Saturday, March 31, 2012

A couple of miscellaneous items...

First of all, here's the long-overdue confirmation of the result of the Olympic poll from a few days ago...

Will you be supporting Team GB this summer?

Yes 7%
No 53%
Only when there is Scottish involvement 39%

I must admit those figures surprised me slightly - I expected Option 3 to be the most popular. Not supporting Team GB under any circumstances creates a number of paradoxes - for instance, Scotland's campaign at the men's world curling championship has just got off to a winning start in Basel. I'm sure we all wish them well, but I'm afraid there's no getting away from the fact that a good result will automatically earn Olympic Qualifying Points for "Team GB"!

I think my own answer to the question would be either Option 1 or Option 3, depending on how irritating the London media are being on any given day.

Talking of polls, if you have ten seconds to spare, you might like to take this rare opportunity to vote for Alex Salmond as someone who deserves to be on Time magazine's list of the 100 most influential people in the world. I don't think the public vote has any official standing, but nevertheless it's being prominently publicised on the website. At time of writing, 3327 voters think Salmond should be on the list, and 1097 disagree.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Can the Galloway miracle outgrow Galloway?

I've come to the conclusion that I like George Galloway far more as an English politician. A year ago, I was extremely worried that he would win a seat at Holyrood, and then perversely (as he'd made clear he would) back Iain Gray as First Minister. He had also declared his intention to use his seat principally as a platform to attack the SNP and independence. In retrospect, it shouldn't really be a surprise that he underperformed after putting forward such a prospectus - where was the niche for a rebel ex-Labour politician who only wanted to provide an alternative to the SNP? Now, a rebel ex-Labour politician who wants to provide an alternative to New Labour is a different story entirely, and in all honesty I couldn't find a thing to disagree with in his victory speech last night, in spite of the characteristically blood-curdling language.

Galloway described his win as "the most sensational result in British by-election history bar none". He might have an arguable case based on the mammoth swing, and on his overcoming of the inherent difficulties of a fringe party taking on the big guns. But what really determines the importance of a by-election is whether it changes the political weather, and influences the outcome of the subsequent general election. A classic example is Govan 1973 - without that win, the SNP probably wouldn't have had the momentum to jump to seven seats in February 1974, and then the high watermark (to date) of eleven seats in October 1974. But in my view, the three most important by-elections in modern British history are Carmarthen 1966, Hamilton 1967 and Darlington 1983, because they didn't just influence the outcome of the subsequent general election - they changed the political landscape permanently. If the SDP hadn't gone into meltdown in Darlington, it's reasonable to suppose that Labour might have been pushed into third place in the popular vote in the general election a few months later, and as a result might never have returned to power. Hamilton and Carmarthen were vital because they transformed the SNP and Plaid Cymru from fringe parties into major players, which they remain to this day. Bradford West has the potential to do the same for Respect, if the party can put down roots and outgrow the cult of Galloway. It's obviously too early to tell if that will happen. But with two previously fringe parties (the Greens and Respect) now having representation at Westminster, England suddenly has an almost miraculous double opportunity to break free from the suffocating three-party centre-right consensus.

As I love nothing better than dredging up the faulty political predictions of others (my current favourite is Michael Gove declaring that "George Robertson was right!" on the day after the 2003 Holyrood election), I should probably come clean and admit that I wrote the following just 24 hours ago -

"I haven't been following Bradford West, and I was confused by all the talk of the Tories coming third - I wondered if the Lib Dems had come back from the dead without me noticing?

Silly me. But after what happened in Glasgow last year it's hard not to think that Galloway might fail to match the expectations."

However, if that makes me look a trifle daft, it's as nothing compared to the daftness of the excuses trotted out by the defeated candidates. Apparently Labour only lost "cos of Big Brother" (really? I thought that's what had destroyed Galloway's credibility forever?), the Lib Dems were "fighting for fourth place" and succeeded, and the Tories regard a 23% drop in support in a seat that was a target for them in 2010 as a disaster only for Labour. Well, I don't know about you, but I'm convinced...

Result :

Respect 55.9% (+52.8)
Labour 25.0% (-20.3)
Conservatives 8.4% (-22.7)
Liberal Democrats 4.6% (-7.1)
UKIP 3.3% (+1.3)
Greens 1.5% (-0.8)
Democratic Nationalists 1.0% (-0.1)
Monster Raving Loony 0.3%

Swing from Labour to Respect = 36.6%

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Poll : will you be supporting "Team GB" this summer?

A couple of weeks ago, a unionist called Magnus Miller took me to task on Twitter for gently mocking Councillor Alex Gallagher's excitement at meeting no fewer than four real people who agree with him that independence is a bad idea. "Just because his opinions don't match yours does not make them wild!" Miller told me. "Arrogance of SNP is astonishing! Gave his opinion based on own experience!" Actually, a better way of putting it is that Councillor Gallagher searched for an experience that matched his opinion and came up with a remarkably unimpressive one, but let's leave that to one side. A more interesting point is how consistently Miller applies his zeal for the 'everyone has a right to his own opinion' principle. Not terribly, is the answer.

A few hours later, he made reference to the news story about Asda worrying that Olympic-themed products displaying the Union Jack would offend Scots in the run-up to the independence referendum. This was his observation -

"The sad fact is that there are a number of people in Scot and NI who would not buy a product if it had the UF on it."

'Sad'? What's sad about other people's feelings on the Union Jack differing from yours, Magnus? And if enough people find the sight of the British flag off-putting, Asda were simply being rational in taking note of that. It's consumer choice in action, which supporters of all the unionist parties (being right-of-centre as those parties are) ought to thoroughly approve of.

For my part, I don't find the Union Jack particularly offensive, as evidenced by the fact that I've bought two "Olympic edition" Dairy Milk packets over the last week. But all the same, it's hard not to look ahead to the summer with a sense of weariness. On past form, we can't expect a lot of sensitivity to Scottish and Welsh distinctiveness during the Olympic period. On the contrary, we can expect unionists to cynically exploit any British success for their own ends. A particularly risible example from four years ago in Beijing was the unionist jubilation at Chris Hoy's tears as God Save the Queen played in honour of his gold medal! And of course the British Olympic Association itself has become increasingly notorious for pursuing a nakedly political, British nationalist agenda. None of these antics make it easy, I would guess, for the type of people who visit this blog to feel much warmth towards "Team GB". Which, naturally, is simply a matter of personal preference, and should be respected by the likes of Magnus Miller.

So that's the subject of today's poll. When the London 2012 circus gets fully in swing, will you be able to support the Great Britain team? Or perhaps you'll be taking a middle course, and only supporting GB when there's Scottish involvement? You'll find the voting form in the sidebar.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hankering after a socialist alternative is incompatible with British nationalism, I'm afraid

Kevin McKenna in the Observer, arguing that Scottish Labour should combat the SNP by getting back to its socialist roots -

"Douglas Alexander, the shadow secretary for foreign and commonwealth affairs, seems to have sensed this. Already, in two recent speeches in Scotland, he has tried to light a torch for Labour in Scotland. He has conceded that the SNP's heart is probably in the right place in relation to social justice and inclusion. But that these ideas will always be of secondary importance to a party which is hellbent on destroying the United Kingdom. Even if the UK was an enlightened and socially diverse Xanadu where every institution was underpinned by social justice and private corporate greed was punished and reviled, the SNP would still claim that Scots were downtrodden and enslaved."

First of all, can anyone remember the last time the SNP claimed the Scots were "enslaved"? If the party really did hold such a belief, it would probably be organising an uprising, not running a democratically-elected devolved government and calmly preparing the ground to win a democratic referendum on independence. So a direct quote from the SNP leadership might be in order the next time Kevin feels moved to embark on such a flight of fancy.

As for the priorities that ensure a belief in social justice can only be of secondary importance, I'd suggest that we could start by looking at a boneheaded commitment to Scotland remaining within the United Kingdom regardless of circumstance. After all, why is it that the United Kingdom not only fails to be a "Xanadu" of social justice, but is always bound to fall further short of that ideal than an independent Scotland would? Because it's a state with an in-built centre-right majority. It's not merely that Tory governments are the norm in the UK (whereas they plainly wouldn't be in an independent Scotland), it's also the character of the supposedly 'progressive' interludes between the long spells of Tory rule. Is Kevin not capable of spotting the irony that it's Douglas Alexander making these arguments? A man who was part of a Labour government that only made it into power by tacking well to the right to appeal to voters in the south of England, thus ensuring that we've had wall-to-wall right-of-centre governments at Westminster for the last thirty-three years.

In a nutshell, my question to Kevin is this - how do you imagine that Scottish Labour will ever get back to its roots, without first ditching its own British nationalism to which the cause of social justice will always play second-fiddle? Haven't you noticed that many people who support independence do so precisely because they believe in social justice?

"The Labour movement is essentially internationalist in nature; it ought not to place child poverty in Scotland above child poverty in the rest of the world as the SNP seeks to do."

Tell me, Kevin - when did a Labour government ever place just as much importance on child poverty in Istanbul at it did on child poverty in London? Did the Attlee government do that? Nope. And why not? Because it was a British nationalist government, and its nationalism was no more or less morally objectionable than anything the SNP currently propose. This is such an obviously irrefutable point that it's hard to understand how McKenna and Alexander can keep churning out their high-minded nonsense with a straight face, and yet on they trundle.

"Next year the Scottish government will establish a new single police force for Scotland. This will be a sinister and deeply troubling development in modern Scotland. Effectively, we are creating a national militia under the command of a superannuated plod who is not elected, will have very little accountability and has a good attendance record at the local ludge."

He may or may not have a point there. I've never been able to work out what I think about a single police force - every time I ponder the idea I'm hopelessly distracted by the memory of Tavish Scott walking menacingly down a street, intoning the words "save our p'lice".