Thursday, 30 April 2009

Thanks

Thanks to all who came along to the bloggers' meet last night. We had a good variety of political views (and none) about and a good blether about a variety of different subjects.

Hope everyone had a great time. As ever, with these occasions, what goes on tour, stays on tour. Though I will say, it was very nice to see everyone's favourite journalist of the moment stop by for couple of pints!

Looking forward to the next one... maybe someone else might want to organise that one!

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Odds on a 2009 election


Remembering how bad I am at predictions (I'm better at by-elections than, you know, Presidential elections...) you may wish to ignore any advice coming your way from this blog. But I think I may follow through on my January prediction of a 2009 election by putting my money where my mouth is.

Ladbrokes are offering 9/2 on a 2009 election - which in itself, doesn't really represent much value. But they also offer a punt on the month in which you think an election might occur. I went with a June election (on the same day as the Euros) and you can get 16/1 on that. I sense a cheeky wee fiver might not go amiss on that one...

Of course, they also have some more "fun" bets you can take, such as who you think the next Labour leader might be.

Selected odds:
Harriet Harman - 3/1
David Miliband - 6/1

Ed Miliband - 7/1

Ed Balls - 12/1

Alastair Darling - 33/1

John Reid - 50/1


Oh, and one more thing. The scandal involving Edinburgh South MP Nigel Griffiths (House of Commons romp, in case you'd forgotten) looks like it will cost him his seat if Ladbrokes odds are anything to go by. They have the Lib Dems as favourites for the seat at 11/8 followed by the Tories at 6/4. Labour are third in the betting market at 7/2. Looks like its curtains for knock-off Nigel...

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Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Blogging Drinks TONIGHT

Just a last minute reminder to anyone interested in the blogging drinks, we're meeting tonight at The Albanach at 7pm. I'll wear something that stands out - a green jumper. Then if you don't know me you'll know its me. Or something.

7pm
Wednesday 29th April (TONIGHT!)


The Albanach
Royal Mile
Edinburgh

See you there.

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The devolution cycle


Wee bit busy this afternoon but I wanted to point you in the direction of something.

BBC Scotland political reporter John Knox has been cycling around Scotland and asking people what they think of devolution. He's been recording his (and others') thoughts on the way and you can read them here.

Dead badgers aside, its a fun read and presents a fairly balanced view of devolution 10 years on.

I'm hoping Brian Taylor's documentary is as equally well done.

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No noise please, we're British


Is it any wonder that prisons are full when cases like this come to court?

An Asbo for being noisy during sex?!

Three breaches of it in 10 days?

Got to love the next line though:

after reports from neighbours she was flouting the ban with her husband Steve.

Got to wonder what kind of neighbours they have that complain about the noise - but make sure they know exactly who is having sex. Could have been the milkman for all they know...

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Tuesday, 28 April 2009

No tram funding


So, some news of the Edinburgh Tram scheme, and it is not good.

First, line 1B has been abandoned due to the "economic downturn." In business-speak, the line has been "postponed" but the expectation now (as indeed, when the plans were first mooted) is that line 1B will not see the light of day.

Second, after the collapse of these plans, further questions have been raised by Lothians MSPs over the funding for line 1A which is meant to run from Leith to the airport. The SNP's Shirley-Anne Somerville doesn't believe the line will be delivered "on time and on budget" while Tory MSP Gavin Brown suggests there may now be a £6m shortfall because of a deal negotiated for both lines 1A and 1B.

Meanwhile, the guys who are in charge of delivering the whole scheme have been paid nearly £1m in bonuses before a single piece of track has been laid.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. This is a damn fiasco that is worse even than the building of the Scottish Parliament - at least the city wasn't torn up for that vanity excercise.

Have we come too far to call the whole thing off?

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My first, my last, my everything...


Thanks to Jeff for tagging me with the Twenty Firsts meme. I suppose since all I'm doing today is reading, I should really play along.

First Job: Paper round. 6 days a week, starting at 6.30am. £14 a week. For four years I should add.

First Real Job: Parliamentary Assistant/ dogsbody for three SNP MSPs. On not much more than £14 a week.

First Role in Politics: Activist I suppose Joined the party in 2004 - talked into it by Nicola Sturgeon and my (now councillor) friend at a leadership hustings in Aberdeen.

First Car: Ford Fiesta. Which is what I currently have as well. But not the same one. This one was G-reg, silver and had a manual choke. They don't teach you how to start that in driving lessons, oh no.

First Record: Record?! Iain Dale's showing his age a bit here. If we're talking CDs, I have a vague recollection of getting Now 29 for Christmas... at age 10/11 The fact that we're onto Now 72 does make me feel a wee bit old. Though my parents do have the original Now that's what I call music on cassette.

First Football Match: I'm pretty sure this was the 1991 Scottish Cup Third Round match between Aberdeen and Motherwell at Pittodrie. Motherwell won 1-0 with Stevie Kirk coming off the bench and scoring a free kick with his first touch of the ball, with about 10 minutes to go I think. But then, I was seven at the time, so how I remember I don't know.

First Concert: This was either the Manic Street Preachers at the Barrowlands or Barenaked Ladies at the Music Hall in Aberdeen. Can't remember which one was first - both were excellent.

First Country Visited: Wales. Though if you want me to "go foreign" as it were, it'd be Spain. A family holiday in Ibiza of all places.

First TV Appearance: I think I was on the news a couple of times when I was wee when they came to the school... but I can't really remember.

First Political Speech: Speaking or listening? I made a five minute political speech to get elected to Stirling Uni student body in 2002. That was the height of my political ambition at the time...

First Encounter with a Famous Person: Pierre Van Hooijdonk signed my Celtic shirt in 1996. I reckon he was famous then.

First Brush With Death: Spectacular car write off in May 2006. Track rod end snapped when going round a corner. Across the road, ending in a ditch, upside down. The damage? A couple of cracked ribs. Lucky, lucky boy.

First House/Flat Owned: That pleasure is still to come (along with the pleasure of a killer mortgage no doubt).

First Film Seen at a Cinema: Remember seeing Batman Forever at a young age, whether it was the first, I have no idea.

First Time on the Radio: Actually helped my mate a couple of times on his radio show at uni... but I reckon I did a couple of sessions on Keith Community Radio when I was still at school.

First Politician I Met: The first? Ummm... Malcolm Bruce spoke to my Modern Studies class when I was at Keith Grammar. That'd probably be it.

First Book I Remember Reading: Bound to be an Enid Blyton one, which one I can't really remember.

First Visit to the London Palladium: Not been there, but I did catch The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway last summer. Excellent stuff.

First Election: The first one I voted in was 2003 Scottish Parliament election (when I was 19) but the first one I was involved with in anyway was probablythe 2005 UK General Election. I was working for Bruce Crawford in Stirling and helped the campaigns both there and in Ochil & South Perthshire.

That killed some reading time. Apparently I should nominate five folks to repeat. So, if you feel like wasting half an hour, on you go Jess the Dog, Stuart Winton, The Right Student, Stephen Glenn and Subrosa.

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A delegation of MSPs

I just read David Maddox's latest piece at The Steamie (excellent blog for Holyrood gossip by the way, check it out).


Here's a screenshot of it - until they sort out their links for the blog, I guess I have to resort to this method.

Anyway, here's what the first sentence says:

"Patrick Harvie has today led a delegation of Green MSPs on a tour round Hunterston B Nuclear Power Station in Ayrshire."

A delegation of MSPs you say, Mr Maddox. Led by Mr Harvie. Hmmm. Suggesting what - five or six? Ten at a push?

Except that the Greens only have two MSPs - one of which is co-leader, Patrick Harvie. So the "delegation of MSPs" was probably just him and Robin Harper (assuming he was there) plus several other Greens who are not MSPs - researchers, press officers, activists.

Would I be out of line in suggesting that the first line of that story was taken from a Scottish Green Party press release - probably written by James - to make the parliamentary party sound that bit bigger and more important? Might I also be out of line to suggest a lack of editing on the part of Mr Maddox in replicating that as the first line of his post? Or am I simply being a bit mischievous?

UPDATE: James assures me that he never put out the press release until after Maddox wrote the piece... and that it explicitly states that Patrick Harvie was there with three Glasgow Councillors. Thus might we then be putting it down to a wee mistake?

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Monday, 27 April 2009

Business community turns back on Labour


Following on from my piece this morning on the dissent within the Labour party at the moment, it appears there is also plenty of opposition to the party's economic policy from the business community as well.

"Lingerie tycoon" Michelle Mone - a lifelong Labour supporter - has spoken out against the 50p top rate of tax, calling it a "disgrace." Which is pretty much how I thought it would play.

Got to congratulate the BBC on their headline for the story though:

"Bra boss withdraws Labour support"

Someone at the BBC has a sense of humour. For a change.

Actually, come to think of it, it looks like Messers Brown & Darling might too - they seem to be making Labour into a national joke...

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Are Labour on the verge of civil war?


This Telegraph piece seems to suggest so.

According to The Telegraph:

  • Former PM Tony Blair says the 50p tax rate announced in Chancellor Alistair Darling's budget is a "terrible mistake."

  • Blair would have CUT taxes not increased them.

  • "New Labourites" believe the move has cost Labour any chance of winning the next election.

  • Insiders want a new leader... and an election.

  • Party discipline is to be tightened in coming weeks amid fears of MPs speaking out against the PM and a challenge to Brown's leadership.

Things looking a wee bit grim for New Labour then.

Oh, and by the way, if you want to add your name to the Number 10 petition calling on Gordon Brown to resign, you can do so here. I expect you'll find a couple of Labour MPs have signed up by the end of the week...

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Saturday, 25 April 2009

Interest in Scottish coaching job

Looks like I've got a one in 30 chance then...

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Watchable TV


While the rest of country have been wetting themselves over the latest series of Middle Class Big Brother The Apprentice, I've been finding better stuff to watch.

I'm fairly into my American drama, so when Five started showing The Mentalist (Thurs 9pm, catch up here) I finally found something (other than sport) on TV that I will make a point of watching.

I don't want to give away much of what its about but basically, the California Bureau of Investigation has a bit of help from a guy who is something of an expert on behavioural psychology (or something). With his help they tackle - and solve - a load of different murders. Think Bones but without the necessarily gruesome science bits.

Anyway, its well worth a look.

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Friday, 24 April 2009

"SNP soars ahead of Labour"

so says The Herald today. And, erm, Jeff.

Base figures are:

Westminster (Scotland) Voting intention:
LAB - 32% SNP - 30% CON - 21% LD - 13%

Scottish Parliament (Constituency) Voting intention:
SNP - 37% LAB - 30% CON - 15% LD - 13%

Scottish Parliament (Regional) Voting intention:
SNP - 37% LAB - 28% CON - 15%
LD - 13% OTHER - 7%

A lot is being made of the fact that the poll was conducted for YouGov on behalf of the SNP. I find that a funny complaint. Although the March YouGov poll that I featured here wasn't for the SNP, the methodology would presumably be fairly similar. In that poll - for the same company as I stressed - Labour held a 10-point lead over the SNP on Westminster voting intention. That has been cut to 2 points in one month.

I'd suggest that Labour have, perhaps, not exactly had a great month. What with "smeargate" and a budget which there is a very public debate over, and 8-point swing might reflect that bad press.

Most frightening stat for Labour to come out of the poll though is this one:

Who would make the best First Minister?
Alex Salmond - 36%
Iain Gray - 7%

Ouch.

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Dead Tree Press


27.7 million unique users in one month for the Telegraph online.

How long before ALL newspapers are online only (and you have to pay to read them)?

Talk about dead tree press...

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Thursday, 23 April 2009

"Rob Kearney gay rumours"


I don't really know what kind of blog I'm running any more.

Someone (in Ireland presumably - using google.ie) got here by googling the phrase "Rob Kearney gay rumours".

And this blog was the sixth result.

Just to clarify - I don't know. And I don't really care. Just hoping he plays a blinder for the Lions.

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What's in a name? (2)


When I wrote this piece last week, I noticed that Ed Miliband, the UK Energy Secretary, had referred to the Scottish Government as the "Scottish Executive" and it interested me slightly.

Now there is nothing technically wrong in Mr Miliband's comment - for legal purposes (as enshrined in the Scotland Act 1998) the Scottish Executive will always be the Scottish Executive. But I wondered if his comments were politically motivated - a pointed refusal to call the SNP-run administration the Scottish Government - or if he was so far out of touch with devolved politics that he still thought it called itself "Scottish Executive." Or had he simply mis-spoken.

Ruling out a mistake (which might itself be a mistake) leaves Miliband's news being out of date (unlikely I grant you) or a political motivated decision. Which led me to Hansard.

It appears that in Scottish questions on 18 March this year, Labour backbencher Michael Connarty as well as Secretary of State for Scotland Jim Murphy referred to the Scottish Executive rather than the Scottish Government.

Funny then, that in Welsh questions, they don't seem to be too troubled in using the word "government" for the Welsh Assembly Government.

Then again, he who must be obeyed has spoken...

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A(n alleged) drunk drive in the Parks


So, Dan Parks has been arrested on an alleged drink driving charge. Hardly surprising - anyone watching him play rugby in a Scotland shirt would have thought he'd been at an all-day drinking session before taking to the field.

My only question from this BBC report on the alleged incident is this:

How the hell does someone who is so s*** manage to accumulate 47 caps?!

And we wonder why only won 16 matches in the last four years?!

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Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Budget: Quick analysis

I haven't had a real chance to digest the Budget yet... but this picture seems fitting.


A top rate tax of not 45% but 50% on those earning over £150,000. Hardly encouraging career advancement is it? And surely something which will only stimulate the economy of other states where entrepeneurs will be investing their cash instead of here.

And all because the Chancellor got his sums wrong and has had to borrow more to pay for his massive spending.

Switzerland? Monaco? The Cayman Islands anyone?

Oh yeah, and what was that about broken promises?


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Irish eyes are... something

I will stop with the rugby posts and get back to something like normal service soon, I promise. I just got a wee bit excited about the Lions.

Had to laugh at this picture though.




One of the first publicity shots for the 2009 South Africa tour.

Ronan O'Gara (left) looks like he should be in a boy band, Paul O'Connell (centre) looks like he's escaped from somewhere and Brian O'Driscoll is coming to get you.


Nice tight-fitting shirts too. Can just see them looking great on the big props and hookers...

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Charity plea

I got an email yesterday from a guy called Nick Hixson who runs a Welsh rugby blog rather originally called Welsh Rugby Blog. He'd gotten to here through Twitter as a result of some of the rugby posts over the last couple of days and asked if I could pass on a message to readers of MitB.

He's helping to raise money for a rugby charity called Walk 4 Matt. Matt Hampson was an English under-21 rugby international before a training accident saw him paralysed from the neck down. The walk is organised by Matt and sees money raised for his Trust Fund and twelve other charities nominated by the Guinness Premiership clubs.

For more information, and to sponsor the walk, visit Wasps Walk for Matt and give a little something if you can.

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Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Racist Racism Conference


Watching the pictures from the UN's racism conference, two things immediately struck me.

One: The complete lack of any kind of authority of the United Nations.

Two: Saying anything remotely critical about Israeli policy towards Palestinians will inevitably incur the wrath of the world's diplomats.

Don't get me wrong, Iranian President Ahmadinejad's speech was deplorable in the extreme, and those in attendence were absolutely right in walking out. But there are several things I take issue with.

Firstly, I'm all for democracy and allowing people to say what they think (which is why I disagree with boycotting hustings with the BNP - its far better to let them air their ridiculous views and shout them down) but I'd suggest that the UN should not have allowed Ahmadinejad to take the stage and preach his hatred. The UN is not the forum to attack other nations and they took their eye off the ball with this one. Ahmadinejad was always going to attack Israel from the podium there - as much for the headlines it would make as for making the point itself. Even Ban Ki-moon's statement after the event couldn't repair the damage done.

Secondly, and this may sound hypocritical given all I said in the previous paragraph, but I do hate the way that whenever you say something critical of Israel you are automatically branded as anti-semitic. Again, I don't want you to confuse this for condoning Ahmadinejad's speech. But if the UN were worth anything they'd be looking a little more closely at the sentiments expressed by the Iranian President.

Does Israel treat Palestinians badly? Yes they do. Are they effectively segregated on grounds of their "nationality" and/or religion? Yes they are. If this happened elsewhere, would it be tolerated? No it would not. But Israel is allowed to continue to act in this way as a means of "defence" because of powerful friends (the US) and past injustices against Jews. And I get it, I really do. Israel is the only place on the planet that Jews do not feel persecuted (not the same as feeling safe, but that's another issue) and the Jewish diaspora - including a fairly influential Jewish lobby in Washington - help to protect Israel from international condemnation. But sometimes - like with the Gaza situation - Israel goes too far. And that is when the UN should be acting.

It seems to me that a conference on racism should be exploring all issues and not just the ones that appeal to the west. While Ahmadinejad's speech was overly vitriolic in its tone, he did raise some issues that the UN needs to address. Top of that list - why Israel can get away with actions they'd balk at elsewhere.

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The 2009 British & Irish Lions

British and Irish Lions squad to tour South Africa (from the BBC):

Full-back
Lee Byrne (28) Ospreys and Wales
Rob Kearney (23) Leinster and Ireland

Wing
Shane Williams (32) Ospreys and Wales
Leigh Halfpenny (20) Cardiff Blues and Wales

Ugo Monye (26) Harlequins and England
Luke Fitzgerald (21) Leinster and Ireland
Tommy Bowe (25) Ospreys and Ireland

Centres
Tom Shanklin (29) Cardiff Blues and Wales
Jamie Roberts (22) Cardiff Blues and Wales

Brian O'Driscoll (30) Leinster and Ireland

Keith Earls (21) Munster and Ireland

Riki Flutey (29) Wasps and England


Fly-half

Stephen Jones (31) Llanelli Scarlets and Wales
Ronan O'Gara (32) Munster and Ireland


Scrum-half
Mike Phillips (26) Ospreys and Wales
Harry Ellis (26) Leicester and England
Tomas O'Leary (25) Munster and Ireland


Prop

Gethin Jenkins (28) Cardiff Blues and Wales
Adam Jones (28) Ospreys and Wales

Andrew Sheridan(29) Sale and England
Phil Vickery (33) Wasps and England
Euan Murray (28) Northampton and Scotland


Hooker
Jerry Flannery (30) Munster and Ireland
Lee Mears (30) Bath and England
Matthew Rees (28) Llanelli Scarlets and Wales


Lock
Paul O'Connell, capt (29) Munster and Ireland
Alun Wyn Jones (23) Ospreys and Wales
Donncha O'Callaghan (30) Munster and Ireland
Nathan Hines (32) Perpignan and Scotland

Simon Shaw (35) Wasps and England


Back-row

Andy Powell (27) Cardiff Blues and Wales
Jamie Heaslip (25) Leinster and Ireland
Alan Quinlan (34) Munster and Ireland

Martyn Williams (33) Cardiff Blues and Wales

David Wallace (32) Munster and Ireland
Joe Worsley (31) Wasps and England
Stephen Ferris (23) Ulster and Ireland

So there we are: 14 Irishmen, 13 Welshmen, 8 Englishmen and 2 Scots.



Some big shocks there. Only 2 stand-offs. Only one 6 Nations captain (Brian O'Driscoll) makes it. There's no place for Ryan Jones or Tom Croft - both of whom would have been ahead of Andy Powell for me. Ugo Monje pips Paul Sackey for a spot on the wing, Keith Earls is a suprise choice at centre and Delon Armitage is wondering why he's been left behind. Harry Ellis looks like he may start at 9 after both him and Tomas O'Leary are selected ahead of Mike Blair. And then there's some huge guys in the pack - Powell, Quinlan and Worsley make it ahead of Jones, Croft and Taylor (who, in fairness, was my wild card pick!). I can't believe Simon Shaw is touring again - the only survivor from 1997 - while Mathew Rees pips Ross Ford and Rory Best for the third hookers spot and Adam Jones goes as an extra prop.



For me, the size of some of these guys provides evidence of how McGeechan wants the side to play. The pack will try to front up against what will be a huge South African pack, while even some of the backs (Jamie Roberts) are huge guys. I think the idea is to beef up the back to allow both Shane and Martyn Williams either to start or to come off the bench to provide a wee bit of flair - something that is considerably missing from this squad. The fact that only two 10s (Jones & O'Gara) are going suggests a conservative gameplan - though that might well come unstuck when the provincial sides target them. Expect we'll have to call up a replacement 10 at some point - Jonny Wilkinson, Danny Cipriani and James Hook should be sitting by their phone.



Prediction - South Africa to win. 3-0. Based on that squad, I don't think we have what it takes. I've been wrong before. Quite often in fact. Maybe I'll be wrong again.

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One hour to go...


Just over an hour until the British & Irish Lions squad is announced and the excitement is reaching unbearable levels in my flat... where I'm all alone and scouring the web for titbits of info.

Here's some of the rumours going around:

  • Shane Williams, Wales leading try scorer and IRB World Player of the Year misses out on the squad because of his poor form for the Ospreys and Wales this year.

  • Shane Williams, Wales leading try scorer makes the squad because of his talent and the ability to waltz past huge South Africans.

Okay, those two are somewhat contradictory but here's some that are not:

  • The squad will be expanded to 37 players.

  • Josh Lewsey, England World Cup winner, will be a shock inclusion (Wasps connection no doubt helping there).

  • There is no place for Danny Cipriani or Jonny Wilkinson.

  • Gavin Henson might be selected on the basis that we have a distinct lack of flair players playmaker positions.

  • Ryan Jones scrapes in as number 37.

  • Or Andy Powell makes it instead...
Roll on 1.30pm!

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Ruck U!


Just a quick post - for rugby fans.

Get yourself off to (former England captain) Will Carling's online rugby club house - RuckU.com - for some good rugby banter. Especially good fun today given the imminent Lions squad announcement.

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Monday, 20 April 2009

British & Irish Lions: Predictor


The British and Irish Lions squad to tour South Africa this summer is announced tomorrow afternoon. Having been challenged by an Irish friend (who, rather predictably has stacked his Lions squad full of Irishmen) here is my thinking regarding the squad. (Probable Test starters in capitals)

Full-back: LEE BYRNE Delon Armitage Rob Kearney
Wing: SHANE WILLIAMS TOMMY BOWE Luke Fitzgerald Paul Sackey
Centre: BRIAN O'DRISCOLL RIKI FLUTEY Jamie Roberts Tom Shanklin

Fly-Half: STEPHEN JONES Ronan O'Gara James Hook

Scrum-Half: MIKE PHILLIPS Dwayne Peel Mike Blair


Prop: GETHIN JENKINS EUAN MURRAY John Hayes Phil Vickery Andrew Sheridan

Hooker: JERRY FLANNERY Lee Mears Ross Ford

Second Row: PAUL O'CONNELL (capt) ALUN WYN JONES Donncha O'Callaghan Nathan Hines Nick Kennedy
Back Row: DAVID WALLACE TOM CROFT JAMIE HEASLIP Martyn Williams Stephen Ferris, Simon Taylor

There.

A squad of 36:

17 Backs and 19 Forwards

12 Irishmen
11 Welshmen
8 Englishmen
5 Scotsmen

There are some big debates there - and some guys who just miss out. No Andy Powell or Ryan Jones after Wales fell away in the Six Nations and Henson's injury keeps him out of my tour party. Leigh Halfpenny was in my first draft... and got cut as I trimmed the backs to 17. I think Simon Taylor might be a surprise pick as Ian McGeechan knows him well from his Scotland days. Danny Cipriani might also have gotten the nod, but I think he's not quite the finished article while Jonny Wilkinson's delayed return to action means a lack of playing time to play his way in. James Hook takes his place with Nicky Robinson running both close.

I was tempted to leave out Shane Williams - so dramatic has his loss of form been - but I don't think Geech would leave out the IRB World Player of the Year, it'd be a PR disaster from the off.

Here's my list of reserves (that narrowly miss out) to be called up in case of injuries:
Chris Paterson
Leigh Halfpenny
Keith Earls

Tomas O'Leary

Joe Worsley

Ryan Jones
Ian Gough
Mathew Rees

Adam Jones


Guess we'll find out how close I am tomorrow. If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them in the comments.

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Saturday, 18 April 2009

Marks for effort

Midwife numbers in England are falling according to the Royal College of Midwifes. A shortfall of 1,600 is expected by 2012, yet their spokesperson said:

"We know the [UK] government is making a big effort to recruit more midwives and are putting money into maternity services...Their policies are good and are going in the right direction."

So things are going badly, numbers are going down, but the government (who have a large majority and can pass uncontroversial legislation without much in the way of problems let us not forget) is making an effort, so everything is ok?

How the SNP must wish they could get the same kind of leeway and get marks for "effort."

I won't be holding my breath for that though.

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Friday, 17 April 2009

Recommended reading


Having moved on from my literature review (finally!) and onto the first chapter of my Ph.D, I have a recommendation for those of you who have an interest in Scottish politics and devolution.

I'm currently reading The State of the Nations 2008 edited by Alan Trench, which provides an overview of devolved politics in the UK from 2007 until early 2008, recounting the challenges faced by respective governments in Scotland and Wales, their successes and failures and the every-growing turf-war between Westminster and the devolved legislatures. It's part of a series of books charting devolution from its first year (1999-2000) through several volumes (2001, 2003, 2004 and 2005) to the most updated volume.

It's well worth a look.

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English Buttons

Love the BBC.

Britain's Jenson Button spends his whole career pre-2009 winning one race.

Britian's Jenson Button wins the first two races of 2009 and he becomes England's Jenson Button.


Funny how it was the other way round with David Coulthard (ie - he was Scottish when he was losing/ British when winning).

I'd like to point out, I don't really give a damn. Just show some consistency.

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Thursday, 16 April 2009

No nukes is good nukes


I see the BBC is at its biased best again with the following headlines:

Scots nuclear stance criticised

Governments fall out over nuclear

BBC reporting aside, there's a proper story behind this.

The SNP, who have been anti-nuclear since Alex Salmond was a boy, have continued that policy from opposition into government, with the result that - for the forseeable future while the SNP remain in government - there will be no new nuclear power stations built in Scotland.

Which is tremendous from an environmental point of view. The Scottish Government has focused on renewable energy, promoting wind and tidal energy in particular, harnessing the power of nature to power our nation.

But that is not the story that the media - nor the UK Government - is focusing on.

The BBC tells of "battlelines being drawn between the two governments" which is simply a distortion of the truth. Ed Milliband, UK Energy Secretary simply said:
"I disagree with the position the Scottish Executive has taken on this, I don't think it's good for Scotland."

"It's a huge number of jobs - it's 9,000 jobs per nuclear power station with huge benefits for the economy... but it does remain a decision for Scotland."

His quotes tell two things: One, that the UK Government is focused on economic issues (understandable given the mess they've made of it in recent months) at the expense of a long term environmental strategy. And two, he understands devolution. Something that can't be said for many of his colleagues at Westminster.

Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act 1998 sets out the areas of policy which are reserved to Westminster. Included in that is energy policy (including Section D4 nuclear energy and nuclear installations). However, that only covers current power plants. To build a new power station requires planning and electricity laws, both of which are devolved - giving the Scottish Government an effective veto over any plans to build nuclear power stations in Scotland.

Thus, under an SNP Government, Scotland can look forward to a nuclear-free future.

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Ophidiophobics look away now

If there are any other Ophidiophobics out there, this story will probably scare the hell out of you too.

I must be some kind of sadist - for whenever I see a snake-related story on the BBC website, I have to read it. And by the end of it I'm inevitably sweating.

Worst line of this story for me is this one:

"I stepped on a spongy thing on the ground and suddenly my leg was entangled with the body of a huge python."

I know, its in Kenya, but still.

Sent a shiver down my spine...

ps - I know I usually stick a picture at the top... but I couldn't bring myself to a have a picture of a snake on my blog for a week!

Update: shiver

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Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Facebook has me sussed


Check the list of people it suggests as friends for me:
  • 2 SNP Ministers
  • 2 Labour MSPs
  • 1 SNP MSP
  • 1 Lib Dem MSP
  • 1 Green MSP
  • 1 Labour MP
  • 1 Labour MEP
  • 1 Glasgow Labour Councillor
  • 1 Edinburgh SNP Councillor
  • 1 Labour Westminster Candidate
  • and one journalist turned Edinburgh rectum rector* who hates bloggers.
Think I've been pigeon-holed as a politics nerd?

Apologies for the typo in the original - the error has been pointed out to me only recently and I'm happy to fix it.

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Tuesday, 14 April 2009

"Meet the Bloggers" - Details


After an overwhelming response to my plan for blogging drinks, I have a plan.

Assuming I won't be able to please everyone, but I'm thinking Wednesday April 29th at 7pm at The Albanach on the Royal Mile (map here).

Apologies to those who can't make it this time - and indeed to those who live away from Edinburgh. Depending on turnout (and, I suppose, if people have a good time!) we can always try and organise another one sometime soon.

So, that's:
7pm, Wednesday 29th April
The Albanach, Royal Mile, Edinburgh

Hope to see you there.

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Blogging and the press


Driving to Aberdeen on Saturday was a strange experience for me. Listening to the news on the radio was the first time I'd seen (or heard) blogging dominate the Mainstream Media. The featured story was, of course, Guido Fawkes scoop regarding emails sent by (now former) Downing Street spinner Damian McBride and LabourList editor Derek Draper.

Listening to it I tried to think of the last time a newspaper broke political sleaze story that dominated the headlines for such a period of time. I'm thinking Paul Hutcheon in our Sunday Herald regarding the Wendy Alexander-campaign donations scandal... but even that was a while ago.

On the scandal itself, it brought to light something that I suspect most political parties have on stand-by as a tactic - not smearing as such but negative campaigning certainly. It's a plague on all their houses. The idiotic thing for McBride and Draper was not that they were discussing it, it's that they were doing it on emails - and got caught. Of course there's outrage and demands for apologies (on that note - why can't Gordon just say it - it's only a five letter word!) but I suspect there's a certain amount of celebration going on at Tory HQ. This kind of thing plays into their hands - another Labour scandal.

But what is equally interesting to me is how the MSM has covered the story - and how they have treated the blogosphere. Iain MacWhirter, he of Edinburgh rectorship (or should that be "rectum"?) has made his feelings about blogging rather clear in this piece for the Herald. Naturally, the blogosphere has hit back, in its own imitable (and that is it's beauty) style. Will, Jeff, Yousuf and Alex Massie all crit MacWhirter's journalism. And they are right: the newspapers "don't like it up 'em."

Basically all Guido has done here is what - if a newspaper ever got round to it - would be called "investigative journalism." It is nothing more sinister. Though MacWhirter does raise an interesting point: If Draper hadn't been so damning of Guido and Iain Dale over the Carol Thatcher gaffe then they probably wouldn't have looked quite so hard for an opportunity to get him. As it is, he made it easy for them - and it now looks like his blogging project is over (at least for him).

The end result: A big scalp for Guido and presumably a surge in readership, Labour painted with another scandal, a poll bump for the Tories, the end of the political careers of Draper and McBride and some MSM coverage for the blogosphere. And all because two guys are daft enough to think no one can access their emails.

To think we let them run the country...

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Friday, 10 April 2009

Have a Good Friday...

Two aerials met on a roof, fell in love and got married. The ceremony was rubbish... but the reception was amazing!

-------------------------------


Man: I can't stop singing "Sexbomb"
Doc: Sounds like "Tom Jones" syndrome
Man: Is it quite common?
Doc: It's not unusual...

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Two cannibals eating a clown. One turns to the other and says...
"Does this taste funny to you?"

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Police arrested two kids today. One was drinking battery acid, the other eating fireworks... They charged one and let the other off...

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I went to the Butchers and bet him £50 he couldn't reach the meat that was on the top shelf. He refused the bet - told me the steaks were too high.

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On that note, have a nice Easter. I'm away for the weekend so blogging might be light. Or non-existent. Or I might blog every five minutes. You never know.

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Thursday, 9 April 2009

Life imitating art


"Life imitates art far more than art imitates life." So said Oscar Wilde.

He might have a point.

When I read this story about a small town in Missouri electing a a new mayor a couple of weeks after he died, I couldn't help but think of this episode of The West Wing where Will Bailey guides a Democrat to victory in the notoriously Republican California 47th despite the candidate dying several weeks before the election.


Of course The West Wing is pretty accurate representation of real life prior to the event: The Season 7 Presidential Election bears an uncanny resemblance to the 2008 US Presidential election is a number of ways.

Maybe it's just good writing. Or maybe politics has become predictable.

Nah, must be the first one...

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G20 policeman should be charged


I know I'm coming a bit late to write about the death of Ian Tomlinson at the hands of the Met Police, but now that I've seen the video footage, I'm a bit shocked.

Basically, from the video, you see a police office assault a man walking down the street. The man later died from a heart attack - presumably if not caused then at the very least not helped by an assault from a policemen.

I understand that policing riots is difficult and that the police do a difficult job at these events. I understand it is difficult to identify potential troublemakers from those there to protest peacefully (or even those simply caught in the wrong place trying to walk home). But there is simply no excuse for a vicious attack on an innocent civillian who is not only not protesting about anything, he's walking AWAY from the police line.

What makes this situation worse for the Met is the suggestion that the officer in question removed his badge number and covered his face in the knowledge that what he was about to do was unacceptable. But he still did it anyway.

The officer in question should be charged, no question. Despite wearing a policeman's uniform his actions were not those of someone trying to keep the peace. At the very least, an assault charge should be coming his way, though (not being an expert in law) a manslaughter charge is probably not out of the question.

Just as with the Jean Charles de Menezes case, the Met police acted rashly and did something in the heat of the moment. But that does not detract from the fact that one of their own caused the death of a member of the public. And that has consequences which - whether the Met wants us to know or not - will become public, further damaging the reputation of the police in London.

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Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Tony v Benny


Fresh from doing bugger all to help the situation in the Middle East and (apparently) campaigning to become the first President of the European Union, Tony Blair has set his stall out as a standard bearer for gay rights.

In an interview for Attitude, a title which I can't say I am that familiar with, Tony Blair had the following to say to the Pope:

“There are many good and great things the Catholic Church does, and there are many fantastic things this Pope stands for, but I think what is interesting is that if you went into any Catholic Church, particularly a wellattended one, on any Sunday here and did a poll of the congregation, you’d be surprised at how liberal-minded people were.”

“Now, that doesn’t mean to say there’s not still a lot of homophobia and a lot of things to be done. But the fact that it is unacceptable for any mainstream political party to be anything other than on the side of equality and respect is, in a way, the biggest change. The items of individual legislation matter a lot, but I think it’s the general shift in climate that is perhaps the most important point.”

“When people quote the passages in Leviticus condemning homosexuality, I say to them — if you read the whole of the Old Testament and took everything that was there in a literal way, as being what God and religion is about, you’d have some pretty tough policies across the whole of the piece.”

This contrasts somewhat with the view of the Catholic church leadership, with Pope Benedict XVI having previously described homosexuality as:

"more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil."

Now for me, it sounds like the Pope's stance is pretty unequivocal: If you are gay, you are on a bearing to evil. I wouldn't hold my breath for a change of heart on the part of everyone's favourite pontiff. Nice to see good old Tony keeping his face in the paper though - even if he is fighting a losing battle.

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A leader leading...


After he was fairly critical of President Barack Obama's mode of transport whilst attending the G20 summit in London, Jeff may wish to turn his attention to this piece, from today's Scotsman as evidence of a leader "leading".

Apparently the Provost of Aberdeenshire Council has gone slightly green in his choice of car for civic duties... and chosen a Skoda.

Yeah, a Skoda.

He better not take the roof off it or people might think it is a skip. (boom boom)

Seriously though, while Skoda have been universally trashed as rubbish since before I was born, they have made great strides. 55MPG and some of the lowest emissions of any car. And only 17 grand.

Maybe our councils aren't completely useless after all.

If only we could get the Edinburgh Provost to sell the "S0" registration plate - which is apparently worth £500,000. That would save a few council pounds - maybe keep a school or two open as well...

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Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Meet the Bloggers


After a nice wee meet up enjoyed by all last summer, myself and Jeff were discussing trying to get some bloggers together (from all sides and none) of an evening. Nothing special you understand, a wee coffee/ beer/ Irn Bru and a blether - about politics, life, things that annoy you etc etc...

Anyway, as Jeff and I (and, I think, half the Scottish blogosphere) work and live in Edinburgh, we were thinking somewhere here, and sometime soon. But that is as much as we'd worked out.

Anyone have any suggestions as to places? Dates?

Course, this is going to fall flat if no one really wants to come. Maybe I should have left the organising to Jeffrey...

Note: Probably safe to assume that neither of the famed bloggers picture above will be in attendance...

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Does a 2-point swing mean a 2009 election?


Further to yesterday's post about the prospect of a 2009 General Election, I fed the numbers into UK Polling Report's Swing Calculator and found the following result:

CON 41% = 312 seats (+114)
LAB 34% = 281 seats (-75)
LD 16% = 28 seats (-34)

If this poll were to be replicated in a General election, the net result would be a Hung Parliament, with the Tories 14 seats short of a majority. That, bear in mind, is with a 7 point gap between Labour and the Tories.

If however, Labour manage to close the gap to a 5 point Tory lead (unthinkable a couple of months ago) there's a different story to be told:

CON 40% = 293 seats (+95)
LAB 35% = 300 seats (-56)
LD 16% = 29 seats (-33)

Labour still lose the vote by 5 points... but they end up with seven seats more than the Tories. End result is still a Hung Parliament, but it is Labour 26 seats short of a majority (Tories 33 short). Crucially, while remaining on 16% the Lib Dems would actually hang onto an extra seat (presumably at the expense of a Tory gain) and return 29 MPs... which would leave them in a position to negotiate coalition with Labour (but not the Tories).

Enough of the electoral mathematics done on the back of a napkin, what's my point? Namely this... the way the constituency boundaries work favours Labour. They can maintain a level of vote that is slightly over a third and yet still return almost half the seats. That puts them in a favourable position of not actually having to beat the Tories in terms of vote share to win an election. They simply have to win more seats. And the likelihood of them doing so is high if they can claw back a couple of percentage points back from the Tories.

These numbers are, of course, worked out on the basis of uniform swing, which is unlikely. It also doesn't take into account regional strength, relative strength of nationalist competition in Scotland and Wales or the Tories recent electoral alliance with the Ulster Unionists who, presumably, would support them in the event of a Hung Parliament.

My question is this: If this is as good as it will get for Labour - realistically, they are not going to pull ahead of Cameron's Conservatives anytime soon - if they can get to within 5 points of them nationally, why wouldn't Gordon Brown go to the polls?

With 300 MPs and 35% of the vote there are many commentators who (after the spanking Labour have been taking in the polls over the last few months) would see this as a massive result for Gordon Brown. To only be 26 seats short of governing - with the economic mess and unemployment rising by the hour - would be nothing short of miraculous.

A betting man would like the odds. And surely, there's a small part of Gordon Brown that thinks he might just go for it...

Just so you know, I didn't ignore the Populus poll (Con 43 Lab 30 LD 18) published yesterday - I hadn't seen it when I'd written this. I do think it is something of an outlier though and that, rather than leading up to a Cameron lead, the polls are squeezing. Thoughts?

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Monday, 6 April 2009

No election this year?


When I was writing my 2009 predictions (I'm not doing too well so far - though I did call 3 changes on the Scottish Government benches, as well as a struggle to pass the budget) I bit the bullet and plumped for an election this year. I thought - correctly, as it has turned out - that Gordon Brown's handling of the economy would shrink Tory poll leads and that he'd go for an election in June as a result of Labour's less than disastrous showing in English Council Elections in May.

Now we are only in April, but the PM has apparently ruled out calling a snap election, saying:
"I am not going to get into talk about dates."

"Our first priority is jobs, it's homes and it's businesses. We have got to show people how we can take the country through this difficulty."


"I think if you were a citizen of Britain looking at what's happening in the economy you would want our first priority to be exactly what it is."

That, according to The Scotsman, equates with the following headline

"Brown rejects snap election despite Labour's G20 'bounce'"

Hang on a minute though. Is there anything in what he says that explicitly rules out an election? Because I can't see it. He said he's not going to talk about dates. Which means not that he is not considering an election, merely that he is not going public with these considerations at the moment.

And why would he? Labour's position in Westminster polls has improved markedly over the last few months. And the latest YouGov (post G20) poll has them within 7 points of the Tories:

CON 41%

LAB 34%

LD 16%

A far cry from the days of 20-point Tory leads. Now instead of facing down the barrel of a huge defeat, we are probably looking at the prospect of a hung-parliament while if Labour can claw back another couple of points they might even manage to scrape into government for a fourth term.


Far better for Brown to be in with a fighting chance of forming a government after the election than have a small band of MPs to oppose a massive Tory government.

I'm keeping my neck on the line and going with a 2009 election. I think he may go with it on the same day as the European election - though if the polls continue to swing Labour's way, he may hold out until September.

Anyone agree?

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Regrettably, this is probably required:
This blog is my own personal opinion (unless otherwise stated) and does not necessarily reflect the views of any other organisation (political or otherwise) that I am a member of or affiliated to.
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