July 2009 Archives
A friend of mine from university grew up gay in Belfast in the 1970s, and vividly remembered billboards with this slogan on them being put up just as he realised girls weren't for him.
They were funded by "Dr" Ian Paisley prior to his reincarnation as one half of the Chuckle Brothers, and it's fair to say they didn't inspire a warm glow of tolerance and happiness.
It was also factually inaccurate, for one thing. Plenty of people in Belfast and elsewhere were saying yes to sodomy, even then. Secondly, what it really should have said was "Ian Paisley says no thanks to sodomy", which is of course his absolute right, even if I doubt he'd have had many such offers.
The same problems apply in spades to the current debate over assisted suicide and euthanasia. Campaigners against it, mostly arguing from dubious religious grounds, want to prevent others from dying with dignity, and they claim popular support. We're a "vocal minority", apparently.
In Scotland, however, 82% of people wanted a change in the law in 2004. What Scotland says and what the "pro-life" gang say are totally different. "Pro-pain" or "pro-misery" might be better descriptions, incidentally.
It's strange that some people can't see that this must be a choice for the individuals concerned. Nothing makes this more obvious than when people with terminal illness or with an unbearably low quality of life go up against shiny-faced young apologists for fundamentalism, usually outside the High Court.
Yesterday's election appears to have turfed out Moldova's ruling Communists, perhaps disproving the view that the country has a "managed democracy" along Belarusian lines, or indeed Russian or Iranian lines.
As with Belarus, the end of the Soviet Union left Moldova poor and dependent on the Russians, a situation aggravated by rapid "market reforms" instituted in the early 1990s.
These proved so unpopular that the Communists came back in 1997, although they've been more or less new-style, with a record of continued privatisation and alleged corruption.
There are plenty of other problems, too. The country has been a major source of trafficked women for Western Europe and elsewhere. Grimly, if you type Moldova into Google, the top suggestion from autocomplete is "Moldova girls".
Human rights violations have been rife, especially after the post-election riots earlier this year. In addition to torture and other mistreatment, one person died in disputed circumstances. That'd never happen here. A new administration will also want to make some progress about the long-running dispute over the Transdniestra, something my former boss has taken a close interest in.
Curiously, the opposition, presumably soon to be the government, is made up of four parties, with the three larger groups almost evenly sized. They are the Liberal Democratic Party (16.6%), the Liberal Party (14.4%) and the Democratic Party (12.5%). I guess Western-leaning Moldovans want both Liberalism and Democracy, but if pressed, they prefer the Liberalism.
More seriously, even the fourth opposition party, Our Moldova Alliance, is large enough to keep the Communists in power if they did a deal. Wikipedia explains their heritage here. They're an amalgamation of four other parties, one of which was confusingly also called the Liberal Party, which was itself a merger between three parties, one of which in turn derived from yet another merger between two parties.
With this convoluted family tree, stability looks like it'll be hard to achieve, but even though Moldova may be a faraway country about which we know little, it borders the EU and its people deserve better.
For my money, Lesley Riddoch has long been about the best thing on Scottish radio, and if GMS were ever to go in the direction of the Today Programme, she'd be an obvious choice to present it. When her eponymous Show ended in December 2004, there was an outcry, but then she was back on air with Riddoch Questions, made by her own production company.
Now that's ending too, with this week's programme to be the last. As if that wasn't reason enough to tune in one more time (as usual, Radio Scotland, Friday at 1.15pm), the panel will be discussing how Scotland can meet its new 42% target for carbon reductions, and Patrick's likely to be on the show. Last week's show is here until then.
I'm sure the BBC's top brass have their reasons for ending it, but I still object. Her various programmes have been best in class for years now, and this move will leave a dirty great hole in their schedule. A rethink here would be very welcome.
Patrick went down earlier in the month to show solidarity and ask how we could help, but I think they'll wait a long time before any of Scotland's other party leaders make it.
I had a long weekend tunnelling at Manchester Runway Two in the mid 1990s, and I'd commend Disco Dave's guide to the practice to the Mainshill crowd. I'm sure the coal isn't that close to the surface to make it hard work. There's even an "opencast" model in his list of types. The irony would be pretty pleasing.
One thing Mainshill has in common with Runway Two is the community support. There are sometimes protests like this where the community think "dammit, we want our bypass", and others where the shopping arrives to keep the campers fed, families come for a tour to say hello and little kids get told that the nice people with dreadlocks are trying to save the woods for the badgers and the birds and so on.
Here's a couple of residents quoted in the Herald:
"I have done everything I can possibly do for them. We are surrounded by open-casts and it's the health issues as well. This area has one of the highest cancer rates in the whole of Scotland."
"It's all about money. I grew up here and it's always been forestry. They say they will restore it but how long will it take to be back to this?"
Finally, the camp have put together this wee youtube video. Most persuasive bits: bloke in the middle nailing Scottish Government hypocrisy on climate change, and the pan to existing opencast sites looking like moonscapes.
Every July since 1982 the scenic city of Visby on Gotland has held an unusual type of political conference at Almedalen (link in Swedish).
Rather than the usual political conferences, where all the parties retreat to their own ghettos to talk to themselves, it's a properly cross-party week. The event traces its history to speeches given there by Olaf Palme in 1968, incidentally.
In addition to the 1,000+ free events, the leaders of the seven parties in the Swedish Parliament each have a 30 minute speaking slot, which the other leaders sometimes go to. Just because, y'know, it might be interesting.
Working in Holyrood is less partisan than many people imagine from the outside, and there are people I like and get on with in all parties. I'm sure minority government helps that, but there's still nothing quite like this in Scotland, no place where ideas get regularly discussed between parties without a vote on them at 5pm.
Last week, while out for drinks with a couple of other bloggers, we discussed whether something like this might work in Scotland, and we think it could be a goer. The initial idea is for something short and simple, perhaps including a dinner, to be held next summer: we're also short of social events with the demise (?) of the Scottish Political Journalists' Association dinner.
If that works, then we might look at a longer event in August 2011. We'll all be out of election mode and rested, and there'll certainly be a lot of interest in how the new balance of power at Holyrood works, whatever it is.
Any thoughts? Feel free to tell me it's mad. Sure, Almedalen is also a lobby-fest, which isn't exactly what any of us want to see, but would you find something like this interesting? How would you make sure it's for the public, activists and civic Scotland as well as the political classes?
Scotland's certainly spoilt for suitable venues, and in need of smarter and more open discussions about the problems that face our country. We have to draw the line somewhere, though. Talking about Almedalen, Anna Wramner says:
".. it's very informal, it's probably the only time each year you'll see the Prime Minister walking the streets in a swimsuit."
My eyes! They burn!
The Tories started today running Brighton and Hove Council, but the local Greens just took a ward off them in a by-election. Congratulations to the local team, outstanding work, and to new Councillor Phillips. This should be an end to the highly undemocratic Cabinet-only system of government in the area.
The ward's not in Brighton Pavilion, our English colleagues' best target seat, but you know this helps in so many ways. You can still get 2-1 on Caroline Lucas to win. I've got a little at 7-2, but that was a while ago.
Here's the actual result. The missing numbers in the change are from an independent who didn't restand.
Green: 1456 (40%, +18%)
Tory: 1104 (30%, +1%)
Lab: 816 (22%, -5%)
Liberal: 280 (8%, -8%)
Infuriatingly for anoraks (and no doubt candidates) the good burghers of Broadland aren't counting the votes for Norwich North until tomorrow. The BBC will be most upset: they've booked a Norwich venue for Question Time tonight, and will have only speculation, not even any exit polls.
I am reluctant to play the expectation game with the election - not least because I'm an irrational optimist. Having said that, if we don't quadruple our 2005 vote I'll be pretty disappointed. A particular pleasure has been seeing unusually balanced BBC coverage, despite squawks of protest from the Put An Egomaniac Into Parliament camp.
With Adrian Ramsay and the team the official opposition on the local authority, and with Greens winning across the whole of Norwich in the Euros, it would have been hard for the Beeb to do otherwise, but we started from a low base in Norwich North, and I can hear the weasel words they'd have used to keep us out.
There's a vicious circle that takes in exclusion from media coverage and limits to our electoral success, and we're gradually starting to turn it around. No matter what our successes elsewhere, the vital thing will be to start winning Westminster seats, and there's a second vote today which may make even more of a difference on that front.
There's a Brighton by-election, another area where Greens topped the poll in June, and the most likely venue for a Green victory at the next UK General election. Formerly Labour-voting chums of mine are out with the Green leaflets, while other Labour folk have endorsed us. It looks like it's between us and the Tories, and we could displace them from Council leadership if we win. It'd be an ideal platform for the adjacent Brighton Pavilion campaign, and it can't hurt for media coverage that the local Green candidate is pretty photogenic.
As you'll know if you read other political bloggers who haven't been on holiday, it's the season for shameless self-promotion. Iain Dale's Total Politics competition is on again, and in lieu of anything more democratic, it's become the de facto UK political blogging Olympics.
Last year those who blog were all encouraged to tell everyone who we voted for, but this year the rules have changed and we're now not supposed to do so. It had become an "I'll vote for you if you vote for me" situation, as disreputable as a City remuneration committee.
The rules are here, incidentally, so do go and vote.
So, bloggers are not supposed to "list ten blogs you think your readers should vote for." I wouldn't presume, but I have finally worked out how to get Movable Type to include a blogroll, so if you want to know who I read, they're to the right.
I will bend the rules slightly, though. Here are a few hearty recommendations for blogs I didn't vote for last time, three of which weren't around a year ago.
1. Jim Jepps' Daily (Maybe). Last year's top-ranked Green, and rightly so. Funny, passionate, open-minded and rigorous.
2. Lallands Peat Worrier. Undoubtedly the Nats' best new blogger, not yet operational for six months, but already a definite fixture. The cod Enlightenment style may look pompous at first glance, but it's frequently hilarious and always shrewd.
3. Yapping Yousuf. A great read from another thoughtful blogging newcomer. Could dial down the partisanship from time to time, but I'm well aware of my own glass house on that front.
4. Scottish Unionist. A blog established purely to defend Yoonyonizhm would have to be good to get my attention, and this is indeed one of Scotland's best. The author regularly goes head-to-head with the demented fringes of cybernatspace and regularly wins.
5. Beau Bo D'or. The best British animation and photoshop satire around. OK, there aren't many competitors, but this'd be tough to beat in a field of any side. On hiatus now, but hopefully back soon.
Also, if you care enough about politics to read blogs about it, why not start your own? It's not exactly difficult, and you'll get loads of help if you ask.
Finally, have you voted yet? Please make sure you do.
Update: My memory is clearly failing me. I thought I'd voted for Jeff's splendid SNP Tactical Voting and for Malc in the Burgh last year, but Jeff's reminded me otherwise in the comments.
Last time Jeff came third in the Scottish section, but I reckon he woz robbed. Consider this a fresh recommendation for your RSS reader if you don't read it already, and not just because of his thoughtful piece on Green prospects this morning.
Malc, for his part, got Daily Dozenned yesterday, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't vote for him (see how close I skate to endorsements here without breaking the rules?). Again, not just because he's got gradually Greener as time has passed, but just on the intrinsic merit of his writing, especially the posts backed up with real quality research.
It's odd, feeling a pang to hear of Robert McNamara's death. As US Defence Secretary during the 1960s he presided over some of America's worst international crimes, in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and in WWII he had a hand in the firebombing of Japan, also surely a war crime.
Nevertheless, it's hard to see Errol Morris's extraordinary documentary The Fog of War and not have a more nuanced view on the man.
It contains a powerful sequence where he shakes the hand of a former North Vietnamese Army general, apparently achieving a moment of reconciliation. In the interviews which are the basis for the film, McNamara comes across as thoughtful and conflicted, if cold in places.
The BBC website's environment correspondent keeps a well-informed and well-written blog, which I commend to you, especially on conservation matters. Having said that, I couldn't agree with the conclusion of this piece: Does climate cloud the bigger picture?
In it, he looks at the relationships between some key environmental threats, including climate change, to ask if our priorities are wrong. There's an (unannotated) version of this chart to illustrate the links as he sees them:
The centre of it all, for Richard, is population growth, the third rail of environmental campaigns for decades. As a simple mathematical fact, humanity's environmental footprint can be considered as a per capita impact multiplied by the population, but that tells us so little, not least because of local differences and local opportunities.
Scotland could, for instance, have a much lower environmental impact by putting science first on fisheries, not the SNP's short-termism. This country could actually start to lead on climate change if Ministers delivered a universal insulation programme, or if they funded better public transport instead of all their motorway building projects. We could be facing a lower level of habitat loss if Ministers hadn't backed Trump in Aberdeenshire.
None of those changes would require a draconian population policy, but I also disagree with Charles Moore on this: choosing to have a smaller family is certainly anything but irresponsible.
Back in the 1950s, when policemen called you Sir and Wimbledon was contested by adults, the Crichel Down affair led to the resignation of Sir Thomas Dugdale.
He was not personally responsible for the problems with the case, and it is now widely cited as the classic example of the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility.
Nowadays, Ministers responsible for egregious failures cling on, bleating about needing the opportunity to fix their own mistakes. Opposition spokespeople fiddle taxes while preparing for high office. The Prime Minister's own fingerprints are all over various government disasters, from deregulation of the markets to the privatisation of the Tube, yet he will not go until the electorate drag him out of the door to Number Ten.
How much more impressive, therefore, is this news from Portugal. The Economy Minister made the sign of the bull to an opponent, implying someone else had got become very good friends indeed with his wife, and duly quit.
The decision that ID cards would be voluntary (alongside renationalisation of the East Coast main line and the shelving of Royal Mail's destruction), was made to look like Labour turning the narrative around on some of their most unpopular policies.
In particular, Alan Johnson was understood to be sceptical, and this retreat from compulsion supposedly allowed Brown to save face while his Home Secretary beat the retreat.
Unfortunately, it appears not. If there's a way to disappoint, be sure New Labour will find it. Here's the man himself:
"So, despite the headlines that would have readers think otherwise, I'm not scrapping identity cards - I'm committed to delivering them more quickly to the people who will benefit most."
The only people who will benefit are the IT companies queueing up to cash in at our expense, plus the fraudsters who'll have a new bit of plastic to scan and forge for profit.
Persisting with this inane idea drives a large chunk of the apolitical towards the Tories (as the ID opponents with the biggest media megaphone) and confirms Labour as the party with the most authoritarian instinct. I can only conclude they have a death wish.
When ultra-Blairite Lord Adonis says Labour is finally going to take one of the train operating companies into public ownership, you know what follows. Reprivatisation. Having fixed something, why not break it again? It's very New Labour.
But is there another interpretation? Is he leaving an opportunity for the next Labour leader as he or she struggles with opposition?
After all, Adonis says the plan is to keep the East Coast mainline in public ownership for at least a year, by which time Gordon will be history. The Tories will no doubt wish to rush it back into private hands, and Johnson or whoever could build a populist argument for going further and renationalising and reintegrating the whole thing.
Perhaps not, but would you rule out Labour being devious enough to leave the Tories some awkward issues on a timer? The test will be if Labour try to run it well: that would build evidence for continuing public ownership. But are they even capable of doing that now?