Saturday, March 3, 2012

UK Eurovision choice : a hump-dincker?

Four years ago, when Andy Abraham was picked to represent the UK at Eurovision, I checked through the records and discovered that, at the age of 43, he was by some distance the oldest ever person to sing for the UK (leaving aside backing vocalists).  That seemed fairly incredible given that many other countries have routinely spanned the age spectrum.  Well, Andy can stop feeling self-conscious now, because his record is about to be broken by the small matter of thirty-three years.  I don't think that's a bad thing at all - it's not hard to imagine someone like Tom Jones going down a storm at Eurovision.  But is Engelbert Humperdinck the right choice of older singer?  Ah hae ma doots.  He seems to have been picked mainly because, decades after his heyday, he still has a residual following in approximately six European countries.  Much the same can be said of Lutheranism.

This is the second year in a row that the BBC have dispensed with the previous tradition of giving the viewing public some say over the UK entry.  I've been trying to pin down what it is that bothers me about that.  It certainly isn't that it lessens the chance of a good result - the public repeatedly demonstrated themselves perfectly capable of making idiotic decisions in the national selection, most notably by picking Jemini rather than Emily Reed in 2003, and Scooch rather than Cyndi in 2007.  But I think what the old system did was give 'us' some kind of ownership over 'our' entry.  Obviously as a Scottish nationalist, it's a bit difficult to get enthused by anything with a UK label on it, but at least having watched and voted in the national selection I could nevertheless just about feel 'represented' by the UK entry.  Whatever song is dreamt up for Humperdinck (and given the nature of what he does, it can only have a niche appeal at best) is bound to feel like an alien body.  I'll have no more stake in it than the French or Icelandic entries (which are both crackers, incidentally) and I'm not even sure whether I'll be particularly cheering it on.

If there really must be an internal selection, the approach being taken is entirely the wrong way round.  The first step is to find an absolutely killer song, and then it doesn't matter whether the performer is well-known or not, as long as they can sing it well - the vast majority of Eurovision winners are unknowns.  Admittedly there's no harm in a singer whose name carries a bit of a 'wow' factor...but to look for that and come up with a man whose last Top 40 hit was in 1972?  It's hard to escape the conclusion that they were getting a bit desperate, rather like Jock Brown was when he said to himself "if I play my cards right here, I could bring Jozef Venglos to Celtic".

Lastly, I'll just make my customary point at this time of year - this is now the twenty-fourth year in succession that there has been no Scottish involvement in the UK Eurovision entry.  France and Cyprus have both been represented by Scots more recently than the UK has.

The union dividend in action.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Blow for Cameron's 'jam tomorrow' deception as public demands up-front Devo Max vote

There's a new Ipsos-Mori poll out that doesn't offer much solace for the Prime Minister and others who think that two referendum questions would be simply too much for the poor befuddled Scottish electorate to cope with...

59% want an additional Devo Max question
37% want an independence-only referendum

Arguably by floating the extremely vague idea of more powers further down the line, Cameron has simply increased support for an explicit Devo Max question.  The notion that independence is a matter for the Scottish people to decide, but anything short of that is a matter entirely for a British Prime Minister's whim or for discussions in a smoke-filled room, was never likely to attract much sympathy.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The EU must stop accepting a 'this far and no farther' commitment to democracy as good enough

Although it's caused little more than a ripple, the announcement from the Spanish foreign minister that his country would have "nothing to say" about Scottish independence could scarcely be more significant. Since the late 1980s, the SNP has countered scaremongering about "isolation" with the promise that Scotland would remain firmly inside the European family after independence, and indeed would be a much less half-hearted participant in EU affairs than the UK has been. The latter point has become an even easier sell since David Cameron's petulant and pointless veto of a European treaty at the end of last year. But of course the success of the strategy has always hinged on the public's faith that an independent Scotland could freely choose to remain within the EU, and unionist parties have naturally been keen from the start to find ways of undermining that faith. The SNP's impeccable pro-European credentials would be of little use if enough doubt could be sowed about just how welcome an independent Scotland would actually be in the club. And the favourite piece of unionist scaremongering down the years? That Spain would veto our EU membership, on the grounds that it would encourage "separatism" in two of its own autonomous regions, Catalonia and the Basque Country. A Foreign Office source gently whispered that idea into the ears of a few journalists just last month, and with a typical display of the "Westminster is God" mindset, the London media lapped it up and earnestly reported it as if it was a direct quote from the Spanish government!

But it really doesn't matter what is said from now on - we have an authoritative statement from Spain, which can be used as an all-purpose response whenever this hoary old myth is raised. At a stroke, there can be no more room for doubt in the minds of the Scottish public that we can choose a European future. The mechanics of securing EU membership may still be open to debate, as indeed is the very desirability of full membership as opposed to the EU-lite option of staying within the single market via EFTA and the EEA. But the old unionist fantasy of Scotland being 'punished' by the civilised world for its confounded impudence, and set adrift in the North Atlantic without food, shelter or warmth, is now dead for ever.

So great news for us - but spare a thought for the Catalans and the Basques. Spain's pragmatic promotion of the idea that there are no parallels between its own regions and Scotland is essentially based on a piece of sophistry, ie. that 'separatism' is somehow consistent with the UK's constitutional doctrine, but not with Spain's. OK, the UK may not have a written constitution that explicitly states that the unity of the nation is "indissoluble", but the now universally-accepted principle that Scotland can choose its own destiny is a relatively new one. It came about as UK Prime Ministers from Harold Wilson onwards simply accepted the realities of a modern, democratised world that had moved on from colonialism. Whether Spain realises it or not, it's simply playing catch-up on this, rather than defending a timeless and quintessentially Spanish constitutional principle.

After all, what message does a constitutional provision that the nation is 'indissoluble' send to Catalan or Basque nationalists? Basically, that constitutional nationalism is a literal impossibility, and ultimately that non-constitutional methods are the only way of achieving what ought to be perfectly legitimate democratic objectives. It's the rough equivalent of Article 6 of the old Soviet constitution, which made clear that voters could choose absolutely any party they wanted, as long as that party was the Communist Party. The EU has long since moved on from the days where it would even flirt with the idea of admitting a one-party state (although Franco's Spain did apply to join the Common Market), so why on earth does it tolerate a member state which arrogantly tells people that the future of their own nation isn't a matter for them, and has been settled for all time by the text of the constitution? It presumably boils down to the fact that nobody in Brussels has been forced to confront this issue yet. But a short, sharp shock may be coming for the EU from the direction of Barcelona, and once it happens the rules of the game will surely have to change. In future, it must be a condition of EU membership that states adhere to all democratic principles, not just the easy ones. Nobody would deny that accepting the right of 'sub-national peoples' to decide their own future is a hard thing for large states such as Spain to do - but without that acceptance, democracy is a sham.

I'll leave you with a picture I took in Catalonia about eighteen months ago - if you look closely you'll see the word "Independencia" lovingly scrawled along the side of the pier. You don't see things like that at Ardrossan Harbour!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Admin, aka 'I can't believe he's not suspended from the PLP'

I was just idly looking at Tom Harris' Twitter page (it's one of my main sources of material, after all), and who do you think was listed in the "similar to Tom Harris" section?

David Drew
Denis MacShane
Eric Joyce

I hope I'm not building up David Drew too much by saying that Admin must be chuffed with that little lot.

That said, I'm delighted to spot that I do actually agree with Tom about something (other than the virtues of Doctor Who, that is) - he's absolutely right that fixed five-year parliamentary terms are an abomination. Fixed terms are a good idea in theory, but only if the term in question is four years at most. Australia has parliaments that last a maximum of three years, and I can't say I've noticed the sun falling out of the sky Down Under.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Scot Goes Pop interview : meet the man who wants to abolish democracy

On Friday night I was feeling a bit fed up, so when the right-wing PB hordes started interrogating me about my views on inheritance tax, I decided not to spoon-feed them, which produced some fascinating results. As I've mused on this blog a number of times, wealthy people who characterise taxation as "theft" or "force" seem to be blissfully unaware of how the "force" of the state actually legitimises their own wealth in the first place. Inheritance law is a classic example of that, because it legitimises wealth that hasn't been earned. So when someone on PB trotted out the standard moan about people not working for their benefits, I asked him if he felt equally angry about millionaire Tory cabinet ministers who in many cases hadn't worked for the bulk of their wealth.

Apparently by simply pointing out that inherited wealth could be used in a variety of other productive ways by the state, just as benefit money could hypothetically be used in other ways, I was directly advocating a 100% rate of inheritance tax. They were so sure on this point that when I asked them for the slightest scrap of evidence that I had proposed a 100% inheritance tax, one of them asked me (in all apparent seriousness) if I was drunk. Earlier, the same delightful chap had informed me of the fearsome consequences of expressing such views -

"Until about half an hour ago it was possible to think that you might just have an adult and coherent case for Scottish Nationalism which you were just bad at putting across. Now it isn't."

And here was another gem on a similar theme -

"James, your posts on this thread read as if they are written by a bitter and envious person. They seem to be just jealous bile. I'm sure you've more to offer this site."

So isn't it interesting how expressing what are perfectly mainstream left-of-centre views about the source of wealth renders you the equivalent of a non-adult, someone who can be safely ignored until he 'grows up'? It set me thinking about the acres of barking mad right-wing opinions on PB that none of these people ever pounce on in the same way, which presumably means that they regard such views as perfectly normal and 'mature'.

Yesterday, I decided to conduct a little experiment. I asked one of the more far-out members of the right-wing PB fraternity a series of questions, and just let his answers speak for themselves. It was notable that there were only two brief suggestions from other posters that there might just possibly be something a touch peculiar about the views I elicited. Among the highlights : democracy should be abolished, there is a 30% chance of the Republic of Ireland seeing sense and rejoining the United Kingdom by 2050, and non-home owners should be barred from sitting on juries. Enjoy...

Me : As a matter of interest, HD2, how do you think women's suffrage is panning out so far?

HD2 : Badly, on balance, but inevitable given what they achieved in WW1.

Home ownership should be a precondition of being able to vote.
Failing that, paying income tax.

No stake, no vote.


Me : OK, so universal suffrage is regrettable.

Question 2. Should we bring back corporal punishment for adult criminals?

HD2 : Obviously.

For all criminals, of whatever age (criminal consent being 10: about right, IMO, with consideration for lowering it, in line with everything else that regards such children as consumers and responsive to sexualisation via adverts. I think that's profoundly wrong, but it's where we are today, sadly) and prison should be both educational and unpleasant, with no tariff discounts and consecutive, not concurrent, sentences the norm.

Once you've been (re)educated and/or trained, and cleaned of drugs, THEN you get the sort of typical prison cell we provide today, so that you can have a good chance of a job on release.

I have no problem with prisoners being used as cheap labour on (ideally outdoor, so publicly-visible) mundane works, either.


Me : Question 3. Given your belief that authority should derive from "genes not jeans", do you believe it was a historic error to move away from the tried-and-tested principle of absolute monarchy?

HD2 : No, but a large Parliament made up of those with a hereditary right to sit there (with periodic new blood and tidying (no, not sure how!)) as the layer under the Monarch and with an elected Parliament which had dominance, stood us well through several hundred years of wars, peace, good and bad times.

We'll never know what advice and recommendations QE2 has made to the 12 PMs she's had serve under her, but I'm sure they all found her advice sound and helpful (at least in retrospect).

My ideal today would be an electorate who produced the policies for the Govt to follow, with Whitehall producing and publishing the basic factual background, Politicians formulating alternative options, based on those facts and The People making the choices through routine referenda.

The Party system would end, politicians might serve for various periods and in various areas of governance, whilst the electorate would not be universal but confined to those with a decent education, a job which meant they paid tax, and probably with some form of multiplier to their choice if they paid higher-rate taxes, employed others or owned their own home. And they'd need to be 21 to vote, 35 to stand for public office and 45 for Westminster.

Total, wild, guess - that'd be around 30-40% of the current adult population, and for them, participation in, say, 75% of all plebiscites held in any one year would be required.

There'd need to be some way of allowing the remaining 60-70% to be represented, too, mind, possibly by having them vote, as now, for a lower chamber, but that would be purely advisory (ie, in the pre-referendum and legislation stages).

A second option might be to make the second chamber elected by universal suffrage, but have advisory and consultative powers only, with the Upper Chamber (elected as I've suggested) being the legislative body and their electorate being, in effect, the back-benchers of today.

The proportions don't matter - what does is devolving power (which is based on knowledge) totally away from Westminster and MPs (even more - Parties) and moving it to people, and not on a 'once-in-five-years' manifesto, but on an ongoing, rolling, issue by issue basis.

Me : Thankyou for that comprehensive answer.

Question 4. Should a man have the legal right to discipline his wife?

HD2 : Sorry that last answer was so long!

This one's much shorter: No.

Me : Thankyou.

Question 5. Should ignorant members of the lower classes be barred from sitting on juries if one of their genetic betters is in the dock?

HD2 : Can I split that in two?

Ignorant people should not sit on juries, period. The definition of ignorant is somewhat problematic, but might be 'those over 30 who own their own home and pay tax'. Since that might be seen to exclude women (not at all my intention) then we'd better add 'and wives/husbands of such people' too.

A wider point - I think there's a case for particularly complex (fraud?) cases to be heard before a jury of those who have some accountancy training, whilst most trials seem to take weeks or even months when a few days is nearer the requirement.

Lawyers get paid more if they explore every avenue and seek to bury the truth under a mountain of 'facts': that's got to be curbed.

Say a panel looks at a case, decides on a range of criteria how important and complex the issues are, and then allocate a maximum of 5, 10, or 20 days for the case. It's then up to the lawyers and Judge to divide that time up between them.

1800 - trials last a few hours, juries decide in minutes.
1900 - murder trials 2-3 days, jury out for an hour or two.
2000 - many trials 5 days +, more 'popular' trials over a month and juries out for 2-4 days considering their verdict.

That's just Legal Aid cash for hot air.

1900-1960 seems about right: currently it's absurd.

Me : Many thanks.

Question 6. Are you optimistic that the people of the Republic of Ireland will freely choose to rejoin the United Kingdom in our lifetimes, and if so, what are the reasons for your optimism?

HD2 : I'd put the chances as 70:30 against (ie by 2050), but 75:25 in favour by 2200.


Because the EU is going to form the USoE and that's anathema to the entire Anglo-Saxon mind-set.
Eire has much more in common with Washington than Berlin and Paris, and as the memories of 1916 fade and QE2 is recognised as a worthy sovereign (Charles will be too, when the time comes) who Irish people can accept as Head of State (ie they rejoin the Commonwealth).

I can then envisage a federal 'British Isles' as a part of a wider, 'English-Speaking Union' trading block, forming triad with a protectionist USoE, an Islamic World, and an Oriental World.

Not sure where Russia fits into that, mind (I'd suggest USoE, if forced, but suspect it'll be an outsider, just as 'Spanish World', and 'African World' will be others).

Me : Thankyou.

Question 7. Do you believe it would be appropriate to introduce a cultural assimilation programme in UK schools to stamp out regional differences such as accents, dialects, allegiances to sub-national flags and anthems, etc.?

HD2 : Good question.

No. Individuality is what makes us a successful species and makes us successful as individuals, and as collections and groupings of those individuals.

Trying to create 'coffee-coloured people by the score' is what got us into this poly-cultural mess.

A wider point, if I may? Integration of minds and peoples is essential for a unified State: I'm sure we were going in the opposite direction under Bliar/Brown, and I'm unsure where we're going now. Scrapping/pruning/watering-down the EOC, Equality legislation in general, and, somehow, making schools more racially even (I know, the US experience makes this a daft idea) is A Good Thing.

Maybe area-wide selective/specialist schools is the way forward, such that bright pupils of all colours are in one, outstanding sports and artistically-talented pupils in another (etc) rather than having selection based on post-code (as now)?

Edit: I remember visiting the Dome in 2000 and being shocked to see a primary school there along with use where all but one pupils was non-white and being at Uni (early 70's) with a group of people from NI: the degree of segregation between Catholic and Protestant children was total (and agreed by all of them to be wrong and making sectarian violence both possible and much worse).

Me : Thanks again.

Question 8. What, if anything, did fascism get right?

HD2 : It unified and united a disparate, defeated and despairing people, giving them a unity of purpose and a self-belief that stood them ion good stead long after WW2 and all its horrors.

I'm not enough of a detailed student of that period of history to know much more - Mussolini's 'trains running on time' being more propaganda than reality, I believe.

I've a profound disbelief in great orators as national leaders, particularly if their necessary self-belief becomes 'I'm The Chosen One' delusion.

Two things, James:
One, I've greatly enjoyed our exchanges this afternoon and I hope some others have, too.
Two, why the sudden series of questions? Made me think a bit and formulate some ideas, which is always a good thing to do.

And on that happy note, I must now drive 30 miles to do a Mystery Shop at a Specsavers, pretending to want contact lenses (hard, since I don't wear glasses!).

Have a great afternoon- it's really Spring-like here, with the first hawthorn blossoms just out and my (VERY late-planted) daffodils now coming out too.

Bye - and thanks for the fish, James!

To be fair, he pleasantly surprised me with his answer about the disciplining of wives, but the most frightening bit was when he innocently described my suggestion of cultural assimilation in schools as a "good question"!

* * *

I was a bit miffed to discover that I forgot about the Irish Eurovision selection last night, because that probably means I've missed out on the chance to vote in a national final this year for the first time in...well, a long time. After the rip-roaring success of last year, the BBC are once again going for an internal selection, with the latest rumour being that a reformed Atomic Kitten will be getting the nod.