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.

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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.

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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.

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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.