Saturday, May 30, 2015

REVEALED : The long-forgotten newspaper article in which Kenny Farquharson discusses how he once had a crush on a goat

Some people were very sceptical when I reminded them that Kenny "Devo or Death" Farquharson had discussed having a crush on a goat in a newspaper article back in 2011, but here's the proof -

"The deputy editor of Scotland on Sunday stunned thousands of Twitter users at the weekend by confessing that he once had a crush on a GOAT.

Revealing how his feelings for the animal had crept up on him over a period of months, Kenny Farquharson explained : "In tomorrow's paper, a thought-provoking piece from Brian Wilson about why the SNP are bad."

Admitting that he was devastated when the goat spurned his advances, Kenny added : "And there's another blow for Salmond as an exclusive SoS/ICM poll shows support for independence only increasing by 6%.  #buyapaper"

After his heartbreaking experience, Kenny is now determined to tackle goat-romance prejudice in all its forms : "Also don't miss our latest stunning mockup of the saltire as a fascist symbol.  All for just 75p from your local newsagents.""

If anyone can explain the difference between what I've just done and what Kenny himself did HERE, I'd be interested to hear it.

*  *  *

An update from Kenny -

"Last time I tried to explain something simple to you on here, James, I wasted 45 mins of my life"

Just goes to show what I've always said - Saddam Hussein can launch his WMDs quicker than Kenny Farquharson can substantiate his wilder claims about the SNP.

Friday, May 29, 2015

The biggest ever test of the Lib Dems' commitment to Home Rule : will they use their strength in the Lords to reverse the watering down of the Smith agreement?

I've just been refreshing my memory of the details of the Salisbury Convention.  Although the Lords is expected to pass any bill that was included in the government's manifesto, amendments are permitted on the second reading, provided they are not wrecking amendments.  Let's recall what the Tory manifesto actually stated -

"A new Scotland Bill will be in our first Queen’s Speech and will be introduced in the first session of a new Parliament. We will implement the recommendations of the Smith Commission..."

So there is no way on Earth that amendments on the second reading of the Scotland Bill that seek to ensure that the manifesto pledge is actually delivered, and that the Smith recommendations are implemented in whole rather than just in part, can possibly be considered wrecking amendments or fall foul of the Salisbury Convention.  In theory, any Lords amendments could still be reversed by the Tory majority in the Commons, but the government would be faced with a very difficult presentational job if they try to overturn the will of the House of Lords, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliament AND almost every single Scottish MP at Westminster.

What are the chances of the Lords making those amendments?  Here is the current composition of the upper house -

Conservatives 229
Labour 212
Liberal Democrats 100
Plaid Cymru 2
Greens 1
Crossbenchers & Independents 210
Church of England Bishops 26

Labour and the Liberal Democrats between them have 312 seats out of 789, which is 83 seats more than the Tories.  Although it's not an overall majority, in practice it's very close to being one, because non-partisan peers only turn up when they feel like it and don't vote as a bloc anyway.  Labour have indicated that they will seek to amend the Scotland Bill to bring it into line with Smith (at least in respect of welfare powers), and I can't see any particular reason why they wouldn't do that in the Lords as well as in the Commons.  If the Lib Dems vote with them, those amendments will probably pass.

It should be noted at this stage that the Lib Dems said in 2005 that they no longer even felt bound by the Salisbury Convention, partly because the Labour government of the day had been elected on just 35% of the vote.  The current government was elected on a near-enough identical 37%.

So we won't need to ask Tim Farron whether the Liberal Democrats' supposed "century-long commitment to Home Rule" actually means anything - Lib Dem votes in the Lords will tell us all we need to know, one way or the other.  They've got no excuses.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

YouGov poll hints at further movement to the SNP since the general election

I've just been belatedly catching up with the datasets for the YouGov poll that was published in the Sunday Post.  I was hoping to be able to tell you the unrounded figures on the independence question, but unfortunately we're back to our old problem of YouGov secrecy - there isn't enough information to make the calculation.  By a process of deduction, the Yes vote must be somewhere between 46.8% and 47.5%, and the No vote must be between 52.5% and 53.2%, but it's not possible to narrow it down any more than that.

The datasets are more useful on the question of what impact a pledge for a second referendum would have on the SNP's vote at next year's Holyrood election.  Although the headline figures showed that 11% of respondents would be more likely to vote SNP and 15% would be less likely to do so, that wasn't quite as illuminating as you might think - if it was SNP voters saying they're more likely to vote SNP, for example, that might just be people saying that they're more likely to do what they're planning to do anyway.  What really matters is how many of the SNP's voters would be alienated by a referendum pledge, and indeed how many voters from other parties would be won over.  The findings on that point are fascinating.

7% of people who voted SNP three weeks ago say that they would be less likely to vote for the party next year if another referendum is promised, and an additional 1% say they would not vote SNP anyway.  But 2% of both Labour and Liberal Democrat voters say that a referendum pledge would make them more likely to switch to the SNP - and even more extraordinarily, 2% of Tory voters, 4% of Labour voters, and 6% of Liberal Democrat voters say they will vote for the SNP next year anyway.  We haven't had a full-scale Scottish poll since May 7th, but this may be the first indication that the SNP are enjoying a honeymoon effect, and that their support has crept up further from 50%.

If we "just for a bit of fun" adjust this month's results on the basis of how people say their votes might be changed by a new referendum pledge, the SNP would be left with 48% next year - enough for a second overall majority, as long as SNP voters don't drift off to other parties on the list.  In reality, that's a meaningless figure, because people's voting intentions will change between now and May as a result of issues that have nothing to do with independence referendums - but it's a useful illustration of how the unionist parties may be overestimating the traction they can expect to get from banging on about the "threat" of Indyref 2.

22% of SNP voters say that they would be more likely to vote for the party again next year if there's a referendum pledge.  That's mostly meaningless, but perhaps not entirely - there are other pro-independence parties, after all, and it could be that passionate supporters of independence would be more likely to stick with the SNP on the list if they're given some "red meat" to vote for.  That would obviously help to minimise the dangers of a split vote on the list that we've been discussing in recent weeks.

The country that forgot it was lunchtime

As you may be aware, Michael White's comments on the Alistair Carmichael scandal became ever more unhinged as yesterday wore on, culminating in him telling bemused Twitter users that it was entirely natural and desirable that there should be bad people in parliament, because they're needed to "represent" the bad people in the country at large.  That statement is so obviously bonkers (should drug dealers be represented as well?) that I'm beginning to wonder if White is making good on some sort of complicated charity bet, or if we're witnessing the comeback episode of Brass Eye.

In a relative sense, his much-mocked Guardian column at the start of the day now looks like a model of sanity - well, up to a point.  One of the claims he made in the article was that those of us calling for Carmichael to do the decent thing are a "lynch mob", and that like all lynch mobs, we will lose interest when we "remember it's lunchtime".  That's curious, because just as he was writing those words, a fundraiser got underway seeking to raise enough money to petition the courts to declare Carmichael's election void.  24 hours on, the total amount raised is an astonishing £25,766 - more than enough to at least set the ball rolling.  It looks like we're the lynch mob that forgot it was lunchtime - or maybe we're not a lynch mob at all, but just fair-minded citizens who dare to expect certain basic standards of those in positions of privilege.  As I said myself when the revelation broke, I was genuinely shocked - Malcolm Bruce may truly believe that the whole world knew all along that all Lib Dem MPs routinely lie to the public, but the news hadn't reached me.  I always thought that Carmichael was tiresome, but basically honest.

Mary Ann Kennedy (and I presume it's THE Mary Ann Kennedy) said it best in a supportive comment she left on the fundraiser page -

"This has nothing to do with party politics and everything to do with accountability. I would expect every elected member similarly found wanting to be dealt with in like fashion. Dhan t-sitig leis."

With such a huge amount of money having already been raised, there's now an onerous responsibility on the organisers to make sure that this legal challenge does actually take place.  I think everyone understands perfectly well that there's a chance it won't succeed, but as long as the matter is taken to court and the law is tested, people will feel that they've had their money's worth.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Looking for male victims of domestic violence to share their experiences

My friend Anita is currently conducting research into incidents of domestic violence involving male victims.  She's looking for men who have suffered abuse to complete an online questionnaire.  As we've discussed many times on this blog, this is a really neglected subject, so it's vitally important that men make their voices and experiences heard at every possible opportunity.  If you're in a position to help with the research, you can find the questionnaire HERE.

And anyone can help by sharing the link on social media - if you're on Twitter you can retweet it HERE, or of course you can share on Facebook.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Holyrood prediction

A guest post by Ben Roberts

So Westminster’s done and dusted for another five years and we’ve already started discussing the next round of voting. "Tactical voting" on the list at Holyrood is bound to continue to be a hot topic for the next twelve months but there’s something I think we should all be considering.

The 50% vote share the SNP has picked up this month is leading many to assume that it will be repeated for the Scottish Parliament elections. The fact that historically they do worse at Westminster than Holyrood can easily cause people to assume their share will even increase for 2016. This is a dangerous assumption to make.

The consensus has always been that the SNP's better results at Holyrood is due to the fact that many people thought their vote would be wasted if given to the SNP for Westminster. Many people voted for Labour, Lib Dem or Tory on the basis that either the SNP couldn't win their local seat or had no chance of forming the government. This year that all changed as the SNP held on to their post-referendum surge right through the election campaign. The polls were consistently showing that the SNP were on course to win 30, 40, 50 or even all 59 Scottish seats.

So cast yourself back to the start of May. Put yourself in the mind of a Labour supporter (some may find this difficult but bear with me and try to resist the urge to self-harm). The polls are all screaming that your beloved party is heading for a wipeout. To make matters worse there is a high chance that the Tories will win enough seats in the rest of the UK to form a government. Although the Scottish Labour party hate the SNP more than the Tories, you - the traditional Labour voter - don't. You abhor the Tories and everything they stand for. They can't be allowed back in for another 5 years. And wait, it gets worse...there's talk of tactical voting to keep the SNP out. Suggestions that Lib Dem and Labour voters should vote Tory. You don't want the SNP but you'd much rather them than one of Davy's chums getting in. So you bite the bullet. You go into the booth and put your cross next to the SNP. It's not ideal but it’s better than the Tories.

Now fast forward one year and it's Holyrood's turn. You know the Tories haven't a hope of forming the Scottish Government. You’ve got two votes and this time you’re going to follow your heart.

Into the booth...


Labour X


Labour X

Which leads to my prediction. I think the days of the SNP faring better at Holyrood are over. The tables have turned. Instead of SNP supporters lending their votes to Labour or the Lib Dems for Westminster it’ll be the other way around. People will vote SNP at Westminster not out of support for independence but as the best way to stop the Tories. As much as I hope I’m wrong I think we’ll be seeing a resurgence of the traditional Westminster parties next year.

*  *  *

This is guest post no. 6 since I launched my 'appeal'. Guest posts are welcome on any topic (within reason!). My contact details can be found at the top of the sidebar.

Tally ho, laddie!

It's an embarrassment for The Guardian, but Michael White is surely the London media's biggest dinosaur on the subject of Scotland.  The man is absolutely and utterly clueless, but he just brazens his way through, showing occasional flickers of sympathy for those of us who actually live here and therefore lack the immense knowledge of Scottish politics that he has built up from several decades as a correspondent at Westminster.  When we pointed out to him at the end of last year that an antagonistic Blairite like Jim Murphy was somewhat unlikely to win back the Yes voters that Labour needed to hold their Scottish seats, Michael just smiled kindly at our lack of sophistication.  Stupid natives.  Give them time.

Fast forward a few months, and Scottish Labour have lost forty out of forty-one seats, resulting in Murphy's resignation as an ignominious failure.  Is Michael chastened by this 'unforeseeable' turn of events?   Not a bit of it.   Yesterday, he resumed his role as London's leading prophet of Caledonian destiny by predicting on Twitter that the Alistair Carmichael affair would somehow prove to be more of a problem for the SNP than the Liberal Democrats.  When someone in Scotland responded (in a perfectly respectful tone, I should add) that it would in fact be the end for the Scottish Lib Dems, this is how Michael replied -

"Don't be so daft, laddie."

Given that he dismissed the concerns about Labour under Murphy in much the same fashion, the Lib Dems are clearly right to be in such a state of blind panic.

But "laddie"?  That's strikingly similar to something that Kay Burley said a few months ago.  She addressed a Scot on Twitter as "wee man", after he had criticised Sky's coverage of the bin lorry tragedy in Glasgow as insensitive (a charge that was beyond all reasonable dispute).

This sort of thing could maybe be described as 'Jockophobia-Lite' - sneering metropolitan journalists who don't actually want to be caught addressing a Scot as "Jock" or "sweaty", but who nevertheless want to make absolutely clear that the simple fact of our Scottishness makes us smaller and detracts from our credibility.

If we tried to do the same thing in reverse, how we go about it?  Perhaps we should we tack on "Tally ho!" or "What ho, Jeeves?" to every reply we give to a smug London commentator.  Their first reaction would probably be bafflement, but confusion is occasionally the first tentative step towards self-reflection.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Lib Dem efforts to save Carmichael descend into farce, as they insist he must stay because "rehabilitation is part of our core values"

You really know that Alistair Carmichael's political future is hanging by a thread when quite literally the only reason the Lib Dems can think of for him still being an MP is that "we must show forgiveness". Here's a selection of today's splendidly comical comments from the bunker over at Liberal Democrat Voice -

Willie Rennie : "As a liberal I believe that people deserve a second chance. I hope fair minded people would agree that Alistair Carmichael should be given that second chance."

Caron Lindsay : "...part of our core values is a commitment to rehabilitation."

Alex Lewis : "Fully agree with Caron. We should practice what we preach and give everyone a second chance."

Yes, you read that last one right - it's not "we should practice what we preach and not lie to the electorate", or "we should practice what we preach and not smear our opponents", or "we should practice what we preach and not breach strict ministerial protocols", or even "we should practice what we preach and admit to wrongdoing without waiting to see if we get caught". No, apparently Lib Dems should only practice what they preach when it means that a Lib Dem MP is allowed to commit wrongdoing without it having any negative impact at all on his career or on the party.

Oh, such a noble sentiment. Give me a moment while I have a Lib Dem nobility swoon.


On the subject of "rehabilitation", I believe in rehabilitation too, but Caron seems to be redefining that word as meaning "committing an offence and then being allowed to carry on as before, as if nothing has happened". That's not how it works. Some rehabilitation takes place inside prison, for example, or it could take place alongside a community sentence. Rehabilitation for Carmichael would look something like this : Admit you were re-elected earlier this month on false pretences, resign your seat, don't stand in the by-election, go away and do something else for a few years to re-establish your integrity, and only then consider standing again for public office.

If we follow the Caron Lindsay model of "rehabilitation", we might as well abolish the criminal justice system altogether, and just make sure everyone issues a half-hearted apology when they do something seriously wrong.

What I find intriguing about this display of utter desperation from the Lib Dems is that, on the face of it, their own interests would be best served by having Carmichael stand down. There would be no inevitability about the SNP winning the subsequent by-election - the Northern Isles have the strongest Liberal tradition in the whole of Scotland, and if the party made a fresh start with a new candidate they would have a fighting chance. Even if they lost, they would draw a line under the affair, and prevent damage being done to their hopes of holding the Holyrood constituency seats next year. So why are they trying to cling on to the discredited Carmichael for dear life?

I think part of the answer might lie in an Ofcom ruling a few months ago, which stated that the Lib Dems still warrant major party status in Scotland, but only because of their performance in the 2010 general election - they were deemed to have fallen short in every subsequent election. Now that they've been reduced to just one Westminster seat, the case for them being included in the main leaders' debates for next year's Holyrood contest is extremely tenuous, and it will be non-existent if they lose Orkney & Shetland as well. Call me cynical, but I'd suggest Rennie's gospel of "we must give people a second chance" is code for "HELP ME! THIS ISN'T HAPPENING!"

YouGov poll : UK support for staying in the EU drops slightly

As things stand, it looks possible that we're going to face a long-running indyref-style lack of clarity over the true state of play in the EU referendum. The small number of telephone polls that we've seen have tended to show significantly bigger leads for the "stay in" option than online polls have.  That pattern continues today with a YouGov internet poll that shows a relatively small gap, and one that has tightened very slightly -

If there was a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union and this was the question, how would you vote:
Do you think that the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union?

Yes 44% (-1)
No 36% (n/c)

Admittedly the percentage change figures should be treated with caution, because YouGov have completely changed their question, to bring it more into line with what seems to be the government's current intentions. It's also worth bearing in mind that Northern Ireland, which makes up nearly 3% of the UK population, is almost never included in these polls. It wouldn't totally surprise me if opposition to EU membership was stronger there, although it's hard to be sure, because there's probably a big split in opinion between the two communities.

What we do know, however, is that support for the EU is much stronger in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. In the Scottish subsample of today's poll, continued membership is backed by a whopping 59% to 28% margin. That's very similar to the findings of a separate full-scale Scottish poll from YouGov in today's Sunday Post, which uses a completely different question -

If there is a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, how will you vote? (Scotland-only poll) :

I will vote to remain a member of the European Union : 54%
I will vote to leave the European Union : 25%

So unless something dramatic happens, it looks extremely likely that there will be a Yes vote in Scotland, which means that one-half of the "2017 scenario" (or perhaps even the "2016 scenario") that could lead to quick Scottish independence is now firmly in place. We'll just have to wait and see whether public opinion in England and Wales drifts more towards No, thus bringing the other half of the equation into play.

The Sunday Post poll also contains figures on independence, but I don't know what they are yet, because the datasets aren't up, and the Post's political editor is doing the tedious #buyapaper routine on Twitter. I'm quite happy to buy a paper, but I'd be no further forward, because it wouldn't be THAT paper. However, this is what we have been told so far -

* No still have the lead.

* Yes are in the lead among every age group apart from over-60s.

* The SNP wouldn't suffer much loss of support if they pledged a second referendum in their 2016 manifesto.

That last point is hugely significant, because it drives a coach-and-horses through one of the causes for optimism that the unionist parties have been clinging to. They've probably realised there will have to be some kind of conditional pledge for a referendum in the SNP manifesto (in the event of Brexit, for example), and they will have been hoping that might prove to be a massive turning-point. It seems not.

Finally, we've been told that John Curtice reckons that Yes will have to be polling at 60% before the SNP can be sure of victory. That sounds to me like a number plucked out of thin air - there's no such thing as certainty. Much bigger leads than 60-40 have crumbled over the course of a referendum campaign, and needless to say much smaller leads have remained intact. What really matters is the solidity of the support for either side, and that's something that supplementary questions and focus groups would be able to shed some light on.

*  *  *

I've just stumbled across two City AM headlines from a few months ago that seem rather amusing in retrospect -

'Why the Salmond surge won’t happen – and the Scots will back Labour in 2015'

'Labour's comeback kid: Jim Murphy slashes SNP poll lead'

We're gonna ra-ba-bab, ra-ba-bab, we're gonna ra-ba-bab tonight

So Sweden have overtaken Luxembourg, the UK and France to become the outright second most successful country in Eurovision history, and the way things have been going in recent years, there must be a very good chance that they'll eventually overhaul Ireland to become the most successful.  Ever since I first saw Heroes at Melodifestivalen, I've been wondering what percentage of its popularity can be put down to the ingenuity of the staging.  If you strip all that away, would the song have defeated Russia tonight on its own merits?  The result probably would have been closer, although the flip-side of that argument is that Russia only got as close as they did with the help of the usual neighbourly voting.  (Sweden benefitted from that as well, of course, but the Nordic bloc vote is much smaller.)

This year's contest wasn't one of the harder ones to predict, but allow me to blow my own trumpet anyway - my prediction was pretty close to the nail.  I was spot-on about the winner, the runner-up and 5th place.  I was just one place out with Italy, who finished third rather than fourth.  My only real error was Serbia.  I've gone from one extreme to the other with them - I massively underestimated them in the semi-final, but significantly overestimated them tonight.

Apologies to anyone who took my semi-advice about the 8/1 bet on Montenegro finishing in the top ten, but hopefully you can see what I meant about it being a value bet.  They finished 13th out of 27 entries, so self-evidently they had a much better than one-in-nine chance of making the top ten (which is what the odds implied).  Actually, their biggest piece of misfortune was that Croatia no longer participate in the contest - that made the Balkan bloc vote smaller, and arguably cost Montenegro the chance to finish as high as 11th.

I bristled when Graham Norton said that Montenegro had done "much better than it deserved".  The complete reverse is true - in the absence of Ireland, it was my own personal favourite.  But for some reason, UK commentators seem to have long-standing "issues" with Balkan songs penned by Željko Joksimović - you might remember Terry Wogan's bewilderment when Lane Moje came within a whisker of winning in 2004.

Even though the bookies favoured Belgium, I'm still slightly baffled by the success of Rhythm Inside.  I have a feeling that may have been down to the juries more than the voting public, because it was a somewhat 'challenging' entry, to say the least.

By my reckoning, the contest finished at two minutes to midnight, which is surely the latest finish ever - it was 12.58am in central Europe, and 1.58am in Russia and Finland. The EBU have really got to get that sorted - it would have been so easy to trim down some of the preliminaries at the start of the show, or of course they could have read the riot act to the national spokespeople, and told them to dispense with all the "thankyou for a wonderful show" malarkey. But I'm not complaining - I think this year's Eurovision will go down as something of a classic, and it was so nice to have genuine tension and uncertainty in the voting, rather than the procession for one country that we've been used to in recent years.