Saturday, May 13, 2023

Photos of my Eurovision pilgrimage to Liverpool (before it went a bit wrong)

I'm still feeling and looking distinctly grim after my freak accident in Liverpool late on Thursday night.  However, I took about fifteen thousand photos and videos before that happened, so I'd probably better make sure they don't all go to waste.  

I'm sure I wasn't alone in being totally livid with the BBC in the autumn.  It wasn't so much the fact that Glasgow wasn't selected as the Eurovision venue - my assumption was always that it would go to Manchester, because the BBC's default attitude seems to be that if they do stuff in Manchester, that's the 'outside of London' box ticked.  I wasn't that far wrong, because Liverpool and Manchester are effectively part of the same northwest of England urban area, and the BBC thus probably said to themselves "oh yeah, Liverpool is like Manchester but with the Beatles".  No, it was the way it was done that I found so objectionable, with what looked in retrospect like a sham 'run-off' between Liverpool and Glasgow.  I suspect Liverpool had already been pencilled in by that point, and the intention was to give Glasgow an utterly meaningless 'runners-up' title, while generating an extra TV programme to reveal the result.  If the run-off hadn't been a sham, it's very hard to see how Glasgow wouldn't have won in a fair head-to-head with Liverpool.  Having now been to the M&S Bank Arena a couple of times, I can say for sure that it's not quite in the same class as the Hydro - not only does it have a smaller capacity, it also feels less modern and has a less striking appearance and shape.  It maybe does have more impressive exterior surroundings, but that's not especially relevant for an inside event intended mainly for a TV audience.

The BBC have made sure that Scotland is totally erased as far as Eurovision is concerned.  The past participation of Wales in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, and of both Scotland and Wales in the Eurovision Choir contest, is a pretty strong signal that the EBU wouldn't stand in the way of Scottish representation in the main event and that the roadblock is political in nature and resides at the BBC.  If the BBC are so hellbent on ensuring that Scotland can only ever be represented by a United Kingdom entry, I'd suggest there's a special responsibility on them to ensure that Scottish artists and songwriters get a fair crack of the whip in the UK selection process, and that simply hasn't been the case for many, many decades.  As far as I can see, there has been no Scottish involvement in the UK entry since 1988.  When national finals have been used to select the entry, Scotland has been very severely under-represented among the finalists.  That pattern is not happening by chance - I'm not saying it's necessarily intentional, but there's clearly some systemic issue at play which the BBC just have no interest in putting right.  There finally was a golden opportunity to make some amends by simply allowing the objective choice to be made that the Hydro was a more suitable venue than the M&S Bank Arena, but instead the BBC cynically used Glasgow as a stunt prop.  I think we're entitled to draw the obvious conclusion and to be angry about it.

As Colin Beattie might put it, Scotland is still "woven into" Eurovision history, because there have been Scottish winners as both singer (Lulu in 1969) and songwriter (Bill Martin in 1967), and Edinburgh hosted the contest in 1972.  But that was all a very, very long time ago, and to ever get out of this Eurovision Antarctica, it's pretty clear that we're going to need political independence.  Fair representation is never going to be granted by the BBC.

But anyway, a Eurovision just 200 miles from where I live is still a once in a blue moon event, so as a lifelong fan I thought I'd better at least try to buy tickets, even though I've been avoiding indoor events because of Covid (I live with a vulnerable person).  The ticket sales famously turned into an absolute shambles, and although I was somehow successful in getting a ticket for each semi-final, I found it a very stressful process, because you know that if you make just one wrong move (like closing the browser tab by accident) you'll have blown your chance.  If I was Prime Minister for a day, I think one of the things I'd do is pass a law stating that ticketed events that are likely to be heavily over-subscribed should have a lottery system, just to take the stress out of it and to ensure everyone has a fair chance.

Here are some photos from my three days in Liverpool.  It was an interesting trip, because Liverpool is just about the only large UK city I'd never previously been to.  I did a bit of sightseeing and ferried 'cross the Mersey.  The two semi-finals were very different experiences from each other - on Tuesday I had a seated ticket right at the back on the river side of the hall, and on Thursday I had a standing ticket (you can see my battered 'floor' wristband in one of the photos).  I tried to strategise a way of getting as close to the front as possible on Thursday, but I think the dice may have been loaded slightly, with some ticket-holders being more equal than others.  There were a couple of Australian guys behind me in the queue who seemed to be taking the strategising even more seriously than I was, and when we got into the hall, they said "Where the f*** did those people come from?! We're f***ed!!!"  But actually there were only about three people between me and the stage, so I think I did pretty well on the whole.  I was close enough that I could feel the heat from the pyrotechnics.

I must just note a head-scratching moment from the warm-up act on Tuesday night.

"Do you remember 1978?"

(A Ba Ni Bi?)

"I said: do you remember 1978?"

(Well, not personally, but the winner in 1978 was definitely A Ba Ni Bi.)

"I can't hear you: DO YOU REMEMBER 1978?"

(Surely not The Bad Old Days by Coco?  It only finished eleventh.)

And then he started playing Waterloo by Abba, which of course won in 1974.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Mishap in Liverpool

I had a freak accident last night and ended up spending half the night in hospital.  I was walking in the Albert Dock area of Liverpool (where I had just been to the Eurovision semi-final), and I tripped over two very large chains that for some inexplicable reason seem to be a permanent fixture across a pedestrian route. It was dark, but in all honesty it would have been easy for the same thing to happen in broad daylight if you weren't paying attention.

I'd like to thank the two art students who called an ambulance and sat with me for 40 minutes or so until it arrived, the parademics who assessed me and took me to hospital, and the medical staff who looked after me when I got there.  They were all brilliantly friendly and helpful, Liverpool seems to be such a friendly city.  I had a few X-rays and a tetanus jag, but I'm told the wounds are not as bad as they look.

This does give me a little insight into the current state of NHS England, though.  I was seen within three hours of arriving at hospital, but the waiting time to see a doctor seemed to be around 6-8 hours.  There was a young woman ahead of me who seemed to be very ill and the nurse was apologising for the fact he had to ask her to spend the whole night in a waiting room.  "I know it's s***" he said.

I'm not sure I still have the heart to do a blogpost about my Eurovision trip after all this, but I'll see how I feel later on.  And for the person who asked about the Survation / True North poll, I'll try to post about that at some point.

Monday, May 8, 2023

The tectonic plates shift as Pete Wishart - yes, PETE WISHART - declares that the referendum option is closed off and that every election from now on must be a de facto vote on Scottish independence

Pete Wishart's position is now essentially identical to the one Ash Regan took during the leadership election (which, with characteristic but truly comical delusions of grandeur, a certain Tory voter in Somerset is claiming as his own policy which Ms Regan merely "adopted"!).  This is odd in a way, given how scathing Wishart was towards Regan during the campaign, but let's not be churlish about it.  You'd only need to wind the clock back around a year or so to find Wishart positioning himself as the most vehement opponent of plebiscite elections, and blasting those of us who believed in the idea as "absolute menaces".  We initially thought his screeching U-turn on the subject was nothing more than a sign of robotic loyalty to the SNP leadership, but it can no longer be dismissed in that way.  By maintaining his belief in the Sturgeon plan after Yousaf has ditched it (and indeed by demanding that the SNP go even further than the Sturgeon plan), Wishart is actually rebelling against the SNP leadership, so his reversal of stance can now be regarded as authentic.  That may not be a game-changer in itself, but it certainly has the potential to help shift the dial somewhat.

It may be that Nicola Sturgeon's conversion to the idea of a plebiscite election caused Wishart to look at the proposal with a fresh eye, free from his prejudices against the people who had previously been putting it forward, and he suddenly recognised that it made perfect sense.  I've said this many times, but even if you put the SNP's self-interest ahead of independence, shying away from trying to deliver independence at elections is an illogical thing to do, because it demotivates your own support base, increases the abstention rate, and in Westminster elections may even lead to SNP voters drifting off to Labour.  Suppose you're a committed independence supporter in Glasgow, but you also loathe the Tories, as all right-thinking people in Glasgow do. In the 2024 general election, you're faced with two competing pitches - Labour saying "vote Labour on Thursday, the Tory government will be gone by Friday", and the SNP saying "vote SNP to send a message to Westminster".  Which of those two would you find most inspiring?  Whereas if you replace the meaningless waffle of the SNP's pitch with a concrete commitment to negotiate an independence settlement if pro-indy parties win more than 50% of the vote, and end London rule once and for all, it's a totally different proposition.  You need to give people something to vote for.

My anger about the above is totally genuine, because it literally is the case that listening to the "do nothing" advice from the likes of James Mitchell has got the SNP into the almighty mess they are currently in, with all the consequences for the independence cause.  I vividly recall that, just after the exit poll was published on the night of the 2017 general election, I decided to take the SNP manifesto at its word, and point out in a tweet that the "triple lock mandate" for an independence referendum had been completed by the SNP winning a majority of Scottish seats at Westminster.  It didn't matter that 35 seats (or 34 as the exit poll initially projected) was a sharp reduction on before - it was still a very clear majority, and according to the terms of the manifesto, a referendum should thus swiftly follow.  Professor Mitchell, who I don't think I had ever previously interacted with, instantly jumped on my tweet with absolute fury.  "This is insane!" he said.  "There isn't going to be an independence referendum!"  By which he meant that he thought there shouldn't be a referendum and he was determined to ensure that there wasn't, and he was enraged by any narrative that might threaten his attempt to use the general election result to kill off the whole plan.

Well, he got his way, and the most important consequence of that was suddenly the SNP didn't have a referendum to spend their ring-fenced fund on.  Regardless of whether it turns out that there was anything wrong from a legal point of view with what they did with the money instead, the fact remains that this chain of events killed the Sturgeon leadership.  The police investigation would never have happened if there'd been a referendum or de facto referendum to spend the money on, and without the police investigation Sturgeon would never have been forced out.  The SNP would not have suffered a slump in support due to the installing of a much less popular leader and a string of dreadful headlines about alleged corruption and/or illegality.  

You'd have thought Mitchell might be somewhat chastened by having demonstrably offered such dud advice, but instead he's urging the SNP to double down on its idleness by not even using any opportunity thrown up by a hung parliament (and I agree with him that any such opportunity is improbable) to bring about independence.  With the greatest of respect to the man, the idea that SNP voters (especially the rump that is left after the Humza slump) don't want their party to seize opportunities to deliver independence when they're there, and to just be cowed into pathetically going along with whatever Starmer wants, is pretty obviously bogus.  

In any case, the choice between unconditional support for Labour in a hung parliament and "letting the Tories in" is a false choice.  Much more probable is that the SNP would let Labour stagger on as a minority administration but use guerilla tactics in parliament to ensure Starmer would never be sure of whether he'd get his business through, leaving him "in office but not in power", to use Norman Lamont's famous phrase.  The hope would be that this might drag Labour reluctantly to the negotiating table, with the prize for them being a stable spell in government.

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Labour people like Blair McDougall criticised the SNP for "joining with the Tories" in talking down Labour's gains in the English local elections last Thursday.  The reality is, though, that those gains were pretty easy to talk down, because Labour objectively underperformed.  According to the BBC, Labour's lead over the Tories on projected national vote share was nine points, and according to Sky it was only seven points.  That's hung parliament territory, not Labour majority territory.  To put this in context, both Tony Blair and David Cameron enjoyed double-digit leads in local elections in the run-up to taking power.  Putting on a Canadian accent, Thursday night was another trrrrrr-ible night for the Conservatives, but that trrrrrrr-ibleness was inflicted by several parties, not just by Labour, or even primarily by Labour.

The latest episode of the Scot Goes Popcast aims to win a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's shortest podcast as I give my succinct verdict on the local elections.

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I launched the Scot Goes Pop fundraiser for 2023 a few days ago, and the running total has now passed the £1000 mark.  The target figure is £8500, however, so there's still quite some distance to travel.  If you'd like to help Scot Goes Pop continue by making a donation, please click HERE.  Many thanks to everyone who has donated so far.