28 February 2009

I humbly recant...

It has come to my attention that I suggested earlier on this week that...
"...the positions of the various Scots political parties on the issue seem increasingly to have crystallised - and the Calman cronies, by consequence, look increasingly likely to fudge matters, disappointing everyone - or simply doing what they are told, and taking a generous dollop of time to say so."
I obsequiously, abashedly, and fulsomely retract this suggestion. In the light of this tale, there is clearly no danger of fixing matters behind the scenes. Or in front of it, apparently.

No appointments to the The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle being earned out of this little commission, methinks.


27 February 2009

Taking a sip from Loch Lethe...

It has often occurred to me that Nietzsche was right on the button when he suggested that forgetfulness is not simply the absence of memory, but is an active force. Not that it would have interested him particularly, but nowhere else is this truer than politics. There is something rather wonkish and distasteful about all these harpers and crooners burping up faux or insignificant historical comparisons or writing crushingly unimportant PhDs on the history of the Labour Party or more or less lettered versions of the aforesaid.

Nobody gives a toss. As we are at times made clearly conscious of - politics is radically temporally unmapped. The agenda is gloriously presentist, such that one could be forgiven for forgetting that the past ever existed at all. To paraphrase that divine little spanker J.-J Rousseau, I venture to declare that a state of reflection is a state contrary to political nature, and a journalist with a memory is a depraved animal. Or certainly a counter-cultural curiosity, who no doubt consoles himself with conceit hidden in the scorched images of recollection. The rest of us discard such smoky truisms with thoughtless casualness. And thrive, with outraged indifference, on a new set of idiocies, boredoms and political victims.

Recall the PM wallowing in troughs of public contempt - extricating himself for a period, groping his way out of the mire - being tickled by the caresses of the media - only to be kicked back into the gutter again. Memory ruins the whole drama of the piece. It is the province of the embittered ex-PM, once safely and harmlessly ensconced in his or her constituency - or for that matter, his or her ermine-edged zoot suit. Watch a rerun of Have I Got News for You. Heartless, flickering memories might be prompted - hot words prodded by a reflective poker - crises, chaos - all absorbed inside the consuming stomach of forgetfulness.

The human head isn't the image of the political world - the stomach is.

To connect the theme rather concretely, I was amused to see the Times carrying the headline "Lib Dems accused of flip-flop as Tavish rejects Independence Referendum". The Telegraph report that:
"Without the Lib Dems, the First Minister needs to win over the Conservatives or Labour, but both have made clear their virulent opposition to staging a vote. Failure to push through a referendum would leave his administration's programme in tatters, with a series of other keynote policies, including local income tax, already shelved."
Presumably that virulent strain of opposition among the Labour party is a fairly recent strain - or in the interest of public health, have we forgotten the illustrious captaincy of Wendy Alexander? "Bring it on", etcetera? Or Duncan McNeil's unprompted assurance that:
“[The Labour Party] have no principle objection to a referendum. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to give up our right to scrutinise that Bill and hold them to account.”
Now, of course, Iain Gray is suggesting that the Government drop the bill entirely. This the same unfortunate soul who infamously was ordered out to tread the BBC boards on 07/05/2008 and defended Wendy's position - doing so with the zeal, charisma and clarity for which he is rightly fameless: "We won't stand in the way of the people having a say."

Painful stuff.

The Liberal Democrats can feel rightly miffed that the whole tour de stupidité has been discreetly sidelined, Labour's position credited with a solidity of political leadership which the facts cannot sustain and Iain Gray cannot personally evade.

Perhaps we ought, just this once, to decline that second glass of political forgetfulness.

26 February 2009

Parliamentary Parenting Skills

Is your parliament ten years old or less?

Are your elected representatives growing listless and bored without new and up to date legislation to play with?

Are your ministers too bloody busy to dream up a cheap wheeze to keep the bairns occupied?

- Lallands Peat Worrier may have the answer!

Consider the following ideal-typical situation. You had a parliament, primed with plucky researchers, stuffed with the stentorian senatorial souls, fit for deliberation, free time oozing out of their pockets. The Ministers give us nothing to do! they insist, walnut faces folding disappointedly. Salaries slowly accumulate as the days and weeks of the session smear by with all the animation of falling honey. Boredom sets in, the purposeless ferment of inactivity, oversight and meaningless discourse begin to lick at the senators' consciousness. Allegations of unjustifiable ministerial inactivity follow, remorselessly.

This, roughly - give or take a verbal flourish - is the situation the Scottish parliament finds itself in at present. We can expect questions of independence, enhanced financial autonomy - and various other permutations - to distract the eyes of the constitutionally excitable. However, the positions of the various Scots political parties on the issue seem increasingly to have crystallised - and the Calman cronies, by consequence, look increasingly likely to fudge matters, disappointing everyone - or simply doing what they are told, and taking a generous dollop of time to say so. Although not without a legislative agenda - embracing more or less progressive themes in areas of sexual offences and climate change - the pace is hardly Olympic. Much of this is put down to politick bickering. Professional lamprey impressionist - and I gather, sometime leader of the Labour Party in Scotland - Wendy Alexander referred to the SNP governmental agenda as "legislation 'lite'".

Hilarious. She does, however, have a point. It behoves a conscientious ministerial team to keep their representatives active. It is all very well to cite and extol the perils of minority administrations, and in particular, the difficulties of "commanding" (another for the catechism of cliché methinks) a majority in Holyrood. Nobody will deny that any plain abacus thinking about majorities constrains the SNP significantly, if legislation is hugely contentious. Some sort of cross-party agreement on potential enactments is mandatory. However, it seems to me that legislative inactivity - however masterly - might prompt needless mischief and is at its most basic level an unjustifiable squandering of an opportunity.

In particular, if I had to make a suggestion, the government might consider the needful and bumper task of finally enacting a Criminal Code for Scotland. Thus, far legal reform in Scotland has been distinctly patchwork, a splendid example of such being the Sexual Offences Bill presently awaiting final parliamentary consent. Under the auspices of the Scottish Law Commission, several Scottish legal academics have produced a draft code which can be a valuable resource and basis to conduct a wholesale public debate on the proper ambit of criminality in Scotland. I certainly wouldn't care unreflectively to privilege these men and women's views on the subject, however eminent. For those who have certain unformed and uninformed ideas about the present criminal laws a read through the commentary accompanying the draft code may come as something of a painful surprise. Both the extent to which the criminal law in Scotland is judicially contrived through the Common Law, and is still largely informed by Baron David Hume's Commentaries on the Law of Scotland Respecting Crimes written in 1797.

Certainly, the judiciary have made some reforms through interpretation. Notable examples including the High Court of Justiciary's redefinition in 2001 of what constitutes rape and the progressive decisions finally resulting in the abolition of the appalling exception which rendered rape in marriage legal until the 1990s. Lazy press coverage of these decisions are disposed to suggest that in the process Scotland had "amended" its laws. It isn't semantics to dispute this claim. An essential principle worthy of being observed in matters of criminal law is that - to a greater or lesser degree - it should be possible, as an untutored citizen - to determine what is and is not criminal. Or at least to make some start at doing so. Moreover, Scotland is constrained by the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights (1950), Article 7(1) being the operative section:
No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the criminal offence was committed.
So how well does the Common Law succeed in fulfilling this obligation? In Scotland, if one wanted to glean any overview at all of the criminal law addressing areas not covered by legislation, one would have to invest in an introductory student textbook. In my view, this is unsatisfactory. Statutory interpretation can obviously radically transform the ostensible meaning of texts, making mandatory professional advice in particular situations. That, of itself, does not seem to me a sufficiently convincing reason not to engage in wholesale reform.

Reducing matters to a code provides a clear basis for decisions, an easy starting point for the curious and an integrated project amenable to continuous reform. Mystic Common Law, speaking with the dust-cracked voice of the 1700s, does not seem satisfactory. At times, in the absence of governing precedent, the truth is that nobody knows whether certain acts "are criminal or not". One prominent example, often missed or muddled by the media is the question of assisted suicide. Contrary to the impression given by some, the Suicide Act 1961 does not extend north of the border.
So is it legal or not?
Honest answer: no clue.
Another area of concern is breach of the peace - the edificial expansiveness of which is harshly witnessed by the ludicrous matter of one man and his bike in Ayr.
Could he had found out what he did was illegal before he packed his bicycle pump (or pumped his bicycle)?
Honest answer: no clue.
Even applying a generous judicial perspective, it is difficult to see how this quantity of uncertainty and Article 7(1) of the European Convention can be compatible. Matters become potentially more explosive when you consider that the Lord Advocate, as a member of the Scottish Executive, is constrained by the Scotland Act 1998 and so by the Human Rights Act 1998. On a harsh interpretation, such is the pervasive uncertainty of areas of the common law of crimes in Scotland, the law is not foreseeable because there is no law, and by consequence, any imposition of judicial penalty is not only arbitrary but also retrospective.

In sum, tyrannical and unjustified. The matter needs dealt with sooner or later. Why not now?

24 February 2009


At times - usually on drear days shot through with sleet - I fear Scotland risks becoming a dreary little nation, stuffed with onion-faced naysayers - and to expand the vegetable metaphor - jealous tumshie-minded souls, content only with piddling littleness, pious small-mindedness and a choking fug of public gloom. Make no mistake, I am the cynic's friend, and I firmly believe that at least one of all of our eyes should be constructively jaundiced (or, in the case of older readers, respectably rheumy).

Nevertheless, there are limits to how admirable questing cynicism and doubts can be.

In the climate of yesterday's sweet temperateness, imagine the sense of constriction peeling at my chest as the squeezing horror - suspicion of my countrymen - cast its darkling shade across the news that Alex Salmond had managed to secure a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. The press coverage is muted, but generally not overtly critical. I notice that the Telegraph seems not to have bothered to cover the meeting at all, focussing instead on Mike Russell's comments that are causing their own small hullabaloo.

There is something hideously drab about a narrow response to this story. Of course, the world is not changed, changed utterly - or particularly - by the Maximum Eck enjoying a small diplomatic fondle with dear Hilary. The economic situation is not transformed. To rights, the world is certainly not put. However, such persistent penny-eyed pettifogging applies to much (perhaps most) of diplomatic endeavour. As Jeff argues, rightly in my view, we should be much more generously spirited. The Herald described the meeting as a "coup". Certainly, it is progress towards the notion that our elected representatives are entitled to move in international space - ministers need not be constrained by their dreary offices and the frontiers of the Atlantic - Scotland is no more a bounded space than anywhere else.

It is my hope then - tentative thought it is, given the overcast weather - that Scotland does not fall in for the lure of smallness, and the self-congratulation of the needlessly cynical. The animating lights and charms of distrust are primarily insight and humour. From what I can see, gurning shallowpates like Scottish Unionist are blessed with and bless us with neither.

21 February 2009

The Labour of change...

Given that the news desks of Britain are distinctly drowsy this weekend, I thought it might behove us to take a small discursive and reflective tour across the prospects and prognosis of Scottish Labour.

Are the political worms turning, or even adopting some sort of arc which, when stretched across time - might - conceivably - at some point - plug the Labour Party back into the ministerial grid? Certainly, coverage of the SNP government has been notably reflective in the light of their "brainchild left behind" initiative, leaving local income tax sobbing and lonesome. What will they do now? Much of the chatter about momentum is fairly brainless, but it is not unreasonable to ask whence now? Even leaving that tart question unanswered, or pulling pinched-faces at an insufficient and uninspired governmental response - we can't avoid the fact that all of these questions must be seen in the round, in particular, in relation to the plausibility of the Labour alternative.

So where are our ruddy horny-handed toilers in the grand politic scheme of things? The fragrant Wendy Alexander, untimely garrotted and closetted. Hardly edifying. Enter Gray, stage right, to univocal acclaim. Hardly a charmer, whatever the kindly cigarettes have done to erode him a throatsome pur. Cruelly, his east coasterie lockjawed voice, saltily adenoidal though it is, hardly favours him. Does that matter? Although "a dull candidate for a dull job" framed sloganising may treat Mr Gray favourably, I think nobody would favour a return to the bureaucratic deskboy feel which Jack McConnell brought so remorselessly and tediously to the office of First Minister.

Which brings us to Labour's essential problem, I think. Personnel. Unfortunately, the structure of Labour's electoral success in Scotland is focussed on first past the post seats. While I can sympathise with the view that this is not without its benefits - in particular in cementing support, and giving it a longevity which more ephemeral "list" MSPs seem unable predictably to command - from the perspective of introducing new characters with education, vigour and crucially - plausibility - constituency representation is a much harder demographic to nudge, cajole and shift.

Considering Labour's position, infested as their benches are with lumpen harridans, bland yet simultaneously offensive cretins, unlettered goons, inarticulate shriekers - a reforming agenda in the party would seriously benefit from a capacity to exercise a razor on their representatives centrally. It is difficult to see, however, where membership shifts could be effected in the short-medium term. Thirty seven out of their 46 MSPs are constituency members, and no doubt, most of them would be unwilling to stand down. After all, how many of them are terribly plausible candidates for merit-predicated employ at the rates they'll be used to? To my eye, there are too many junket merchants like Andy Kerr infesting the red seats in Holyrood, and too few visible and trend-dodging alternatives.

One might question, I think legitimately, how far the quality of one's MSPs actually damage sor enhances one's fortunes. Certainly, it is gaucherie to imagine that that influence would be the same to all people, in all places across the country. A number of points, however, which I think it is difficult for Labour to avoid. Even in the context of the recent reshuffle - the SNP cabinet looks strong, substantial - though naturally, not without its exceptions. Moreover, I'm sure I'm not alone in the sense of relief that no longer must I listen to a minister with a mandatory, vaguely unintelligible accent - probably from Possil. One of the dullest dimensions of Scots culture is the enforced ordinariness that sometimes engulfs it - from the mandatory, and largely fraudulent, pretence in the arts that everything really Scottish is working class - and secondly, that all our ministers must be persons of no philosophy, reflection or education - steeped in social work and the petty politicking of City Chambers on the western side of this country (or worse, some sort of teacher).

From all of that, people like Mike Russell are something of a relief. In particular, again LIT questions aside - I think we shouldn't underestimate, because it is difficult to calculate - how effective and surprisingly so the SNP have been among business figures and even among the civil service. I don't think that this is simply "new show in town", childish gigglishness. Something far more substantive is indicated by it - and the challenge developing such clusters of confidence poses to Labour should not be underestimated. It is painfully clear that Gray is stuck with same buzzing hive of sweaty, quasi-socialistic numpties until 2011. Even if he gathers under his nicotine-starched sleeves a cohort of the snappiest, most charming, savvy and generously brained characters which the Labour Party could assemble (in the interests of nonpartisanship, I shall neglect to project how well staffed this redoubtable crew might be) to strategise behind the scenes - he is still stuck with the under performing, uninteresting lot he's lumped with now. The focus of negative energy around them is absolutely intense. And worse, unless Gray can prompt a few helpful early coronaries among his MSPs' sticky fish-suppered ranks or pry their Greggs-doughnutted fingers from their respective constituencies - real shifts in personnel must wait until 2015 at the earliest, and trickle by - like the desparately sad squirt of chubby lipid blood through an ever narrowing coronary artery.

Even in the context of the water hotting up for the Maximum Eck and friends, I don't see, yet, that it gives the Labour Party much to cheer about. Not, of course, that having decent folk on board necessarily creates electoral success. For evidence of such, simply consult the long, unsuccessful tenure in the parliament boasted on the records of many of the SNP ministers now in office. My point, essentially, is that the ostensible competence of these people in office has immeasurably upped the stakes for Labour, and that they can no longer rest easy represented by the vapid Cathy Peatties, face-sharpening Currans and the gormless Marilyn Livingstones of Scotland.

Time for a polite bayonetting, Mr Gray. As quickly as you can manage it, please.

18 February 2009

"No federalism for me please, mother, I'm British..."

I notice, via Jeff over at SNP Tactical Voting, that the Scotsman reported today that the egregious Commission of Unionist wobblebottoms, groaning under the no-doubt inspired leadership of that bastion of petty-bourgeois bumptiousness, Kenneth Calman, has bravely avoided taking an interesting stand on yet another constitutional issue, flinging "federalism" out of their contemplative pram.

According to "the mouth of Calman":
"As our remit is about strengthening devolution within the Union, it would arguably be beyond our remit to propose a move to a federal structure for the UK."
There is more than a whiff of semantics about some of this. When precisely does devolution become federation? How much has to slip? What are the essential differences? What is being alluded to, of course, and noble eschewed, is the thornier question of how any new settlement respecting Holyrood might play out in an English and Welsh context, and how the political implications of amending the Scotland Act 1998 might be managed.

I have waxed lyrical about the dubious qualities of this chubby, honour-seeking phalanx of Commissioners elsewhere. I reiterate many of the more lurid sentiments here. The intellectually palsied, power-hungry, grey-eyed, whey-faced approach which this round table of untheatrical clowns have been dragooned towards advocating never really threatened to be radical.

From today's headlines, it seems that their pinstriped commitment to blandness may be the hallmark of this costly fraud.

17 February 2009

Catechism of Cliché (Homicide Edition)

In what manner do rates of murder decrease?
They drop.

In what fashion do murder rates escalate?
They soar.

And crime rates?
They soar, also.

Causally, in what relation does alcohol consumption stand to such escalation?
It fuels it.

Yes, its time again to dust off our joylessly moribund public vocabulary, consult the catechism of cliché, and scratch out the news that Scotland has won another international prize for the excellence of our incidence of homicide. Statistics can be bracing things, often surprising. For example, did you know that, according to the 2001 Census, only 15.88% of the Scottish population are Roman Catholic? Or only 426,000 Muslims?

In my experience, folks are often surprised by these quantitative accumulations, finding that the sturdy numbers are not reflected in popular representations and cultural expectations. Statistics, then, can be a valuable tool.

However, nothing without caution, my lovelies. Nowhere is this truer than in crime statistics, particularly perilous when cross cultural comparisons are made. Although the term "murder" is applied rather blithely, in strict legal terms, comparison of the offences in Scotland and in England and Wales are not completely symmetrical. Any analysis of the Scots law on rape, at least until the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill is passed, must be seen in the light of the very narrow definition of rape - while also recognising that what might be described as "rape" in the media or conventionally - rape where the victim is a male for example - will be recorded and prosecuted under another category altogether (in the Scottish context, probably as an indecent assault).

These, perhaps rather minor objections aside, I'd also point out that we ought not to get too excitable about increases in percentages. They can be highly misleading. Consider the following, unrelated, example. The Times reported late last year, in the spirit of egalitarian effusion, that "for the first time" the number of female "devils", aiming to join the Faculty of Advocates was "equal" to that of men.

Actually, the figure is 5/11 devils. Sounds nice. 50-odd percent. Huzzah for us.

However, a closer examination across the last ten years shows that while the naked percentage male-female in this intake is roughly 50-50, the simple number of women taking on as devils has hardly shifted. And so the egalitarian balloon, while superficially exciting, plump and kindly - deflates, flatulently.

A similar note of caution should be kept when eyeing the homicide statistics, and care taken (considering the numbers are relatively small) to note how a relatively slim increase in the overall rate can produce a more dramatic seeming percentage shift. In 2006/07 16% of homicide victims were female. In 2007/08 that percentage ostensibly "leapt" to 21% of of the total. Actually, sans percentages, only five more women died in 2007/08 than 2006/07.

Questions of the rate aside, the available figures reveal a number of potentially surprising features about murderous phenomena in Scotland. 62% of recorded homicides from '97 - '07 took place residentially. Men slain by men are most likely to be acquaintances - 67% of total - while 52% of female homicidalists killed their partners. In 2006-07, eighty four per cent of homicide victims were male. That is 100 men to only 19 women in total, across the whole country. However much one might, perhaps tacitly, recognise that our criminal justice system is primarily a male affair, the extremity of that last percentage is striking.

Certainly, there isn't much to be proud of here, but don't lets get too upset about ostensibly significant changes in percentage incidences. And please, for the sake of the continued vitality of linguistic endeavour, crack open your thesauruses ye ladies and gentlemen of the press. Everyone knows crime rates don't fly.

15 February 2009

Ewing's Paper Cut

Interesting (but hardly unanticipated) reports today that Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Government's Minister for "Community Safety" has gotten around to writing a rude letter to a Labour Under-Minister, advising her where the UK government can stick their proposed ID card scheme (I gather there is some sort of technique for avoiding unsightly paper cuts in the process.)

As one of the Supreme Judge of the World's fallen angels notes elsewhere, it is gratifying to see that the SNP government is taking an appropriately hostile stance on this issue. The Maximum Eck and his minimal chums are certainly not beyond justified reproach. However, its gratifying to see that the SNP are resisting the wholesale urge to share in the bouts cyclical enthusiasm which the Labour Party entertains for footering about in other people's lives.

One concerning undercurrent in all of this is the tenor of the Minister's paper cut:
"Given the current financial climate, the UK Government should have better uses for the vast sums of money being spent on this scheme, which presents an unacceptable threat to citizens' privacy and civil liberties, with little tangible evidence to suggest it will do anything to safeguard against crime and terrorism.

"This money could and should be used to pay for much more worthy causes like more teachers, nurses or police officers or more schools and hospitals."

"All citizens, including Scots, will be expected to fork out for a card and to enrol on the national identity register when this becomes compulsory in 2012. The initial application fee has been fixed at £30 and that is supposedly a cut-price offer to entice citizens to get one before they become compulsory. How much they will cost from 2012 is anyone's guess."

While the whack of cash required to universally slap our phizogs to paper is certainly a point agin the ID scheme, this surely is a profoundly contingent point. Namely, that if economic circumstances altered, or some cheap wheeze was found to cheapen the scheme - the money issue could, if not entirely evaporate - lose much of its persuasive power.

Which brings us to the question: why does Mr Ewing oppose these ID cards? Civil liberties are mentioned certainly, albeit after the cash question. So whence the principled basis for SNP opposition? Given the absence of a clearly demarcated ideology underpinning the Scottish National Party, it is tempting to construe much of their enthusiasm for liberties as motivated primarily oppositionally, without a sturdy basis in principle. The point is moot, of course, whether they would be against ID cards if the representatives of the Labour Party were not holed up in Downing Street. On the available evidence, however, I retain little doubting thoughts on that score.

Nevertheless, Ewing is quite right. The ID card notion will struggle to look convincing on balance sheet. In principle, it is an odious and unnecessary expansion of bureaucratic power. The quicker we see the back of it the better.

14 February 2009

Screaming Lord Foulkes Sounded Out

What a tragic defeat the University of Edinburgh Rectorship election proved for that doughty tribune of the labouring plebs, Lord George Foulkes.

On any reckoning, alienating 68.8% of your electorate was never a grand stratagem for victory. To give the fellow his due, however, he clearly has a knack for educational topics, producing untold harmonious consensus from the combined ranks of grubby studentdom and the dusty dons of Edina's academia. Labour pick for education spokesman, do you think?

Never mind, George. Its only one less expenses coupon to cash.

7 February 2009

When is a racist not a racist...

Scottish Unionist is not alone in feeling that Jeremy Clarkson's most recent stumbling foray into the happy world of personal abuse was somehow racist in character.

I have to strongly disagree. It is crucial, I think, to maintain a bit of analytical distance between the various - perhaps objectionable - ways that people shove others into groups and generate stereotyped categories. While the Unionist agrees with Christine Graham - I think the perils of confusion in this area are made most explicit in her remarks on the subject:

“It is just abuse. It plays to the lowest, lowest denominators of society. You cannot make these racist remarks. If you were to substitute the phrase with ‘one-eyed black idiot’ or ‘one-eyed Muslim idiot’, I’m sure things would be different.”

She neatly identifies - albeit accidentally - the problem of catch-all notion of "racism" covering all forms of inter-group or identity-based slurs. Firstly, Scots are not a race. Only a few madcap Ossian-inspired loons would even claim such a thing. Crucially, however, black people aren't a different race either. There are no necessary, naturalised differences,between us whatever Bell-Curve brained goons might care to imagine. Certainly, the belief that there are such essential differences is racism. However, it strikes me as a bit rum - certainly rather optimistic - to suggest that the rubber-faced car enthusiast is expounding a racialised theory of essential , necessary differences on the grounds of "blood" or any other unit of heredity.

Obviously, to slyly deduce such a thing from a throwaway mention of Jockery in the context of idiocy is stretching credulity.

There are I think, good reasons for limiting our racialised vocabulary to describing those ideas and only those ideas which propound actual theories of races. Slagging off an "ethnic group" then, isn't racism. The only addendum to this being: "white" is not an ethnic group, whatever governmental statistic pickers care to imagine. Not that doing so can't be objectionable either. My point is that we are in danger of confusing ourselves by stirring different forms of cultural conflict into one big stinking pot marked "racism". Even much of the outrage has a tentative quality: seeming confused about what denunciatory vocabulary the fulminating few ought appropriately to impose on the situation.

The impression one is left with, I think, is that "racism" is being used as a handy term of abuse that serves to mask rather than make plain the nature of Clarkson's bandied invocation of "Scottish" and crucially, the nature of the disputants' disagreement with him using it. Also, there is a distinct possibility that this frontierless squeal of "racism", hemmed in by no conceptual limits - will paralyse legitimate criticism.

The second scene envisaged in Graham's quote provides a very concrete example of racism being employed in questions of religious differences. The fatuous idea of "Anti-Islamic Racism" derives precisely from this confusion, and the attempt to make "race" a catch-all, all-mutable ad hominem which we all ought to resist.

Ultimately, this Clarkson hoo-haa amounts to hee-haw. The responses, however, are an interesting expression of the luminous gloom still hanging around these issues in public life in Britain.

"Caledonia, you're calling me..."

Joining in the spirit of indecent enthusiasm for harmless, ludicrous political warbling - movingly expressed by Mr Eugenides - I notice that footage of the Maximum Eck treading the boards with the pert Scots singsongadillo Sandi Thom has now materialised on Youtube.

Perhaps the strangest part of the patriotic pair's little show is how Thom seems to refer to the Maximum Eck as "Sir" Alex Salmond. Knighted for Services to Scottish Music, do we think?

3 February 2009

The National Calman Conversation?

Public attention, quite reasonably, has been focused on the hydraulic processes of shunting Budget Bill Mk II through Holyrood. With the "who" and the "how" components sewn up, it might behove a thoughtful public to cast a critical eye over the whys and the wherefores of the sudden outbreak of "consensus".

Why precisely should the Liberal Democrats be so keen to get the SNP Government chatting to Kenneth Calman and the other Unionist apparatchiks? What is to be gained? I think we can imagine at least two narratives. In the first place, co-opting the Nats into making a submission can at least be envisaged as a way of blunting their capacity to rubbish it. However, slightly dented noses aside, this Peat Worrier decidedly doubts whether the fairly ritual prospect of a submission need really dry up the SNPs capacity to drool vitriol over the whole project. The point of agreement seems limited to the narrow patch on borrowing powers, leaving the SNP quite free to piddle in the wind beyond that issue.

Rather, I suspect, the reasoning is rather more concerned with the recent internal humphings emanating from the august fifteen composing the arid committee. It is no secret that the Liberals were less than enthused with Calman's first report late last year. Could it be that, unhappy with the prevailing mood of their little Commission, the Libs are squirming in place, looking for room? After all, they can hardly regard a Governmental submission served raw as particularly charismatic, can they? Content, as they are, to squeltch the National Conversation out of hand.

The louse creeping through the seams here, and squinting about - much to potential public embarrassment - is something some of us knew all along: that the Calman Commission is an egregious exercise attempting to depoliticise the essentially political.

Consider the evidence. Dredge through the gallery of insufferable stuffiness constituting this Unionist schill. I imagine their meetings are a joy, jaunty with merry laughter and the robust exchange of views. The whole parade presided over by a doctor, assisted by an intellectual property lawyer, followed by retired judge, attended by a ginger juvenile  from Pilton who really ought to get a real job, represented by a Lord Advocate who resigned his office with a speed which has never been adequately explained to a disinterested public - and attended by other sundry toadies and placemen.

Certainly, expert groups can map the problems and issues which a reforming agenda might face, accumulating the basis for constitutional decisions. Looking at this panel, however, where is the expertise? At least six of the gummy-eyed old villains are lawyers. Quite right, you might think, considering they are reviewing the Scotland Act. But six, out of fifteen? Do you think when they disagree on a point of interpretation, Jim Wallace squeezes ennobled dimensions into his advocate's robes and moots it out against James Douglas Hamilton - Edward, J. presiding? The point here is hardly statutory interpretation, or for that matter, questions of technocratic legal construction.

Certainly, one might say - they'll have researchers, they hear evidence - but then what is the purpose of the Commissioners? And this is the rub. Ultimately, whatever the processes of enquiry yields, decisions will be made based on political and philosophical positions. The impression that their conclusions will be "independent" and thus, dusted over with the magic justifying pixie dust of impartiality - deserves hoots of derision and contempt from a hostile public, Unionist or Nationalist.

Expertise cannot decide Scotland's constitutional future, either inside or outside of the United Kingdom. I don't fancy being subject to the greasy manipulations of old savages and hoodlums installed to feign judicial insouciance, draw long faces, and put in their application for further ennoblement when the tawdry act of replicating their own ideas is finished. The whole process reeks of wholesale philosophical incuriousity, a ghastly incidence of expertise politics.

Initially, it might seem that setting up the Commission was a sly way of avoiding the rectal probe of debate by resorting to easier procedure of a Calman enema. Could it be that now, finding their dragooned squadron of besuited, middle-aged, middle-class establishment figures are replicating - shock horror - sober views in accordance with all the aforesaid - that the Lib Dems' flippers are noting the chill, and they are looking for friends outside of the sagging Unionist marquee? Given the potential combustive properties of all of these issues, one of the three parties was bound to ask for a go of Calman's glove sooner or later.

Could it be that Tavish and cronies are already snapping on their Marigolds and calling for vaseline?