Archive for the 'Scotland' Category

missing links

May 22, 2008

I had missed this further twist in the Scottish independence referendum saga (hatip: Scottish Sketch). So Wendy stole Gordon’s idea, then. Thereby compromising the idea – and their relationship – alltogether. At a different time, the whole story would have also compromised their reputation and credibility, but it’s far too late for that now.

Brown’s strategy will backfire both north and south of the border

April 16, 2008

You don’t need a nostalgic Blairite to waste his precious time convincing you that Gordon Brown is a poor political strategist: you already know that all too well. So it’s no surprise that Mr. Brown is getting his strategy for the next election completely wrong. Roughly, this is what Brown and whoever advices him are thinking: we’ve got a Scottish problem. If the English electorate perceives us as too Scottish, we really have no chance at the next general elections against two candidates, Cameron and Clegg, who are quintessentially English. So what we are going to do is making sure that the English public can’t say that we are being partial to Scotland. That will also suit the purpose of giving Salmond a very bumpy ride; so that whenever we decide to call the next general elections – because it’s we who call the shots – we’ll get respect from the English for not having given in to our Scottish roots; and also Scottish Labour will be stronger against the SNP just in virtue of the fact that we have made it so difficult for the SNP to govern, thanks to a – relatively to the past – underfunded Scotland.
That sounds, if not clever, at least reasonable. And it explains, along with many other things, the anti-Scotch budget; and the recent unsuccessful trip to Westminster by John Swinney, Scotland’s Finance Secretary. Problem is, Gordon Brown’s strategy is going to backfire. Here’s why: the Scots are going to be particularly outraged by a Scottish Prime Minister who appears to be particularly tough on them of all people. That will inevitably result in a perception of the SNP as the only party standing for Scotland – as was more than obvious over the budget, when Scottish Labour MPs had to go on telly defending anti-scottish legislation: Salmond knows how to play that card; has played it ever since the beginning of his time in office; and Brown is being thick enough to continue playing in Salmond’s hands. This could ultimately result in the SNP being a serious player in the next general elections: it is estimated that, with the present level of support, the SNP could get as many as 30 Westminster parliamentary seats next time around – which could prove decisive in case of a hung parliament (and, needless to say, it’s not with Labour that the SNP would strike a deal).
But Brown’s strategy might backfire in England as much as in Scotland. His thinking is that by being tough on Scotland he’s going to prove to the English that he would do their interest, and never put Scotland’s interest ahead of the interests’ of the majority. Fair enough: problem is that if Brown alienates the Scots, he offers the Conservatives a brilliant argument against him. Cameron can then tell the English: here’s a Scottish politician loathed by his own people; why should we English trust him?

intentional wrongdoing

December 4, 2007

If you are a philosopher of action, it is not everyday that your research interests are at the core of current affairs, talked about in the news as if it were knife-crime. So I must admit to be quite amazed by the whole of Scotland talking about ‘intentional wrongdoing’. Wendy Alexander has chosen it as her catch-frase to justify remaining in office notwithstanding her admission of having broken the law.

I have broken the law, Alexander admits. But I have not done so intentionally. What does that mean? It means that Wendy admits to having taken an illegal donation; and she admits to having taken the donation intentionally; but she denies that she intentionally took an illegal donation.

Alexander, philosophers of action would say, has only done one thing, ‘accepting Green’s 950 quid’. That was her action, and she concedes as much. But Wendy’s action can be described in more than one way: it can be described as ‘taking a donation’. Under that description, Wendy admits to her action being intentional. But it can also be described as ‘taking an illegal donation’. Under this description, Wendy says that she did not act intentionally.

But how can the same action be both intentional and unintentional? Suppose that you are waiting for the bus #29; suppose you board the bus #37 thinking that it is the #29. You have intentionally boarded the bus; but you have unintentionally boarded the #37 – your intention was to board the #29.

Similarly, Alexander claims to have taken the illegal donation unintentionally – her intention was to take a legal donation. Had she known that the donation were illegal – she is implying – she would not have taken it (and here her position gets difficult, given that she wrote to Green at his Jersey address, and given that she must have known – or, at least, ought to have known – that only registered voters can make donations).

Why is Alexander stressing that she did not brake the law intentionally? That won’t help her much in the courts because, as people say, ignorance is no excuse. She is doing so to defend her personal and political integrity. She might be the sort of person and the sort of politician who brakes the law, but she is not the sort of person and politician who does so deliberately. She is, in short, asking the public to judge her by her intentions rather than her actions; given that she is not disputing her having acted illegally, only her having intended to do so.

Indeed, politicians’ intentions matter. Consider a politician who sets out to rip us off by selling our personal data – say national insurance number and bank details – to fraudsters. Consider, on the other hand, a politician who simply loses such data (they might be called Alasdair, for example). The outcome might be the same; still, our opinion of the corrupt politician might be lower than our opinion of the merely incompetent one.

Does that mean that we can live with Wendy Alexander’s incompetence, just because her intentions are good (assuming that they are)? No, it does not.

Saturday afternoon, Scotland

December 1, 2007

The politician who is in the most trouble because of Donorgate is, by a long distance, Wendy Alexander. She has done what others have done down south, taking an illegal donation. But Wendy Alexander was also stupid enough to say, in Parliament, that she knew nothing about the source of the donation. It turns out she had signed a thank-you note to the donor. If she doesn’t go, then we can be sure that no one in London will either.

But when the pressure on Alexander had become unbearable, here comes Alex Salmond himself to her rescue, by drawing attention away from the donations scandal with a pretty childish insult to Blair and his family. The Yucca has too much respect for Salmond’s political skills to think that calling Blair’s family ‘revolting’ in the middle of such a difficult week for Labour north and south of the border was not deliberate. Salmond has come to Brown’s rescue – he’ll want something back, be sure.

And while talking of Salmond’s political skills, the Yucca appreciates his bashing of anti-english sentiment in Scotland as “pathetic, inward-looking, provincial, narrow-minded and silly”. Not only do Salmond’s words ring true, they also reveal his strategy: the enemy has been identified as Britain, not England. England, indeed, is a potential ally in the struggle for more devolution/independence. So much so that while anti-scottish sentiment in England is good news for Salmond, anti-english sentiment in Scotland is an embarrassment and an obstacle. Well played, Alex: just be careful not to alienate that substantial part of the SNP’s electorate which did vote for you on anti-english grounds. You know the way Americans call Britain ‘England’? Well, when Scots say they want rid of Britain, what they mean, too, is that they want rid of England.

Why do men get the best jobs?

October 20, 2007

What’s the best way of excluding women from the latest job opportunities? By putting the employment section of a national newspaper inside the sports section.

As was effectively demonstrated to me this morning when my (male) other half opened up yesterday’s Glasgow Herald sports supplement, which I had discarded as I usually do.

The round world of Gordon

August 30, 2007

A day to remember for ‘Gordon The Brit’: Britain is, today, by far the most prominent football nation in Europe, and therefore in the world – having six teams in this year’s Champions League. Too bad Britain ain’t a nation…

free hugs

July 14, 2007

…running out…

May 16, 2007

When Meacher pulled out on Monday, I thought that the leadership contest was on. I was wrong. It is now Wednesday evening, and it is looking increasingly likely that John McDonnell will not get the required 45 nominations. At 6pm, he is still 16 short, and there are only 16 MPs that have still to declare (among those, Charles Clarke and Frank Field): Brown has 307 against McDonnell’s 29.

UPDATE: it’s over. Brown’s got 308 and McDonnell has conceded defeat. This is a sad day for British democracy.

Some considerations on this development: I was expecting Brown not only to let McDonnell run, but possibly to encourage a challenge. Apparently he hasn’t done so. Two possibilities: Brown is indifferent on whether there will be a contest or not because, we can only guess, he has polls telling him that the public won’t mind either way. Labour’s support might be falling, but the fall won’t be accelerated – or so the polls might predict – by a ‘coronation’. If such polls existed, and were accurate, I would be surprised. It definitely wouldn’t be good news for British democracy.

Alternatively, Brown might be actively looking to avoid a contest. Maybe he thinks that McDonnell’s support among unions and party members would be high enough to put him in an uncomfortable situation. The next government might then be forced into acknowledging so much support for Old Labour in its policies, if not in its composition. If this latter scenario is anywhere near the truth, then all the more reason for wanting a contest; because if Brown’s fears are justified, then the Chancellor is effectively silencing his own electorate by stopping McDonnell. And that can’t be good for politics; it can’t be good for Britain; it can’t be good for Labour’s chances at the next elections; and therefore, in the end, it can’t be good for Brown (caveat: it might be that Brown has convinced himself that he will lose at the next general elections, and that therefore he wants to make the most of his time in government. In that case, stopping McDonnell might make sense. But I don’t believe that Labour doesn’t have chances coming 2009, nor do I believe that Brown believes that).

Another interesting thing is that Milburn is supporting Brown, while Clarke hasn’t announced yet. It might be that the former Home Secretary is waiting to see McDonnell’s numbers, and that he is only willing to nominate him if that will turn out to be necessary for a contest. Indeed, McDonnell is miles away from Clarke, but my enemy’s enemy… On the other hand, it might be that Blairites want Brown to lose at the next general elections, and so are promoting a ‘coronation’ – see Milburn’s and Byers’ support. Lots of people would like to think that the Blairites are willing to do anything to screw Brown, but I would be very surprised if that included putting their own political careers and salaries at risk – as inevitably they would do by promoting Labour’s defeat next time around.

One final remark: if we take the way in which MPs are nominating seriously, from a political point of view that is, then we might have to conclude that the kind of leftism represented by John McDonnell is really no longer at home within the Labour Party. And this would have to be added to Blair’s legacy: “I left a Party where socialists couldn’t even get enough nominations to stand for leader”. In this respect, it is indeed a shame that to represent the left is someone which such ideological foreign policy ideas such as McDonnell (see IRA+Iraq).

Oh, and Alex Salmond is the new First Minister of Scotland.

Brown vs McDonnell

May 14, 2007

Brown got what he wanted (or, anyway, what he should have wanted): a contender who cannot win, John McDonnell. This is a much better outcome than no contender at all, which would have looked bad and it would have reduced Brown’s and Labour’s chances at the next general elections even further. It is also better than a Blairite contender with a chance, namely Miliband. Even if Brown would have defeated Miliband, which is probable, that kind of contest might have weakened New Labour; and, in the attempt to distance himself from Miliband, Brown would have probably lost a lot of the votes that will decide the next election. The only outcome which would have probably been better for Brown than McDonnell would have been an unelectable Blairite like Reid – who was wise enough to desist from his heroic journey of self-sacrifice.

McDonnell’s good for Brown: he will provide the Chancellor with a platform to discuss Iraq, and, if Brown cares to, that will be a chance to distance himself from Blair’s foreign policy. But Brown might discover that the only meaningful way to counter McDonnell’s anti-war rhetoric is to stick with Blair’s legacy of liberal interventionism: that would, indeed, be an interesting development. Otherwise Brown might end up in the kind of middle-ground trouble that Hillary’s in across the pond for not apologising over voting for the war.

Also, while the parliamentary vote is quite obvious, and the unions’ vote can be expected, it’ll be important to see how the popular vote goes: if McDonnell doesn’t do better there than in the parliamentary vote, then a lot of the anti-NewLabour rhetoric will have to go. There has been a lot of talk of New Labour losing votes on the left (the SNP in Scotland could be an example): this is a good time to verify that theory.

It might be objected that the kind of votes that New Labour has lost on the left aren’t votes of Labour Party activists and members. But that’s not how it is often put: people tend to say that, in the pursuit of Middle England, Labour has alienated some of its core vote. If none of that goes to McDonnell, then either New Labour has actually interpreted its core vote better than most commentators, or it has alienated it so much that people have left the party altogether.

UPDATE: it looks as though we should have waited before commenting on McDonnell’s challenge to Brown. The left-winger is still 18 (some say 16) nominations short of the required 45. He’s got until tomorrow noon.

British Newspapers circulation

May 13, 2007

Google appears to be pretty useless if one is looking for information on British newspapers’ circulation figures. So I decided to make up for that. Below are the figures (taken here, registration needed) for April 2007:

The Daily Telegraph 898,817 (+ 0,29 on March 2007, -0,14 on April 2006)

The Times 629,157 (-1,62 on March 2007, -3,92 on April 2006)

Financial Times 452,930 (-1,76 on March 2007, -2,01 on April 2006)

The Guardian 366,556 (+0,1 on March 2007, -2,1 on April 2006)

The Independent 249,536 (-1,26 on March 2007, -1,34 on April 2006)

Scottish papers: The Herald 69,829, The Scotsman 55,645.

Just to get an idea of how this compares with tabloids: The Sun 3,047,527, The Daily Mail 2,300,420, The Daily Mirror 1,537,143.