Friday, August 26, 2016

It's a flippin' Fife phenomenon as stormin' SNP secure a super 9.5% swing from Labour in local by-election

The Lochs was the second-weakest ward for the SNP in the whole of Fife in the 2012 local elections (the only worse one was the rarefied setting of St Andrews).  They put up only one candidate, who finished third and received just 19% of the vote, a whopping 27% behind the combined support for Labour's two candidates.  Remember all of that happened on a day when, across Scotland, the SNP defeated Labour in the popular vote by 1%.  So on paper, this should be just about as tough a ward for Nicola Sturgeon's party as you'll find anywhere - but you certainly wouldn't know that from the by-election result yesterday.  The SNP stormed into second place, and slashed Labour's lead to just 8.5%.

Labour 47.1% (+0.7)
SNP 38.6% (+19.6)
Conservatives 9.6% (+7.0)
Communists 3.1% (n/a)
Greens 1.6% (n/a)

As almost always seems to be the case, the quirks of the STV voting system are allowing some fairly extreme misinformation to do the rounds about the result. Labour are claiming to have "turned the tide" with a "gain". Well, yes, it's technically true that they "gained" the seat, in the sense that the vacancy was caused by the retirement of an independent councillor - but Labour topped the poll in the ward last time and did so again yesterday. Their vote effectively flatlined, in spite of the fact that a huge number of votes that had previously gone to the independent were now up for grabs.

On the other extreme, some people have claimed that the swing from Labour to the SNP was as high as 17%. I've squinted at the result in a number of different ways to try to understand where that figure has come from, but I'm mystified. Suffice to say it's inaccurate - the real swing was around 9.5%, which is plenty enormous enough to be getting on with.

UPDATE : It turns out that the 17% swing is not measured from the 2012 result at all, but from another by-election in the ward that was held in June 2014.  Well, I suppose that can be justified, although 2012 is the more natural baseline, and allows for direct comparisons with other recent by-elections.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Glitter, Murder, Echoes...

So I sat down to write a long blogpost in response to a bizarre Twitter dispute I had with Stephen Bush of the New Statesman a few hours ago. (It was on the relatively obscure topic of a wildly inaccurate Populus poll that was conducted towards the end of the EU referendum campaign.) However, just before I started, I noticed that Stephen had sent me a very gracious email after the exchange. It didn't touch upon his absolutely ridiculous (and now deleted) suggestion that challenging his claims about polling somehow made me a racist, but in the circumstances I'm happy enough to draw a line under the whole thing. In future I'm just going to try to avoid replying to his tweets altogether, because we do seem to rub each other up the wrong way - which is unfortunate, because as regular readers know, I've sung his praises more than once for his uncanny powers of political prediction.

Instead of the blogpost I was planning to write, here's something else I've been meaning to do for a while - the annual ritual of my Edinburgh Fringe mini-reviews. The Fringe only has a week left to run, so it's probably now or never anyway.

DIRTY GLITTER : A comedy-drama about two unlikely Private Eyes in 1970s America, and their investigation into the disappearance of a girl at a nightclub.  Some of it is very, very funny, although the logical part of my brain was struggling with one of the recurring jokes, about a character who constantly denies being Spanish even though he is clearly a native Spanish speaker.   If you were in America, why would you even assume he was Spanish in the first place, rather than, say, Mexican?  Ah well.  Leaving that quibble aside, the show is well worth seeing - fast-paced, breathless, with a relentless soundtrack of 70s hits.  RATING : 8/10

THE MURDERER : This is apparently a loose adaptation of a poem about an alternative universe in which murderers have 'carers' who help them reintegrate into society. Even though the focus is firmly on the 'caring' dynamic, I don't think there's any real excuse for the fact that the murderer just comes across as a random, bland person, rather than someone you can actually believe committed a serious crime or has been affected by many years in jail. There's just not enough meat on the bones, although the play does deserve credit for its sterling efforts to cultivate greater usage of the tragically-neglected expression "catch you later". RATING : 5/10

ECHOES : An absolute tour-de-force. In all honesty, it was a struggle to work out what the hell was going on for at least the first fifteen minutes, but the dialogue was so lyrical and beautiful that the meaning didn't seem to matter - you could just bathe in the words. Basically (and I hope I've got this right) it's about a bloke who returns to the woman he got pregnant and abandoned several years earlier...but then dark secrets emerge about the fate of the child. An act of extreme violence is depicted about ten minutes from the end, and I found myself wanting it to be over at that point, because I'm not a big fan of gore. But if you happen to have a very, very strong constitution, I can't deny you'd be hard-pressed to see anything better this year. RATING : 10/10

A TALE OF TWO CITIES - BLOOD FOR BLOOD : I studied Tale of Two Cities at secondary school, but it's so long ago I can barely remember anything about it, and unfortunately this is a production that does seem to assume knowledge of the text (probably because liberties are taken with it, and half the fun is supposed to be in the divergence - that was the impression I got, anyway). But what I can say is that the acting is excellent, and the staging is much more elaborate and impressive than you see at many Fringe productions. The review I read before going said that there was an inexplicable scene at the start that seems to be set in Edinburgh for no apparent reason, so I set myself the mission of trying to make sense of it - but I had to admit defeat. It really is totally baffling. RATING : 8/10

EN FOLKEFIENDE : I had very little pre-knowledge of An Enemy of the People either, but thankfully this is a much more accessible production - although ironically the acting isn't quite up to the same standard as in Tale of Two Cities, probably because it's a young cast cutting their teeth. Again, the staging is very imaginative and works wonders with limited space - everything takes place within or just outside of a rotating 'cube', and there are repeated instances of the exterior of the cube 'censoring' politically sensitive words that are spoken inside. RATING : 7/10

LE BOSSU : I had to keep reminding myself it wasn't Christmas, because this has the feel of the sort of family show you'd see at that time of year. (Although ironically I don't know how suitable it is for children, because there are one or two mildly adult references.) A kind of halfway house between a play and a musical, based on The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, with some limited audience participation thrown in. I'm not sure how much of the music is original and how much is borrowed, but it really works - I had one of the tunes going round in my head for hours afterwards. RATING : 8/10

LADIES IN WAITING - THE JUDGEMENT OF HENRY VIII : A great show, although I was more than a little harassed when I sat down at the start.  The venue is a hotel, and no matter how hard you try to mind your own business while waiting, you can't seem to do anything right - you're queue-jumping even though there is no discernible queue, you're in a corridor you shouldn't be in even though you were just following the signs, you're in the way of a scooter even though you've got your back pressed hard against a wall...and then you take your seat and find you've got a horribly restricted view, even though you're only in the second row.  You'd think it wouldn't be beyond the wit of man to raise the stage slightly (or organise a comprehensible queuing system, for that matter).  Anyway, the idea is that Henry VIII has found himself in purgatory and must submit himself to the judgement of his six wives, who are now free to speak their minds in his presence without fear of being executed or anything unfortunate like that.  The funniest bit is when Henry seems disconcerted that Catherine Howard is so pleased to see him.  "But Catherine, I had your head chopped off."  "Oh, that was ages ago!"  RATING : 9/10

I can also highly recommend a version of Northanger Abbey with puppets, which I saw two or three years ago and is on again, albeit at a slightly awkward time of day.  It's one of those things that sounds horrific, but is actually fantastic.