28 February 2010
27 February 2010
‘The same propaganda tricks are to be found almost everywhere. It would take many pages of this paper merely to classify them, but here I draw attention to one very widespread controversial habit: disregard of an opponent’s motives. The key-word here is ‘objectively”. We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort, are “objectively” aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once.
In my opinion a few pacifists are inwardly pro-Nazi, and extremist left-wing parties will inevitably contain Fascist spies. The important thing is to discover which individuals are honest and which are not, and the usual blanket accusation merely makes this more difficult. The atmosphere of hatred in which controversy is conducted blinds people to considerations of this kind. To admit that an opponent might be both honest and intelligent is felt to be intolerable. It is more immediately satisfying to shout that he is a fool or a scoundrel, or both, than to find out what he is really like.’
These remarks remained aptly ensconced in the back of my mind as I flicked through the politics pages in the Herald, only to find similar rhetoric emanating from the Scottish Labour Party. While the headline ‘Labour election warning over SNP’ hardly smelled of news or novelty at all, below, we find that the Chief Election Programmer is installing insidious software on the empty hardrives of the Labour Student drones at
The particular anticipatory quote furnishing the headline, however, relates back to my sense of serendipity having encountered the Orwell quotation. ‘Votes for Alex Salmond’s SNP in May will strengthen David Cameron’s chances of becoming Prime Minister’, Alexander will conclude. Re-orientate that a snatch, and it can be more directly, more honestly expressed in parallel to Orwell’s formulation - the argument that voting SNP is objectively pro-Tory. This argument may be readily extended to encapsulate pretty much everyone – Liberal Democrats, Greens, Scottish Socialist Party, the Dungeons Death and Taxes Party. Of all of them, this sort of discourse must particularly rile the Liberal Democrats – speaking at a
25 February 2010
I’m not suggesting in any respect that the political tendencies of an independent
The document is not simply independence or bust. Rather, it provides the framework for the conduct of a referendum, giving the people their say on two proposals. Firstly, extension of the powers of Holyrood, shy of total independence. Secondly, the whole kit and caboodle. The consultation partly concerns how the first question should be framed - should it invite a public determination on some sort of "full devolution" - or alternatively, should the beloved Calman report be dusted off and submitted to popular acclamation (or declamation)? Moreover, in an echo of the voting which preceded the Scotland Act of 1998, the Government propose asking two down the line questions, to be resolved by simple majority - and proposes that the public should consider voting "yes/yes". The consultation period will run for 9 weeks. Here is Alex Salmond talking to the document last week. I commend the motion to the House!
By way of a wee amendment to this post, as well as having adjusted the foregoing text just a little since this morning, here is the man again, talking to the Referendum (Scotland) Bill at its launch earlier today...
24 February 2010
Firstly, I present Figure 1, which tracks the total number of recorded victims of homicide in Scotland since 1999-00.
Secondly, Figure 2., which illustrates the overall division of killings by gender of the victim in the last half-decade, 2004/05 - 2008/09.
Thirdly, for Figure 3. I've taken the correlated figures about the age of the victim and presented that alongside the total homicides recorded.
Finally, in Figure 4, I focus on the latest year of record, 2008/09. Alongside total figures for that year, divided along gender lines, I've also presented how the numbers breakdown in respect of gender and age of victim.
23 February 2010
, faith has long played a central part in politics – not surprising for a country where 60 per cent of people say that God plays an important part in their lives. But it's wrong to think that it plays no role in British politics ... US
That the Bible gave “the Labour movement the intellectual legitimacy to challenge the old orders”
He will say: “As David said in Psalm 9, ‘the Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble’.”
Murphy will quote – shock horror – Keir Hardie to the effect that…
“I have said both in writing and on the platform many times that the impetus which drove me first into the Labour movement, and the inspiration which has carried me on it, has been derived more from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth than from all other sources combined.”
In a maximally banal discourse on the nature of family in contemporary Britain, Jim muses that...
“Family is the most important thing in our country… We love our family more than anything else. I am convinced that, like faith, family is another force for good. I celebrate marriage and family life, and while it's wrong for government to financially incentivise one family type over another, I am convinced family is the glue which hold our communities and society together.”
Because we all know nothing is more rousing or rhetorically affecting than the word ‘incentivise’ properly deployed… Finally, argue the Hootsmon, in an “apparent broadside against the Nationalists, Mr Murphy will link patriotism and support for the
“I am also convinced that people, and values voters in particular, are sick of others talking down our country … Yes, they know we have problems, but we love our country.”
On this last point, context is all and context we don’t have. Blind-baked, the remark seems to relate and refute David Cameron’s ‘broken society’ refrain. This interpretation would chime with Murphy’s declared intention to neglect the SNP during the General Election and focus on the Tories. Then again, perhaps I’m overestimating the conscientious pangs which Labour hypocrites might feel in accusing the SNP of ‘talking down
The Scotsman interpretation does raise – or at least suggest – one interesting point about Christians, Scottish Nationalism and the duty to submit to civil authorities. I’m not soaked in the nuanced, underwriting theology. The complexities escape me. I suspect, that we can probably distinguish (as a conscientious, theological Christian) between obeying the civil authorities as constituted while agitating for a change in the composition of those authorities. It seems a stretch of the Biblical imagination to suggest that Murphy is implying that the creed for a new, divine Unionism is inspired by Matthew’s transcription of the Christly admonition to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matthew ) . Then again, there are other echoes elsewhere in the scriptures. “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution”, commands 1 Peter . Or my favourite Damascene fruitcake, Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans wrote “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2) Perhaps this is a little abstruse and abstracted from the earthy politics of the thing to give pious Christians pause about Scottish Nationalism or wed them in perpetuity to British structures of civil authority. It would be an interesting dynamic to explore.
22 February 2010
Published on the Reform Scotland website, the document “offers a critical appraisal of the proposals published by the UK Government in November 2009 to reform the arrangements for funding the devolved administration in
21 February 2010
The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms, argued Socrates. There is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a rather imprecise received wisdom of what precisely constitutes unlawful stalking or harassment in Scots law. There is no offence simpliciter of either. This is in marked contrast to
The keynote is that harassment, per se, isn’t a crime known to Scots Law. That is not to say, however, that conduct commonsensically labelled stalking or harassing will be legal. Perhaps predictably, here as elsewhere, breach of the peace covers a multitude of legislative sins. With a lick of caution, and a stress on the procedural quality of my remarks, it is worth mentioning that Universality of Cheese blogger, Mark MacLachlan, was recently charged with breach of the peace ostensibly in relation to e-mails sent to a member of the Scottish Government. That case being live, I shall leave it at that. There are also other common law offences respecting threats, distinct from breaching the peace. Finally, surprisingly, Anti-Social Behaviour Orders may be relevant here, though I’ve no notion of how often, if at all, they’ve been imposed in circumstances which might loosely be characterised as ‘stalking’ or ‘harassment’. As you can see, hardly a seamless web of ordered rationality – just the usual moth-bitten tapestry of tangled knots and clumps which characterise
Justifying the new provision, the Scottish Government cite a recent(ish) judgement of the High Court of Justiciary (handed down on
19 February 2010
Labour want to install a presumption that the blade earn its bearer at least 6 months banged up with their chamber pots. (Although some Leithite wags ironise around the label of 'mandatory'.) The Swine Pursuivant, Richard Baker, cannot be terrifically chuffed that Iain Gray appears to have decided to nab his crony’s portfolio and is fronting this piece of law-and-order bunkum personally. The Tories, not to be outdone, bettered (sic) Labour’s penal promises, Baillie Bill Aitken suggesting that a two year period spent in jail would be just the thing for carrying knives.
Quoth the Baillie, “Labour's plans for a six month tariff for carrying a knife, which after early release would mean little more than a few weeks inside, are woefully inadequate … If you go out with a knife, you'll be going inside. Labour's eight years of failure paved the way for the SNP's soft-touch
This is pandering politics of the vengeful rump, which refuses to engage with the questions we are increasingly forced to engage with. The prison population is too high, unsustainable, unethical. Although I find the cost arguments among the least compelling reasons not to send folk to chokey – they are undeniable. Are we really willing to justify the economic expenditure and the social costs of vaulting rates of imprisonment, as a cathartic release? In a grand recent post by Ian Hamilton QC, entitled “Donald Dewar, Nicola Sturgeon and the wild, wild weemin”, profoundly relevant issues are explored. Highlighting the intellectual laziness of the ‘bang ‘em up’ case, Hamilton draws on his own shrieval experience to illuminate the brute reality of judicial decision-making – and the real limitations which even the wild-eyed exponents of incarceration Scotland must contend with. I find it infinitely depressing that the vision Scottish Labour and the Tories have for our nation is a panopticon, with a profusion of cells and of prisoners. I wanted to quote this section of Ian Hamilton’s late piece in particular.
“Nicola need have no fear of this mob. (Strange how everyone calls Nicola by her first name and no one knows who Mr Gray is.) In equiperating knife crime with fraud Mr Gray showed a lamentable lack of common sense. There is a world of difference between them. Crimes against the person with a deadly weapon require a prison sentence. Crimes of dishonesty are in a different category. If there is a breach of trust, if the sum is large, if the crime has been previously committed are relevant matters as is the length of time over which the crime took place. In these circumstances (and I am not discussing this case which is still sub judice) the sheriff needs all the help he can get. In asking for a non custodial sentence an MSP is pursuing government policy. Keep prison for serious crimes against the person. It costs £50,000 a year to keep someone in prison. Every penny is needed for two aircraft carriers and the son of Trident. Mr Gray should know these are Unionist priorities. If he doesn’t our sheriffs do.I was once a sheriff and a weary job it is. I read many letters put up to me. They helped focus my mind. A sheriff is there to stand between justice and the screaming mob we saw in Holyrood, bent only on punishment. Punishment? Would that a sheriff’s job were so easy! There are so many other things to be taken into account. There are the side effects. Are there children to be considered? Will the accused lose his job? Will dependents become a burden on the State. Has there been a previous offence? Has restitution been made? What are the chances of reoffending? Will there be room in prison? The public perception of the crime comes at the very end of all these. No sheriff is there to please the public.”
Political revenge-fantasies aren’t costless. Despite John Muir’s statements (however understandable they are in his circumstance), we come to be stained in blood in ways that do not come with the direct pointedness of a knife – and its easy, fatal causality. The black pathos of rampant incarceration invades the airy irresponsibility affected by these comedians of innocence, these Tory and Labour politicians whose idea of penality is a vaulted pit, with no bottom, no costs and no consequences.
18 February 2010
First, the obvious explanation – party leaderships want to avoid collective responsibility being foisted on them for their conduct on “socially divisive issues”. This rabbit-tremor preserves the innocence and catholicity of the party structures, by very episodic disappearances of the party structure. If your particular representative votes in a way which deviates significantly from your own views – the accusation rests there. Hopefully, come election time, you won’t let the individual’s judgement get in the way of an overriding party preference. The party, after all, can’t be blamed for a dud choice. No point punishing them longitudinally, what’s done being done. We would be missing something important, however, if we exhausted our explanation at this consciously-manipulative, party-evasive level.
What strikes me as the interesting question about free votes is the principle of selection. How do issues become constructed in such a way that they are rendered exceptional, exceptional procedures to be followed in their analysis? The colonic Mike Rumbles offered one account when he justified the creation of the ad hoc ‘Health 2 Committee’ on the basis that assisted dying is a “moral” question, and thus must be handled with parliamentary kit gloves and quite separately from the ordinary, amoral order of work. Patrick Harvie rightly took him to task for the fatuousness of this distinction. Surely the whole work of politics, his argument, is dyed through with ethical implications. While I’d echo those arguments, there is another way we can approach the distinction Rumbles was relying on. It seems to me that it is not insignificant that the binary categorisation which Harvie made a brave attempt to obliterate seems to insulate the usual meat and potatoes of politics from ‘morality’. By reinforcing the exceptionalism of ethical issues in politics, justifications for the unexceptional, unethical and ordinary political choices is in turn reinforced. This theme also ravels, I’d suggest, along the familiar and problematic ‘private/public’ string. By isolating Margo’s bill and sanctioning, through special measures, the emergence of private morality into the public - powers normally exercised are rendered less problematic, less moral. They are public choices, rather than the private whim of individual members imposing their private preferences on a gormless public. It is complicated, but a dialectic of this general sort seems to me to be at work, in what might pass for simple stupidity, informing this talk of legislative ‘morality’.
The thing to bear in mind about all of this is the idea of morality or personal conscience which this discussion relies on. On some versions, this is the little firefly ensconced in head office, casting its arbitrary, subjective light. The philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, who I’ve mentioned before in the context of this debate, styles this idea of ethics ‘emotivism’. One MSP has one preference, another uses a radically different conceptual schema and reaches the same conclusion as the first – while the third tribune rejects both theories and the conclusion reached, based on their own private fancy. This sort of groundless conscience is not, however, compatible with every version of morality. For example, if you are religious and found your views on “natural law” or some objective, cosmologically determined set of values, rooting the conscience in whimsical subjectivity is simply a misunderstanding of morality.
The primary point I wanted to distil from this is that the idea that MSPs are revealing their private conscience through voting is that the usual vocabulary of democratic influence sits less comfortably alongside. Lobbying, argumentation - constituents writing to their representatives anticipating that that representative function involves gauging, somehow, the mood of their district. There is something unnecessarily pompous about imagining Holyrood as a convocation of saints, come together to bring to light their existential musings on the quality of being in the world and handing them down to a breathless Scottish public. Don’t be dazzled by showy citations of conscience. Write to your representatives, e-mail them, telling them what you think. Be sure that you get around to it, and don’t just put it off. Be sure to pester all of the MSPs in your region. As I’ve argued before, you may benefit from a spectrum of opinion in the way a single constituency member wouldn’t permit. Finally, be sure that others will be doing so.
On Facebook, someone has got up a Support for the Scottish End of Life Assistance Bill page which at the time of publication has 623 ‘fans’ (admittedly, not the happiest description). I commend it to you.
16 February 2010
I recently saw Northern Broadsides' production of Euripides’ Medea, as envisioned by Tom Paulin of erstwhile Newsnicht Review fame. Although in some respects I am in sympathy with the Yorkshire-based company's broad philosophy, that sympathy may not survive the encounter with their actual material. Their production of Medea hits
The tale of Medea is a curious one, hardly the stuff of light comedy. Jason, whose previous heroic experiences involve a certain golden fleece, chucks Medea for a more youthful, Queenly bride. Revenge is plotted in the boiling skull of the slighted anti-heroine. Killing off Jason’s spouse-to-be using a poisoned dress, Medea crowns her revenge against her unfaithful husband’s happiness by murdering their own children. Unlike Aeschylus’ Oresteia, where there is divine intervention to restore equilibrium and justice, Euripides version of deus ex machina is far bleaker. Despite her villainous acts, Medea is whisked away on a golden chariot drawn by fiery dragons with the bodies of her boys – leaving Jason to his earthbound grief and Medea’s wrongs totally unpunished.
But back to Northern Broadsides – whose every succeeding scene will make you wish you knew a sun god with a divine sedan chair going spare and the benevolence to work your liberation. The responsible director (or should that be, the guilty man) also appears in the piece, which is generally a bad idea. Performing his parts with laboured, emotionless self-satisfaction, Barrie Rutter (for ‘tis his name) seems to regard walking fixedly as an important dimension of high dramatic portrayal. Observing a stodgy, significant retreat – his posterior conveys a certain poetic gravity as it creeps from the scene, lingeringly. Medea herself roars and rages - giving me cause to suspect that the actress (Nina Kristofferson) would be a grand panto villainess. There was a moment (pursuing a charming section where she got a big set of cymbals out and smacked them about a bit, no doubt to denote mental anguish of some stripe) when she cried “Bwahahaha!” Luckily, the audience was fairly anaesthetised and gerontic in composition. I imagine if any kids had been present they’d have cried ‘BOO! Hiss!’ anticipating a spot of banter with Snow White’s wicked stepmother. If a young wag had cried out 'Its behind you!', I'm not sure I'd have survived the ensuing existential crisis, brought on by melancholy reflection on the seconds of my life, sacrificed on the altar of Paulin's woozy Hellenic vision.
Perhaps the most cack-handed aspect of this production - which has more grimy mitts combining to make dirty work than a primary school class issued a bucket of chocolate fondue - is the chorus. Performed by three youthful bints in silage-coloured smocks who lapse into an occasional, insipid harmonica harmony, Rutter’s wheeze is to turn them into totally inhuman commentators. These dull, motionless harpies line up across the stage like traffic bollards and drone at the audience, or the characters, with all the dramatic flair of mixed concrete. I saw a splendid rendition of the Greek chorus in the Tron a couple of years ago, where three old character actors, crumpled twinklers who knew their business and played their parts humanely, gossiped engagingly as the tragedy of Antigone unfolded. They were just the stuff. That is what the chorus is meant to represent in Greek tragedy, after all – the reflections of ordinary mortals on the less ordinary drama of the protagonist’s travails and disasters.
The young witches three in Rutter’s production, however, declaim their platitudes sorcerously before decamping to commit an occasional, spiritless drum solo or inexpertly hoot on a saxophone. All highly profound and avant-garde in Rutter’s imagination, I’m sure. This consciousness, however, made these pulpy, alienating digressions seem even more absurd. In sum, by far the worst, least subtle, embarrassingly staged piece of professional drama I’ve seen in many a May. If like me you’ve a cankerous side, there may be impish enjoyment in a night spent appreciating the finer points of the disaster. If so, troop down to the Citz in March and blink disbelievingly as this lumpen production thuds by.
15 February 2010
As an aside, I’m not terrifically happy with the name. Catchily baptised the ‘End of Life Assistance (
Convenor Ross Finnie (LD)
Michael Matheson (SNP)
Ian McKee (SNP)
Helen Eadie (Lab)
Nanette Milne (Con)
Cathy Peattie (Lab)
Compare this with the Health and Sport Committee, who Unionista Holyrood business managers determined couldn’t review the legislative material, whether on the grounds of its ‘moral content’, an argument about the wealth (i.e. not just health) of issues engaged by the Bill, or because of some spurious ad hominem against Grahame or MacDonald for that matter:
Convenor Christine Grahame (SNP)
Dept Convenor Ross Finnie (LD)
Helen Eadie (Lab)
Rhoda Grant (Lab)
Michael Matheson (SNP)
Ian McKee (SNP)
Richard Simpson (Lab)
Mary Scanlon (Con)
I’ve heard it persuasively argued that pattern-recognition and systematising of knowledge is a feature of the human brain. Pray, can you detect any eye-smiting similarities here? The Assisted Dying committee’s obvious primary difference is a thinned number of ranks. While the Health Committee numbers eight parliamentarians, the ad hoc is numbered two shyer, at six. That aside, continuity is conspicuous. No less than four of the six folk drafted currently serve on the Health Committee. Milne served on the equivalent committee in the parliament’s second session, from February 2005 to April 2007.
You might well argue – this is predictable enough from the SNP, who gloomily underline their point even in defeat by sending two of their healthmen out to bat. But what of Eadie and Finnie? From perusing her page at the parliament, I gather that Nanette Milne qualified as a Doctor in the 1960s, but lapsed to look after her children, and in her own words “worked part-time in cancer related research”. Peattie alone seems a mysterious choice, not sent to the committee either by dint of her background in the health professions or membership of the health committee. There may be a dynamic at work which escapes me, here. I’d be delighted to be illuminated as to why she might have been plucked from the Labour positions. So, we’ve functionally achieved an anti-health committee, stacked with members of the health committee and health professionals. Spiffy. On reflection, maybe I shouldn’t have dedicated myself so soon to the shorthand title of ‘Assisted Dying Committee’. From the foregoing, Health 2 Committee, as was the style in the last parliament, could serve us just as well and just as accurately. At which point, I wanted to stir a little fly into the parliamentary ointment. But first, an apt quote from Margo’s roaring dissent on the 10th of February.
“That I believe that the balance of opinion is probably against the bill is of no import, but it is very important that the committee's composition should result in balanced scrutiny. That is relevant because, with such a bill, on which members will have a free vote that they will cast according to conscience, the expected outcome is not a report signed off in the committee's name that has the support of the majority of members but an in-depth summary of the information that the committee's investigation has uncovered, which will be presented to MSPs as a neutral document, not as a recommendation.” 11th February Official Report at
Although I appreciate the work of doctors and allied health professionals – I’ve never found them to be amongst the most erudite or lucid sections of society. This makes perfect sense on one level – if you’ve got your head buried in septic colons or ulcerous bladders, you won’t be attending to your philosophical studies or musing critically and systematically on the existential travails of the human spirit and its seeking after knowledge. You won’t have time. Even opening another book may seem a terrible chore. Crawling inside a bottle may become your only recreation. Not that I wish to suggest, in some crass generalisation, that those with medical backgrounds are any more incapable than any other cretin of thinking cogently about matters of autonomy, sacral or ungodly arguments about the sanctity of life, or ethics, or the implications for the administration of justice (to whit, Eadie is standing or sitting rebuttal, depending on her posture). Merely that their health credentials may be of more imagined usefulness that real tools to excavate ourselves from the moral, ethical and practical complexities surrounding the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill. For now, I’m willing to suspend judgement and see how the six souls selected perform.
14 February 2010
As you may have read this week, Dundonian actor Brian Cox succeeded active blogger and
Firstly, we have audacious attempts to coax illiterate or semi-literate celebrities into the students' midst, who generally shove off, content to regard the office as merely an honorary title.
Since this is a political blog, it is of interest to note how the rectorships have been recognised as a site for – particularly greenie – political achievement. Green MSPs have done well out of it since 2000, university-based student activists making strategic use of popular scholarly emancipation to get their candidates glad-handing the educated youth and participating in one of the powerful institutions of Scots civil society. Robin Harper (who bears a strange resemblance to scarf-man above, the cosiest superhero this side of the
Should the Rector be a political symbol, a material expression of outrage against war and death in a faraway land? Alternatively, should we prefer a public character, a functionally meaningless figure and hence, invest in a soul as jazzy and high-end as we can afford? Alternatively, should they be a representative of the local or should the frontiers of representation stretch into the far distance? Perhaps most fundamentally, is it worth contriving to install a “working rector” who might take a brave stab at representing student interests? On one level, as a mere institutional plebiscite, rectorial elections are of limited wider significance. That said, they can be neat microcosms in which particular themes at work in our wider electoral politics might be located, emphasising just how complicated and several our electoral motives can prove, even in small imagined communities like universities.
Back to Edinburgh, 2006. Mark Ballard (then an MSP) faced off agin arch-English Tory Not-Yet-Mayor, Boris Johnson MP. Representing the tradition of having a local worthy aboard, Magnus Linklater was also nominated, as was John Pilger, a consciously politically expressive choice. Much to choose from here – a psephologist’s idle dream to try to tease out the constitutive reasons which might provoke your average student or staff member to choose one man or another. Given Boris’ razzmatazz and Ballard’s bright but not always charismatic delivery, it is significant that of the some 8,000 votes cast, Boris came a measly third, the final runoff between Ballard and Linklater, with the baldy Greenie emerging triumphant. Ballard’s primary prize was his chairing around
In other matters, I don't intend to keep inhuman silence too much longer on the Nicola Sturgeon situation. My initial sense persists that it is important for people to read Nicola's words for themselves and make up their own mind. Parsing is not an innocent activity, however fairly-intentioned. I must also mention, in case you missed it, Scottish Labour's latest skulduggerous wheeze, which involves gouging at Jeff Breslin for being a septic degenerate (I paraphrase Margie Curran, but only a touch). You'd think she'd have better things to be doing with her Valentine's weekend - but ho hum.