Saturday, June 8, 2013

Face the challenge, darling

I've got better things to do than watch our Old Etonian overlord address the conference of a fringe party, but Left Foot Forward quotes him as saying : "There is simply no challenge we face today where breaking up Britain is the right answer."

Leaving aside the fact that Scottish independence isn't about "breaking up Britain", I have to ask - really? How about these challenges - rehumanising our welfare system, scrapping the London veto on weapons of mass destruction being removed from our shores, and finding a way to opt out from London's illegal wars. In what sense does independence fail to meet those challenges, and what is the better alternative that the status quo can provide?

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Spotted at the No campaign's official Twitter feed -

"A fantastic reception for our new #ForcesTogether video and for our Chair @TogetherDarling at our fringe #indyref"

"Thank you to everyone @ScotTories Conference who came along to our fringe. An unbelieveable turnout & great atmosphere in the room #indyref"

OK, the video is indeed "their" video, and Alistair Darling (does the moniker "TogetherDarling" make anyone else feel slightly nauseous?) is indeed "their" chair. But how exactly is the fringe of the Scottish Tory conference "their" fringe?

It's hard to escape the conclusion that the No campaign's Twitter feed is being manned by Tories. After all, who else would be capable of discerning a "great atmosphere" let alone an "unbelievable turnout" at a Scottish Tory conference? (Albeit maybe the latter point will become slightly less unbelievable if Labour continue to helpfully make up the numbers by sending along former cabinet ministers.)

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"#tweetlikeBetterTogether" is fast becoming my all-time favourite Twitter hashtag. These are all from Old Glenbogle -

"The UK is just great. It's like a bag of Revels". #tweetlikeBetterTogether

"You know those little multi-coloured things on the top of a doughnut. The UK's like that." #tweetlikeBetterTogether

"Do you remember 'Watercolour Challenge' with Hannah Gordon? Well, that's why we're better together." #tweetlikeBetterTogether

"You can, like, buy a return ticket to London. In advance. That's barry. That's Britain" #tweetlikeBetterTogether

"What about the Caravan Club of Great Britain? Well? What will happen to that?" #tweetlikeBetterTogether

"I love Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding. But I live in Glasgow. I don't want to lose all that". #tweetlikeBetterTogether

"I'm backing Britain. We're great at queuing." #tweetlikeBetterTogether

"The best things come in threes. So does the UK. Like Twix bars." #tweetlikeBetterTogether

"We speak English, not foreign. Don't become separatese." #tweetlikeBetterTogether

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Make your voice heard - what percentage of the vote do you think Yes will get?

There's a poll (an online, self-selecting one) running on PB that might interest you - it's asking what percentage of the vote you think the Yes side will get in the independence referendum next year. I've voted for the 50.01% to 60% option. Click HERE to take part in the poll.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Rhoda Grant and the elusive consultation response

I haven't been following the news compulsively of late, so I only discovered a couple of hours ago that Labour MSP Rhoda Grant recently published the results of the consultation on her ideological desire to criminalise the purchase of sex. As regular readers will know, I responded to the consultation (to oppose the proposal), and my first thought was to quickly double-check that my response had actually been taken into account. I was slightly disturbed to see that my name didn't seem to be on the list of 953 respondents. It was hard to be 100% sure because the names weren't presented in alphabetical order, but I went through them three or four times without any luck. My fears were not allayed by the shorter list (which appeared to be intended as comprehensive) of the types of individual who had responded -

"campaign and community workers (in a personal capacity but with experience of working in relevant organisations (Wellcome Trust, Exodus Cry Houston Prayer Watch, Cardiff and Merthyr Tydfil group, Street Ministry, NGO, Navigators, Stop the Traffick, Act for Justice, Youth with a Mission (YWAM), Stellas Voice charity, Act for Justice group, Dunfermline)
Queens Park Baptist Church Action for Justice Group, Glasgow
co-ordinator & befriender for Destiny Lifeline which is part of Destiny Church
workers with a faith-based justice non-profit organisation
anti-trafficking workers and supporters
director of Prevention for Exodus City
worker with homeless and city mission
worker with victims of abuse
worker in a women’s hostel
volunteers with Glasgow City Mission
workers with homeless charities
worker for Women’s Aid refuge
sex workers (male and female)
homosexual sex worker
migrant and sex worker
independent escorts
worker in a massage parlour
contributor to an escort forum
people who use escort services
worker in psychosexual somatics
parish minister
parish worker
church goer
baptist minister
member of the North Devon House of Prayer in Barnstaple
local church Senior Pastor in east end of Glasgow
manager of a Christian drop-in centre
guidance teacher
undergraduate Law student
independent researcher on male violence against women
German researcher based in Berlin
retired solicitor and criminal prosecutor
trained paediatric occupational therapist
military doctor
addictions medical officer
health visitor
social worker
family mediator
victims and offenders mediator
workers in nursing
scientist and scientific journal editor
freelance writer
writer and performer
business owner
foster parents
worker with Barnardo’s Scotland
registered child minder
worked in the Police force
retired police officer"

None of those descriptions apply to me. The only one that is even vaguely close is "freelance writer", but that would be a bit of a stretch, and certainly isn't how I described myself in my submission. I had horrible visions of having to trawl through hundreds of responses to see if I had been incorrectly put in the 'anonymous' column, but first of all I decided to check similar names. To my relief, I discovered that my submission was there, but under the name 'James'. Quite why my surname had been withheld is a bit of a mystery, as it certainly wasn't something that I requested.

I don't have much experience with parliamentary consultations, and I must say that the process of responding to this one hasn't filled me with huge confidence. It just doesn't seem satisfactory that responses have to be sent to a person (ie. Ms Grant herself) who has a vested interest in the consultation having a particular outcome. OK, in this instance she seems to have processed the responses conscientiously (although I had my doubts for thirty or forty minutes), but there's an important principle at stake here - sporting events use neutral referees for a good reason. Apart from anything else, the mere perception of bias in the conduct of a consultation could be enough to deter responses from one side of the debate, and thus skew the outcome.

Whether that's the explanation for the depressing outcome of this consultation is anyone's guess. But there's not much doubt that the majority of submissions were from a narrow bunch of ideologues who were encouraged to reply en masse. Hopefully parliamentarians will once again be able to wade through the sea of dogma, and home in on the evidence-based responses from academics that ripped Ms Grant's arguments to shreds.

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UPDATE : Perhaps I spoke too soon - this blogpost refers to 70 submissions that are missing from the consultation, "all opposed".

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The youth of today and the youth of yesterday

Those delightful chaps over at the No campaign's official Twitter feed seem terribly excited about a new poll of the referendum voting intentions of 14-17 year olds. It does seem to have been an honestly conducted poll, but a number of points need to be borne in mind about it -

1) It sits rather oddly with the results of the last two Ipsos-Mori polls, which clearly showed that 18-24 year olds were the most likely to vote Yes to independence. There isn't a direct contradiction because we're talking about two different age groups, but it does seem somewhat improbable that 14-17 year olds would be the most conservative age group, while 18-24 year olds are the most radical. After all, 18-24 year olds are the 14-17 year olds of yesterday. Are the two cohorts really so different, and if so, what factor or factors can possibly explain that? Or does something magical happen to people around the date of their 18th birthday? Or is this polling evidence failing to tell the whole story?

2) The poll was conducted by telephone, and it may well be that young people aged 14-17 are more susceptible to a feeling of obligation to give the 'expected' answer to an authority figure down the line. A similar survey conducted online would be interesting for the purposes of comparison.

3) Perhaps most importantly of all, the poll was conducted by Market Research UK. This is presumably the same MRUK that became notorious for their inaccurate polls during the 2007 Holyrood campaign. Because they were the Herald's official pollster, this led to a number of comical articles which earnestly reported that Labour were sailing to victory, ignoring the fact that virtually every other pollster had the SNP in the lead.

4) Regardless of the true state of play among the youngest voters, we need to keep a sense of perspective about the overall significance of the youth vote. 16 and 17 year olds will make up only a very small percentage of the electorate next September, and will probably turn out to vote in lower numbers than older age groups. (I expect the turnout to be unusually high across all age groups given the importance of the vote, but it will be proportionately lower in the youngest groups.) Thus, the decision to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote will only swing the balance if the result is incredibly close.

The No campaign also tweeted this comment from 17-year-old Michaella -

"I like the fact that we are part of something bigger and staying united makes sense to me."

I also like being part of something bigger, Michaella, and staying united with the rest of the EU makes perfect sense to me. Unfortunately, Scotland's status as part of the parochial, right-wing UK is imperilling our continued membership of the European family of nations.

Luckily, we have a unique opportunity to do something about that.