Monday, 23 May 2011

No Sex Please, We're British

The super-injunction argument took another turn yesterday when the Sunday Herald published the name of the Welsh footballer at the centre of Saturday’s twitter-storm.  Their argument is that they believe that it is wrong that this individual should hide behind the injunction especially as his name is now all over the Twittersphere.  They also believed that the injunction does not have any jurisdiction here in Scotland, and that the person has so far not taken out an equivalent interim interdict (the Scots law equivalent to an injunction).

While the Herald has a very valid point over the creeping damage to the public interest, it does their argument no good whatsoever to jump on the bandwagon regarding what is in effect flimsy gossip.  The ideal story to voice their concerns about the rise of the Super-Injunction would have been the Fred Goodwin story, which is more in the public interest than what a Welsh footballer gets up to.

To recap.  It emerged last week that Fred Goodwin was involved in an affair with a senior executive.  What has not come out, and if the Herald were really serious about freedom of speech they would have published this, is when this affair occurred.  Did it happen at the same time as the purchase of ABN Amro?  Was this the distraction that caused Goodwin to press ahead with the purchase before the necessary debt reports were published, and what kind of an influence did he/she hold over Goodwin?

There are other super-injunctions in force, designed to prevent from public eyes information deeply in the public interest.  The “private” information that an MOD advisor passed on to an unknown person, the financial arrangements of a chief executive of a global company while it was in financial difficulties and information from a number of criminal cases, where anonymous figures have been accused in court of attempted blackmail.  All of these instances are occasions were someone’s right to privacy has been deemed to me worth more than the public interest.

Yet, rather predictably, outrage has focused on the story of Imogen Thomas, who had an affair with our anonymous (to people in England) footballer.  The outrage comes from the red top tabloids who fear that a privacy law would put an end to the decades of celebrity tittle tattle & flim flam masquerading as news.  At a stroke it once again shows up the deeply immature attitude towards sex that we Brits hold.  An attitude rooted somewhere around 14 years old.  It is this attitude that feeds peoples appetite for stories about the private lives of footballers, soap stars and other people in the spotlight.

There is a serious issue regarding the use of super-injunctions to block information being made which ties in to London’s reputation as the Libel capital of the world.  The Sunday Herald’s headline grabbing act yesterday I think is counter productive, considering that there is better examples that are a lot closer to home than an English Championship winning Welsh Footballer.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Let's Talk About Independence

One of the many things Labour said about other people’s policies was that the SNP would be obsessed about Independence. Too obsessed to bother with anything else.  So much so in fact that they would take their eye off the ball.  They would be, we were warned, just obsessed man.

Since the election, the SNP have been happy to talk about Independence.  I’ve seen Linda Fabiani on the news a couple of times, Nicola Sturgeon got to appear on Newsnight to find out what a real interview is and of course First Minister elect Alex Salmond has been on The Politics Show a couple of times.  Yet, the SNP in themselves have not been the drivers of this sudden interest in Independence.  For unforeseen by Grey, Kerr et all, the people who have become obsessed by Independence have been the Scottish media and the “Dead Tree Press” (© Guido Fawkes 2006).

There was apparently a report in the Sunday Herald at the weekend, the issue has been on the Politics show and has refused to bugger off from Newsnicht Scotland. We’ve heard about Calman, Independence and something called Devolution Max (which hopefully won’t be advertised by Gottee wearing smartarse snowboarders like something else with Max tacked on at the end) and Independence-lite (which really sounds like some sort of soft drink).  How to confuse the voters, number 7.

I’m not sure what they all mean, and I suspect a lot of this is SNP kite-flying, Calman excepted.  Trying to determine which step meets with most approval among the proles.  As I said, the public are not familiar with the above terms, and really have much more pressing things to concern them.  It’s the economy stupid, with very real concerns about jobs & rising prices.  Running alongside this is the public’s (lack of an) appetite for Independence, with a recent poll suggesting support for Scottish independence is more popular in England & Wales than it is in Scotland. But then again, the pro independence and anti independence groups have never really put their cases properly.

The media are, as usual, running away with themselves by focusing on what is on offer and what will happen and gosh isn’t it all so exciting…  There are two points to bear in mind though.  Firstly Independence is not inevitable, indeed there was a thought before the SNP’s election win that they might attempt to put off any referendum.  It looked like it when they said that any referendum would take place in the second half of this term (7th May 2015 anyone?).  Any referendum campaign needs to really be on form and to provide good solid arguments for or against, in short not a repeat of the recent AV referendum which was marked by half baked truths and poorly put truths.

The second point, and one that follows on from the first, is that in all probability Salmond really has to kill the “myth” that Scotland needs to be part of the Union.  Conventional wisdom dictates that Scotland would go bankrupt if it became independent, and it is a “truth” that is repeated far and wide – it even popped up in “Football Against The Enemy” when Catalans were discussing the differences between Scotland and Catalalonia.  Salmond has to prove that Scotland can be self sufficient and make it in the world.  Perhaps the wait is solely down to that, Salmond is trying to make his sums work.  Either way, while I am happy that there is going to be (we assume) a referendum (shame on you the other three parties for being so undemocratic), it remains to be seen whether this independence sceptic can be won over by the arguments.

Monday, 16 May 2011

250,000 v 350

As Bill Hicks would say, lets look at those figures again because at first glance they may look a bit confusing at first.

On 27 March, an estimated 250,000 made their way to London to march against the coalitions scorched earth policy of cutting public services and preparing these services to be provided in future by both private companies and charities (that last part is the real meaning of the Big Society).  Sure a lot of people marching were vested interest groups, like union members, public sector employees and people who would lose out if public services were destroyed in the manner set out by Gideon Osborne.
Picture: - Count 'em

On Saturday an estimated 350 people came out of their Chelsea townhouses and made their way from their country piles to show their support for Gideon Osborne’s scorched earth policy of cutting spending on public services.  In fact, so deluded were these people that they called for faster and deeper cuts.  Sure these people were probably Tories who’s only experience of a demonstration was the Countryside Alliance marches

Saturday should really have been a humiliating experience for Guido, those Tax-dogers people, and the other right wingers who think that this government are not going far enough in their debt reduction plans. Except these people will still think that they are right, despite the fact that approximately 249,650 less people came to support their opinions.

This confirms two things.  Firstly, any semblance that the so called Tax-Payers Alliance in any way represents normal tax payers has now been thoroughly disproved.  Secondly, this also proves that those who support any combination of a slowing of the cuts, selection of different targets for cuts or a tightening of corporation tax rules need to really step up the media battle. 

A lot of people are still convinced of the case for cuts, the alternative point of view has not been convincingly put yet.  Any new campaign to convince people that the cuts are misguided, too fast and too deep needs to use Saturday as a starting point to win popular support.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Tale Of The Tape: Scottish Election 2011

The votes have been cast, the announcements have been made, and at the end of the day history has been made.  At around 2:30pm on Friday, the SNP won their 65th seat, which meant that they had a working majority of 2 over all other parties. 

They finished with 69 seats, which means that they will enjoy an overall majority of 10 seats over all the other parties.  A total of 902,915 people (238,688 more than 2007) voted for the SNP in the first past the post seats, this helped them towards their total of 53 FPTP seats.  In the process, the SNP gained 32 FPTP seats on a swing of 6.25%.  The factor that pushed the SNP into majority government was the way the list seats were allocated.  Here the SNP gathered 876,421 votes which translated into 16 additional seats.  That amount of votes is a record for the list system in Scotland.

Labour fared badly.  They gathered 630,461 votes for the FPTP seats, down by 17,766 on their 2007 performance.  Yes, the Labour vote did go down.  You might have missed that on Friday with Labour figures saying that their vote held up, but not only did it go down, but it continued the trend stating in 2003 that has seen the Labour vote drop at each election.

Labour’s Vote in FPTP Seats for Holyrood
908,392 (53 Seats)
659,879 (46 Seats)
648.227 (37 Seats)
621,821 (15 Seats)

The second list vote fared no better shedding 71,856 votes on their 2007 performance.  Again the point needs to be made that the Labour vote has gone down here.  The second point to be made about the argument that “our vote held up” is that the comparison is being made on another poor performance by Labour, 2007 is the election that Labour lost power and finished behind the SNP.  In short they failed to pick up in significant numbers any disillusioned Lib Dem voters.

The Tory vote also fell, for FPTP seats by 58,901 and for List seats by 38,038.  This translated into a loss of 5 seats on their notional position.  However the Lib Dem’s were the part of the coalition that fared the worst.  Over half of the voters who voted Lib Dem in 2007 deserted them on Thursday, as they shed 9 FPTP seats.  For the Labour figures who claimed that the Lib Dem vote transferred straight to the SNP, the swing away from the Lib Dems was 4.1% - less than the swing to the SNP.  For the list seats they fared worse, with 127,199 voters deserting the Lib Dems.

For the SNP, they have a little bit of prep work before the Scottish Parliament re-convenes & Alex Salmond can formally begin his second term as First Minister.  For Labour and the Lib Dems they have an awful lot of work to begin if their shattered parties are to be rebuilt.  The Tories, despite the drop in vote can be quite happy.  They did not suffer like the Lib Dems did here, or in the Council Elections in England – indeed they made modest gains.  They even saw the AV referendum vote go decisively their way (67.9% to 32.1%).  Make no mistake, at a UK level, the winners were Cameron & his Tories.  Which makes me wonder whether we will see a Westminster Election sooner than we think?

Friday, 6 May 2011

First Past The Post

Amazing, astonishing, incredible. All descriptions of the SNP’s stunning Holyrood win, which means that they are the first party to win an outright majority at Holyrood. They are projected to end up with a majority of 6 when the final results have been announced.

The magnitude of this win was just not forecast. The contest was thought to be tight… until the first couple of results came in. When it became clear that there was a large swing in support to the SNP, with the SNP taking East Kilbride, Clydesdale & Hamilton. It was clear that the SNP were going to end up as the largest party, with a swing in the constituency vote of around 6.25% to the SNP. However even I am staggered to see Paisley elect an SNP MSP.

The Inquest has also begun on what happened to the Labour vote. Several Labour figures were saying that their vote held up, and that it had looked like the Lib Dem vote had switched straight to the SNP. The truth is far more complicated. The amount of votes Labour gathered is marginally down on 2007, however 2007 also saw a reduction of Labour votes from 2003. In short, Labour’s poor performance four years ago caught up with them.

That’s all the reaction you are going to get from me just now, I’m off to party.

Imminent Superlatives Alert

Just about to turn in, 4 seats in and all the indications (usual caviats... available so far) show that the SNP are on course to consolodate their position as the largest party in the Holyrood Parliament.

Each of those results have shown a drop in support for Labour, coupled with a rise in the support for the SNP. In the first result Labour held Rutherglen, but with a reduced majority.  The swing to the SNP was a remarkable 7.5%.  The next two results announced were astonishing, with the SNP unseating the shadow Finance Secretary Andy Kerr (in East Kilbride), and the former cabinet minister Tom McCabe (in Hamilton).  Kerr was unseated with a swing of 6.6% to the SNP while McCabe was ousted by a huge swing of 11%.

In keeping with this trend, the SNP have taken Clydesdale on an 8.9% swing.  With these kinds of swings, it looks like Salmond will have his second term as First Minister. It also looks like, not so much of a bad night for Labour but a disasterous night, even though the share of vote is currently about 2% down.  The only question left to answer is whether the SNP will supass Labour's record of 56 seats (that they won in 1999).

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Chase For Seats

One of the inaccuracies trotted out for this election is the one put forward by Alex Salmond that the second preference vote is the one used to vote for your preference for First Minister.  Rubbish!

A cursory look at the results of the previous Holyrood Elections will show that it’s the First Past The Post seats that if not win you the election, certainly provide a solid foundation for victory.  In 1999 Labour won 53 FPTP seats, a huge number which only meant that Dewar only picked up a further 3 list seats.  The SNP’s failure to pick up enough constituency seats did for them here, as they finished behind the Lib Dems after the constituency votes were counted.  Four years later it was the same story as Labour lost 7 seats but still won 46 FPTP seats.  The SNP did pick up a couple of constituency seats, but nowhere near enough required.  Especially as the second preference vote was split between the SNP, the Greens & the SSP.

Four years ago was a different story.  The SNP picked up 21 FPTP seats, a solid platform for them to take a further 26 list seats which enabled them to become the largest party by one.  There are two morals here for the SNP.  Firstly the constituency vote is THE significant battleground.  The second moral is that they need to continue to retain a huge percentage of the constituency vote into the list vote.

In sharp contrast, because Labour had relied on the constituency vote in the past, they have not paid as much attention to the list vote. As a result, their list votes lag badly behind the constituency vote.  In 1999 the difference was 121,574 votes. In 2003 the difference was 98,500 votes.  In 2007 the difference was 52,813 (gathering 3, 4 and 9 seats respectively).

Results are expected to begin to be announced around about 1am tomorrow Whatever happens, we can say about tonight is that any SNP gains will spell trouble for Iain Gray.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The Other Air War

So with hours to go untill the polls open and hundreds of man hours spent convincing us to vote for a particular party.  The question just now is not who will win, but how well did our broadcasters manage?

Both the BBC & STV organised leaders hustings within the past couple of days, it is interesting to contrast both events as they are somehow symbolic of both companies approches to this election.  The BBC held their event in Perth Concert Hall.  A big grand building, which brought out sober vibes.  Unfortunatly the event was dull, limp and lifeless.  It wasn't helped by the choice of Glenn Campbell as host, who always seems like a newsreader promoted above his grade.  The nearest there was to a spat was when Tavish Scott was asked about a possible coalition with the SNP.  "Deal or no deal" Campbell chided as Scott cracked a facial expression for the first time this campaign.

From Private Eye dated 29 April 2011
In sharp contrast, the STV event was hosted in Glasgow, using what looked like cast offs from ITV's 15 to one styled leaders debate set.  One wonders if they came as part of the £18 million settelement agreement.  Bernard Ponsonby hosted the event, as a result it was a more combatitive event, where the audience had a go at the participants. Not that Ponsonby stood by and watched, he asked a lot of pointed suplimentery questions, which were either ignored or talked over (hello Mr Gray).  It also produced the one moment where Salmond looked marginally rattled, when Ponsonby pressed over the referendum and what shape those "negotiations" would take.  Salmond muttered something about the referendum for the Scottish Parliament and proposals not being in any place then and precident.  Except that the shape of the Scottish Parliament was already known and discussed thanks to the Scottish Constitutional convention.  Salmond might have forgoten this fact, after all the SNP snubbed the convention.

The STV event was a good lively debate, compared the BBC event.  It was well produced and scheduled at peak time, no charges of being disrespectful to voters for STV.  As there is only hours before the polling stations open, there is at least that amount of time for both networks to hone their results programmes.  Let battle commence.

A Policy Vaccum

Or Leaflet-watch part 4 (and depending what comes through my door today, the final part).

One of the gripes that certain SNP bloggers have had about the Lib Dems is their tendency to put “Only The Lib Dems can win here…” or words to that effect on leaflets where they might be second.  They have ditched this for their leaflet for this election.  Wise choice as they finished behind the SNP in third four years ago, and sank to fourth in last years General Election (obviously winning my vote was a curse…).
The theme to this address is “Who is speaking up for you”, yet in a similar vein to Labour’s leaflet vague promises are flagged up with no detail.  For a party who’s selling point has been their pledge to fight against the merger of Scotland’s 9 police forces, crime features third in their list.  To quote “We will keep your police local – no national police force!  We will make offenders pay back the community for the damage they have done to our neighbourhoods.  There are similar vague pledges concerning jobs and education.

Over 4 pages, there is astonishingly little.  Even more astonishing is the thought that the Lib Dem’s potential vote winner this time around – opposition to the proposed merger of Scotland’s police forces – is relegated to the above 3 lines on page 2.  Once the post mortem on the Lib Dems projected poor showing tomorrow begins, it should start not with Nick Clegg, but with the vacuum that is the Lib Dem’s piss poor manifesto.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Make More Noise

So far the election addresses can be split into two camps.  Those who list some policies, but leave enough off the leaflet hoping that some sort of interest will be piqued (The Green’s & the SNP) and those that trade on brand recognition, past experience, just something to get the message across (The Tories & Richard Vassie).  At the start of last week came another address, and one that falls into the latter camp.  Except that right now just brand recognition won’t get New Labour out of the hole they appear to be in.

The leaflet itself is about a quarter of the size of the SNP’s.  Yet crammed into its 10cm by 5 cm surface is quite possibly the most patronising and clich├ęd leaflet you will ever see.  On the front is supposed to be a normal family.  If this family exists, sorry, but the pictures look directly out of central casting.  Oh and this family would not look out of place on a Conservative leaflet.  All of which takes away from the veracity of the statement “We trust Labour (sic) to focus on the economy and schools and the things that really matter”.  Overall, it lacks a certain… truth.

The back page features the extended quote – “This is a difficult time for families with all the cuts and with the price of everything going up so much.  At times like this, we trust Labour…  It kind of makes you wonder where these people have been for the past four years.  Remember it was Labour who doubled income tax for the low paid, it was Labour who wanted to scrap the Council Tax freeze, and it was Labour who wants to keep the unfair Council Tax.  Also remember that it was New Labour that introduced the fuel escalator, worth remembering when Gray promises to “Campaign for cuts in VAT on petrol”.  Interestingly Labour do acknowledge that they oppose the SNP’s LIT proposals, but do not say if they object to say the Lib Dem’s own LIT proposals or the Greens Land Valuation Tax.

Gray (& Labour’s) primary target in this leaflet is still the evil dastardly Tories – “Now the Tories are back…” which is a strange statement considering that the Tories will struggle to reach 20 seats (their only influence is as a possible supply & confidence partner to the SNP).  They have started to target the SNP, but on independence (a policy the SNP appear to be somewhat lukewarm about) rather than any policy failings that the SNP have.

This leaflet is an awfully patronising piece of literature, akin to having an annoying yes man leave you notes.  Not the best tactic in such turbulent times.  Somehow though, this is befitting of a party that has ran an unfocused (at best) & shrill campaign which has had nothing to say.  You know what they say about empty vessels…

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Why I'm Voting Yes to AV

David Cameron, George Osborne, William Hague, Jeremy Hunt, Daniel Hanan (MEP), Matthew Sinclair (Founder, Tax-dodgers Alliance), David Blunkett, Dr John Reid, John Prescott & Margaret Beckett.

You know, I can’t personally think of 10 better reasons to vote yes to AV than the knowledge that the above people favour the status quo.  All of them favour first past the post, not for fine upstanding reasons but because all would retain their electoral advantage/influence.  The 5 Tories would be happy because, well every post war General Election win was obtained with a share of the vote under 50% (with the wins in 1955, 59 and 70 seeing the share of the vote creep over 45%).  Their 8 post war wins have all been based on vote for us because we will keep the other lot out.  To be fair though, Labour also revert to that line of campaigning – if you’re not voting for us you must be a Tory.

This is the main reason why both the Tories & certain New Labour figures are pro FPTP.  The idea that there is no alternative to the other lot is a powerful one and one that kept the brothers together when Blair was pushing through some pretty Thatcherite legislation.  But it is one that is loosing its power, both with the growth of the Liberal Democrats at national level, and the continued professional performances of the SNP in the Scottish Parliament.  Interestingly, John Reid talked about the fairness of the FPTP system, Reid would know all about fairness having helped to hound the fair Elizabeth Filkin out of her post as Parliamentery watchdog.

AV means that parties will have to try and gather votes from people who would not put their X in the box for that party but might be prepared to vote for them in a preference system.  It means that candidates have to try and poll (through 2nd and 3rd preference votes) over 50% of the vote to be elected.  No more MP’s elected with under 40% of the vote.  Yes, its not as proportional as say STV (used in council elections here), but it is a step in the right direction.

What has marked this campaign out though is the number of untruths in circulation about AV.  The leaflet received last week here contains at least one lie and several facts that are dubious to say the least.  The lie is that only three countries in the planet use it.  It is used here in the UK, with council by-elections using AV – I voted that way in the recent council by-election.  Both Cameron and Ed Miliband were elected to their positions as Party leaders by AV.

The leaflet quotes the figure of £26 million to explain the voting system to voters – it also rather patronisingly says “do we really need to complicate things with another?” – but there is no explanation as to where this figure came from.  There is also no explanation as to where the figure for “electronic vote counting machines” – put at £130 million – has been arrived at.  This seems to have convinced at least one blogger.  Yet if we are in the realms of cutting things back because they cost money, then how much did Friday’s show of royal largesse cost?  The leaflet also says “AV would give the Lib Dems more seats.  That would mean more hung parliaments…”  Well why shouldn’t they, when they gathered 6.5 million votes at the last General Election, 2 million less (and about 200 seats less) than Labour.  Most Psepologists though seem to think that under AV, every Westminster election would have produced the same outcome, with the Thatcher win in 1983 and Blair’s win in 1997 producing bigger majorities.  The only election that would have produced a hung parliament would have been the 2010 election… which of course produced one with FPTP.

I think that AV is a step away from our tired FPTP system that forces people to vote against a party, not for a party.  That the No to AV camp feels the need to scare, to put unsubstantiated figures into the public domain and to spin its alleged complexity & obscurity shows the hollowness of their arguments.  Unfortunately the polling suggests that they are winning.