Monday 29 June 2009

"My mother was a Farquhar"

Think this is what Bill Murray experienced in the film "Lost in Translation"?


Monday 22 June 2009

What is good for the goose...

The election for the new Speaker of the House of Commons takes place today. There are 10 candidates for the job:

Margaret Beckett (Lab)
Sir Alan Beith (Lib Dem)
John Bercow (Con)
Sir Patrick Cormack (Con)
Parmjit Dhanda (Lab)
Sir Alan Haselhurst (Con)
Sir Michael Lord (Con)
Richard Shepherd (Con)
Ann Widdecombe (Con)
Sir George Young (Con)

There are 646 MPs. Subtracting the 5 Sinn Fein MPs who don't take their seats, the one vacant seat (that of Labour MP Ian Gibson, who resigned as an MP) that leaves 640 MPs (at the very most) to vote. Assuming they are only allowed one vote each, how long do we thing that will take? An hour for 600+ MPs to file through voting lobbies? Maybe two?

Nah, don't be daft. It's expected to take all day.

The reason? It seems that our MPs think they've got the be democratic in electing their own Speaker, that the person who sits in that chair must have more than 50% of the MPs voting for them in order for them to have any legitimacy as Speaker. If no one does win 50% of the vote on the first ballot, the person who comes last will be eliminated from consideration and they will vote again. And again. And again - probably - until there are only 2 candidates remaining and one of them wins more than the other (and, thus more than 50% of the vote). This may take until 8pm this evening.

Which raises an interesting question. Why do MPs feel it is necessary that the person who keeps order in the House must have a mandate of more than 50% of the vote when some (most? I can't find figures) of them do not have that very same mandate?

Take this, most celebrated, example of the flaws in the First Past the Post electoral system - the 1992 result from Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber:

Sir Russell Johnston (Lib Dem) - 13,258 votes (26.0%)
D. Stewart (Lab)
- 12,800 (25.1%)

F.S. Ewing (SNP)
- 12,562 (24.7%)

J. Scott (Con)
- 11,517 (22.6%)

J. Martin (Green)
- 766 (1.5%)

The Liberal Democrats won the seat on barely a quarter of the vote. In fairness to the Lib Dems, this is one (the only?) instance where they have benefited from a system which is hugely unproportional. In 2005, they won 22% of the vote but only 9.6% of the seats and routinely get screwed by the system. It is one of the reasons they are vehemently pro-PR. The other, of course, is that PR is inherently more proportional and more democratic.

Labour's other MP for the blogosphere (no, not that one, he LOVES First Past the Post), the former minister Tom Watson, recently wrote about why he thinks the Alternative Vote electoral system needs to replace FPTP. He reckons (with some justification) that retaining FPTP is simply a sop to vested interests (read: MPs who are scared of losing their seats under a proportional system). Which is understandable. But if there is one thing the expenses scandal has taught us is that MPs sometimes put their own interests before those of their constituents. And that is not the way it should be.

So, I return to my original question. Why do MPs think the Speaker needs to be elected with over 50% of the vote? To have legitimacy. To have a mandate. To have authority. Call it what you want. But it is exactly the same thing that MPs (and, indeed, Governments) lack under a First Past the Post electoral system.

You can say what you want about the Speaker, the job he/ she will do and the candidates for the job. But the way in which they are elected to the post provides them with the authority to do the job. Unless, of course, the Labour Government Whips have anything to do with it...


Wednesday 17 June 2009

A very Calman influence

I've been reading Final Report of the Calman Commission on Scottish Devolution. Well okay, the Executive Summary - I don't have the time to read 269 pages today.

It's an interesting read for those interested in Scotland's constitutional future - whatever that may be. Plenty has been written elsewhere about the content of the report, I just wanted to focus briefly on one aspect of it.

RECOMMENDATION 6.5: Section 31(1) of the Scotland Act should be amended to require any person introducing a Bill in the Parliament to make a statement that it is (in that person’s opinion) within the Parliament’s legislative competence.

So says the Calman Final Report. I guess that is their way of suggesting that a referendum on independence couldn't/ shouldn't be considered by the Scottish Parliament. And I guess that debate could go on for awhile - particularly given it is a legal decision.

I do find it funny to note that the person introducing a bill (which, in the case of an independence referendum bill would presumably be Mike Russell) merely has to say that they reckon it is within the Parliament's competence to debate it. They don't have to get any kind of legal opinion or anything.

I can't see Mike Russell having a problem saying "I think the Scottish Parliament has the competence to debate this referendum bill" - can you?


Saturday 13 June 2009

Festival Photos

Promised some photos from the weekend as it pans out so here we are:

Mother in the Burgh gets to grip with G-String Willie's Big Chest.

Strumming away... at one in the morning. You can probably tell it - the eyes are nearly shut.

Climbing Sunshine Mountain... with faces all a-glow!

More tomorrow...


Friday 12 June 2009

TMSA Keith Festival

Big weekend in my hometown of Keith this weekend.

I'm up here at the TMSA Keith Festival enjoying some good pub sessions stowed out with some very talented (and less talented - myself included) musicians.

It's a cracking weekend, and one which I look forward to every year. Festivities kick off this evening with a couple of concerts/ ceilidhs at various venues around the town... and some house sessions which usually go on until the wee small hours of the morning. Saturday and Sunday see all-day pub sessions and concerts in the evening before the "Orange Juice ceilidh" on Monday and departure from "The Friendly Town."

There are 15 of us staying at my parents house and, excepting myself and the future Mrs in the Burgh, not many of them are family. And its not that big a house! Mostly Festival enthusiasts from the Stirling area - where my parents are originally from.

Anyway, if you are in the area - or even if you are not - it is well worth a visit if you enjoy traditional (and not so traditional) music, some socialising and a good laugh.

I'll try and get some photos up tomorrow. If you are interested at all, there's more info here, or you can drop me an email at the address below and I'll get back to you with some details.


Thursday 11 June 2009

Don't ban the BNP - debate them

Been a wee bit quiet on here despite there being lots to write about over the last few days. Unfortunately, I've been a wee bit busy with an important engagement and things have been a wee bit busy to blog...

I'm actually on holiday at the moment anyway, but I wanted to take a minute to discuss the result of the Euro election.

A friend of mine (a natural Tory voter I think...) pointed out to me that he thought it rather ridiculous that there was such a difference in votes between the 2004 & 2009 elections in Scotland and yet the end result (with the exception of the reduction in total seat numbers from 7 to 6) was the same. He wanted to know why the SNP could win nearly 100,000 votes (or 8% of the vote) more than Labour and still only get the same reward - 2 MEPs.

The answer, of course, is the D'Hondt electoral system. It's all about PR. At the end of the day, Labour hung onto their second seat by around 8,000 votes.

My Gran asked me about the BNP. She wanted to know how they'd won two seats when (she thought) less people voted for them in 2009 than in 2004. In fact, in 2004 they won 800,000 votes while this year they got 940,000. Nick Griffin won his seat in the North-West by only 5,000 votes while Andrew Brons got his by the same margin in Yorkshire and the Humber.

That's statistically how they did it. But how did they secure these votes? My Gran asked me if it was Labour's fault. And I thought about it for a minute. I ended up saying no, but qualified it somewhat. Extremist parties like the BNP feed on the anxiety, the fear and the anger that comes from recession conditions. They play on this fear for jobs, concern about "foreigners coming here, taking our jobs" etc etc. And they play down the dark side of their politics in order to appeal to a wider audience. So in that respect, Labour have to take some of the blame - though you can argue whether it is them or the global financial situation that is responsible for the recession.

But equally I think the other parties have to take some responsibility for the rise of the BNP too, for two reasons. Firstly, as many commentators have argued, the state of mainstream politics at the moment - particularly with the expenses scandal - and that has made voters less likely to cast their vote for the mainstream parties. That, for me, is a short-term theory.

In the long-term, parties have invited support for the BNP by ignoring the threat that they pose to democracy. Let me explain that. Rather than taking on the BNP's radical, discriminatory and racist views in public they run away, saying that they won't share a platform with them. Why the hell not? It it that downright lack of belief in the ability to defeat these racist views in a public forum that has meant the BNP have not had to defend these views.

For goodness sake, treat them like any other political party - which, in case you haven't noticed, with 2 MEPs and a handful of councillors across England, they have become. Take them on in the democratic game they want to play. Get Nick Griffin on Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman and let him rip him to shreds. Debate with them. Let them have their say and then shout it down - politely and democratically. Above all, let their views out in public so that voters can see them for what they are - and, ultimately, won't vote for them again.

Rant over.


Sunday 7 June 2009

Euro-election liveblog

Jeff & Will are liveblogging the European election coverage. Don't want them to get lonely so I may join them now and again.

2312: Right, I can't be bothered any more. I'm still hopeful the Greens might nick the last seat but it is looking increasingly likely that the Lib Dems will take it. UK-wide it is still early, but I don't think my predictions on Wed will be too far off. I'll wait and find out tomorrow morning. Until then, enjoy my graphic one more time...

2258: I've just flicked from BBC News 24 to BBC Scotland (which I didn't realise was on!) so now I'll be able to focus on Scottish seats... unless I decide to go to bed!

Those previous figures were solely for North & Leith. Edinburgh-wide, figures are:

SNP - 24,417
Con - 21,823
Lab - 20,330
LD - 19,799
Green - 15,589
UKIP - 4,104
Oth - 4,000

Massive for the SNP winning that (21%) with the Tories second (19%) and Labour rolling home in 3rd (18%) Lots of Labour MPs in Edinburgh looking pretty concerned I would think.

According to Tory Westminster candidate for Edinburgh North & Leith (where I stay for Westminster but not Scottish Parliamentary elections) Iain McGill, the vote was tighter than a duck's hind quarters:

SNP - 4965
Lab - 4324
LD - 4201
Con - 4199
Green - 4014
UKIP - 753

Five parties within 1,000 votes of each other?! Where does that happen. Can't wait to see the Lib Dems' "only we can beat Labour here" bar charts for Edin North & Leith now!

2235: Patrick Harvie seems to now believe that the Greens will fall short in Scotland. Judging by Brian Taylor's comments before, he may be right.

Brian Taylor has the SNP on 29% across Scotland with Labour on 21%. He is predicting 2 SNP seats, 2 Labour, 1 Tory and 1 Lib Dem. We'll find out soon enough I guess.

Answer to that could be YES if BBC reports from Wales are to be believed. The Tories topping the poll there?! Gordon Brown is such a bad PM that he's lost Wales to the Tories? Surely not...

Will has the SNP topping the poll in Renfrewshire (seat of Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy) and in South Lanarkshire. Two areas not exactly known for SNP voting. Could this bad night for Labour be an absolute shocker?

First result in from North-East England region. Labour top the poll. Seats breakdown:

LAB - 1
CON - 1
LD - 1

No change. Though the share of the vote is interesting. -9% for Labour in an area where they have 28 of the 30 Westminster seats. Not much to look at trend-wise I don't think.

Jeff has the result from Glenrothes count for Fife:

Lab - 21,248
SNP - 21,043
Lib - 10,613
Con - 10,110

Marginal win for Labour. Decent news for them there... but not amazing. Would the SNP have expected to win the vote there?
No word on the Green vote there yet.

According to the Lib Dems on Twitter, they've topped the poll in Burnley by over 1,000 votes from Labour. Big BNP vote in council elections there last time out - they would have expected a big Euro vote too. Is it too hopeful to think that might not happen for them?

Green MSP Patrick Harvie spreading rumours on Twitter.

18% vote for the Greens in Glasgow? That'd be huge for them.

Brian Taylor on BBC - advising Iain Gray he may want to consider his position on the back of Labour's showing in the European elections. He is suggesting that the SNP win the poll fairly handily and that Labour may have done badly. Very badly.

Yousuf says Labour will only get one MEP in Scotland. Would that constitute a disaster? Assuming he is basing his findings on Glasgow - if they can't win there, where can they win?
Feel free to use my graphic...

I have what constitutes a result for you from the Moray Scottish Parliamentary constituency.

SNP - 6960
CON - 4078
LAB - 1760
LD - 1744
UKIP - 1532
Green - 1532

SNP vote up 8% from 2004 EU election, only party vote up. Good share for UKIP and Green, as well as the Tories. I know this is the SNP heartlands... but anything we can draw from it? Perhaps the Green vote increase might reflect a national trend.

A note for any Labour voters from Aled off The Chris Moyles Show:

Good to know that there is someone to help you if there is anything upsetting you tonight...

2038: Yousuf lets us know (via Twitter) that "Glasgow is bad. Really bad." Now, he might just be confirming what us Edinburghers already know, or he might be talking about the Euro vote. But bad in what way? Turnout? Or Labour numbers. I suspect the latter...

2016: Some early tidbits for you.

I hear that in Moray, where the SNP could stand a sheep with a yellow & black rosette as a candidate, their vote is up 9% from their 2004 Euro vote.

Remember though, the SNP's vote share in 2004 dropped so badly that John Swinney stood down soon afterwards.


Friday 5 June 2009

Another one bites the dust

Geoff Hoon becomes the third Cabinet Minister to resign in the last 24 hours. He has stood down as Transport Secretary but has not backed James Purnell in telling the PM to go.

How much worse can Brown's day get?


And then there were four...

BBC reports Defence Secretary John Hutton has resigned from Gordon Brown's Cabinet... despite saying he fully supports Gordon Brown as PM.

Four days, four resignations.

It's not all bad news though. Jim Murphy says he's happy to stay on as Secretary of State for Scotland.


Things can only get better... right?

It's all going wrong for poor Gordon, isn't it?

Not only have three high profile Cabinet ministers resigned in the last three days leaving Gordon Brown without a Home Secretary, a Communities Minister and now a Work and Pensions Minister the third of those - James Purnell - has signalled the start of open season on the PM by publicly telling him to resign.

Alan Johnson, while being as loyal as he can in public, in private he is apparently gathering a team together to campaign for the leadership if when the PM resigns.

The BBC are reporting the Brown will shuffle his Cabinet today (as if he has a choice really) but that Alistair Darling will remain his Chancellor after refusing to move elsewhere in the Cabinet. Added to the two "big hitters" from Blair's Cabinet that refused to take up positions in the Brown's Cabinet, Darling's refusal to go emphasises the weak position Brown now finds himself in.

Added to that, as of 9am this morning, with three council results in, Labour have already lost 23 councillors and couldn't muster a single one (from the SIXTY SIX on offer) in the new Central Bedfordshire unitary authority.

With a lot more council announcements plus the European poll result on Sunday, things are going to get a whole lot worse... before they start getting better.


Thursday 4 June 2009

The moral of the story

Just read this "joke" on Labourlist. Thought it rather appropriate for today:

"While on his morning walk, Prime Minister Gordon Brown falls over, has a heart attack and dies . So his soul arrives in Heaven and he is met by Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates.

"Welcome to Heaven," says Saint Peter, “I would love to admit you straight away but under our new ‘HEAVEN CHOICES’ policy designed to empower you, the deceased, you have to spend one day in Hell and one day in Heaven. Then you must choose where you'll live for eternity."

"But I've already made up my mind. I want to be in Heaven," replies Brown. "I'm sorry... But we have our rules and performance targets," Peter interjects. And, with that, St. Peter escorts him to an elevator and he goes down, down, down ... all the way to Hell.

When the doors open Gordon is amazed. He finds himself in the middle of a lush golf course. The sun is shining in a cloudless sky. The temperature is a perfect 22 degrees. In the distance is a beautiful club-house. Standing in front of it is Harold Wilson and thousands of other Socialists - John Smith, Michael Foot, Jim Callaghan, etc. Everyone laughing, happy, and casually but expensively dressed. They greet him and reminisce about the good times they had. They play a friendly game of golf and then dine on lobster and caviar. The Devil himself comes up to Brown with a frosty drink, "Have a tequila and relax, Gord!"

They are having such a great time that, before he realises it, it's time to go. Everyone gives him a big hug and waves as Brown steps on the elevator and heads upward.

When the elevator door reopens, he is in Heaven again and Saint Peter is waiting for him. "Now it's time to visit Heaven," the old man says, opening the gate. So for 24 hours Brown is made to hang out with a bunch of honest, good-natured people who enjoy each other's company, talk about things other than money and treat each other decently. No fancy country clubs here and, while the food tastes great, it's not caviar or lobster.

The day done, Saint Peter returns and says, "Well, you've spent a day in Hell and a day in Heaven. Now choose where you want to live for Eternity.”

Brown reflects for a minute... Then answers, "Well, I would never have thought I'd say this - I mean, Heaven has been delightful and all but I really think I belong in Hell with my friends and former colleagues."

So Saint Peter escorts him to the elevator and he goes down, down, down, all the way to Hell.

The doors of the elevator open and he finds himself in the middle of a bare, toxic industrial wasteland. He is horrified to see all of his friends, dressed in rags and chained together, picking up the roadside rubbish and putting it into black plastic bags. They are groaning and moaning in pain, faces and hands black with grime.

The Devil comes over to Brown and puts an arm around his shoulder." I don't understand," stammers a shocked Brown, "Yesterday I was here and there was a golf course and a club-house and we ate lobster and caviar and drank tequila. We lazed around and had a great time. Now there's just a wasteland full of garbage and everybody looks miserable!"

The Devil looks at him, smiles slyly and purrs, "Ah but yesterday we were campaigning; today you voted for us!""

Appropriate, don't you think?


I've voted... have you?

Just this minute (well, depending when you are reading this, anything from a minute to 10 hours or longer...) back from the polling station in Stockbridge where voting has been described as "steady."

And after all the humming and ha-ing I actually did cast a vote for a party on a ballot paper than was as long as my arm. No word of who I voted for though...

If I can get over my apathy to go vote then so can you. So... um, go forth and vote in your, erm, hundreds. Or something like that.

PS - I don't know why, but the text has somehow gone green...


Brown in bother

The "Blogfather" is reporting that, in a week of resignation after resignation, a fairly disastrous PMQs yesterday and a poll showing Labour in third for today's European election, some more bad news for the "embattled" PM.

According to Iain Dale, Gordon Brown is trying to put together a new Cabinet (I wonder if he is struggling with the pictorial instructions a la Ikea?) with some big hitters of the Blair era. Unfortunately for him, none of them want to play ball.

He apparently interviewed Celtic chairman John Reid for the vacant Home Secretary position last night and asked him to be the new Home Sec. Reid apparently refused. Then told by Brown that he must support him, Reid's response was:

"No I don't. I have to support my country and my party, and that means you have to stand down."

Ouch. I mean, if that is an accurate representation of the conversation, then Brown's time must surely be at an end. I'm expecting a resignation any time soon.

Interestingly though, I love Alan Johnson's quote defending the PM:

"He is doing the job and there is absolutely no one who could do that job better."

Right. So, when the guy is forced out - which he inevitably will be - Johnson won't be a front-runner for the position? I mean, he couldn't possibly "do that job better," could he?

There's a bad moon rising...


A manifesto for Europe

Given my apathy regarding the EU election, a friend of emailed me with some advice regarding who to vote for. Well, he passed on some guiding principles. Not his own you understand, those of the Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition.

The SSEC, for those who don't know, is a lobby group whose primary focus is social enterprise - that is, business that is driven by a social or community focus and not by shareholders trying to maximise profits.

Anyway, it seems that its not only political parties who produce a manifesto in time for an election. The SSEC has put one together here - with several main principles, including:

  • Fairer funding for social enterprises

  • Partnership working across Europe

  • A year of social enterprise

The organisation are basically asking people to use their vote (and parties to use their MEPs) to advance these principles - ideals which appear to be fairly relevant given the collapse of economies around the world.

Anyway, for anyone wavering about who to vote for (or indeed, looking for a reason to vote) it might be worth having a wee look at their manifesto and finding a party who shares those principles.

Of course, you might be as well skipping the polling station altogether and heading to the pub instead. It is entirely up to you!


Wednesday 3 June 2009

EU Election: Dos and D'Hondts

Like some others in the blogosphere, I am distinctly apathetic when it comes to voting in the upcoming European election (with apologies to Yousuf, who seems quite enthusiastic about it). For one thing, the European Parliamentary election is, in a British context anyway, a "second order election" - and in Scotland and Wales, perhaps even third order. For another, with ongoing expenses scandals and MPs resigning rather than facing the electorate, the public are - rightly, in my view - pretty annoyed with their representatives and not particularly in the mood to vote some of them to gravy train that is the European Parliament.

Saying all that though, I probably will go vote on Thursday. Polling station is just across the road and all that. Plus, as a political commentator of sorts, I feel duty-bound to go vote for someone - anyone - if only so I can continue to harp from the sidelines.

So, just to get me in the mood, I've been looking at some numbers. Jeff has been doing the numbers for Scotland for weeks while James and Calum have been looking at more recent numbers which have the Greens looking good for seat number 6 here (though their working is slightly different). Basically - I think - we're looking at a fight for the sixth seat. I expect the SNP and Labour both to win two and the Tories to win one. Will the Greens be able to fight off the Lib Dems for a seat (not necessarily the last one as James' working shows) or will the SNP/ Labour manage to grab a third (as Calum suggests)? With Scotland losing an MEP due to EU expansion, its all to play for on this score.

UK-wide, it's an interesting tale. Including the (currently 7) Scottish MEPs, the situation currently is:

Conservative - 27 seats
Labour - 19 seats
UKIP - 12 seats
Lib Dem - 12 seats
(UK) Green - 2 seats
SNP - 2 seats
Plaid Cymru - 1 seat

Ignoring (but not forgetting!) Northern Ireland's 3 seats, Britain's representation falls from 75 to 69 - meaning a seat less in six of the EU constituencies (including Scotland). Which is important to remember.

Also important: The share of the vote at the last election (2004) saw the Tories win with 27.6% of the vote. Labour won 22.6%, UKIP came third with 16.1% ahead of the Lib Dems on 14.9%. The Greens won two seats with 5.8% of the vote while the BNP returned no MEPs with their 4.9%.

YouGov's latest poll (published 1st June) has the Tories out in the lead on 27% and Lab (17%) UKIP (16%) and the Lib Dems (15%) battling for second. The poll also puts the Greens at 9% and the BNP on 7% (which may actually be higher - I mean, how likely would you be to tell pollsters if you were going to vote for the BNP.

Given those figures - and to make this a little more interesting - I'm taking a stab at projecting seat numbers on a Britain-wide basis. Here's how I think it will go:

Conservative - 23 seats
Labour - 14 seats

UKIP - 13 seats

Lib Dem - 9 seats

(UK) Green - 5 seats
SNP - 2 seats
BNP - 1 seats (sadly...)

Plaid Cymru - 1 seat

(Scottish) Green - 1 seat

So, good news and bad. The "big three" will struggle, with only the Tories holding onto their poll figures while Labour might well drop down to third or fourth on vote share, but still win more seats than UKIP and the Lib Dems on the basis of their (probable) two Scottish seats. Good election for the Greens Britain-wide - multiplying their representation threefold but I think the BNP might well grab a seat somewhere. They were only 90,000 votes off getting one the last time out and, depending on the turnout, they may be well-placed to pick up the votes of the apathetic and the seriously pissed off. Let's hope not though.

So that's that. Incidentally, you still have about 20 hours to change my mind on who to vote for - not that I've made up my mind yet...

PS - with the raft of Cabinet-level, former Cabinet-level and other MP resignations, Gordon Brown might call it a day on Monday - depending how badly Labour tank in the English Council elections. I don't want to say you heard it here first... but if you did and it happens then that "might" wasn't in the previous sentence!

UPDATE - Political Betting has news of a final YouGov Poll before tomorrow's election. Scores on the doors:

Conservative - 26%
UKIP - 18%
Labour - 16%
Lib Dem - 15%

(UK) Green - 10%
BNP - 5%

Which may or may not make my numbers look good. Guess it all comes down to the turnout - which might be higher than usual for an EU election.


Monday 1 June 2009

Team GB

Should I try to be less controversial today?

I reckon I got a taste of what it is like to be a non-Nat in the blogosphere at the weekend and I have much more respect for those opposing voices now. Apparently nothing critical of the SNP Government will be allowed in an independent Scotland.

Anyway, I see Sepp Blatter has approved the "Team England" for the 2012 Olympics. That'll help the US commentators, who seem to confuse "England" and "Britain" anyway.

Although this is being touted as an "ideal solution" I really don't think it is. Mind you, a number of teams at various Olympic events have been made up specifically of athletes from a single component part of the UK - curling, rowing, cycling, sailing etc. So it is not without precedent. But this is slightly different. I wonder - are proponents and opponents of the idea happy with this fudged solution?



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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