Friday, July 5, 2013

YouGov's attention to detail

I got mildly excited a few minutes ago when I checked the YouGov website and saw the words "Scottish Omnibus Survey", but it turned out to be not quite what I was expecting.  This is the breaking news - 8% of part-time workers in Scotland think that Serena Williams would beat Andy Murray in a three-set match.

It has to be said that YouGov aren't so hot on independence referendum polling at the moment, but as far as hypothetical tennis scenarios are concerned - they've got all the angles covered.  Stick with them to discover how many times female skateboarders in Glenrothes think that Elena Baltacha will be foot-faulted if she plays Urszula Radwanska in the second round of the 2015 French Open.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A tale of one Scowimblian and one Scolionian

On Saturday, Richie Gray will become the third different Scolionian in as many weeks to serve as the sole Scottish representative in the 23-man British and Irish Lions test squad.  If the fate of his two predecessors is anything to go by, he won't actually be allowed to take the field of play, in which case all 240 minutes of this year's series against Australia will have passed by without any Scottish input whatsoever.  Quite literally the only Scottish thing about this Lions test team has been the thistle on the jersey.

I haven't mentioned my misgivings about this turn of events up till now, because self-evidently this hasn't been the traditional tale of Anglocentric powers-that-be forgetting that the Celtic nations exist.  Instead we've had a New Zealander - who is the current coach of Wales and a former coach of Ireland - selecting Welsh-dominated sides that have also contained a fair smattering of English and Irish players.  At first glance, it was hard to think of any particular reason why he would be discriminating against Scottish players, other than an honest perception that they aren't good enough (which he can arguably be forgiven for based on the national side's results in recent years).

However, now that Brian O'Driscoll's sensational omission from Saturday's squad has opened the floodgates for criticisms from other parts of these islands that Gatland is effectively selecting a 'Wales + Guest Stars' team, perhaps we can at last feel emboldened to air the concerns that our Scolionians aren't getting a fair crack of the whip.  Indeed, a cynical person might almost conclude that Gatland is just randomly choosing a different token Scot to sit on the replacements bench each week, but without any real intention of bringing that player on unless it is absolutely unavoidable.

One Welsh newspaper has, to its credit, picked up on these concerns already, and even quotes a disgruntled Scotland supporter as saying he'll be supporting Australia on Saturday.  I wouldn't quite go that far, but it's certainly hard to passionately get behind a team that you have no stake in.

That said, I'm not sure Keith Wood's misty-eyed nostalgia for the days when the Lions represented a genuine blending together of four nations' strengths is entirely justified.  I had a look at the team's historical results the other day, and I was finding it increasingly hard to understand how on Earth the "legend of the Lions" ever got going in the first place - their track record really isn't that much to write home about.  Incredibly, the famous 1971 series was their one and only victory over New Zealand, and their record against the Southern Hemisphere's other traditional superpower South Africa is only marginally better.  There's no real evidence at all of the "Better Together" effect that Brit Nat politicians like to bang on about during events like the Olympics - if anything, there's some evidence that the reverse is true, with examples of individual 'Home Nations' outperforming the Lions against exactly the same opposition.  In 1983, the "worst ever Lions" were pulverised by a New Zealand team that later in the year was beaten by England at Twickenham and could only manage a draw against Scotland at Murrayfield.  And in 2001, Martin Johnson led the Lions to defeat in Australia, but two years later led a theoretically weaker England side to victory in the World Cup final against the same opposition.

*  *  *

So not a vintage year for the Scolionians whatever happens on Saturday, but by marked contrast Andy Murray is now well on his way to further cementing his place as the greatest ever Scowimblian.  Things didn't look quite so promising at about 5.30 this afternoon, so huge credit to Murray for digging himself out of what looked like an impossible hole.  Let's hope he spares our nerves on Friday, although I wouldn't bank on it!  If he manages to dodge that bullet, we can all look forward to the London media once again trotting out that age-old question - can Andy Murray become the first British player to win a Grand Slam title since Andy Murray way back in 2012?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Who's talking the most nonsense about Edward Snowden? Rod Liddle.

Our old friend Rod "Scotland is NOT a nation" Liddle has penned a piece in the Spectator with the supremely ironic title "Who’s talking the most nonsense about Edward Snowden? It’s a tough contest". It really isn't, Rod.

"Edward was a fairly low-level CIA technical contractor in Hawaii when he released to the world details of his government’s clandestine electronic surveillance programme (Prism) and also some stuff about our own much-loved GCHQ in Cheltenham. Apparently shocked to the core to discover that the security services were secretly spying on people, Edward was gripped by a spasm of narcissistic outrage and said: ‘I don’t want to live in a society which does these sorts of things.’ No, indeed — at which point he duly fled the immoral and abusive USA for a bolthole in the open, transparent, consensual and liberal People’s Republic of China, where ‘these sorts of things’ are beyond the pale."

What someone who has been down a hole for the last few weeks might be forgiven for not picking up from those words is that Snowden in fact fled to Hong Kong, which may be technically part of the People's Republic of China, but is universally recognised (except by those playing tedious rhetorical games) as a distinct jurisdiction with radically different values and traditions. It does, by all accounts, have a relatively good track record of protecting free speech that puts mainland China to shame. It's true that it doesn't have such an impressive democratic tradition, but whose fault is that? Why, that would be the United Kingdom, that renowned "beacon of liberty throughout the world". If Britain had democratised Hong Kong in the 1950s, 60s or even 70s, and given the new system a chance to bed down before the handover to China in 1997, it would have been very hard for Beijing to reverse the process. Instead there was a last-minute reform package in 1995 which seemed to have the sole purpose of salving London's imperial conscience, and which was unsurprisingly dispensed with by the new regime two years later. China can now quite accurately claim to have control over a Hong Kong that is more democratic than it was for all but two years of its period as a British colony.

"He had been expected to depart the next day on a flight to the freedom-loving bastion that is Cuba, from which destination he was expected to take a further flight to Venezuela and hence to that last recourse for faux-leftish narcissistic whistle-blowers, Ecuador. This supposed stage of his trip, then, comprises exclusively belligerent and corrupt gringo-hating quasi-socialist banana republics where the respective records on human rights leave a little to be desired, frankly. Ecuador, for example, has recently been castigated by both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for ‘undercutting’ freedom of speech and freedom of the press, as well as having a corrupt and politically partisan judiciary and locking up people on trumped-up terrorism charges. When he eventually arrives in Quito, will Edward be forced to conclude once more that he does not wish to live in a society which ‘does these sorts of things’? Or will he manage, somehow, to square it with his overweening conscience — in the manner of that other supreme narcissist, the WikiLeaks weirdo Julian Assange, who is still holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy and appears every so often on the balcony to wave to his deluded supporters (Mr J. Pilger Esq.) and smirk at Jemima Khan.

The notion, for either Assange or Snowden, that there might be greater evils in the world, and that they might well be aiding these greater evils, simply does not impinge. For Snowden, clearly, it is the precise opposite of that old exhortation, my country right or wrong. It’s any country but my country, no matter how wicked it might be. It is again the unthinking absolutism of the fool, or the tyrant."

Hmmm. You, Rod, might not be able to understand why the human rights abuses committed on an unimaginable global scale by the world's sole superpower are of slightly more concern to the average international citizen than the human rights abuses committed by Ecuador, but I can assure you there are intelligent hamsters in Auchtermuchty who can.