Saturday, May 12, 2018

Eurovision 2018: Prediction for Saturday's grand final

So I got a slightly patchier 7 out of 10 qualifiers right on Thursday.  The three I didn't pick out were the Netherlands, Serbia and Slovenia.  Country music isn't really my thing (as I discovered conclusively on a hellish trip to Millport circa 1995), so that's probably why I underestimated the Netherlands' chances, but I can see why they went through.  I'm delighted to have been wrong about Serbia, which sent an uncompromising piece of ethnic music in the Serbian language and deservedly didn't pay any sort of penalty.  I must say I have absolutely no idea how Slovenia managed to get through, but I suppose there always has to be one that leaves you scratching your head.  I know some people will shrug their shoulders and say "that's the Balkan bloc vote for you", but in fact Slovenia has traditionally benefited much less from neighbourly voting than the other ex-Yugoslav nations.

On to tonight, then.  Until a few days ago, it looked like this year's contest was going to be a simple case of working out whether the overwhelming favourites (Israel) would meet expectations, or would spectacularly fail on the night as quite a few overwhelming favourites have done in the past.  But, remarkably, Israel do not even go into tonight's final as favourites, because they were dramatically overtaken by Cyprus as the rehearsal videos started to filter through.  A couple of days ago, the betting odds seemed to be pointing towards a straight fight between Cyprus and Israel with everyone else as also-rans, but then Ireland stormed out of nowhere into a decent third place.

I'm not sure I can make much sense of all that.  I agree that Cyprus is a much more plausible winner than Israel, but it's just one of several strong songs/performances that are all roughly on a par with each other, so I can't understand why it's in quite such a commanding position in the betting.  My guess is that the Irish surge is due to a couple of factors - a) the favourable position in the draw, and b) the publicity over a Chinese TV station being banned from broadcasting Eurovision because they censored two men dancing together as part of the staging of the Irish song.  In other words, people seem to be putting their money on the story behind the song, rather than the song itself.  That can sometimes be a dangerous thing to do - if a story is enough, why didn't Bosnia come close to winning in 1993?

What I've just said makes it sound like I don't rate the Irish song.  In fact, the opposite is true - it's one of my personal favourites, and it's beautifully sung.  I just fear that it's too low-key to do much damage.  Just occasionally, very gentle songs can stand out so effectively among all the identikit screeching that they win by a mile - last year's Portuguese winner is an excellent example, of course, as is Ireland's own victory in 1994 with Rock'n'Roll Kids.  But for what it's worth, my gut feeling is that it probably won't happen this time.

My suspicion is that Cyprus will be in the mix tonight, but that their main competitors will not be Israel and Ireland, but Norway and Sweden.  I struggle to separate Cyprus, Norway and Sweden, but I think Norway (in spite of having the most irritatingly catchy song of the evening) is perhaps the least likely of the three to win if only because of its place in the draw.  Probably just as well, because the mind boggles as to how insufferable Alexander Rybak would become if he has anything more to be smug about.  Cyprus v Sweden is almost a coin-toss as far as I'm concerned, but I'll cop out and go with the conventional wisdom that Cyprus will win.  I expect it to be a close one, though.

Here's my full prediction -

Winners: Cyprus (Fuego - Eleni Foureira)
2nd: Sweden (Dance You Off - Benjamin Ingrosso)
3rd: Norway (That's How You Write A Song - Alexander Rybak)
4th: Estonia (La Forza - Elina Nechayeva)
5th: France (Mercy - Madame Monsieur)

Possible dark horses: Austria, Australia

UPDATE (7.20pm): Of course, another potential explanation for the sudden Irish surge in the betting is that the full results of Tuesday's semi-final (which are supposed to be absolutely secret until the end of the contest) might have been leaked.  Unlikely, but possible.  If so, it could be Dublin next year.

Friday, May 11, 2018

How does the SNP's near-total exclusion from BBC Question Time compare to the treatment of the Liberal Democrats when they were the UK's third party?

There's an indisputable fact of political arithmetic that our broadcasters need to be urgently reacquainted with.  The SNP are not only the third largest party in the elected chamber of the UK Parliament, they're also an unusually strong third party by historical standards.  They have 35 seats at present.  Compare that to the Liberal Party, which was of course the third party for almost all of the period from the end of the Second World War until they were merged out of existence in March 1988.  During those four-and-a-bit decades, the Liberals never won more than 17 seats in a general election - less than half of the SNP's current tally.  Things didn't improve much for the new Liberal Democrat party in the immediate period after the merger with the SDP - they started with 19 seats, and only won 20 in the 1992 general election.  They didn't make a significant breakthrough until 1997, when with the help of massive anti-Tory tactical voting they won 46 seats - although even that wasn't dramatically better than what the SNP currently have.

It's true that there was a very brief spell between 1981 and 1983, when - simply because of defections from Labour to the SDP - it can be argued that the third force in British politics was slightly stronger in parliamentary terms than the SNP are now.  But in the 1983 election, the vast majority of the defectors lost their seats, and the Liberal-SDP Alliance fell back to a combined total of just 23.  That means for fifty of the fifty-two years between 1945 and 1997, the third-largest force in the Commons had fewer seats than the 35 held by the SNP at the moment.

The BBC's Question Time programme has been running since 1979, so it covered the last eighteen of those fifty-two years.  Here's the obvious question: how did the show treat the Liberals, the Liberal-SDP Alliance and the Liberal Democrats during the period between 1979 and 1997?  Answer: much, much, much, much more favourably than it currently treats the SNP.  It's true that there wasn't a Liberal representative on the panel every single week, but there was certainly one on the majority of occasions, and there were long spells where the absence of a Liberal was an exception rather than the norm.   To take a random example, let's look at the spring of 1994 - a time when the Liberal Democrats had just 22 seats in the Commons.  On 24th March, Liz Lynne was on Question Time.  In the next edition on 14th April, Shirley Williams was on.  The following week on 21st April, David Alton was on.  The week after that on 28th April, Charles Kennedy was on.  The next edition was on 12th May, and Menzies Campbell was on the panel.  And on and on it went.

By contrast, and despite their 35 seats, the SNP have been included in just TWO of the last TWENTY-TWO editions of the programme.  This is in spite of the fact that there are now five spots on the panel every week, rather than the old standard of four.  There's actually space for more plurality than there was in the 1980s and 1990s, and yet somehow we end up with less because there simply must be a comedian, journalist or "broadcaster" on the panel, instead of the UK's third-largest political party.

What the BBC are doing is so blatant, it's almost getting to the point of being funny.  Almost.  How can they possibly justify such an extreme disparity between their current treatment of the SNP, and their treatment of former third parties?  They would probably pray in aid the fact that the SNP has a smaller share of the UK popular vote than the Lib Dems did in the early-to-mid 90s.  But nevertheless we have the electoral system we do, and you can't just pick and choose when it suits you to acknowledge the result that the system has actually produced.  Broadcasters are expected to have regard for both the popular vote and a party's strength in terms of elected representatives.  That being the case, if the Lib Dems were on Question Time almost every week when they had 20-odd seats, the most natural compromise would now see the SNP appearing in roughly half of all episodes.  Not one episode in every eleven.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Eurovision 2018: Prediction for Thursday's second semi-final

So I correctly picked eight out of the ten qualifiers in the first semi.  The two I overlooked were Austria and Ireland, which is really odd, because those are genuinely two of my personal favourites.  I should have had more faith, but I thought the Irish song would suffer from being low-key, and with Austria I don't think I got a full sense from the rehearsal videos of just how effective the staging was.  The live vocal was superb as well.  I still don't think Ireland will do any damage in the grand final, but Austria just might.

As for tonight, here are the ten countries I think will make it through -


Russia is my 'wildcard' pick out of that lot.  Most people expect it to fall short, and it may well do...but Russia are the kings of political voting, and political voting at the Eurovision most certainly isn't dead.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Eurovision 2018: Prediction for Tuesday's first semi-final

Yes, it's that time of the year again, and with non-heartfelt apologies to the handful of people who traditionally storm off in disgust at this point, here is the eleventh (gasp!) running of the annual ritual of the Scot Goes Pop Eurovision prediction.  As David Dimbleby used to say about the BBC exit poll, it's sometimes accurate...sometimes not so accurate.  2010 was my golden year when I got almost everything right, although I've correctly picked the winner for five of the last ten years.  Sometimes that was relatively easy because there's often an overwhelming favourite, but I've noticed over the years that overwhelming favourites for the Eurovision tend to go one of two ways - they either win by a landslide as expected, or they crash and burn and don't even get close to winning.  In a sense, the latter is what happened to last year's Italian song Occidentali's Karma (although admittedly by that point it had been caught in the late betting by Portugal).

This year, as you may know, there's once again been an overwhelming favourite over the last few weeks in the shape of Israel.  I must say I have my doubts about whether it will win, although I'd better be cautious in case my own personal tastes are interfering with my judgement.  But I have a suspicion that the juries won't go for it, and that it may even be a bit too 'challenging' for a lot of televoters.  [UPDATE: And I see in an echo of last year that Israel has just been unexpectedly displaced as bookies' favourite by Cyprus.]

I don't think Israel will have any great problem qualifying from tonight's semi, though.  In no particular order, here are the ten countries I think will make it through...

Czech Republic

Of those, the one I'm least sure of is Greece - although with Cyprus in the same semi, there's a guarantee of points from at least one source!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Saturday's march in pictures

I know you've already seen hundreds of these over the last 48 hours, but just for the hell of it, here's how Saturday's march looked from my vantage-point(s).  One thing I enjoyed about it was the chance to see Glasgow with fresh eyes - although I'd been on almost all of the streets before, they somehow knit together differently when you take an unfamiliar route.  You also have more time to look around you and take it all in when you're walking right down the middle of the road very slowly.

As you can see, I was sporting some designer stubble and a hangover for the occasion.  (NB: Not really a hangover - just lack of sleep.  11.30am on a Saturday, guys?  What were you trying to do - finish us off for good?)

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Does the Sunday Herald really think the SNP should campaign to let another country decide our constitutional future again?

Naming no names, but it's been bitterly disappointing to see a small number of people on the pro-indy side making negative comments about yesterday's historic march.  Here's what I don't understand: I can see the logic (albeit I don't necessarily agree with it) of avoiding marches during election campaign periods when there's canvassing work to be done.  I can see the logic (albeit I don't necessarily agree with it) of saying there were dangers attached to the protest outside the BBC just before the 2014 referendum.  But what exactly was the problem with yesterday?  There is no election on the immediate horizon, and the march was simply making the positive case for independence.  It created visibility, excitement (lots of passers-by stopped to take photos) and a sense of momentum.  I can't see any downside, unless you're seriously worrying about the annoyance factor of a few minutes of traffic delays on a Saturday afternoon, which is getting into the realms of the ridiculous in a country that is well-used to coping with the minor disruption caused by Orange walks.

I'd have to conclude that the negativity in some quarters boils down to a cringe factor - a feeling that the pro-independence movement, uniquely among the political movements of the world, can only succeed by apologising for its existence and getting back into its box in case anyone finds the sight of it too irritating.  Good luck in trying to win people over to a massive constitutional change in that manner.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Herald seems to think the only significance of the march is that a couple of dozen Union Jack-waving counter-protestors turned up to shout at the tens of thousands of pro-indy marchers.  You'd be tempted to conclude that anyone could sabotage a march or rally of absolutely any size by just rounding up a handful of mates - although in practice I doubt if you'd get the same publicity for your stunt if the march or rally was about any other subject.  This appears to be an indy-specific phenomenon.

Despite being a pro-independence paper, the Sunday Herald are also now taking an official editorial position that Nicola Sturgeon should change policy and campaign for a second UK-wide referendum on EU membership.  As Dr Philippa Whitford pointed out, it would be a bit odd for the SNP to do that unless there was the slightest prospect of Labour and the Liberal Democrats agreeing to a referendum in which a 'double mandate' is required - meaning departure from the EU couldn't happen unless Scotland itself voted Leave.  Without that safeguard (and it's clearly a non-starter as far as the unionist parties are concerned), the SNP would be backing a referendum that would deny this country its right to self-determination, and thus breach the party's raison d'etre.  It's completely unthinkable.  And in any case, even with the SNP's support, a second EU vote still wouldn't happen anyway because of the realities of parliamentary arithmetic at Westminster.  The SNP would effectively be sending a message to the public that "we don't really need an independence referendum, because there's another way of staying in the EU", when we all know perfectly well that isn't true, and that an independence referendum is the only available way to preserve EU membership (or indeed even single market membership).  Why on earth would we try to sabotage our own lifeboat?

I would also note that it's rather disingenuous for the Sunday Herald editorial to claim that they're not asking Ms Sturgeon to make a choice between a second indyref and a second EU referendum, given that the thrust of Paul Hutcheon's front page piece is that the latter has to be "prioritised" over the former.  This, let's face it, is a newspaper that now seems to want the push for independence to be put firmly on the backburner to make way for an utterly doomed UK-wide campaign to cancel Brexit.  I hope (and this time am reasonably confident) that the SNP leadership will give short shrift to that idea.