Saturday, June 25, 2011

North Ayrshire Labour councillor thinks that Scotland should be forced to stay in the United Kingdom even if the majority vote for independence

In grasping for ways to thwart the democratic self-determination of the Scottish people, the fundamentalist unionist tendency have already test-driven the 'UK-wide vote' wheeze and the 'two referendums' wheeze, with conspicuously little success on both occasions. It was only a matter of time before someone completed the set by seizing the mantle of George Cunningham and deciding they may as well stop faffing about and just get on with rigging the ballot itself. Dear old friend of this blog, the mysteriously bashful "Braveheart" of Councillor Alex Gallagher fame, had this to say in a recent post -

"It therefore seems unacceptable that the currently effective governance of the country could be overturned by a simple majority of Scots voting in a one-off referendum.

If the turnout at a referendum was at the same level as recent elections, a 51% vote in favour of independence would need the actual votes of less than a third, maybe even a quarter, of the electorate. This is no basis to create a new country. If the referendum is to go ahead there must be a threshold - two-thirds of votes cast or 45% of the electorate, or some similar substantial proportion – that would secure the acquiescence of the minority in the upheaval implied by breaking up the UK."

Two-thirds of the votes cast? I never agreed with George Robertson about much, but I wholeheartedly agreed with him in 1996 when in unveiling the devolution referendum he declared that never again should the will of the people in a constitutional referendum be overturned by a "fancy franchise". What Councillor Gallagher is suggesting is that 66% of people could vote Yes to independence and 34% could vote No, and the result would be ignored. It's a phrase I've used before, but that isn't self-determination, it's a hostage situation.

Incidentally, isn't it curious that Councillor Gallagher, a self-styled "sensible, moderate, fellow, who thinks that the Tories have the wrong recipe for a decent society" is quite happy to enthuse about the status quo of Tory rule from London as "effective governance"? Indeed, he's so sure of himself on the latter point that he arrogantly thinks that even if a majority of Scots take a diametrically opposite view on the "effectiveness" of London Tory governance, their views should be taken no account of whatsoever. It's also worth pointing out that the Welsh Assembly was established after a 50.3% - 49.7% vote in favour, on a turnout of roughly 50% - does Councillor Gallagher think that the current Labour administration in Cardiff Bay is an abhorrence that is getting in the way of "effective" Tory governance from London? I can only assume he must do.

Friday, June 24, 2011

SNP vote share doubles in key Aberdeen by-election gain

It's rare for by-elections to have anything more than a psychological effect, but yesterday's vote in the Airyhall, Broomhill and Garthdee ward was one of the exceptions. The SNP had already overtaken the Liberal Democrats as the largest party on Aberdeen Council after a recent by-election victory, and there seems to have been a 'gentlemen's agreement' that the coalition between the two parties would switch to SNP leadership if the Lib Dems failed to make up the gap by winning this one. In the event, not only did the Lib Dems fail to win, it was the SNP who won big -

SNP 33% (+16)
Labour 23% (+10)
Conservatives 19% (-8)
Liberal Democrats 16% (-22)

So absolutely no sign of the SNP's honeymoon period coming to an end, which is cause for encouragement a week out from the Inverclyde by-election. However, with Labour being the main opponents next week, the fly in the ointment is that their support increased significantly as well. The swing from Lib Dem to SNP was a whopping 19%.

The moment the Labour candidate for Inverclyde was made to look two feet smaller

The Politics Now debate between the four main Inverclyde by-election candidates was considerably more entertaining than expected, albeit mostly for the wrong reasons. At least three of the four candidates had mildly excruciating "I really wish you hadn't asked me that question" moments, and for all that she won the debate hands down, it has to be said that the SNP's Anne McLaughlin was one of them. Yes, it was monumentally pointless for Bernard Ponsonby to persevere with the questions on defence policy when she'd more less put her hands up and admitted she didn't know the answers (Andrew Neil is similarly petty in asking his guests complex economic questions he knows perfectly well they can't answer), but all the same this sort of thing has happened so often that you'd think the SNP high command would by now have got everyone together and made sure they know the detailed proposals for an independent Scotland's defence capabilities off by heart.

The undoubted highlight of the evening (and a rare case of me finding myself cheering on one of Clegg's mob) was 20-year-old Lib Dem candidate Sophie Bridger's hugely satisfying slap-down of Labour's Iain McKenzie. He'd been quite simply refusing to let her complete her answer to his question about why she didn't support mandatory prison sentences for carrying knives (that old favourite), repeatedly interrupting her with the moronic and faintly patronising line "don't take that on the doors of Inverclyde, Sophie". Eventually she paused, fixed him with an icy glare, and asked him : "are you going to lecture me or are you going to let me answer your question?". The effect was extraordinary - McKenzie fell completely silent and instantly looked about two feet smaller.

That masterstroke couldn't, however, disguise the fact that it was otherwise a very patchy performance by Bridger, who herself looked utterly panic-stricken when the Tory candidate David Wilson asked her a question she didn't have a scooby about. Understandably, he decided against letting her off the hook at that point - she'll clearly have to brush up on the indispensable art of the non-answer as a matter of urgency. And when the tables were turned and she had the chance to grill Wilson, her efforts to get him to admit that the Lib Dem contribution had made the coalition government "fairer" were swatted away with ease, as he on four separate occasions gave her precisely the opposite answer to the one she was clearly anticipating!

As if that wasn't enough, Bridger was also skewered by Ponsonby when he asked her what the coalition's biggest mistake had been. Wouldn't he rather hear about all the good things the government had done, she implored? "No" was the rather foreseeable answer to that one. Then the subject turned to Lib Dem MPs voting in favour of higher tuition fees. Now, if you thought Tavish Scott's stock line during the Holyrood election of "for heaven's sake go and ask them about that" had been weak, Bridger surpassed it with ease with her astounding "I...wasn', I...can't...comment". So let's get this straight - we're not allowed to ask the Scottish Lib Dem leader about the way Scottish Lib Dem MPs vote (including his own deputy) and we're not allowed to ask a prospective Scottish Lib Dem MP either. Is there anyone who actually is available to comment? It's starting to remind me of the old joke about Gerry Adams, when he makes a series of detailed demands of the British government, the Irish government and unionist politicians, but when asked if the IRA should disarm he indignantly replies "well, it's not for me to tell the IRA what to do"!

It wasn't just Bridger who had repeated dodgy moments. Iain McKenzie tied himself up in knots when pressed about Iain Davidson's charge that the SNP are "neo-fascists". McKenzie stressed that he wouldn't have used such language himself because he didn't want to drag politics down to "that level", but when asked if it had been gutter politics he replied : "it's not gutter politics, it's Iain's type of politics". OK, so Iain Davidson is not a gutter politician, but he is, it seems, very much at "that level" of politics. Not to worry, Mr McKenzie - I'm sure no-one will have spotted the implication, let alone found it side-splittingly funny.

Anyway, here is how I scored the debate -

Anne McLaughlin (SNP) 8/10
David Wilson (Conservative) 6/10
Sophie Bridger (Liberal Democrat) 5/10
Iain McKenzie (Labour) 4/10

Thursday, June 23, 2011

How exactly is Alex Salmond going to turn into David Owen?

Back to Labour Hame (already it's like slipping on an old jacket), and it's depressingly predictable to see John McTernan use Scottish Labour's obvious need to reinvent itself as an excuse to subtly peddle the hoary old myth that "The Only Possible Modernisation is Blairite Modernisation" -

"Again, Labour has been here before. The scale of the 1983 defeat, under the leadership of Michael Foot, drove Labour modernisation, first under Neil Kinnock, then John Smith and finally – and successfully – it was led by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson.

At the core of that modernisation was the understanding that no seats were safe any more, the defection of the working classes and reform minded middle classes left Labour with no choice to build a new coalition. Except in Scotland, where the 1983 result was the beginning of a false dawn that has blighted Scottish Labour thinking ever since. Because it didn’t face the same reversal in its heartlands, and indeed from 1987 was winning seats from the Tories. During the following twenty years of electoral dominance in Scotland Labour never felt the pressure to modernise. Was it smugness or the lack of an existential challenge? A bit of both probably. Whatever, the pressure is on now.

Where do they start? With tone – and Tone."

Tom Harris is of course another true believer in this creed, going out of his way to "correct" Gordon Brewer a few weeks ago when he suggested that New Labour had never been much loved in Scotland. Yes, Tom, Labour racked up a huge vote in Scotland in 1997, but if you attribute that to the Blairite project rather than to an overwhelming longing to see the back of the Tories after eighteen years of despair, you're deluding yourself.

McTernan's Labour Hame piece concludes with a thoroughly baffling observation...

"The election may have been a sea-change, or a bubble. Alex Salmond may be Margaret Thatcher or David Owen. That is as much in Labour’s hands as it is in his. Who dares wins."

The difficulty there is that Salmond has already got two election victories under his belt - just one fewer than Margaret Thatcher, and indeed McTernan himself tellingly compares the 2011 landslide to Thatcher's second triumph in 1983. Precisely how, then, is McTernan proposing that Labour can still turn Salmond into the new David Owen? Presumably we should expect at some point in the near future that Salmond will leave the SNP, and form a new rival nationalist party, perhaps called the "Independence Party". It will swiftly go into an electoral pact with another party, let's say the Greens, but suffer two heavy electoral defeats. At that point the Greens will demand a merger, to which Salmond will react with fury, but be outvoted by his own party. He will then set up yet another new party called the "continuing Independence Party", but that will fold two years later after running out of money and being beaten by the Monster Raving Loony Party in a by-election.

Yes, it could happen, John. But I doubt it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Something has to be done about the British Olympic Association's nakedly political agenda

In case you're wondering how the BOA managed to announce an "historic agreement" over a GB Olympic football team that three of the four home associations were totally unaware of, the sequence of logic seems to go something like this...

1) The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish associations reluctantly agreed to a deal that allowed the English FA to organise a nominally "GB" team, on the understanding that it would be solely comprised of English players.

2) The BOA decided that it very much liked the first part of this agreement, but very much disliked the second part, and decreed that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish players must be considered for selection on the same basis as English players.

3) The English FA brazenly reneged on the deal with the other associations and accepted the BOA's decree.

4) The BOA interpreted the original deal as empowering the English FA to act on behalf of the other associations, and deemed that the FA's unilateral acceptance of the decree meant that the decision had by definition been taken "in consultation" with the SFA, FAW and IFA.

Sure, guys. I see no problem there whatsoever.

The BOA do, of course, have form on peddling their not-very-subtle British nationalist agenda at every opportunity, from the petty-minded banning of Scottish and Welsh athletes using their own national flags (even in conjunction with a Union Jack), to Simon Clegg's neanderthal longing to abolish dedicated Scottish funding bodies, to Craig Reedie's condescending claim that a unified British team at the Olympics achieves higher standards in athlete selection than any parochial Scottish team at the Commonwealth Games could possibly manage. Well, let's take that logic to its natural conclusion, Craig. Let's really "drive up standards" by abolishing the British Olympic team and having a unified European team instead. What's that, Craig? Not so keen on higher standards after all? Yup, I think we can safely assume it was British nationalism talking.

One of these days, someone is going to have to tap these people on the shoulder and remind them that their proper role is as sports administrators, not as modern day Canutes ordering the tide of resurgent Scottish and Welsh national identity to refrain from coming in.

"Some people just don’t get non-tribal voting..."

Albeit at the severe risk of turning this blog into Plato-Watch, it's hard to resist reposting another exchange from Political Betting, because this one really took the biscuit. For the uninitiated, Plato is an extremely right-wing poster who is as supportive of the Tory party as, for example, I am of the SNP. But she curiously feels that her views should carry more weight than others, because she is a "floating voter", a "neutral" and "exactly the sort of person Labour has to win back if it is ever to hold office again". For the avoidance of doubt, this claim of neutrality is in no sense an 'ironic' thing - she becomes genuinely prickly when anyone casts doubt on it.

Anyway, this is what unfolded yesterday evening...

Chris g00 : I thought you had said that there were major changes, but that’s fine by me. Just remember if we ever get a Labour government back & they bring in guillotine motions, your attitude today.

But on that note. Adios.

Plato : "if we ever get a Labour government back"

Won’t be my vote.

Me : "Ever"? Could you - somehow - explain how that remark can possibly be reconciled with your repeated and apparently serious claims to be a “floating voter”?

Tim B : Go for it JK!

I’m somewhat curious about that myself.

Plato : Some people just don’t get non-tribal voting.

My views have never really changed - the parties and leaders have shifted about in an attempt to win mine and I voted accordingly.


Me : "Some people just don’t get non-tribal voting."

Must be, because - call me wacky - I would define ‘non-tribal voting’ as being open to voting for a party if circumstances change, rather than, for example, saying that you would never, ever vote for a Labour government, as you have just done.

Incidentally, I had to reconstruct my first comment from memory as it has since been 'mysteriously' deleted.  My own fault, though - I should have called her a "t******b" or a "g*******z" and then I would have been absolutely fine.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reading the Inverclyde runes

Returning briefly to the subject of, after my 'conversation' with Plato concluded yesterday I spotted this tantalising nugget of on-the-ground intelligence from Marcia...

"The soundings from Inverclyde are more in tune with the movement in Glasgow East rather than Glasgow North East or Glenrothes. Still over a week to go. Getting the vote out on the day will be key as a low turnout is expect."

In a way I was surprised to hear that, but I don't really know why - after all, there's such a feel-good factor about the SNP at present, and Labour are hobbled by being between leaders at Holyrood, Ed Miliband's travails at Westminster, and their alliance with the Tories at local level. It's a bit difficult to claim to be "protecting Inverclyde from the Tories" if you demonstrably prefer to share power with them than with any other party! And I also never really bought into the idea that the "Westminster frame" of this election would by definition handicap the SNP - that may be the case in a general election, but in by-elections the government of the UK isn't at stake. Glasgow East was an out-and-out Scottish contest, and if anything Glenrothes turned into a referendum on the SNP/Lib Dem-run Fife Council.

All the same, Glasgow East-style canvass returns don't necessarily point towards outright victory - the nominal swing required for the SNP is gargantuan. And the Edwin Morgan bequest (if confirmed) won't come in time to help out, so if by any chance you have a tenner burning your pocket, you could always put it to good use by going here!

Please indulge me for a few minutes while I enter a competition...

This isn't the sort of post I would normally write (ie. blogging about blogging) but I've never been able to resist a competition, and quite frankly I'm still smarting over not receiving Gisela's dress through the post two years ago in spite of my correct prediction that Susanna Georgi would win the Andorran national selection for Eurovision. Anyway, there's currently a contest running to write a blog-post listing three good things about CMF Ads (one of the blog advertising networks you can see midway down the sidebar), so I thought I'd give it a spin. As it happens, there are genuinely quite a few things I really like about CMF Ads, so hopefully I can do this without compromising what might laughably be described as my integrity. OK, here goes!

Good Thing No. 1 : Although it's billed as essentially a network for advertisers, it works really well for publishers as well. Probably the main reason for that is the payout threshold of $2.50, which is quite a bit lower than the main competitors - I've been paid three or four times so far, most recently a few days ago. But there's also the satisfaction of being able to (virtually) sell advertising space on your blog directly to individuals - you can set your own price for a month-long ad, and CMF Ads only take a relatively small cut. At one point last week, I had six ads running that had been bought that way. Although there's another blog advertising network that operates a very similar system (Project Wonderful), the beauty of CMF Ads is that if nobody buys your ad space directly, it doesn't really matter - the gap will be filled by other types of ads.

Good Thing No. 2 : It's constantly improving. When I first toyed with the idea of joining the network as a publisher, I was really put off by the 50% cashout "tax" which essentially meant that whatever you "earned" was halved unless you used it as a virtual currency to spend on advertising of your own. But the people who run the network clearly recognised this was having a deterrent effect, and slashed the tax to just 10%. Similar progressive changes have been made to the advertising options available - initially there were only the "campaign ads" that I described earlier, in which advertising space is sold individually for each blog. Many low-traffic blogs found it impossible to get anyone to advertise, but this was remedied by the introduction of "network ads" which are shown across all blogs in the network, with each publisher receiving a share of the revenue in proportion to the number of ad impressions delivered. This still left a problem for advertisers, though - you could be sure of getting plenty of ad impressions for your money, but there was absolutely no guarantee of a lot of ad clicks. So there was another swift innovation - "spike ads", in which you pay for a set number of unique clicks. But even that still left one big snag - all the clicks came from the relatively small pool of CMF Ads members. That in turn was put right very recently by the introduction of "firework ads", which offer a guaranteed number of visits that can come from anyone.

Good Thing No. 3 : Very friendly customer service. A few months ago I found I couldn't log-in to the CMF Ads website, and in spite of the fact that it turned out to be my own stupidity, I received an email within a few hours advising me what to do, and then another email within minutes congratulating me on the resolution of the problem! It certainly made a refreshing change after the query I had previously sent to another website, to which I received a reply approximately a month later that read : "Thankyou for drawing this to our attention, but it isn't a priority for us right now". (Funnily enough, I think I might have gathered that without being told.)

So that wraps it up. Thanks for your patience - normal service will (probably) be resumed shortly!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Political Betting's Plato : "you are a creepy weird stalker and a tiresome upyourself jerk"

I've just been on the receiving end of another pleasantry from Plato, the Poster of the Year (yes, really!) at Sometimes commentary simply isn't required...

"Let me make this perfectly clear.

You are a creepy weird stalker who writes blog posts about me, makes gratuitous accusations that you don’t back up and most hilariously claim to know all about the class based admissions criteria of Oxbridge despite knowing nothing about it and being corrected at length by those who know it first hand such as Lucian Fletcher.

You are the worst advert the SNP could ever have on PB. SLABers must be laughing everytime you post. Other SNPers like malcolmg or oldnat are funny or smart or well informed - you are a tiresome upyourself jerk.

There - not passive aggressive at all

I have no problem in saying exactly what I think when I choose to - I think you are a sad last word w*nker - I restrain from usually saying so as its not very nice.

[telling you what most PBers think but are also too polite to say so.]

Mods - you may wish to remove this post - no probs if so."

UPDATE (Tuesday, 7am) : I missed this one yesterday (well, how could I resist the direct invitation?)...

"Are you still at this? You’re living right up to your Last Word W*nker moniker, aren’t you?

What was passive aggressive exactly? You avoided my direct question on the other thread and are still boring the arse off everyone else yet again.

You’ve made an allegation - back it up with EVIDENCE not your opinion, or your usual pathetic ‘I’ve already said this/not stooping to your level/can’t you read/refer to someone else’ non-answer crap.

Have you noticed that NO ONE has jumped to say ‘oh James, you’re so right’?

Now you can either claim this is all some Tory PB conspiracy against you or deduce that you’re a sad tw*t.

How about £50 at evens that you aren’t POTY 2011. I won’t be in the contest so you can sure my ‘fan club’ has to choose someone else.

I can hear SLABers and STories plotting against you already.

Your blog readers will enjoy your edited version of this post too"

On the "sad tw*t" v "Tory PB conspiracy" forced choice, call me egotistical but I find the Tory PB conspiracy possibility considerably more plausible. Oh, and in case you're wondering, the "edited" jibe refers to the fact that I removed one letter from the word "w*nker". She can now add "tw*t" to the ever-growing list of North Korean-style censorship on this blog.

And the Silliest Referendum Question Award goes to Jacob Rees-Mogg

The Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has announced that he is tabling an amendment to the Scotland Bill to force an immediate referendum on independence. Clearly, this is problematical on a number of counts. Firstly, until the election the Tories didn't want a referendum to take place at any point in the future ever, but all of a sudden their zeal to "give the people their say" can't even wait until a week next Tuesday. Secondly, this isn't terribly compatible with all the assurances we've heard that Westminster won't interfere in the referendum process. And thirdly, it's a tad undemocratic to try to force an early referendum just a few weeks after the SNP won an overwhelming mandate for a later one. But let's leave all that to one side. What really bothers me is Rees-Mogg's proposed question, and the accompanying explanation of what the effect of a Yes or No vote will be...

"The Scotland Act increases the powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Should there be full independence for Scotland instead?"

The amendment states that if more votes are cast for "No" in the referendum, then the full Scotland Act shall come into force. However, if more votes are cast in favour of "Yes", then the Scotland Act shall not come into force.

Now, do you think that many voters will actually spot that this is, in the strictest legal sense, merely a referendum on whether the Scotland Bill should come into force? Here's a radical suggestion - if the UK Parliament wants to hold a referendum on whether one of its bills should come into force, how about a straight question like "Do you want this bill to come into force?". Or, alternatively, if they want to hold a referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent country, they could always ask "Do you want Scotland to become an independent country?", without starting with an irrelevant preamble about an entirely different subject. I don't know if Jacob ever asked a girl out when he was at school, but if he did I'm quite sure she thought he was asking to swap hamsters or something. A rough equivalent of his planned question would be something like this -


The UK government is pleased to inform you that it has just sent you a FREE banana. It's utterly delicious and should be with you in a couple of days. But we were just wondering - would you rather have had an apple instead?

Please put a cross (X) next to one (1) option only.

YES, I would rather have had an apple, and fully understand that this means I will have to send the banana back.

NO, I am more than happy with my FREE banana, and don't want to cause any unnecessary fuss.

Still, we shouldn't be churlish - Jacob's question may be very silly and a transparent attempt to rig the outcome, but it's at least marginally more neutral than Alan Cochrane's preferred wording of "Do you want Scotland to be completely separate from the rest of the United Kingdom, totally alone in the world, without food, shelter or warmth?"

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Councillor Terry Kelly : the solution

You know the drill by now - there is no known solution to Councillor Terry Kelly, but in the meantime here's the solution to the Terry Kelly word-search puzzle...