a porridge oats box.

(to me) Given that you have stated contradictory positions on this thread alone, I'm no longer sure what you want. Your main objection to the current set-up if your last post is to be believed is to the name Team GB.

Me : "In the context of Scottish athletics, show me how the difference is meaningful."

I believe the name you're searching for is Ifeoma Dieke. And if you define people of English origin as being of a different race, it makes a huge difference, because a significant minority of the Scottish population is of English origin.

"I doubt the average SNP headbanger is imagining a Scottish Usain Bolt lookalike when they talk of a Scots only team. More likely something off the back of a porridge oats box."

Congratulations. You've just lost all credibility when talking about Scottish politics in the future. You evidently don't know the first thing about the SNP - the first political party to be represented by an ethnic minority MSP.

"Given that you have stated contradictory positions on this thread alone, I'm no longer sure what you want."

What I want is remarkably simple - I want you to withdraw your deeply offensive and demonstrably untrue earlier comment.

If you think I've contradicted myself (hint : I haven't) please set out the nature of the contradiction in vaguely comprehensible language, and I'll address the point.

"Your main objection to the current set-up if your last post is to be believed is to the name Team GB."

You're becoming ever more bafflingly absurd by the minute. Why would a Scottish national team be called "Team GB? If that really was my only objection, it would be a rather superfluous one.

Antifrank : Reconcile

1) " "Would you prefer a Team Scotland bronze over the Team GB gold?"
Yes, of course."
2) " "What upsets you about having English team members alongside Scots, if not their race?"
It does not upset me. I thoroughly welcome it."
We have that in Team GB already. So I conclude that you object (superfluously as you say) to the name.

But on the assumption that you are going to contort in some way to stick by statement 1, you still have the basic problem that you prefer purity over success. So I see nothing to apologise about.

Me : Sigh. OK, I will try to make this astonishingly simple principle even simpler for you.

a) Team GB as presently constituted is a multi-ethnic team representing the territory of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

b) Team Scotland after independence will be a multi-ethnic team representing the territory of Scotland.

I want b) not a). That is, as you will note, rather more fundamental than a "name change".

Now will you please withdraw your offensive earlier comment? If not, why not?

Antifrank : You have confirmed that you prefer purity over success. What is there to apologise for?

And you are simply wrong. What you want is no more fundamental than a name change. If a team comprising Smith and McDonald compete for Team GB or Scotland, what difference does it make apart from satisfying small closed minds in either case?

Me : "What is there to apologise for?"

Because you falsely accused me of racism, and that's offensive.

I used to have a great deal of respect for you, Antifrank, but the way you've wriggled this afternoon...well, others can make their own minds up.

Antifrank : We can agree on "purity obsessive" then.

Me : I'm afraid we don't agree on anything. Your claim that there would be no difference between Team Scotland and Team GB other than a name change is literally the most risible thing I've ever read on PB - and that's quite an accolade.

Do you actually believe this guff?

Antifrank : That you have no answer to my example other than bluster shows that I am right.

Me : Antifrank, pomposity and self-satisfaction isn't going to get you off the hook either.

What "example" do you want me to answer? I'm extremely eager to do so, I can assure you. I'm looking forward to you admitting you were wrong.

Antifrank : There are ten uses on this thread of the words "racist" or "racism". These are the first two occasions on which I have used either. Is the SNP's position on this issue connected to race, however? Of course it is. What beast do they think they're poking when they prod their stick at this?

Me : "There are ten uses on this thread of the words "racist" or "racism". These are the first two occasions on which I have used either."

But this is not the first time I've used the phrase "utterly pathetic". How exactly do you think you can say someone wants "racial purity" without believing they are a racist?

"Is the SNP's position on this issue connected to race, however? Of course it is."

That is another lie. If you think you can justify it (hint : you can't) let's see some hard evidence. I can claim Sweden has a tropical climate until I'm blue in the face, but it doesn't make it true.

"What beast do they think they're poking when they prod their stick at this?"

I look forward to the translation of yet another incomprehensible comment.

Antifrank : No need to apologise: I have, of course, been highly inflammatory on this thread. Some of my words have been deliberately written to be misread, though the correct meaning has always been there for those that take the time to read them.

Me : I'm trying very, very hard not to laugh.

"And for my final trick, ladies and gentlemen, I will pretend that my foot-in-mouth syndrome was a cunning plan right from the start."

Don't give up the day job.

Antifrank : But James, everything I wrote is true. You would prefer a Scottish team that was racially pure to a successful Team GB team. You've made that quite clear.

Me : Another deeply offensive lie. Please link to where "I made that clear". Please do so now.

Antifrank : It's your chance to disavow it then.

Would you prefer either:

1) Scottish team, comprising McDonald & McCloud, both from Aberdeenshire farming stock of impeccable racial purity and getting a bronze medal for the Scottish team or

2) McDonald & Smith, the latter from Suffolk farming stock of equal English racial purity and getting a gold medal for Team GB?

Me : Why should I give a monkey's whether they're "of impeccable racial purity" or not? Have you actually been listening to a word that I (or Carlotta Vance for that matter) have been saying this afternoon?

Antifrank : Have you actually read what I have written (as opposed to superimposing your own concerns) at any point this afternoon?

Me : Unfortunately for both of us, the answer is yes. This was your original claim -

"you would prefer an inferior but racially pure team"

That was an offensive lie when I first read it, it is an offensive lie now. It will remain an offensive lie on every subsequent reading. Withdraw it, please.

Antifrank : Let's go back to my example. Are you saying that you would in fact prefer option 2? It goes against several of your posts on this thread.

Me : No, I would not prefer Option 2. I would refuse to choose either option because they both imply that racial purity was a factor in the selection of the teams. That goes against everything I stand for.

Now will you withdraw your claim, please? If not, why not?

Antifrank : No, I stand by my claim that you would prefer option 1, based on the evidence of your responses on this thread. (The racial purity, I acknowledge, is something that you vehemently deny plays part of your decision-making process, but you have confirmed repeatedly your desire to see Scottish-only teams performing, even if mixed Team GB teams would do better.) Given that, I have nothing to withdraw.

My point stands. Narrow nationalism is more important to you than success. That is completely wrongheaded.

Me : As Andy Marr might put it, you look like a smaller man today, Antifrank. You've been given umpteen opportunities to extricate yourself from the claim of racism - I would have happily accepted an apology or withdrawal, but instead you prefer to be an offensive buffoon.

Suit yourself. I'm off to watch the tennis.

In actual fact, it trundled on for quite a bit longer than that, but it was just going round in circles by that point, so I won't bore you with the rest. However, there was one gloriously ironic bit when he refused to answer my question as to whether he would rather be represented by a Team GB than by a Team Europe, and if that didn't imply that he preferred "narrow nationalism to success". I then asked him if according to the precedent he had set, I was now entitled to "infer from his previous responses" that his answer was indeed Team GB. He loftily replied that "this is simply something I don't care about".