Saturday, August 29, 2015

What a relief to get away from Scotland and all that "narrow nationalism"

London Victoria station this morning...

Friday, August 28, 2015

Joining us now is North Britain's most impartial Tory

Spare a thought today for the media.  It was stretching credulity for them to wheel out Adam "IT'S THE LAW!!!!" Tomkins as an 'impartial expert' when he was working for the Tory party.  It was even harder for them to do it when he became a special adviser to the Secretary of State for Scotland.  But can they still pull it off now that he's planning to stand as a Tory candidate in next year's Scottish Parliament election?  Rest assured that they'll give it a go.

Tomkins' announcement of his intentions comes in possibly his funniest blogpost to date.  He tells the story of how he became a Tory, and it basically consists of : "I offered my services to all the unionist parties, and it was the Tories who wanted me unconditionally, so clearly their instincts are correct." 

I do also enjoy Tomkins' running commentary on whether election outcomes are "deserved" or not.  You might remember a few months ago we learned from him that the No campaign didn't just win the referendum, they did so "deservedly".  Today it turns out that although the SNP may be heading for victory in the North British Legislative Council election, they "do not deserve to be".  It's reassuring to learn that the electorate can be wrong as well as right - it would be downright weird if they were as infallible as Tomkins.

My favourite bit of all, though, is when he prays in aid the UK Supreme Court's view that the Scottish Parliament's powers are "ample" and "generous".  Who better to assess whether the whingeing Jocks have been given enough...sorry, whether the Scottish people's aspirations have been adequately met, than judges sitting in London?  It would be interesting to know what their justification was for issuing commentary on what is self-evidently a matter of political judgement, rather than of legal interpretation.

Lastly, I'm bemused by Tomkins' observation that if the SNP win next year, their spell in power will be extended to fourteen years, longer than Mrs Thatcher was in office.  So what?  Mrs Thatcher was an individual, not a party.  After she left office, her party - Tomkins' party - continued in power for a further six-and-a-half years, bringing it to a grand total of eighteen.  Let's compare like with like, shall we, Adam?  IT'S THE LAW!!!!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A few Edinburgh Fringe mini-reviews

I'm a bit late with these, but the Fringe still has a few days to run, so maybe they'll be of some use to somebody out there...

I AM BEAST : I made a point of going to see this because I had such fond memories of the same company's The Girl With No Heart, which was a mesmerising fable about the effect of nuclear warfare on children.  This one perhaps doesn't quite scale the same heights, but it touches the heart in much the same way.  It's about a girl who loses herself in a comic book fantasy after the death of her mum.  Looking at it objectively, there are a few flaws - for example, the first twenty minutes or so are awfully repetitive, and the story only gets going properly after that.  But by the end, I found myself getting so involved that I completely lost interest in picking fault.  And I must just mention the background music - it's very simple but really gets under your skin.  RATING : 8/10

I LOVED YOU AND I LOVED YOU : I took a bit of a punt on this one, because it's only running at the tail-end of the festival, and so there were no reviews to be found at all.  But judging from the promotional material it had the look of quality about it, and just for once my instincts proved right.  It's about the life of Morfydd Owen, a brilliant female Welsh composer who died in bizarre circumstances in 1918 at the age of just 26.  It's billed as a cross between a dance show and a play, but it's more the former than the latter - there's some speech, but not a huge amount.  The music is mostly Owen's own compositions, and there's live piano-playing and vocals.  I don't really have the vocabulary to properly describe a show like this, but the music is beautiful, the dancing is spellbinding, and I totally recommend it.  The only disconcerting thing was that I was sitting next to someone who was studiously taking notes throughout the performance.  She was obviously involved in the production, and every time she jotted something down I imagined she had spotted some minor flaw, or scope for improvement.  I can't imagine what that would have been, though.  RATING : 10/10

THE GOOD DOCTOR : The annual outdoor play in Duddingston Kirk Manse Garden is a very special experience.  It's surely the most atmospheric venue in the entire Fringe, with Arthur's Seat right behind you and Duddingston Loch right in front of you.  A long play always seems to be selected (at least two hours), which means you drift pleasurably from daylight into darkness.  You'd think word of mouth would lead to huge crowds every night, but not a bit of it - there's quite often only three men and a dog there (figuratively speaking).  It would be interesting to know why that is - maybe it's because the production style is old school (although that suits the surroundings perfectly), maybe it's because of the midgies (although they generally only get about halfway up your nostrils), or maybe it's simply because Duddingston is well off the beaten track for festival-goers.  Suffice to say that people are missing out.  This year's play is Neil Simon's comic tribute to Chekhov, and the standard is as high as ever.  RATING : 8/10

AN AUDIENCE WITH JIMMY SAVILE : This is every bit as uncomfortable to watch as you might think, but not always in the way you expect.  It's a very funny play in parts, and it's really quite disturbing when you realise that you're laughing with Savile, rather than laughing at him or (as would be more appropriate) not laughing at all.  It's a reminder of the charm that was such a big part of his success in getting away with crimes on an unimaginable scale for decades.  Obviously the play becomes darker as it progresses, although the funniest part is actually just a few minutes from the end, when Savile makes a delusional comment about being responsible for the Israeli-Egyptian peace deal in 1979.  By that point you're laughing at him, though.  As many people have noted, Alistair McGowan absolutely owns the title role, and from memory he hasn't really toned down the impersonation he used to do for light entertainment shows - perhaps that wasn't such a caricature after all.  RATING : 8/10

FOXFINDER : It's bound to happen sooner or later, but in my few years of going there I've yet to see a bad Fringe show at the Bedlam Theatre - they've all been either outstanding or very good.  This one falls into the latter category.  The basic idea is really clever - the humble fox is blamed for England's economic collapse, but even after the species has been hunted to extinction, government-sanctioned paranoia still reigns.  At the end of the play, you suddenly realise that there are indeed still "foxes" out there to be found - it's just that the meaning of the word has changed.  RATING : 8/10

THE CLOCK STRIKES NOON : This is part of the Frontier trilogy set in a chapel in (I think) California.  Two desperate armed men are confused to find themselves negotiating for their lives with a very calm and collected young woman.  As someone once said of the Blake's 7 episode Project Avalon, this has more twists and turns than a twisty-turny thing, and both the script and acting is exquisite.  Just a word of warning, though - the venue is unbearably hot.  RATING : 9/10

I realise I haven't given any of them a bad rating - perhaps that means I'm getting better at guessing what I'll like in advance!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

No, I don't think the Greens are "evil", or that they shouldn't exist

Thanks to Morag (Rolfe) for pointing me in the direction of a fan letter from someone calling themselves Green Pedant -

"James Kelly is totally deluded. He is the most tribal SNP supporter I have met. He is totally opposed to the Greens/RISE even existing. What he says about voting for the Greens being dangerous is just bollocks. He says that tactical voting doesn’t work, but then screams at any Green voter that they have to vote tactically for the SNP. He is just a hypocrite.

Wings has taken the sensible position, that the D’Hondt system doesn’t work tactically but that doesn’t mean that voting for the Greens is wrong, it just means it isn’t a magic, vote rigging silver bullet. Wings first article showed that increased Green vote never reduced the total number of Pro-Yes MSPs.

James Kelly thinks that all Greens/RISE members are evil vote splitters and shouldn’t exist. Which isn’t impartial it is just tribal. What happened to Yes movement solidarity?"

Do I hate the Greens?  Do I think they shouldn't exist?  If so, I behaved somewhat out of character in the run-up to the 2012 local elections when I tried to persuade people to use their lower preferences for the Greens and other pro-independence parties, and was in a state of despair at the realisation that many people simply didn't understand how the voting system worked and had convinced themselves that a lower preference for the Greens would somehow "dilute" their first preference vote for the SNP.  But that's the thing - the STV system used for local elections lends itself to "solidarity".  The AMS system used for the Scottish Parliament doesn't.  A vote for the Greens on the Holyrood regional list isn't a second preference vote, it's a first preference vote.  It's a vote against the SNP as much as it is a vote against the unionist parties.

I've no idea whether Green Pedant actually has "met" me in a literal sense - it seems unlikely, because I don't really move in political circles (unless it was at the Common Space launch party, or the Political Innovation conference about a billion years ago).  But if I am the most tribal SNP supporter he's ever met, he needs to get out more.  I've only been a party member for eleven months.

If I have any minor problem with the Greens at all, it's that one of their candidates for next year's Scottish Parliament election once subjected to me to mindless online abuse.  It ranged from the pathetic ("Wings-loving tube", "Cybernat") to the deeply offensive ("misogynist", "you obviously don't care for women very much").  If a parliamentary candidate is trying to appeal to "Yes solidarity" and to win hearts and minds for his party, it might be best to refrain from throwing around nasty personal insults of that sort, especially without a shred of justification.  And I'm scarcely the only victim of that particular individual.  But my working assumption has always been that James Mackenzie is just a single bad apple (although admittedly he did work at a very senior level in the party).  If I really thought it was rational to vote "tactically" for the Greens on the list, that incident wouldn't be enough to put me off - unless I was voting in the region where Mackenzie is standing, but from memory that's the Lothians, and I'm in Central Scotland.

And of course it's simply untrue to say that I've ever called the Greens "vote-splitters", or said (let alone "screamed") that Greens should vote tactically for the SNP.  On the contrary, I've positively encouraged people to vote Green, as long as the Greens are their favourite party.  It's simply tactical voting on the list (for the Greens or for any other party) that I've pointed out doesn't work.

The other inaccuracy is the suggestion that an increased Green vote can never lead to a net decrease in the number of pro-independence MSPs.  The north-east result in 2011 gives the lie to that notion - SNP supporters voting "tactically" for the Greens or the SSP were perilously close to handing the SNP list seat to the Tories.

As for RISE, I haven't said anything at all about them yet.  I was planning to ask whether they're related to the defunct Channel 4 breakfast show of the same name, and if so, whether they'll be reviving the tradition of viewer exit polls on Big Brother evictions.  (If I'd known Cameron Stout was destined to become the figurehead for Better Together Orkney, I'd definitely have voted to keep Nush in.  Ah well, live and learn.)

This is your conductor speaking

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard the 2130 ScotRail shuttle service from Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh Waverley.  The train will call at Croy, Falkirk High and Haymarket, due to arrive in at Edinburgh Waverley at 2225.  First class accommodation is located at the front and rear of the train, this is for the use of first class ticket holders only.  If you wish to upgrade to first class, you can do so for £4.20.  Female accommodation is located in the middle of the train, this is for the use of female ticket holders only.  If you're not a woman, you can upgrade if you really want to, but this should not be done lightly, and ScotRail recommends counselling as a preliminary step."

In the unlikely event that Jeremy Corbyn's female-only rail carriages plan ever sees the light of day, I trust there will be male-only carriages by way of compensation.  Otherwise, men will be much less likely than women to be able to find a seat on a busy train.  That would be a form of gender-based collective punishment, and I'm not sure that's really on.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Daisley, the neocon link list, and the 1967 "liberation" of East Jerusalem

As a small addendum to the previous post, I've just noticed somebody on Twitter pointing out that Stephen Daisley used to write for the Times of Israel, where his mini-biography describes him as writing "from a centre-right perspective". It also reveals that he has (or had) a blog called The Eclectic Partisan. Having looked it up, what I found most immediately fascinating is the contents of his link list -

CiF Watch (a website devoted to finding anti-Semitism in The Guardian regardless of whether it is there or not)
Commentary Magazine (self-described as the "flagship of neoconservatism")
David Frum (speechwriter for George W Bush)
Harry's Place (blog that mostly bashes the Left)
Janet Daley (yup, you know who Janet Daley is)
Jerusalem Post
Jewish Chronicle
John Rentoul (arch-Blairite who had no hesitation in saying he preferred Cameron as PM to Miliband)
Julie's Think Tank (now a protected blog, but from what I gather appeared to follow a neocon line)
Martin Bright (formerly of the "Tony Blair Faith Foundation")
Melanie Phillips (yup, you really, really know who Melanie Phillips is)
National Review's The Corner
The New Criterion
Nick Cohen (the neocons' favourite ex-leftie)
Rob Marchant (member of the Blairite Progress group)

Now, admittedly, you can't necessarily judge a man by his link list - I have one or two blogs on my own list that I often profoundly disagree with. But it has to be said there is a fairly consistent ideological theme running through Daisley's list like a stick of Blackpool rock.

There's nothing wrong with being a "centre-right" admirer of neocons if that's what floats your boat. But I really, really struggle to reconcile this more authentic version of Daisley with the image he's tried to project of himself in his STV articles, which is presumably self-consciously tailored for a Scottish audience. His fervour for Tony Blair and Liz Kendall suddenly makes a lot of sense, but not necessarily in the context of his supposed "inchoate" attachment to Labour as a "transformative left-of-centre political force".  Anyone voting in the Labour leadership election might want to be a tad suspicious about the motivations for his relentless assault on the radical left - is he really, as he presents himself, a man rooted in Labour values who is simply trying to help rescue the party from itself?  Probably not.

Incidentally, you might be interested to know that Daisley said on his blog a couple of years ago that Israel "liberated" Jerusalem in 1967 (ie. by conquering the Arab-dominated East Jerusalem). By any standards, that is a grotesque and - to use one of his own favourite words - unhinged interpretation. There comes a point where you just have to conclude that a man has utterly lost all sense of perspective on his favourite subject, and that he has forfeited any right to be taken seriously when he writes about it, regardless of the quality of his prose.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Stephen Daisley and Israel

It's hard to miss the fact that Israel is something of a preoccupation for STV's online columnist Stephen Daisley. I don't think I've ever seen him more animated than when he was defending Jim Murphy against the charge of being a "mouthpiece for international Zionism".

Today, he's penned an article which takes the familiar approach of branding much of the Left as being anti-Semitic or borderline anti-Semitic on the basis of associations, and inferences that can supposedly be drawn from things people don't say, rather than things they do. It strikes me that it's only fair that a journalist who follows that approach should be subjected to exactly the same scrutiny himself. We don't hear much - in fact we barely hear anything - about what Daisley thinks of Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people. But can we gain any clues from his critique of the pro-Palestinian lobby? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, and the picture it paints is rather disturbing.

"Perhaps they don’t quite revere [Corbyn] like the other JC — a Jew born in Bethlehem and therefore an illegal Israeli settler..."

Now, obviously that's intended as a comedic aside, but what intrigues me is where the humour is supposed to lie. It's very hard not to interpret it as poking fun at the 'extreme' or 'loony left' position of caring about whether Israel builds illegal settlements on Palestinian land. Is it not reasonable to conclude, therefore, that Daisley thinks 'normal' people don't and shouldn't care about illegal settlements? Does he really think that's an attractive or 'moderate' view to take?

"Why deny the Holocaust when you can throw it back in the Jews' faces by fictionalising Gaza as a concentration camp?"

Is this not the silly rhetorical dodge of pretending that our horror at the prison-like conditions in Gaza is bogus unless the plight of those who live there can be shown to be fully as bad as that of the occupants of a Nazi concentration camp? If, on a scale of 0 to 10, a concentration camp ranks as 10, what score would Daisley give to Gaza? Is he really saying that anyone who thinks the score is higher than zero is the moral equivalent of a holocaust denier? If so, how does he even begin to justify such an offensive proposition?

"Why hurl rocks at a Jew in the street when you can hurl endless vexatious UN resolutions at Israel?"

A supremely ironic comment given that Israel is protected from critical Security Council resolutions by the immense good fortune of having an ally with veto-wielding powers. Under a more democratised international system, Israel would have several times as many resolutions to deal with, and it wouldn't be good enough to haughtily dismiss them all - or even any one of them - as "vexatious". Wasn't it Daisley's idol Tony Blair who felt that a heroic interpretation of a couple of UN resolutions was more than sufficient to justify the invasion of a foreign country?

"There is nothing anti-Semitic about sympathising with the plight of the Palestinians (though it might be nice to recognise their culpability in the conflict too)."

Sorry? What's that? The culpability of "the Palestinians"? Is that the Palestinian people collectively, as opposed to their political leadership or Hamas? You can be absolutely sure that anyone who failed to carefully distinguish between the State of Israel and the Israeli people would be swiftly dismissed as an anti-Semite, so I'm not sure why lesser standards should apply when talking about Palestine.

Of course, what Daisley is really moaning about (although again he's mysteriously shy about saying this directly) is that "the Palestinians" aren't recognised as being equally culpable. But that recognition will never come, for the simple reason that they're not equally culpable. Israel occupies Palestine, not the other way around. The fighting is invariably asymmetric, with ten (or more) innocent Palestinian civilians being typically killed for every innocent Israeli civilian. Can't it be reasonably inferred that anyone who believes that both sides are equally culpable thinks a Palestinian life is worth only one-tenth of an Israeli life? How would Daisley justify that proposition?

"There is nothing anti-Semitic about lacerating Israel for walls and checkpoints and bombs (though do address your alternative strategies to Beit Aghion, 9 Smolenskin Street, Jerusalem, Israel.)"

It does sound suspiciously like Daisley is saying that our moral outrage at atrocities committed by the Israeli state can't be considered legitimate unless accompanied by a fully-fledged alternative "strategy" (what an appalling choice of word). OK, how about this? Israel retreats to its internationally-recognised pre-1967 borders, and then it defends THOSE borders any way it likes. As things stand, many of the walls, checkpoints and bombs are in someone else's country. Am I being "immature" for pointing out that inconvenient fact, Stephen?

"Why don’t the policies of the Chinese government in Tibet or against the Uighurs in Xinjiang inspire comparable protests and boycotts? Why do none of our cultural warriors demand the Edinburgh Festival kick out Russian-sponsored acts over Chechnya or Crimea?"

It could just as easily be pointed out that Daisley's idol Tony Blair was hopelessly inconsistent in denouncing Saddam Hussein while remaining the best of friends with several other equally ghastly tyrants. If left-wing people did heap as much opprobrium on China or Russia as on Israel, would Daisley then accept their views as sincerely-held, or would he cast around for another desperate excuse to blame the whole thing on their anti-Semitic instincts?

"Israel has become the Jew of world affairs, affluent, successful, provocatively different."

Is "provocatively different" code for the military occupation of a neighbouring land? That is, after all, something that only a tiny number of other countries are currently engaged in. Again, does Daisley think the occupation is a good/benign thing? If so, why can't he say so directly? Isn't it because he knows his true views are unsayable and literally unjustifiable?

"A rooted cosmopolitan that is to blame for being the only country in that region that is free and open and truly democratic."

Which Israel is it that is "truly democratic"? Is it the one which stops at the internationally-recognised pre-1967 borders? Is it the one which includes the illegally annexed East Jerusalem, in which voting rights are extended to Palestinian residents? Or is it the one that supposedly also incorporates "Judea and Samaria"? Because the latter is not a democratic state. It could hardly be much further removed from being a democratic state. It's an apartheid state in which most Palestinians are denied both citizenship and suffrage on the basis of ethnic origin alone.

"To be an anti-Zionist is to say the Jews alone have no national rights."

Alternatively, you could be Stephen Daisley and say that the Palestinians alone have no national rights. Because that is the status quo - the Israelis have a state and the Palestinians do not. Israel does not even recognise that the Palestinians have a theoretical right to a state. When you're ready to challenge that status quo, Stephen, get back to us, and then maybe you can talk about the Left's alleged anti-Semitism with a touch more credibility.

* * *

On a separate topic, I thought there was something fishy about this passage from Daisley the other day -

"[Corbyn's] prescriptions sound original to them because they are not old enough to remember the last time they were tested in government. Endless strikes and flying pickets are inconceivable to those who grew up after trade union reform. If you try to tell them about rubbish in the streets and bodies left unburied they will accuse you of scaremongering. Inefficient state monopolies, a top rate of income tax at 83%, the debilitating culture of managed mediocrity — all these mean nothing to millennials."

And now I know what the problem is. Daisley was earlier today rueing the fact that he will turn 30 in four months' time. That means he was born in either late 1985 or early 1986, and can't possibly have even the vaguest direct political memory from earlier than around 1991. He doesn't remember Mrs Thatcher as Prime Minister. He doesn't remember Neil Kinnock taking on Militant. He doesn't remember the miners' strike. He doesn't remember the Poll Tax riots. He doesn't remember the campaign against apartheid. He doesn't remember a time when Eastern Europe was under communist rule. I do (sadly) just about remember all of those things, so I now feel qualified to pat Stephen on the head and tell him that he just doesn't get it. The poor boy has clearly been brainwashed by the experience of seeing New Labour come to power at the ultimate impressionable age, 11.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Military to Corbyn : Don't apologise, it'll mean we did something wrong

Colonel Richard Kemp is turning purple at the thought of the next Labour leader issuing a formal apology for the party taking Britain into the illegal and disastrous Iraq War -

"[Corbyn] would not only be telling those troops and their families their sacrifice was for nothing but also their actions were illegal, immoral and dishonourable."

Rubbish.  The troops were bravely doing their duty and following instructions, which ultimately came from a government run by the Labour party. Indeed, one of the groups Corbyn will presumably be apologising to is the families of British soldiers killed during the invasion, who were every bit as much victims of Blair's illegal actions as the Iraqi dead were.

"Or will Mr Corbyn be apologising for the deaths of perhaps 219,000 Iraqi civilians killed following the 2003 invasion?  Maybe he is unaware that these tragic people were not killed by British or US forces..."

Woah, woah, woah.  Is the colonel really saying that NONE of those civilians were killed by British or US forces?  I think he might find that claim rather difficult to sustain.  And of course the more pertinent point is this : regardless of who killed each individual, how many of those civilians would still be alive now if Iraq had never been illegally invaded in the first place?

I'd suggest that the colonel start to reconcile himself to an apology.  It's been several years since Nick Clegg denounced the invasion as illegal while speaking on behalf of the government at Prime Minister's Questions.  At around the same time, the incumbent Labour leader publicly admitted the war was "wrong".  Corbyn will now go a step further and apologise.  He'll probably never do so as the occupant of 10 Downing Street, but the direction of travel is unmistakable - a government apology for Iraq is as inevitable as the Bloody Sunday apology was.  Let's just hope it doesn't take quite as long.

*  *  *

Our old friend "TSE of PB" -

"After a decade of ‘austerity’ perhaps the country will want to try something different, particularly if it is felt that austerity contributed to a future recession. If you’re a Scottish Nationalist, you might want to skip the next paragraph."

Not at all, old chap, it's just more of the standard "too wee, too poor, too stupid" fare, and we've got fairly strong constitutions after the nonsense that was chucked at us last year.  But there again, TSE, you might want to skip this link.  You might also want to resist the temptation to re-read your embarrassing pre-election piece about how Labour needed to steer clear of any deal with the SNP, because the SNP slate of candidates were of such "low quality".  That assessment seemed to be mostly based on sniffy articles in the Telegraph about Mhairi Black being twenty years old and working-class, and Chris Law having a ponytail.  Oooh, the horror!