Tuesday 31 March 2009

Word of the day: "Seize"

"Seize the day" is a phrase with positive connotations - from the Latin Carpe Diem - emphasising the need to make use of your time wisely.

Contrastingly, to "seize power" suggests something of a more negative tone - over-riding democracy to install a military junta for example. A military intervention might be helpful in this case, to "wrest control" away from those legitimately in power.

"SNP seizes control of Dundee Council for the first time"

screams The Scotsman today. They also point out the hand that (former Labour) Councillor John Letford played in the SNP's ability to "wrest control" of the council from the Lab-Lib Dem coalition.

I wonder if this is an indicator of why the Scottish print media appears to be in such bother. Maybe if they reported the news without such an inherent bias people might still read their stuff.

Anyway, I'm off to "wrest control" of the kettle.


The Gospel according to the BNP

The BNP have started a billboard campaign in the run up to the European election. They've decided that Jesus would support their campaign of hatred, and are using the following message:

"If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you" - John 15:20... "What would Jesus do?"

For a start, He wouldn't have raged a campaign of hatred to run immigrants out of a country. And I don't profess to know who Jesus would vote for, but I think we can be pretty sure, it wouldn't be the BNP.

If ever the phrase "What the... ?" was merited...


Monday 30 March 2009

Mater tua criceta fuit, et pater tuo redoluit bacarum sambucus

Scottish Labour are bereft of ideas.

Okay, that's not really news. But I took this screenshot of their website in the section titled "The Scottish Policy Forum."

You can see for yourself. Either Labour have decided to up the ante on education and print all their material solely in Latin (not exactly the language of the working class) or their Scottish Policy Forum doesn't really exist.

I know what my money is on.

- Ad Absurdum

Update (7pm): It seems someone who has the power to change these things, has done... and the link now redirects to a different page. Nice to know MitB has some power and influence (or something!). You can still see what it looked like before here.


Not a Calman influence...

I've been reading Sir Kenneth Calman's comments regarding the Calman Commission's upcoming report. The title of the BBC's piece, "Calman warning to SNP government" is another piece of bizarre biased reporting from the Beeb (not to mention somewhat questionable grammar).

Said Sir Kenneth yesterday:

"If it [the Scottish Government] doesn't wish to help with that process - and we would like it to help - then it will be quite difficult for them to criticise at the end. If you don't vote - you shouldn't criticise the outcome."

I understand the principle of his comment, I do. But I don't think his comparison works. Let me explain.

I encourage everyone I know to vote come election time. Everyone tells me what a waste of time it is, that whoever gets in willl just do the same as the last lot and that nothing will change (which is, I suppose, also a fair charge). But my point is always that if you don't make your view known by voting for someone - anyone - then you forfeit your right to complain about anything politics related (which is most things).

But this is slightly different. In an election, everyone has the opportunity to put their point across. Anyone (with certain caveats) can stand in an election if they don't think they agree with any of the other candidates. No one's view is excluded from the democratic process and people can make up their mind on who to vote for from a variety of different viewpoints. That's how democracy works.

The Calman Commission is not an election. Not everyone's view is represented. Some views (notably those supporting independence) have been disallowed from discussion. By my reckoning, if your views are not only not represented but have absolutely no means of being represented within that body, you are well within your rights to criticise that body.

By Sir Kenneth's reckoning, the Unionist parties in Scotland shouldn't be allowed to criticise the Scottish Government's National Conversation on the very same basis - that they haven't gotten involved in the process.

Both arguments are absolutely barking. Criticism and debate are part and parcel of a healthy democratic process. And the Scottish Government, like everyone else, will be well within their rights to criticise Sir Kenneth's Commission when their findings are made public.

To think otherwise, is just plain stupid.


Saturday 28 March 2009

Brown backs self-determination

Gordon Brown quote:

"The essential principle has always been that the islanders should determine the issue of sovereignty for themselves and, let us be clear, our first priority will always be the needs and wishes of the islanders."

He was, of course, referring to the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.

A noble principle that though, allowing people to determine the issue of sovereignty for themselves.

I wonder if when he has passed on that principle to the LOLITSP. No, I don't think so either.


Friday 27 March 2009

Friday Quiz (football edition)

Two (related) quiz questions for you today:

1) Aside from the 20 sides currently in the English Premier League this season, there are 22 sides who have played at least one season in the division since the first year it was called that. Name all of them please.

2) How many sides (and who are they) have been the English Premier League every season since the renaming.

Answers in the comments.

Stay away from Google, BBC Sport and Wikipedia. And indeed, any other site that might help you with this!


Thursday 26 March 2009

Tom Harris and the big, bad Tory

As is his wont, Tom Harris is attacking democracy yet again.

He has his knickers in a knot over this (rather excellent) speech given by MEP Daniel Hannan after Gordon Brown addressed the European Parliament this week.

Here's what Tom Harris had to say about it:

"Gordon Brown isn’t just Labour’s prime minister; he’s Britain’s prime minister, and for any UK politician to launch such a disgraceful, personal attack on his country’s leader —
in a foreign country — is nothing short of disgraceful."

So, basically, if you are representing the UK abroad, you are above criticism? And in what way is Hannan's speech a "personal attack"? He sets out where the Prime Minister has gone wrong and points out the hyprocritical nature of his comments. It's what opposition politicians do!

This is the kind of drivel that I've come to expect from my occasional glances at Harris' blog. The kind of thing that he hopes the papers will pick up to raise his profile in the hope that the devil people know beats the anyone else in his Glasgow constituency next time round.

The worrying thing is, he's probably right - about his chances, not Dan Hannan.
His comments about the speech are nothing short of jealousy of the coverage Hannan is getting on the blogosphere and concern that he might cut off the supply of Harris photos in newspapers. Unless people start to see his attention-seeking for what it is, he'll undoubtedly return to the House of Commons whenever the next election comes around.

(Note to Tom Harris - just in case you don't recognise it, this probably does constitute a personal attack).

It seems that criticism is of an "esteemed" leader is above some of our politicians. And that is a sad state of affairs.

Rant over.


The Catholic EU?

I know I shouldn't mix religion and politics... but here's a story that does.

It seems that the EU has annoyed Christians in the Netherlands (of a Protestant denomination)... on the basis that the EU flag (with 12 stars in a circle) is too similar to the 12-star halo that surrounds the head of the Virgin Mary in Roman Catholic art.

Here are both:

So, they might have a point.

But you have to ask, is it something worth getting offended over?


Wednesday 25 March 2009

Labour's hotline to the G20

Scottish Labour website has a gadget where, as you can see above, you can register what you would like to say to "Prime Minister Brown, President Obama and the G20."

Any suggestions?

I mean, not that they'll listen - you'd be as well posting them on a blog that no one reads (as opposed to a Labour website that none of the G20 will look at)...

Keep them clean.


The Lib Dem Kayak

I haven't had a pop at my favourite party for a wee while... But I have found a policy that is worth a mention, and that's the Lib Dems current campaign to keep the opt-out for firefighters.

It seems that Lib Dem MEP (for the West Midlands, pictured left) Liz Lynne is fronting the "Scottish Lib Dems campaign" to keep the opt-out. Here's a quote from their campaign web-page:

"Lib Dem MEP Liz Lynne is fighting a tough battle in Brussels to keep the Opt Out after a vote by the European Parliament to scrap it. Liz Lynne is the shadow rapporteur for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe and the only UK lead for any party in the European Parliament, negotiating with government ministers from EU Member State."

Someone should really tell Scottish Lib Dem MEP Elspeth Atwooll (pictured below).
She supports the campaign publicly, as this quote illustrates:

“I have made sure that the European Parliament’s negotiating team is fully aware of the situation. It is essential that we reach an outcome that allows our valuable and valued system of retained firefighters to continue to function.”

Yet somehow she still managed to vote to
scrap the opt-out.

Looks like Liz Lynne's tough battle in Brussels was made even tougher... by someone in her own party!

Reminds me of a story about two Eskimos in a kayak who got a big chilly. They lit a fire in the middle of it, and it sank.

There's a lesson for the Lib Dems there - you can't have your kayak and heat it...


Tuesday 24 March 2009

What's in a name?

I had a wee thought the other day when I read the candidate list for Gordon constituency for the next Westminster election.

Despite being 65 next year, current MP for Gordon Malcolm Bruce is expected to stand again for the seat for the Lib Dems. The Scottish blogosphere's Richard Thomson is the SNP candidate for the constituency while the Conservative candidate will be 21-year-old Ross Thomson, a fourth year politics student. Labour's candidate is Barney Crockett, and Aberdeen councillor (EDIT - Thanks to Iain in the comments).

So, as candidate names on ballot papers are listed alphabetically (and without knowing the Labour candidate's name at the moment) the ballot paper will look like this:

BRUCE, Malcolm (Scottish Liberal Democrats)
CROCKET, BARNEY (Scottish Labour Party)

THOMSON, Richard (Scottish National Party)

THOMSON, Ross (Scottish Conservative Party)

You may see where I'm going with this.

While the 2005 result was an easy hold (majority, 11,026) for the Lib Dems, the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary election saw Alex Salmond win the seat for the SNP, with a majority of over 2,000. Basically what I'm saying is that the SNP, from 4th in 2005 (and 13,000 votes behind the Lib Dems) are now within shouting distance of taking the seat - albeit with all kinds of caveats about different elections (Holyrood v Westminster, boundaries, the Salmond effect etc etc). So what impact will two candidates with the same surname (and first initial) have on the outcome here?

Well, like I said, the Lib Dems are still odds-on favourites to win the seat I suspect - and their vote would likely be unaffected by this. But we only have to look at the result from the Glasgow East by-election to see that it could have an impact.

John Mason won the seat with 11,277 votes to Margaret Curran's 10,912 - a majority of 365. Frances Curran, the Scottish Socialist Party candidate, polled 555 votes - 190 more than that majority. Now obviously there were many factors why the SNP (and John Mason) won that seat but I think - if we're being honest - there may have been some votes intended for M Curran that actually went to F Curran - and the first of the two "Curran" names on the ballot paper. Maybe not enough to swing the election the SNP's way... but then again, how much credit do you want to give voters when they couldn't handle two different electoral systems on the same day?

What's my point? Only this... if you are a voter in Gordon, look closely where you put your "X" in the next election. If you don't. you might end up voting for someone you didn't really intend to.


Monday 23 March 2009

More on All Women Shortlists

After my piece a couple of days ago about the race to replace John Reid as Labour candidate for Airdrie & Shotts, something resembling an actual debate has taken place in the blogosphere.

Yousuf gets the ball rolling by defending All-Woman Shortlists.

Will says they shouldn't be necessary.

Jeff takes the plunge and says how ridiculous AWS are - and incurs the wrath of... well, just about everyone. He also doesn't think there needs to be gender equality in politics - a view somewhat out of sync with political correctness.

Will responds, taking on the wider issue of female representation in politics and questions the democratic nature of AWS.

And Kezia takes Will & Jeff to task for "misjudged wisdom."

All in all, a fairly interesting discussion.

I'd like to point out that my original point was similar to Will's - not that it was made in anything like as eloquent a manner. I don't think AWS should be necessary (though the Hansard Society seems to think it is) and I think good female MPs/MSPs can be elected without the system in place.

But my original question has still not been answered in any meaningful fashion by anyone contributing to the debate. If we agree (and I know Jeff doesn't) that there needs to be more opportunities for women to enter politics, how can we do that that without resorting to the "political gerrymandering" that is AWS if we think it is fundamentally undemocratic?

Any ideas?


Scottish Round-up

I had the opportunity to compile the Scottish blogging round-up this week. If you haven't yet, you can read this week's edition here.


Friday 20 March 2009

President Obama on the Jay Leno Show

Some clips of US President on the Jay Leno Show.

Best quote "In Washington, it's a little bit like American Idol, except that everyone is Simon Cowell."

Think Gordon Brown could do the same... and appear on This Morning with Fern & Phil?


What a difference a day makes...

Edinburgh yesterday...

Edinburgh today...

Summer's over folks.

Hope you enjoyed it!

UPDATE - It seems my proclaimation of the death of summer was slightly premature as Edinburgh is now bathed in a warm, sunny glow. Quick, get outside and enjoy it before it really is over!


Thursday 19 March 2009

The Pope and Africa

After Pope Benedict XVI's latest public comments regarding HIV/AIDS, several (including myself, though not yet publicly) have been quick to criticise the thoughts of the man. For an alternative view, see here. Just for reference, he said that AIDS in Africa is:

"a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems."

Where to begin? I guess with some facts.

  • Africa is the area of the world most affected by HIV and AIDS, to the tune of 24 million people (for reference, that's nearly 5 times the population of Scotland).
  • Catholicism in Africa has, since 1900, risen by a staggering 670%, from 1.9m to 139m followers.
So, there's an issue there. On the one hand, aid agencies etc are passing out condoms, telling people in Africa that if they are having sex they must use them or are in danger of contracting the virus. On the other, the Pope and Catholic missionaries, who have forever preached abstinence outside marriage and that contraception is tantamount to abortion. You see the difficulty. When the man styled as God's representative on Earth tells you you can't do something, pretty sure 139 million people are going to listen.

But the problem with the Pope's approach to sex is not that abstinence is not a good weapon in the battle against AIDS and HIV (if you don't have sex, you won't contract the disease that way). And this is the theological part. It appears that His Holiness does not recognise the inherent flaw in his own theology - the human condition.

For centuries, Christianity has preached the weakness, the vulnerability of man. Abstinence works, yes, as weapon in the battle. But it fails far more often in the shape of human weakness. And you simply have to look at the number of Catholic Priests involved in sex scandals to realise that Catholicism is not immune to this weakness.

The Pope and the Catholic Church must face a new reality. There must recognise the power and responsibility of the position of the Pope. They must also recognise the global challenges that face us - AIDS in Africa and, to the same extent, environmental degradation. And they must recognise that they are in a position to help influence not only decision-making in those fields but also action.

Until then, we can only expect the problem to worsen.


Wednesday 18 March 2009

Replacing the Doctor

No, don't worry Tom Harris, not that one. This one.

Brian Taylor has a great piece about the internal competition to replace John Reid as Labour's Westminster Parliamentary candidate for Airdrie & Shotts at the next election - and the wrangling over a potential all-female shortlist for the seat. Kezia Dugdale made her feelings on the issue of female representation clear last week while it is an issue I have written about before.

So here's the story so far. John Reid, now Chairman of Celtic, has decided he's had enough Cabinet positions to last a lifetime and will retire from the House of Commons at the next election. Labour's National Executive has "ordered" the local party to draw up an all-female shortlist of candidates. This hasn't gone down too well with the local party, whose preferred candidate is Airdrie councillor Jim Logue. But, with the National Executive having the power to close the branch if they do not toe the line, there may be fireworks ahead.

I don't think it will come to that... but there is a serious point from this story (well, more than one - but I'll ignore the power structures of political parties for the moment). What lengths should political parties resort to in order to see more women represented in politics?

Labour (and, to an extent, the Lib Dems) have been the most proactive in this respect - zipping their European lists with alternative male/ female candidates, twinning constituencies and, as discussed above, forcing all female shortlists onto - sometimes unwilling - branches. Others (the SNP and the Tories I think) do not have any formal structures in place to encourage female representation, preferring (again, I think) to let their members decide who should be their representatives in elections - male or female - and expecting that whoever gets the nod will be the best person for the job, irrespective of their gender.

Now, I'm not a huge fan of "affirmative action" when it prevents a better qualified candidate from getting a job. On the whole, if there are two candidates who are equally well qualified, equally well suited to the job, have interviewed well etc and you can't separate them, then maybe you pick the person who would diversify your staff. Which is, I think, how it is supposed to work. I don't know, maybe that's why I can't get a job - being a young, white male...

However, I do recognise this is as an issue in politics. After the sad death of Bashir Ahmed MSP, the Scottish Parliament lost its only MSP from an ethnic minority. 129 white faces now sit in the chamber, although with the election of Anne McLaughlin in his place, there are now 45 female MSPs (34.8%) of the total. There are also 34 Scottish constituencies for the UK Parliament that have never had a female MP represent that constituency.

How do we encourage more female - and ethnic minority - representation in politics? And how do we do it in a way that doesn't look like it is undemocratic?

I expect there are several answers to that, answers that some might find more appealing than others. But I think it comes down to whether we, as a society, want to challenge the predominant trend of politics being a man's world. Because until we do, women will remain a minority within the political world. And that isn't right.


Tuesday 17 March 2009

Polls polls polls...

It seems that the blogosphere has been getting its collective knickers in a knot over several polls published in the last few days.

You will no doubt have seen the figures from this Sunday Times/ YouGov poll elsewhere (Jeff, Yousuf) but here's the base figures anyway:

Westminster (Scotland) Voting intention:
LAB - 37% SNP - 27% CON - 20% LD - 11%

Scottish Parliament (Constituency) Voting intention:
SNP - 35% LAB - 24% CON - 14% LD - 12%

Scottish Parliament (Regional) Voting intention:
LAB - 32% SNP - 30% CON - 15%
LD - 11% GREEN - 5% OTHER - 7%

Sample size - 1,380.

Which is interesting, as it suggests that Labour might have some sort of recovery going. If this were the case, it would probably be reflected in other polls on the go at the moment...

Maybe, like this Ipsos-Mori poll which, on a UK level gives the following voting intentions:

CON - 42% (-4 since last poll)
LAB - 32% (+6)
LD - 14% (-3%)

Which is... a staggering 10 point swing to Labour. So... is everything now rosy (as opposed to a wilting rose) in the Labour garden?

Well, I'd suggest not. At least, not yet - though these numbers do suggest that the next election is not a shoe-in just yet for PM-in-waiting Cameron. For while the numbers are pretty good - there are a couple of caveats. At a UK level, David Cameron has just returned from bereavement leave which took him out of the public eye for awhile and allowed Gordon Brown to make headlines unchallenged (which also suggests a weakness of the Tory front bench - are they a one-man band?). Equally, in Scotland, Labour's numbers have been shored up without any real action to back them up (which, I guess, if you were Labour-inclined, you'd see as a good thing - when action starts, the numbers will go up even more, right?).

I think there are two factors at play here. One, the UK Labour Government has had its trough, its low point, and is recovering from that steadily if not remarkably. Two, in Scotland, the SNP's honeymoon - as portrayed across the media - appears to be at an end. Things are starting to get tougher, positive editorials even harder to come by than they were - and Labour are (slowly) learning how to be an opposition party again.

There is still plenty of time for Labour's numbers at both a UK & Scotland level to slump again, but I think there is one thing for sure at the moment, and that is that the next UK election, whenever it is called, will not be the blowout Tory victory once expected.


Saturday 14 March 2009

Six Nations - week four predictions

After a brilliant call (Wales to lose in Paris) two weeks ago, I messed up my card by thinking England would have enough to beat Ireland in Dublin. A close run thing (at 14-13) though if England had won it would have been somewhat undeserved. So I have 7 out of 9 - and twice it has been picking Ireland to lose that has been my undoing.

So, I won't do that again - at least not this week. I'm not sold on them as Grand Slam winners - I do think Wales will take care of business in the last weekend - but I don't think Scotland have enough about us yet to beat them. I think we'll give them a better game than we gave Wales (could it really be much worse? - ed) but I still think we'll end up on the losing side. We haven't won a Six Nations match against Ireland since 2001 - and while that run has to come to an end soon, I don't think it is quite yet.

Wales will win in Rome without too much difficulty (so says me) which leaves the weekend's big match - England v France at Twickenham. France looked good against Wales two weeks ago and England, despite their indiscipline, showed signs of improvement against Ireland. I think the French have the scent of a title in their nostrils now though, and if they can beat England and Italy handily enough, they'll know that a defeat for Ireland in Cardiff on the final day might be enough to secure them the Championship. On that basis, I'm picking them to win in London this weekend - but not by much.

Italy 12 Wales 36
Scotland 17 Ireland 23
England 15 France 22

Three away wins. A tad unusual. But that's my perogative!


Friday 13 March 2009

Red Nose Day 2009

Gie some money tae them.

Even if its just a pound for a daft picture like mine. The James Corden-England footie team sketch was worth that alone.

Do it here. Or by text. Or phone. Or something.


New Tory logo....

The Tories have a delightful website where you can make your own Conservative party logo...

Have fun now.

Hat-tip: Tom Harris

PS - See Tory's Bear's own take on it - a swipe at Tom Harris - here. Best one yet!


Friday Quiz

I've had bit of fun with quizzes in the past few weeks and I spotted this one on Facebook and couldn't resist.

It's a music quiz based on 25 randomly-shuffled tracks in my iTunes library. I'll give you the first line of the song, you guess the artist and title. Don't use Google (or any other search engine of your choice) as it takes away from the fun of it a bit. Obviously, if you actually know me then you might have a slightly better chance of knowing some of the music that I listen to, but it is a pretty eclectic mix so you should be able to get some of them.

I'll put the answers up as folks guess them.

1. And if there’s someone you can live without then do so

BARENAKED LADIES - Be My Yoko Ono (Grainne FB)

2. Do I really need a reason?

3. Hello. I’ve waited here for you

FOO FIGHTERS - Everlong (Sam FB)

4. Every time you point your finger, three more point right back at you

5. I caught you knocking at my cellar door

NEIL YOUNG - The Needle and the Damage Done (Euan)

6. No matter where I roam, I will return

PAUL WELLER - English Rose (Euan)

7. I get up in the evening

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN - Dancing in the Dark (Tory Bear)

8. We are not your sinners, our voices are for real

9. All the late night bargains have been struck

DIRE STRAITS - Your Latest Trick (P.J)

10. How many special people change?

OASIS - Champagne Supernova (Grainne FB)

11. Blackbirds slow and softly breaks a glass of wine

RYAN ADAMS - Firecracker (Rich FB)

12. Here comes the wise man and there goes the fool

STONE ROSES - What the World is Waiting For (Euan)

13. I would have given you all of my heart

ROD STEWART - The First Cut is the Deepest (Benny/ Grainne)

14. You said New York, New York is dangerous

QUEEN & DAVID BOWIE - Under Pressure (Benny)

15. I can’t stand to fly, I’m not that naïve

FIVE FOR FIGHTING - Superman (Grainne)

16. What’s up with my heart when it skips a beat?

THE CORAL - Dreaming of You (Grainne)

17. My piano is out of tune, I wish it wasn’t

THE FEELING - Helicopter (Fiona)

18. You give your hand to me and then you say hello

RAY CHARLES - You Don't Know Me (P.J)

19. Well I woke up in mid-afternoon ’cause that’s when it all hurts the most

COUNTING CROWS - Mrs Potter's Lullaby (Grainne FB)

20. I met him in a crowded room

BLUR - Charmless Man (Rich FB)

21. I knew all along that I was right at the start

DIRTY PRETTY THINGS - Bang Bang You're Dead

22. There’s no one in town I know, you gave us someplace to go

JIMMY EAT WORLD - Hear You Me (Grainne)

23. Every night I grab some money and I go down to the bar

MEATLOAF - Dead Ringer for Love (P.J)

24. Sometimes I see your face looking at me

TAKE THAT - Up All Night (Euan)

25. That’s great it starts with an earthquake

R.E.M - It's the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine) (Grainne)

Good luck.

Oh yeah. And Happy Birthday Mum!


Thursday 12 March 2009

The insensitivity of the BBC

I don't have Sky Sports in the flat, so I was keeping up with the football scores last night on the BBC's live football blog - which on this occasion was written by Jonathan Stevenson.

I usually find this a fairly good way to keep up with scores and general banter if I can't actually watch the game. The humour is pretty good and occasionally text comments, emails and lines from the BBC's sporting debate site 606 are published.

Let me paint a picture of what was going on in the Arsenal-Roma match last night. Arsenal were 1-0 down to Roma on the night, tying the score 1-1 on aggregate over the two matches, with five minutes left in extra time. Their strikers had a pretty rubbish night, their shooting was abysmal and they missed a few sitters. Then this comment came through on 606:

In case you can't read it there, it says: "Looks like Arsenal should've bought more Germans..."

Now, after Bayern Munich beat Sporting Lisbon 12-1 on aggregate, if I'm being generous to the guy, he may have been referring to that. But after yesterday's shooting in a German school, the comments seem crass and insensitive and in all likelihood, should not have been published.

I mean, there's banter and there's banter. And there's a public discussion forum and in private and the BBC should really have drawn a line there.

On reflection, I may be reading a bit more into this than was the intention. A number of commentators have suggested the reference was to German penalty taking, something that never occurred to me. However, I still think whoever was editing at the time might have thought it through a wee bit before publication.


France to rejoin NATO

Interesting move from French President Nicolas Sarkozy in planning to move France back into the NATO command structure, from several points of view.

It says that Sarkozy is looking at the big picture of national security and seeing a role for NATO in the 21st Century - a continuation of the role as a defence organisation that it has been for the past 60 years. It also suggests a world view which sees France as able to contribute to a defence organisation which, being honest, is led by the US. According to Sarkozy, "a solitary nation is a nation that has no influence whatsoever." An interesting concept.

However, it also - according, ironically, to the Socialist opposition in France - sacrifices French "independence, influence and national identity" on a global scale. Some have said the move will "castrate France once and for all."

For me, it is an interesting question. I think that NATO must undergo massive change in both its mission and its structure if it is to continue as a meaningful global institution in the 21st Century. Arguably, in the post-Cold War world, NATO's remit is irrelevant. It has to adapt to the changed global circumstance - and that means a different command structure.

The threat is no longer from Warsaw Pact states and communism. That fight is one. Now global concerns are terrorism, economics and the environment. NATO is probably unable to counter-act the latter two but it is in a primary position to change its role, to provide a global network with an international command structure and free-flow of intelligence on terror suspects to detect and stop threats. At least, that's the theory.

But international agencies don't work like that - which is partly why the French left in the first place. No one likes to share. And no one wants to foot the bill for an expensive overhaul of operations and specialisations. Instead, we'll continue to work with a transatlantic organisation that is as obsolete as the floppy disk.

Maybe the French can do something to change that. But I doubt it.


Wednesday 11 March 2009

Unionist parties support binge drinking

Okay, so the title isn't strictly true.

Here's what has actually happened.

SNP Government wants to amend existing legislation to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol products and ban alcoholic drink promotions in order to combat binge drinking in Scotland.

Opposition parties have blocked the plan, insisting that new legislation is required.

But the headline got your attention because I don't tend towards such sycophantic party allegiance on a regular basis.

Point is though, had it been the other way round, I don't think it is too much of a leap of faith to imagine newspaper headlines screaming about the SNP being soft on knife crime or supporting repossessions when the actual story is not quite what the headline proclaims.

Maybe if sub-editors gave articles a title that reflected the reality of the story and not a headline-grabbing, sycophantic partisan press release then we'd still read them - and their jobs wouldn't be under threat.

Or am I being a tad unfair there?


Ex-MSP running anti-Nat blog?

Hearing a rumour (and I stress rumour) that anti-Nat rant-fest A Leaky Chanter is the "brainchild" of a former Labour MSP who remains upset that he lost his seat at the 2007 Scottish Parliament election.

If this is true, you really have to question the mentality of the people Labour select as candidates. And marvel in wonder at the kind of time the guy spends making up drivel about the party who took his seat (and his government) away from him.

And we thought all the characters had gone from politics.


Tweeting Terminator

I have to admit I smiled a lot when I got above email from Twitter:

"Gov Schwarzenegger is now following your updates on Twitter."

For those people who don't get what it's about - that's exactly it.

Just a bit of fun.

How often can you say that the guy who played the Terminator is following you!


Tuesday 10 March 2009

Scotland/ Wales 2016 no more

The 2016 UEFA European Championships will definately not be hosted by Scotland and Wales after the SFA & the FAW decided that, in the current economic climate, a bid to host the Championships was not feasible.

While slightly disappointed, I understand the logic. Hosting an international event such as this is certainly expensive and places a large strain on the transport infrastructure which, if the experience of trying to get to Murrayfield on international rugby days is anything to go by, would undoubtedly require substantial investment to improve. The event would, however, have brought with it a huge boost to the economy - both locally and nationally - with football fans from across Europe piling into Scotland & Wales to support their side. That was weighed against the required spending on the tournament and was found to be not worth the investment.

Oh well, I guess we'll just have to qualify on merit then... I won't hold my breath.


Labour PPB. No, seriously.

Now, I'm not usually one for publicising party political broadcasts for the Labour party, but I hope you'll permit me just this once.

This is Labour's latest PPB and features an introduction to Iain Gray and spells out a few of Labour's ideas for Scotland.

Now I know there's not a huge amount of information or policy proposals pushed in the film, but I reckon this is actually a decent idea from Labour. They recognise that most people in Scotland wouldn't actually know Iain Gray if they bumped into him in the street so they've sent out a message about who he is, what he did and, in a smaller way, what motivates him.

But what is also interesting for me is, apart from a small dig at the SNP about the budget, there's really not much in it that other parties would have huge issues with.

"There's never been a more important time for investing in Scotland's people."

"We can have a Scotland of the 21st Century... a Scotland that's prosperous and fair."
Find me a Nationalist that would disagree with those ambitions for Scotland and I'll show you someone who has a visceral hatred of the Labour party.

I do I have a question arising from it though:

Are Labour now positioning themselves for more consensus and less conflict at Holyrood? Or is the film intended to show that, while it is the SNP that continue to pick fights with Westminster, Iain Gray is the new grown up on the block, and Labour are trying to provide mature opposition?

I suspect the latter... but either way, with the talk of SNP-Lib Dem coalitions post-2011, marketing themselves as consensus politicians is a smart move. And the pro-Scotland chat is just the thing that Labour need to claw back some of the votes they lost to the SNP the last time round.

Hat-tip: Kezia Dugdale


Monday 9 March 2009

Where next for nationalism?

While I was sunning myself (ha) in Spain last week, there was an important election (well, important for my thesis anyway) in the Basque Country. Voters went to the polls in the Basque regions of Álava, Guipúzcoa and Vizcaya to elect members of the Basque Autonomous assembly - one of seventeen such legislatures in Spain.

The results were interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is the first time since democracy and the autonomous community was instituted in the early 1980s that nationalist parties (in this case, the Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV), Eusko Alkartasuna (EA) and Aralar) polled less of the (legitimate) votes cast than non-nationalist parties.

I say "legitimate" votes cast because over 100,000 Basques cast their votes for a party that the Spanish government barred from standing in the election due to their links with ETA - and those votes were for a "nationalist" party as well. However, that's a whole other issue. Here's the result in seats:

PNV - 30
Aralar - 4

EA - 2

PSE-EE (Basque socialists) - 24

PP (conservative) - 13
EB (Basque Left/Greens) - 1
UPyD - 1


Interesting in a couple of ways. Firstly, how the government will be formed. For the past 29 years, the PNV have governed the Basque Country and provided its Lehendakari (President) and they remain the largest party in the autonomous legislature. But with the PP pledging their support for the PSE-EE leader, Patxi López (left), as their choice for Lehendakari, it very much looks like the days of nationalist leadership in the Basque Country are over - at least for the moment - though negotiations over this may go one for some time as both the PNV as the largest party and the PSE-EE with a larger "coalition" may claim a mandate.

Secondly, at least from my perspective as a student of nationalist parties in government, it raises several questions about the nature of power and how nationalist parties fit into the party system - and what power does to them. There is an argument to be made (and I think it is one that I might well be making) that nationalist parties, despite having an ideology which transcends day-to-day politics (ie - a distinct constitutional goal) have come to be treated like other political parties. This is especially true when they take over in government - they are then judged on the successes and failures of their policies and not on their ideology, and it is on this basis that their electoral fortunes rests.

The defeat (or victory, depending how you look at it - individual seats over collective anti-nationalist seats would suggest the SNP didn't win the Scottish election in 2007) of the PNV - or nationalist parties plural - in the Basque Country may emphasise this point. Nationalist parties, like other political parties have to maintain a high level of support for their policies in government. When they fail to do so, they will pay for that failure with electoral defeat. But unlike other parties, there does not seem to be a quick way back into government for them. Which begs the following questions: If the PNV could not achieve their constitutional goals in the 29 years they had as a government, has their chance gone?

I don't know the answer to that. But I suspect the question is one the SNP will be thinking about closely in the run up to the 2011 Scottish Parliament election.



Feel free to get in touch with me if you have an issue with something you've read here... or if you simply want to debate some more! You can email me at:

baldy_malc - AT - hotmail - DOT - com
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