I absolutely bloody loathe country music. One fine sunny day when I was a teenager, my sister and I took some American relatives to Millport for an outing, not realising there was some kind of country-and-western festival taking place. With the sea as the only possible means of escape, it was pretty much my idea of hell on Earth. I literally walked two miles round the back of the island to try to muffle the excruciating noise of Tammy Wynette songs blaring out from a big tent, but to no avail. So as you can imagine, I was less than enthused when I heard that the Netherlands were entering a country-flavoured song for this year's Eurovision. Strangely enough, though, I think the Common Linnets may just be the acceptable face of country music. I've listened to their song several times without having my customary allergic reaction, and (whisper it gently) I think I may even really like it. I'm not the only one - there have been impressive download sales since the semi-final on Tuesday, and the Netherlands have come out of nowhere to sit tonight as joint second-favourites with many of the bookies. So could they pull it off? It would be the most improbable winning entry in years and years, but that very distinctiveness is exactly what gives it a real chance.
Terrifyingly, this is the seventh annual Scot Goes Pop Eurovision prediction - just to prove it, here's the first one from 2008. Of the previous six predictions, I've got the winner right four times, albeit admittedly two of those were extremely obvious runaway winners. This year certainly isn't going to see one of those - Sweden are the favourites as of this moment, but only by a tiny smidgeon. To make the picture even more unclear, most of the experts (of both the real and self-appointed variety) who have been watching today's rehearsals and jury final are more or less writing Sweden off. I do wonder if there's some kind of group-think at play there - you don't have to actually be in Copenhagen to know that Sanna Nielsen's performance in the final is likely to be very similar to her performance in the semi-final, which came across extremely well on screen. However, the most important point that has been made today is that Sweden's closeness in the running order to Austria is likely to harm both countries. Indeed, two songs of a vaguely similar type being regarded as strong contenders would be potentially harmful for both regardless of the running order.
Talking of Austria, if anything Conchita Wurst made an even bigger impact in the semi-finals than the Common Linnets, and was the outright favourite for a while last night with Paddy Power. I must say I don't quite see it myself - I think it's perfectly conceivable that Austria could win the televote, but I just can't imagine the juries (who have 50% of the vote) placing Rise Like a Phoenix even close to top. Conversely, I suspect the juries will rate the Netherlands and the UK very highly, and the chances of victory for those two songs will depend on them finishing no worse than about third or fourth in the televote. Highly favourable slots in the running order (the UK are last, and the Netherlands are third from last) means there should be every chance of that happening.
The other entry that looks like a plausible winner to me is Ukraine - I don't like the song that much, but the staging is absolutely sensational. It reminds me a little bit of the inspired staging for Ani Lorak back in 2008, which of course helped Ukraine secure a strong second place. However, I suspect the running order has killed their chances this year - they'll be the very first out of the blocks.
So that leaves me with three possibilities - Sweden, the Netherlands and the UK. If you'd asked me 24 hours ago, I would have slightly favoured Sweden, but I've since taken the point about the similarity with the Austrian song on board. The UK and Netherlands songs (in particular the latter) have the benefit of being completely different from the rest of the field, and when you factor in their better positions in the running order, they do start to look like more probable winners than Sweden.
But which one of the two? In a strange way it's easier to think of arguments against both of them than it is to think of arguments in favour. Try as I might, I find it really hard to imagine a song as understated as Calm After the Storm winning outright, and although I liked Children of the Universe when I first heard it, I've found that it doesn't bear repeated listens quite as well as some of the other entries (including Sweden, interestingly enough). However, by all accounts both the Netherlands and the UK went down a storm at the jury final tonight.
For better or worse, this is the prediction I've come up with. Click on the song titles to watch the video of the semi-final performances (or the rehearsal performance in the case of the UK).
Winners : UK (Children of the Universe by Molly)
2nd : Netherlands (Calm After the Storm by The Common Linnets)
3rd : Sweden (Undo by Sanna Nielsen)
4th : Austria (Rise Like a Phoenix by Conchita Wurst)
5th : Ukraine (Tick-Tock by Mariya Yaremchuk)
Possible dark horses : Greece, Denmark, Romania
Although this is an honest prediction, there's also a devil in me that hopes the UK won't win just because I've said they will. For the avoidance of doubt, I don't think the Yes campaign would be in any way harmed by one night of Brit Nat crowing about a Eurovision victory and how it's yet more "proof" that Scotland can't succeed on its own merits, but it would be a rather tiresome spectacle all the same, and one that we could probably all do without. I do have a long history of supporting the UK at Eurovision, but on this particular occasion I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for the Netherlands and Sweden (well, my heart is with Slovenia, really, but I don't think they've got much of a chance).
Whatever happens in September, this won't be the last time that Scotland is nominally represented by a UK entry at Eurovision, but it will be the last time that we don't know whether that state of affairs is about to come to a long-overdue end, or will persist for countless more years. I find that a rather scary thought.
Bizarrely, there was a YouGov poll the other day that asked the UK public how many points they thought Ukraine would give Russia this year. By far the most popular choice was no points at all. That completely misses the point of how neighbourly voting works - there's a huge Russian-speaking population in Ukraine (not least in the Crimea, which will still be voting as part of Ukraine), and they're the ones who vote for Russia year in, year out. With support for the other entries split, I would imagine that Russia may well win the Ukrainian televote again. The jury will dilute the effect of that, but I'd be absolutely astonished if Ukraine don't award Russia at least some points, and probably quite a few.